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Once Upon A Time In The West

Rafran-San Marco Released 1968



User Score: 20

out of 10
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3 votes

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Movie Summary

Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West is considered by many not only to be Sergio Leone's greatest film, but perhaps the greatest western film of all time. Released in 1968, the film was made after Sergio Leone's "The Man With No Name" series, and reteams Leone with fabled composer Ennio Morricone, who produces another score for the ages. Once Upon a Time in the West at it's core, like the rest of Leone's spaghetti westerns, is a very simple movie. It tells the story of a patch of land that is made important by the impending railroad that must travel through it on its ever-moving journey west. At the center of the struggle are Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale), the widow who owns the property, and Frank (Henry Fonda), the hired gun of the millionaire railroad tycoon that wants the property. Adding mystery to the story is an unknown gunslinger (Charles Bronson) with a love for his harmonica and a score to settle. In 2009, Once Upon a Time in the West was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress with the intention of preserving the monumental work for all time.


Metacritic Score

  • 70


    Henry Fonda and Jason Robards relish each screen minute as the heavies, and Charles Bronson plays Clint Eastwood's 'man with no name' role. (Review of Original Release)

  • 63

    Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

    Good fun, especially if you like Leone's way of savoring the last morsel of every scene. (Review of Original Release)

  • 60

    The New York Times Vincent Canby

    The biggest, longest, most expensive Leone Western to date, and, in many ways, the most absurd... Granting the fact that it is quite bad, Once Upon the Time in the West is almost a...

  • This movie has grabbed the short attention span of this new generationer

    Let me preface this by saying I've never seen a western before, and if Serenity counts as a western then that's the only one I've watched. The oldest movie I'd ever seen out of my own desire was Star Wars. Had to watch the early James Bond films in class, the first three, and I was bored out of my mind. The same with Casablanca, however I acknowledged the significant impact it had on cinema, and enjoyed it to a degree. Although it's not something I'd watch twice.

    So for me to give high praises to what most claim to be the greatest western of all time, I'd say that's something.

    Upon the first hour of watching the movie I was ready to make lots of cracks about how much of it was composed of close ups of the dated make up on all the actors and actresses. That's what it pretty much was in essence. I had Charles Bronson's face imprinted in my mind as soon as the movie ended.

    As someone who has grown up accustomed to fast paced action, Once Upon A Time In The West was a major drag.

    And yet as soon as the first hour was up, all that it was building up towards started converging. The story lines were intertwining, and our curiosity for Harmonica's motivations were kicking in. And the way that the movie was slowly unveiling that through, with Harmonica revealing the names of dead people that Frank had killed, it's an effective technique that a lot of movies nowadays could employ to better amp the ante to their character development.

    And then with Jill's character of essentially being a sell out whore, it did a fantastic job of making her a human without us scorning her. Well that's an opinion that varies amongst those who watch it, but for me I didn't feel the need to ostracize her for her actions. Making a character commit to a greedy decision, and yet feel sympathy for her, is the surest way to know that as a director and writer, you've mastered the craft. And it's odd, looking back on it I can't seem to grasp why I've felt that I need to forgive her.

    One of my favorite scenes had to do with the Auction. When I watched Frank's gang bully bidders into not buying the land, I had a feeling that someone, of course Harmonica, coming in to avert the situation. And yet with every passing second, I felt that that wasn't going to happen, and I was asking myself "Is Harmonica gonna outbid Frank? Or does he have something else in store?" I was left in suspense until before the gravel clanked. Patience, stretching out the moment. I have this perception that old movies before Star Wars don't have an ounce of the advanced screenwriting techniques of modern movies, and yet this movie released in 1968 employs one of the most effective lessons for a screenwritermaking your audience anxious with your patience.

    It seems odd that I'm not salivating at the greatest moments of the movie, such as the fight scenes--which to this anime freak, a category of entertainment purely KNOWN for action--which were extremely well executed, and the showdown between Harmonica and Frank, but it's those moments that define a movie; because they're the legs to the big time scenes.

    With that said, Harmonica's driving force behind his actions was so simplistic on paper it almost sounds anti-climatic. And yet it was the furthest thing from that. The screeching harmonica note playing throughout the movie, revealing to be the one Frank unwittingly stuffed inside a boy's mouth while a younger Frank killed his older brother, is a classic "Ahhh!" moment. It's so damn simple, and that's the beauty of it. Here his arc wasn't defined by his motivations, but the journey towards it.

    Which is a cliche to say, but when done right it results in one of the greatest movies ever made. Harmonica had carefully researched his prey--can't even say enemy because that's essentially what Frank was to him. He didn't give a damn about Jill or McBain or the injustice Morton was bringing on the town; they were just accessories to his goals. And when Frank's own men were betraying him, he aided Frank in an epic Western shootout. Okay maybe he cared a little bit, but would he have helped them if they didn't concern Frank at all? I would doubt it.

    It's odd to say that his character hadn't even arced at all. What had he learned along the way to make his character change? The beauty of the Harmonica is that he doesn't feel like the main character in the traditional sense. It's as if his role is an enigma that touched upon the lives of those he had encountered. Jill, when first set on selling the land for a scant few dollars, embraces building the town her husband had originally dreamed of. Cheyenne a thug decides to help Harmonica in his revenge, and dies for it. It's sort of like Ferris Bueller's Day Off; the main character didn't change, but those who were associated with him did.

    Aside from the cinematography, which I guess was something to be hailed for its time, it's just a fantastic simplistic story with brilliant storytelling.moreless
  • Leone's Greatest? Maybe.

    After "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", Leone's films definitely took a complicated turn. He was beyond the simple 2 or 3 character interactions of his early films, and moving on to scripts much more complicated. Whereas "GB&U" centered around three characters after the same thing (the gold), this film shows several enormous leaps in Leone's telling of the Western fable. Suddenly, we have five characters who all have different agendas: Morton wants to build a railroad to the east coast before he dies, Frank wants Morton's power, Cheyenne wants to prove himself innocent of the McBain massacre (and possibly acquire the supposed McBain fortune that's hidden away), Jill wants a life away from the brothels of New Orleans, and Harmonica wants revenge for a past injustice dealt by Frank. Somehow, all of these desparate goals collide in this film like a good episode of "Seinfeld". It's obvious that it's a bit much for a single film (it would have been a great HBO series a few generations later!), but, nevertheless, Leone plows ahead with this detailed masterpiece. The story is full of homages to American Westerns--as filtered through the Italian sensibilities of Leone, Bertolucci, and Argento--and the journey is a bit disorienting and chaotic. But when the end title sweeps across at the final scene, it's almost impossible not to feel like one has just experienced a powerful and important moment in cinema. And that's exactly what this is; for all the the failings and disjointed moments of the screenplay, this remains one of the greatest movies ever made. Kick back, pilgrim--watch, enjoy, and appreciate one of the greatest gifts ever given to the Western genre. Perfection is a goal never achieved in the world of filmmaking, but in this case, perfection is irrelevant.moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (0)

  • QUOTES (4)

    • Harmonica: (meeting Frank's Gang at the rail station) Did you bring a horse for me?
      Snaky: Well, looks like we're shy one horse.
      Harmonica: (shakes head) You brought two too many.

    • Wobbles: You've known me a long time, Frank. You know you can trust me.
      Frank: Wobbles, how can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can't even trust his own pants!

    • Morton: (referring to the McBain massacre) Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you to scare them!
      Frank: People scare better when they're dying.

    • Cheyenne: (after Harmonica inspects his partner's duster) You interested in fashions, Harmonica?
      Harmonica: I saw three of these dusters a short time ago. They were waiting for a train. Inside the dusters, there were three men.
      Cheyenne: So?
      Harmonica: Inside the men, there were three bullets.

  • NOTES (5)

    • The Flagstone set was built on 100 acres of land that Sergio Leone leased near Calahorra, Spain. Including the railroad, the town was built for about $250,000--more than the entire budget of Leone's first western, Fistful of Dollars. Designer Carlo Simi used archival photographs of El Paso, Texas to ensure that the set had an authentic appearance.

    • A scene was filmed (but deleted from the final cut) that featured Harmonica being arrrested and beaten by the sheriff. This would explain why Harmonica shows up at the McBain ranch with a large cut on his face. The footage from this missing scene is presumed to be lost, and only a few stills are known to exist.

    • The major parts of Morricone's score were recorded before the primary photography of the film began. This enabled Leone to play tapes of the actual background music while the scenes were filmed in order to provide the intended atmosphere for the actors to work with.

    • Although the exterior shots of the trading post were filmed in Arizona, the interior shots were actually filmed at Cinecitta in Italy. Sergio Leone imported several bags of Monument Valley's red, dusty sand to blow through the door when Cheyenne's gang enters the trading post.

    • As a homage to John Ford's films, Sergio Leone filmed several scenes in Arizona's Monument Valley region. It was an unusual departure for an Italian filmmaker, as most Spaghetti Westerns were filmed entirely in either Spain or Italy.


More Info About This Movie


Westerns, Military & War