Masterpieces #23: Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West
About Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Once Upon a Time in the WestSergio Leone’s original uncut version of this monumental epic. The picture itself is as big as its Monument Valley locations as grand as its fine distinguished cast as tough and bawdy as every kid imagines the Old West. Henry Fonda plays the blackest character of his long career and he’s utterly convincing as Frank the ruthless murderous psychopath who suffers no conscience pangs after annihilating an entire family. Jason Robards is the half-breed falsely accused of the terrible slaughter. Charles Bronson plays The Man who remembers how his brother was savagely tortured. Brilliantly directed by Sergio Leone this glorious picture re-established the Western” significance to cinema art.



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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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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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