Once Upon a Time in the West (DVD, 2003, 2-Disc Set, Special Collector's Edition) Reviews
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Once Upon a Time in the West (DVD, 2003, 2-Disc Set, Special Collector's Edition)

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Henry and Charlie Make Spaghetti: Once Upon a Time in the West

Sep 19, 2007 (Updated Sep 19, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Direction, Score, Close-ups

Cons:As highly strung as an opera diva's g-string and t-h-r-e-e hours long

The Bottom Line: A long, serious western with operatic overtones it presents every cliche in the genre, subverts it, and lets you ponder the result.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

The final shot at the western genre by Italian director Sergio Leone, who popularized the spaghetti western with his Dollars Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West takes the operatic approach to showing us just what made the old west tick.

The movie is pretty nice to watch, as long as you have enough time to watch it - three hours; but don't be in a hurry because it moves at a glacial pace; just like opera does, at least to me. The story goes that Leone was through with westerns, having said all he wanted to with his trilogy, and wanted to move on to other things. Still, he kept getting offers from Hollywood to do westerns, which he turned down. He finally was offered screen legend Henry Fonda (Jesse James, Oxbow Incident) and a hefty budget by Paramount; that was an offer he couldn't refuse. The result was Once Upon a Time in the West.

One of the innovations was building the story around a woman - Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale), rather than a man. The two major themes of the screenplay were the taming of the west via the iron horse - the railroad, and the woman, two agents of change that Leone wanted to emphasize. It seems like he wanted to show that no matter how much killing the thugs did, civilization would win out in the end, personified by the steel rails and the domesticating woman.

Without sounding cliché, if we compare West to the mainstream western, it acts like it was made by Quentin Tarantino. That may be good or bad, depending on how you view that director's work, but - in this case I say it is good, not least because Quentin Tarantino had nothing to do with it - the movie was made by Sergio Leone - but the style is such that it rips off every cliche of the genre and unashamedly presents it to you as if you are seeing something new - and in some cases - not all - you are. For example, when have you seen the open face and baby blue eyes of arch liberal Henry Fonda hide the mind of a ruthless killer? You will here.

Did you notice the movie seems to be paced to the music? It is, because composer Ennio Morricone composed the score prior to filming. He was working on other projects and Leone decided to make his screenplay fit the score.

In my opinion there is some good visual interplay between the extreme facial close-ups of the lead characters, Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda, in particular. Claudia Cardinale, despite being stacked is totally outside her range and deserves to be deleted from the film. She is no Barbara Stanwyck, which is what it would take to make West live up to its hopelessly inflated reputation. Leone has a way of creating tension and his little trick of showing good guy Henry Fonda as the blackest criminal is a great piece of casting against type, and he made Charles Bronson a star, giving him the chance to be the leading man in all those actioners of the seventies and eighties. So we should thank Sergio Leone for doing these things, but we should not unequivocally swallow West in its entirety and proclaim it a western among westerns, a film first among its peers, as we seem to see in this grade inflated bevy of reviews on Epinions. I think it is a good film, not a great film and I think that the reviewers who believe it the best should have already seen Shane, The Searchers, The Gunfight at OK Corral, and even Sergio Leone's own Good Bad and Ugly before they are qualified to judge.

The Paramount DVD presents West in its 165-minute glory, with a full length commentary by directors John Milius, John Carpenter, and Alex Cox and a few other characters. There are enough extra materials to fill a second disk, and it is also provided.

Recommend this product? Yes

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