Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Sergio Leone’s western classic is one of the finest of its genre. As with many masterpieces the film’s critical acclaim came slowly with a poor box office return when it was first released. Today it is mentioned in the same breath as other great Westerns such as Unforgiven and The Searchers.
There is so much to admire in Once Upon a Time in the West beginning with its stellar cast. Claudia Cardinale is a tough heroine in what is largely a man’s world, Henry Fonda is brilliant as the merciless killer Frank, Jason Robards brings some light relief as the outlaw Cheyenne, while Charles Bronson brings a dominant presence to the screen as the mysterious Harmonica.
Sergio Leone manages to weave two engaging storylines together, with Harmonica’s pursuit of Frank sandwiching the central plot – the desires of a greedy businessman to acquire the hotly disputed McBain Farm with Frank playing the part of the bloodthirsty enforcer. Though the eventual face off between Harmonica and Frank is important, it never intrudes heavily on the main story until this element of the film has firstly been resolved.
Leone’s film was one of the first that made me appreciate the more technical aspects of film, especially the camera work. The concluding section revealing Harmonica’s reasons for hunting Frank and the sweeping camera taking in the barren wasteland of the West is one of my favourite moments. Over 40 years on Once Upon a Time in the West remains a stunning cinematic experience and, in my opinion, there has never been a better Western than this one.
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