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Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Director: Sergio Leone
Writers: Sergio Donati, Sergio Leone (screenplay)
Cast: Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale
Genre: Western

Synopsis: A sweeping story of a woman (Claudia Cardinale) who moves to Utah only to find her new husband and family killed. Determined to stay on her husbands ranch, despite attempts to be driven off it by a murderous land baron working for the railroad (Henry Fonda), she meets up with a mysterious stranger with a harmonica who might spell her hope or her doom.

Review: Once Upon a Time in the West, is a glorious film to look at with stunning set locations, some of the best I've seen on film...and equally stunning set designs. This is a visual western! I loved the old weathered wood at the railroad station and the ranch owned by the widow. The sets just ooze character.

This is art as film. What a feast for the eyes, even the flies get a close-up. But you know, I could have done without the ultra close-ups of the actors. I don't want to know how many pores are in Charles Bronson's face. Nor do I need to check out the dental work on Henry Fonda. Close ups OK, but ultra close ups, no.

I guess you'd call that an auteurs stamp. But to me, when the director's individuality takes me out of the film, it works against the film.

I loved the score...and the opening scene with the sound of a squeaky weather vane was brilliantly done. But the flip side was the grandiose foley effect when someone was slapped in the face, it sounded like it was lifted from an old Bruce Lee kung fu movie.

To be honest each scene was so slow I found the film tedious and hard to watch at times. It was like the director intentionally stretched out the scenes to as long as possible.

Come to think of it, the two leads Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda were both adequate, but not dynamic like Clint Eastwood and Jack Palance would have been. The only actor who had my attention was Claudia Cardinale. She could relay more emotion with a furled brow and her eyes, than the rest of the cast combined. High marks for the director for his decision to make her the focus of the story.

I thought the story was pretty well done but it made the same mistake as many films...insulting the intelligence of the audience. It was established that Henry Fonda is a cold blooded killer and he knows Charles Bronson wants to kill him.Fonda arrives on his horse with gun drawn...but....Bronson has his gun laying on a fence rail and is playing his harmonica. In any sense of reality, Fonda would have shot him while his gun laid there. That sort of thing drives me nuts in a serious western, and could have been fixed with a script adjustment that showed Charles Bronson playing the harmonica with one hand and pointing his gun at Fonda with the other.

Overall I'd give this a 5/5 for visual beauty and I'd give it 5/5 for a cool story, but I have to score it lower for how drawn out the scenes were and for the other things I mentioned.