Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

once upon a time in the west poster 1968 movie
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Sergio Leone visuals, strong acting


Movie Info

Movie Name: Once Upon a Time in the West

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Genre(s): Western

Release Date(s): December 21, 1968

MPAA Rating: PG-13

once upon a time in the west opening showdown harmonica charles bronson

Harmonica: Did you bring me a horse?
Men: No we only brought 3.
Harmonica: You brought 2 too many…

A former prostitute named Jill (Claudia Cardinale) comes to Flagstone to marry a landowner named McBain but arrives to finds McBain and his family murdered. Jill, a mysterious man named “Harmonica” (Charles Bronson), and a convict named Cheyenne (Jason Robards) face off against Frank (Henry Fonda) and try to find what the murders all have to do with the approaching railroad.

Directed by Sergio Leone, Once Upon a Time in the West kicks off his “Once Upon a Time” series.  The movie was met with positive reviews and often scores higher than the Man with No Name Trilogy by Leone.  The movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2009.

once upon a time in the west harmonica origin story

Every mysterious drifter needs a cool origin story!

Sergio Leone does it again with another epic story of the West. After The Man with No Name Trilogy (A Fist Full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), Leone wanted to be done with Westerns and was lined up to make what would become Once Upon a Time in America but was convinced to do this one (allegedly the possibility of working with Fonda was part of the motivation). The result was fantastic.

Like most of Leone’s Westerns, his framing and use of scenery is worth watching alone. It is like he is painting a picture and at times, it feels like many of the actors and their actions are incidental to the scenery. The pacing of this Leone Western is very slow and deliberate. Thematically, it feels more traditional then The Man with No Name series which had a very fast, quick editing style.

once upon a time in the west frank henry fonda eyes

Frank’s not a nice guy…

It is good to see Henry Fonda playing against his typical character by becoming the villain and shows his ability as an actor because he does feel threatening. He originally wanted to make himself look “darker” but Leone wanted him in his normal clean shaven and blue eyed appearance and turned those traits into a certain coldness. Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, and Jason Robards triangle is interesting…partially because it is very underplayed.

This movie is the start of Leone’s Once Upon a Time series that’s motif was presenting moments of change in American history (this one primarily deals with expansionism and the ideas of Manifest Destiny). It is followed by Duck, You Sucker (or A Fistful of Dynamite) starring Rod Steiger and James Coburn in 1971 and then Once Upon a Time in America starring Robert DeNiro and James Woods in 1984.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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