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Once Upon a Time in the West

63. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

This is the first Spaghetti western and also the first Sergio Leone (who is one of my favorite directors of all time) film I've ever watched. I instantly fell in love with it. The coolness, the underlying emotions, the poetic display of the wild west, the gorgeous music by Ennio Morricone (this film has some of the best film music of all time, in my opinion), the brilliant directing style, ... It was absolutely perfect! Because I was so impressed with this film, I saw the Dollar Trilogy in the next three days that followed. Needless to say, I also loved all of those. One of them is even going to appear a little bit further on my list.

While Once Upon a Time in the West has some very similar elements to the Dollar Trilogy, it does capture a certain different mood, in my opinion. While the film still features some very cool shooting sequences and while the 'main character' is still a quiet loner, this film feels less raw. There's more emotion and sophistication to the story, there's an allround sadness to it all, something tragic. While the Dollar Trilogy was more playful (even though they also often feature dramatic stories), Once Upon a Time in the West has a certain gravitas to it that is lacking in the Clint Eastwood features. This film is less focused on sheer entertainment and its purpose is to move the audience in a different manner. For me, this epic western definitely did that.

Let's also not forget the wonderful amount of characters that this film has. There is of course Henry Fonda's legendary villain, 'Frank'. He's so merciless and so full of evil that it's hard not to feel threatened by his appearance. Fonda really did a marvelous job playing him.
Then there is of course the wonderful Claudia Cardinale as Jill McBain. She's beautiful in this and perfectly captures the vulnerability and courage of her character.
Then there is Charles Bronson's Harmonica. He kind of is the 'man with no name' character in this film, but there's more to him than meets the eye at first. There's a reason why he is there.
Last but not least there is of course my favorite character of them all, Jason Robards' Cheyenne! He's not a typical good guy at all, but in this film, you can't help but absolutely adore him. He's cynical, tough, delightfully distasteful and obviously has done some bad things in his life, but there's still a certain kind of honor and loyalty to him. He may be rough, but he's undeniably good inside. There are many characters like that in cinema history of course, but Cheyenne is in my opinion one of the most effective of this kind.

Once Upon a Time in the West should be seen by every cinephile out there. It's one of the most impressive films of all time. It's grand in its ambition and it succeeds on all fronts. It captures the 'idea of the Wild West' perfectly and even transcends it.

It's a masterpiece.