“Your friends have a high mortality rate Frank. First three, then two.”
Director: Sergio Leone
Starring: Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Henry Fonda, Claudia Carindale
Writers: Dario Argento, Bernado Bertolucci
Tough, silent hero gets on his horse and starts riding into the sunset, he is leaving people that care for him behind but he has no business staying in town. This is the final image I always have of a western. It’s an image that is deeply embedded in my head. There is just something about the western that gets me every time. It could be the scenery, the acting, the music but there is always something that manages to hit the right chord with me. So why the long introduction? Well Once Upon a Time in the West has to be one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a while and makes me just wish I was a cowboy. Well a ghostbusting cowboy but that’s an entirely different story.
So where to begin with this classic, well I reckon the man, the legend Segio Leone. The man knows what he’s doing and this is just a master class for any directing. Tight close ups to amp up the emotional tension of scenes, or the wide scenic shots that just let the landscape engulf the viewer in all its beauty, the Leone has tight control on what he wants to show people. Not only is his eye a wonder but also his use of the actors always plays to their strengths. Charles Bronson isn’t the greatest actor in the world but under the guidance of Leone you can’t help but be pulled into the performance. I think a lot of directors now a day tend to let actors run wild a little more which is fine for likes Daniel Day Lewis but when it comes to those mid level actors a steady hand like that Leone offered is called for.
Acting wise everyone is excelling, as stated before Bronson isn’t the greatest but thanks to playing to his strengths as Harmonica (or at least that what I call him) not only can you feel the rage and lust for vengeance exude from him but this deeply calculating tact on how to get to his goal. Jason Robards as Cheyenne brings a wonderful charisma to the desperado that joins forces with Harmonica. He’s tough yet you see that out of the three male leads he is the most compassionate. Finally Henry Fonda as Frank rounds out the three with a steely eyed performance as the movies chief villain. He’s a bastard through and through and with just a glance of his eyes he can make men back down. Then there is Claudia Carindale as Jill McBain the woman who is caught between all three men. Jill is a tough lady who forges on despite tough times. Claudia manages to bring across maybe a slight sense of being out of her depth yet never at the expense of seeming vulnerable. It’s a hard line to walk yet she does it perfectly.
The story itself is a simple tale of revenge and greed and yet the story is well paced and never seems to lag which is saying something as this is a long movie. In the beginning we have three men waiting at a train station for Bronsons character. It’s a pretty long scene but in the hands of Leone it is just ratcheting up the tension as there seems to be a certain sense of doom coming. It does remind me somewhat of Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds another long movie that doesn’t seem it as every scene is an excuse to play around with the tensions of the audience. Having a simple story allows for the audience to not be caught up with too many details and instead feel the full emotional heft each scene offers.
Over all I adored this film. The only negative or warning to possible viewers I would say is that if you don’t like westerns then move along. This movie is steeped in what people now come to recognise as the western and why not this is one of the best back in the era where westerns were king. But if you’re after a great western or just a great film in general then give this movie a shot. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.