Monday, July 18, 2011

Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

A Definitive Spaghetti Western

- What do a beautiful lady survivalist, an evil opportunist gangster, an easy-going outlaw, and a mysterious harmonica-playing sharp-shooter have in common? One dead family.

Once Upon A Time In The West is a timeless and outstanding spaghetti western (in other words: an Italian made western) from Sergio Leone. Starting off a tad bit slow, Once Upon A Time In The West develops into a very interesting film comprised of nothing else but fabulous characters and unforgettable sequences. This film is not a particularly cheery portrayal of the old American west; Once Upon A Time In The West is brutal - but very entertaining.

What especially separates Once Upon A Time In The West from the rest of Leone's filmography is the interesting characters that Leone creates. Leone has created some great characters in past films - namely Clint Eastwood's iconic "Man With No Name" character - but Leone takes his character creating talents to a new level in Once Upon A Time In The West. Naturally, Leone selected terrific actors for the film and their great performances serve Leone's characters extremely well. Few women have been blessed with as much beauty as Claudia Cardinale who stars in the film as Jill McBain; but she is not all looks, she earns some real acting credits as well with her performance of an interesting character in this film. Also, Henry Fonda gives an excellent and ominous performance as Frank, creating one of the best screen bad guys ever with a layered characterization, and Jason Robards is real stern but lively in his own way as the laid-back and coffee-loving outlaw Cheyenne. If you ask me, Charles Bronson gives the best performance of the film as the harmonica-playing no-miss anti-hero: Harmonica. Bronson is very strong but very subtle - emanating cool in every scene.

Outside of the film being notable for Leone's characters, Once Upon A Time In The West is also a prime example of a stylish western film. Stunningly photographed with jaw dropping shot choices and brilliant cinematography work, this film ends up one of the best "filmed" movies of all time. One just does not see anything like this anywhere else in film - Once Upon A Time In The West has perfectly captured western scenery and sharp picture mixed with a sort of smoked granite quality that give it a beautiful yet gruff look. Also, as with the majority of Leone's westerns, one is also treated to a terrific score from composer Ennio Morricone. The very thematic score fits into the film perfectly and is instrumental in creating its thick atmosphere.

The engrossing story, great characters, and captivating visuals of Once Upon A Time In The West prove that Sergio Leone's greatness is not limited to his "Dollars Trilogy" (Fistful Of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good The Bad And The Ugly (1966) - all starring Clint Eastwood). When I think about the western genre, especially the spaghetti western, Once Upon A Time In The West is certainly one of the first films that immediately come to mind.

CBC Rating: 9/10

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