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Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

Postby EvilFutsin » Thu May 04, 2006 2:31 am

Ack, yeah, April got busy. :P Sorry, folks. That and it was just hard to get in the mindset to review this flick. It's a good flick, don't get me wrong, just one that deserves lots of detail given it's...well...let's just get on with it. ;)

C'era Una Volta Il West (1968)
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Original Theatrical Trailer:


Newer Trailer:


The Stats:
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, with cameos by Woody Strode and Jack Elam.
Type: Sergio Leone High-Classic Spaghetti Western - with Hollywood speckles here and there.
Supercool Trivia: Too many to mention. :)
Availability: Pretty common - Amazon US - Amazon Canada - Amazon UK (75% Off!!!) - and I'm sure you can find it anywhere else. :D

The Content:
Checklist:

Spaghetti Gunshot Sound Effect - CHECK!
Anti-Hero or Criminal Main Character/s - CHECK!
Famous American Actors - CHECK! (Bronson, Fonda, Robards)
Cultural Stuff - CHECK!
Historical Connections - CHECK! (railroad)
Mythical Western Showdown - CHECK! (x 3)
Authentic Town - CHECK+!
Torture - CHECK!
Ennio Morricone Score - CHECK!
Cool Train - CHECK!
Hawt Euro Babe with tons of Eye-Makeup - SUPERCHECK!


The Review:

Good Lord, where do we begin? :)

Well, obviously, this film is not unknown to those of you out there. There are some who may not know all the details or haven't seen it in awhile, but nonetheless, when you start talking about westerns and (in particular) Spaghetti Westerns, you eventually come around to this film. While nowhere near as well-known as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; there are many who consider this to be Sergio's superior film (for good reason but we'll get to that in a minute), and it's ironically the one that's perhaps a bit more inspirational to filmmakers.

While TG,TB,TU is a great testament of Epic Blockbuster filmmaking, with an epic sprawl, some amazing set-pieces, and endearing characters - Once Upon A Time In The West is perhaps the more artful and cinematically jaw-dropping of the two Leone "western epics". Even in its foundation of story and characters, it's unconvential in most aspects, with a ghostly figure following a murderous outlaw, a "whore with a heart of gold" trying to make ends meet in a tragic situation, a rough 'n' lovable criminal leader with his intentions in the right place - and a story that involves railroad barons, sabotage, family killing, and a really ridiculously adamant fly.

It's a bad-ass film, pure and simple, and those here who have seen it, even if they don't love it all (and I admit I did not find myself as taken-away by it at first either), can adhere to its very unique and crafty style. Part of this comes from the fact `The West is a film of reveals. From the first shots of the opening, to Frank's walk up to the young boy, to the way Claudia comes from the train, to even the bodies surrounding the train and the final showdown - the sleepy pace at times feels slow - but in actuality, what it is doing is giving us a very skillful reveal of events, places, people, and the story. With the camerawork of pans and tracking shots, with the very well-written script (by Leone and pals), and even with the gestures of the actors; the film is played out like poetry, like melody, and like true cinematic gold.

And speaking of melody. How about that score, eh? :P Easily one of the best movie scores of all time, Ennio Morricone has composed something that is both beautiful and haunting. Every character has their theme, regardless of similarity to another's (for instance, notice how Harmonica's theme also plays for Frank's electric guitar sound), and it truly helps imbue the film with that sense of musical majesty, especially when we're faced with images of true incredibility in the size of the town and the beauty of Monument Valley. It's timeless. Nuff said!

When you realy think about it, the entire film itself is timeless in and of itself. As we'll be covering westerns from here on, and my range will kind of fluctuate, one thing to point out with one of the better ones here is that for all the complaints, jokes, and confusions we or the general public or even real filmmakers and film-geeks make about spaghetti westerns, an interesting thing to give them credit for is a surprisingly "Timeless" element that many of these films (and Leone's in particular) embody. Because of filming in Spain (and even moreso in America), because of the little historical goof-ups, because of the mythic "duel" scenes, because of the colorful characters that're more in line with a comic book than a historic novel, it all sort of correlates together into another world on its own, which somehow, even though our minds in ways tell us this IS fake...we are many times drawn into the humanity of the characters and the situations which we find fascinating and very real to us.

Once Upon A Time In The West, although very rooted in real history, real topics, and also being made in a time period which is personified strongly in the picture; is itself also one of those kinds of "fabrications". Which is not a dig at the film at all, it's truly an element I adore and that in itself is a testament to the quality of this film (and the quality of any of the great Italian Westerns or Euro films of the 60s and 70s). Whereas most Hollywood films (and to an extent, British films) try to tell stories in very "realized" worlds that seem like our own, usually putting the film strictly in the time period it was made and given the ratio of films made, the amount of ones that do not fall into this is quite small. But in the case of films like this, we have something that is not strictly determined based on its country of origin, its time and political climate, or even the studios behind it. It's a story, a world, a piece of escapist art that is a fantasy that we can find ourselves immersed in, without having to suspend our disbelief.

And FINALLY that gets me to my point.
The film, even with its inaccuracies, its odd characters, its strange and potentially unrealistic style, its sometimes questionable motivations; is itself an engaging story with emotionally-gripping characters and an enviorment that is both beautiful and terrifying. And it's not just because, oh, "it's set in the west" or "it's about a harsh historical time", but rather because through (and because of) the creativity with which it was made, it's a timeless film that got past all the B.S. of its time and factors of ego and became a film without time and without ego and without a need to "suspend disbelief". (not for this viewer anyway)

I have no idea if anyone understood what I was trying to say, but hopefully that'll spark some discussion. :)

Tune in next time, folks!
Oh, and finally, here's some pics! 8)

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Last edited by EvilFutsin on Wed May 07, 2008 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby sig11 » Thu May 04, 2006 10:19 am

Best. Movie. Ever. Period.

Ok, and now something constructive ;-) ... From my limited German view, I may actually say, that in Germany, "Once upon a Time.." is knwon better than TG,TB,TU - at least outside Westernfans. This may be due to the poor translations of actually both movie titles. This one here translates back as roughly "Play (me) the Song of Death" (A line the German dubbing put into Frank's mouth when he says "Make your loving brother happy" in the original) and TG,TB,TU roughly translates back as "Two glorious scoundrels/bastards" (don't ask me why it's two ...) which is not nearly as catchy as the English (and Italian) title.
In-game name: =SG= Django (yes, it's cliché :-) )
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Postby EvilFutsin » Thu May 04, 2006 12:47 pm

VERY interesting piece of trivia, Sig! Thanks. :D I'll remember that one for sure. Supercool trivia indeed. 8)

That's the interesting thing about German retitles, given the infamous Django-Nero retitle fiasco (I call it a fiasco only because it was a transitory action that probably ruined a lot of films's reputations), and retitles in foreign territories as it is. It's hilarious how when Miramax tries to retitle something here in the U.S. there's a HUMONGOUS hissy-fit from all the fans (the soon-to-be-released film "The Promise" (Wu Ji) was nearly retitled Hero Of The Red Armor or something to that extent), and yet when this happens to U.S. films, it's like, "okay, no problem".

AHhh, the double-standards of Film-Geeks and Americans. :D
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Postby Blondie » Thu May 04, 2006 6:25 pm

This is definitley one of the best movies EVER made.
I own the DVD Special Edition (which is pretty cool... 8) ) and could watch it at least every month.

To the German title: I think it actually even fits a little bit better and is a better earcatcher, as if they?ve translated it as "Es war einmal im Westen" / "...der Westen".
When Frenk says: "Play me the song of death..." it?s just a very epic moment...

At least the title is MUCH better than "Zwei glorreiche Halunken"... :lol:
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Postby ReD NeCKersoN » Fri May 05, 2006 6:33 am

Good read Futsin! Definately one of my all time favorite flicks, and a permanent part of my DVD collection. I remember the first time I saw it, I hated the slow parts. (Eh, I was a kid at the time.) But now I realize their importance and it wouldn't be the same without them. The storyline, direction, acting, camera work and musical score add up to what is the quintessential spaghetti western. I especially like the performances by Henry Fonda and Jason Robards. Although, Charles Bronson fans would definately miss out if they skip this film. The opening sequence with Jack Elam & Woody Strode (& some other guy) is absolutely golden. It builds suspense but in a truely unique fashion. Love the whole fly thing with Elam. BTW, if you look at the first movie photo posted by Futsin you'll notice that a WQ3 duel map was based on that scene right down to the squeaky windmill. Cool. 8) Oh yeah, Claudia is absolutely SEXY. 8O

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Postby Breli » Sat May 13, 2006 7:50 pm

One of the best movies ever. There is nothing more to say. Excellent read, EvilFutsin. The way time and music are somehow "main characters", the change from gunfighter to "industrialization" ... everything. My girl friend even uses this movie in her English lessons in high school ;) ... no kidding.

Here is a nice page about Leone's work. If you don't know it yet, check it out!

Speaking about trivia, here is another little piece: As you know all movies are translated into German when shown on TV. As you can imagine, the translation (although generally done quite well) usually lacks the quality of the original. Sublte humour and punning are difficult to translate.

Sometimes, however, the German translation is even better than the original:

Remember the scene in which Harmonica enters the farmhouse after killing Frank? Jane obviously wants him to stay and says "when will you visit Sweetwater again?" and Harmonica just answers "Sometime."

In the German translation, however, the dialogue goes like this:
Jane: "Sweetwater is waiting for you!" (meaning "I am all yours, take me now!") as Harmonica is about to leave .
Harmonica: "There is always somebody waiting" (meaning: whether a gorgeous babe like you or another gunfighter to gun down, I don't care)

IMHO, that's much cooler ;) In the German version, Harmonica doesn't show any emotion at all. He is really cold as ice ... the one and only man on earth who is able to resist Jane ;)

BTW: "There is always somebody waiting" translates to "Irgendeiner wartet immer" which is a very cool saying all by itself. As you can see, that little episode inspired me a bit ;):

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I guess, that's probably strange for native English speakers ;) since we have two "versions" of the movie ...
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Postby EvilFutsin » Sun May 14, 2006 12:09 pm

VERY glad to see all these responses! Great trivia and some very cool insights. Thanks, fellas. 8)

I'm sorry I'm late again on the next film, but I got busy all of a sudden (and mod work for my HL2 mod's getting hectic given my main designer leaves for the Finnish army in over a week :().

Next film will either be Sergio Corbucci's "Companeros" (with Tomas Milian and Franco Nero) or "The Great Silence" (I kinda feel in the mood for that again). Given it's Corbucci, for those who don't know the man's work outside Django or Navajo Joe, it'll be interesting to talk about. :)

(p.s. yes I'll be doing American Westerns soon)
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Postby =Chico= » Fri May 19, 2006 7:00 pm

I agree 100% with everyones' comments about this film being the best Western Film! :lol: I truely love this film and love Henry Fonda's role. Great Review Futsin!! Looking forward to the next review.
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Postby AngelEyes » Mon May 22, 2006 9:33 pm

I LOVED this movie. Leon is a fantastic.
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Postby Nevada Smith » Mon Jun 05, 2006 8:43 am

Once Upon A Time in the West is one of my favorite Western movies. Claudia Cardinale is gorgeous, Henry Fonda is in top form, and Sergio Leone shows once again his directorial mastery -- especially during the opening 15 minutes...

Great stuff. :wink:
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Postby EvilFutsin » Tue Jun 06, 2006 12:10 pm

Okay, FINALLY going to make a post tomorrow (well, okay, maybe around 12 hours from now) for the next film and yes, it IS Companeros. Just finished watching it tonight. Hell of a movie! 8)
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