Combustible Celluloid
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With: Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Gabriele Ferzetti, Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Lionel Stander, Paolo Stoppa, Frank Wolff, Keenan Wynn
Written by: Sergio Leone, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, Sergio Donati
Directed by: Sergio Leone
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Western violence and brief sensuality
Language: English
Running Time: 165
Date: 20/12/1968

Once Upon a Time in the West (1969)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Best of the West

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Ford cast Henry Fonda as a villain only once, in Fort Apache, but Fonda was never quite as ruthless and low-down as he was in Sergio Leone's 1969 epic.

Italian master Sergio Leone followed up his Clint Eastwood Man with No Name/Dollars trilogy with the even bigger, bolder Once Upon a Time in the West (1969, Paramount). Beginning with its stunning, nearly silent ten-minute opening sequence, the film follows a nameless hero known as Harmonica (Charles Bronson) on the trail of a cold-blooded low-down dirty dog (Henry Fonda) -- so damn mean he kicks the crutches out from under a crippled man. At the same time, a former prostitute (Claudia Cardinale) turns up just as her new husband and his family are brutally murdered. Jason Robards plays the trash-talking gunfighter who is wrongly accused of the slaughter. As with his other films, Leone concentrates on only the biggest, most operatic moments, and escalates the very smallest gestures -- such as the lighting of a match -- to huge career-making moments. The 165-minute feature doesn't always make perfect sense, but it's a thrill to just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

The great Woody Strode appears in the opening scene along with Jack Elam, future directors Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci co-wrote the screenplay and Ennio Morricone provides yet another breathtaking score based around Bronson's harmonica. Paramount's superb disc comes with an informative commentary track and a second disc full of featurettes and other goodies.

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