Week Four: Once Upon a Time in the West (1969)
Title: Once Upon a Time in the West
Tone: The ultimate spaghetti-western
Cast- Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards
What: A stranger with a harmonica and an outlaw protect a widow from a cold-blooded assassin working for the railroad.
- During the most frigid and blustery days of winter, when the town is blanketed with snow, I’m reminded of the desolate landscapes of the old-west and all the great westerns that take place there, particularly Once Upon a Time in the West. When people think of westerns they generally conjure up images of gunslingers about to duel in the desert, tumble weeds drifting by, and Ennio Morricone’s theme for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly playing in the background. Sergio Leone created that iconic image of the west and Once Upon a Time in the West is his masterpiece. If you’re going to see only one western then you should make it this one.
- Henry Fonda, who was typically cast as a protagonist in most films, is cast against type in Once Upon a Time in the West as a villain. Fonda’s performance is by and far the darkest of his career and not surprisingly one of his best. Fonda’s introduction as the villain, an over the shoulder shot which pans around to reveal Fonda’s face, was shot in such a way to make American audiences think “Holy crap it’s Henry Fonda!”
- Ennio Morricone is the most prominent composer and conductor of spaghetti western soundtracks and his score for Once Upon a Time in the West contains some of his best work. One of the more interesting aspects of Morricone’s score is his use of leitmotifs, a unique theme for each character in the film, Man with a Harmonica being the most recognizable.
- Once Upon a Time in the West has one of the greatest opening sequences in cinema. Inspired by John Cage’s composition “4’33”, Leone opted to not have music play during the opening sequence but rather to let the ambient sounds of three hit-men waiting for their target to arrive at a train station in the middle of the desert. Below is a clip from the opening with Charles “Death Wish” Bronson in all of his badass glory. Enjoy!