#28: Once Upon a Time in the West (1964)

When and how did I watch this?

April 9th and 11th, 2017, on Amazon.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Having seen Once Upon a Time in America, I expected a western version of something similar. It is also a long film, featuring a few big names (Fonda in particular) headlining this epic western.

What do I know about it now?

Unless something unusual happens on a given evening, I typically watch these movies straight through regardless of length.  Once Upon a Time in the West isn’t an unusual length, but the first hour and a half literally put me to sleep. I was instantly drawn into the scenery, the waiting, the long glances and sweaty faces, the dry heat of the western U.S., and the unusual casting of Henry Fonda as the villain.  After the first twenty minutes, many of the scenes felt laborious and redundant, despite the picturesque environment. The story reels you back in at the conclusion, as we learn of Harmonica’s (Bronson) past and Jill’s (Cardinale) depth and resourcefulness. Robards as Cheyenne provides a third wheel of sorts, a comic relief with a penchant for sarcasm in tense situations. The brutally tense gunfights and musical score really redeemed this film for me, beyond the aforementioned set and colorful characters.

What are some themes in the film?

Revenge, greed, marriage, the American West, industrialization

Did this affect me personally?

Somewhat.  The prolonged scenes have the intended effect.  Fonda and Bronson’s characters are memorable.

Why is this ranked #28?

Westerns are a niche genre, but this one has universal appeal. Claudia Cardinale is a babe and shows up big on the screen, alongside the bombastic Fonda, mysterious Bronson, and hilarious Cheyenne. Leone’s westerns are the stuff of legend now, and this one is a budget upgrade from the Eastwood trilogy.

Did my wife watch/like it?

Boredom set in early for my wife.  She feels there’s nothing redeeming about the film, but to her credit, it’s kind of a dude movie.

Would I watch it again?

Maybe, but during the day and with friends.  Otherwise, it feels like a waste of time.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

I’m not sure — it depends on your taste.  This film relies on the viewer’s favorable perspective toward westerns, and its appeal is directly proportionate to your love of the genre.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Sure, but it is not Leone’s best work.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is coming up soon, which from what I know was on a considerably lesser budget than this film. The amount of time and money put into Once Upon a Time in the West is obvious — the setting, acting, and cinematography are all astounding — but I felt like Leone didn’t spend the proper attention on pacing and plot. Especially in “great” movies, the viewer is supposed to feel like they’re in control of what’s going on, but still experience the awe of the unexpected, and it felt like this happened too late.  The waiting was egregious; I wanted to yell at everyone on the set to move things along.

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