Once Upon A Time In The West
Apologies for not posting yesterday but I’m back today with my final Western of this small selection. If you haven’t already noticed, Sergio Leone is who I go to for a damn good Western and today’s choice is, in my opinion, his second best of the genre…1967’s, Once Upon A Time In The West!!
Coming off the huge success of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in 1966, people must have been wondering how he could match it and with this, he damn near comes close. For me, no Western has or will ever be as good as GBU but this comes a very, very close second in terms of the true Spaghetti Western (I’d honestly say that Django Unchained is my second favourite Western, but as it has elements of so much more than this genre, I’m going to stick with the more classical and say that OUATITW just narrowly misses out on GBU’s spot at the top).
Leone, in this, took what worked so well in GBU (and the Dollars trilogy as a whole) and replicated it for this film. That is in no way saying that it is ‘the same film’ or ‘too similar’…it most definitely isn’t. OUATITW arguably offers more in terms of atmosphere that its predecessor…its build up of tension and depiction of isolation and mystery is superb, especially in the iconic opening scene which takes so wonderfully long for anything to happen; all you can do is sit there and be amazed you’re still watching and that is a testament to Leone’s true genius.
I feel that here would be a perfect place to bring in the person who without, the Leone Spaghetti Westerns would likely not be loved by me and perhaps many others. I believe I mentioned him briefly in my post on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…it is of course the exceptional, Mr. Ennio Morricone. Morricone’s scores and music throughout, not just this film, but all of Leone’s major films is truly breathtaking. He’s up there with John Williams as far as movie scores are concerned in my opinion. His music’s ability to keep your attention, knowing something will happen without anything happening for minutes of screen time just has to be admired. Not only his famous theme and score for GBU, but his talents in this film (plus others) are what make him a true great of score writing. You only have to listen to a Morricone score once to understand what I’m saying.
His music in this film was phenomenal enough that Leone and the cast acted around it as Morricone had written the score before production. There’s the admiration that Ennio truly deserved.
His score however, is not the only great thing about this film, nor is Leone’s ability to once again, masterfully direct in such a style that both entertains and warrants admiration. The performances as a whole, a possibly the best of any Western (it still comes under heavy competition from GBU though). Charles Bronson as the mysterious ‘Harmonica’ who vows, along with Jason Robards’ ‘Cheyenne’ vows to protect a widow from a sadistic assassin, is stunning in his role. The mystery surrounding him as a character is beautifully played by Bronson. Robards as ‘Cheyenne’ also brings the goods but the real show stealer is the legendary Henry Fonda as Frank, the ruthless assassin.
This whole idea of ‘The Mysterious Figure’, ‘The Notorious Bandit’ and ‘The Sadistic Villain’ may seem familiar to those familiar with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but the difference that these three particular actors bring to it arguably makes this trio better…arguably.
Fonda as Frank is definitely the highlight, who shocked audiences back in this time as he was a well renowned good-guy and was revealed, through another piece of excellent Leone cinematography to be this psychotic murderer who slay an entire family. There’s much more narrative to the film than that though and if you’re not intrigued by a teaming up of two men, a ‘lone wolf’ and a bandit, to take on an assassin through the request of a beautiful widow…you may not be a fan of Westerns.
Finally, it’s important to mention Claudia Cardinale, as Jill McBain, the widow, who is the first woman in the main cast to appear in a Spaghetti Western. This was another thing that made this movie so great, it differed from all the others in this way and Cardinale is both brilliant and beautiful in the role…a hugely welcome addition to this sub-genre and a terrific performance…it is her who we identify with the most here and while not a particularly emotional film, it definitely has its emotional moments and it is in those moments that the identification comes in to play to add to our emotional response to the film…a way in which we all enjoy movies.
Once Upon A Time In The West is a definite must see, not only for fans of Westerns. It’s perfect blend of style, narrative, performance, atmosphere and score make it enthralling to watch and is as good a competition as any for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’s crown.
It is a film that I love, and a fitting end to this selection of great Westerns over this past week…however, in my opinion, it’s not Leone’s best, it’s not Leone’s second best, it’s not even Leone’s best with ‘Once Upon A Time’ in the title…I’ll leave you to figure that one out.
Starting tomorrow is a big trip down the road of Horror Cinema, a genre that in recent years has got some (deserved) criticism. However, it is one of the most legendary genres in cinema and has brought us some of the best films ever made…its a shame that all stopped once 2005 hit.
Let me know your thoughts on this film in the comments and contact me at email@example.com if you have any inquiries or suggestions for improvements to posts!
We Start Tomorrow With Some (Very) Early Horror