Monday, February 3, 2014

Once Upon a Time in the West review

I really hate the word epic. It's overused in all the wrong ways and it's never used when it should be. In the case of this movie, I believe the word epic can be used.
As you very well may know, I'm partial to westerns. Sergio Leone westerns in particular. And since I'm trying to watch a lot of westerns to learn about and understand the genre more, it was only natural of me to watch Sergio Leone's famous 1968 western, Once Upon a Time in the West. I had tried to watch the whole thing about a year ago, but I kept getting distracted and not being able to finish it. Finally, I sat down and watched the entire film from start to finish. While I can't say it's Leone's best movie, it certainly is a very good one. Once Upon a Time in the West is a story of Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale), whose family was killed by a group of land hungry bandits led by the very evil Frank (Henry Fonda). Cardinale teams up with the notorious Cheyenne (Jason Robards) to help her stay safe. Meanwhile, a stranger known only as Harmonica (Charles Bronson) also helps Cheyenne, while simultaneously attending to his own agenda. I feel like Sergio Leone movies just get better as they go along. Starting with the very good A Fistful of Dollars, and getting increasingly better from there. The only exception of the rule is that The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly came before Once Upon a Time in the West. In all fairness, it is quite difficult to beat The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The rest of his movies follow that path though. Maybe because he just got more and more experienced. Once Upon a Time in the West is one of his later films, and one of his best. It combines serious drama with classic western standoffs and good acting. While I really do love all of Sergio Leone's westerns, the acting in them is never great. Granted, I've unfortunately never seen Once Upon a Time in America. Sure, Clint Eastwood's outlaw is a classic character, but is the performance really good? He is passable, but most of the other roles can be laughably bad. What makes Once Upon a Time in the West stand out is its talented all star cast. Charles Bronson is alright in the role of Harmonica. He plays him with a nice mix of deadpan and comedy, while still maintaining the mystery of the character. Jason Robards is good too as Cheyenne. He's nothing truly special though. Henry Fonda is deliciously bad as the main criminal, Frank. I don't think I've seen Fonda play a bad guy before, but he is good at it. The real star here is Claudia Cardinale. She is talented, pretty, and able to carry this movie on her shoulders. I haven't seen her in anything else but I'd certainly like to. Despite the film being made in a time when woman weren't as respected, Cardinale plays a strong and independent woman who isn't a nagging housewife or Playboy girl. She isn't exploited here, and she isn't left in the background either. Cardinale is front and center, showing off her skill. And that is just were she deserves to be. As I mentioned above, this film is really epic. It spans a whole three hours, and makes use of every minute. The last forty minutes are riveting. There is an incredible gunfight, and a terrific bittersweet ending that shows us that no matter what, the growth of the West will prevail. Ennio Morricone's terrific score helps too. The composer always teams up with Leone for his films, and the finished product is always great. I recommend you to listen to all of his western musical scores. They're all great in their own way. Overall, this movie is about the hardiness and promise of the Old West. It rings with the message of prevailing through the darkness and triumphing evil. It's a good old fashioned adventure epic. It's not Sergio Leone's most meaningful western, (Duck, You Sucker takes the cake for that) but it's a hell of a lot more thoughtful than some of his other stuff. I do recommend the movie. It's nowhere near perfect, but it still is awe inspiring and  good. Happy Viewing everyone. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies and like me on Facebook at!         

1 comment:

  1. Picked up a used DVD of this film several years ago and finally watched this fine western. I agree. Cast is stellar, especially Fonda. Script offers several sharp lines of dialogue too. Long running length may deter some viewers. Be patient.