Monday, February 27, 2012

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Stop right there.  Don't delete this post quite yet.  I know what you are thinking.  "I hate Westerns".  Well you know, I thought I did too.  But my son has become addicted to them lately...the 12 year old who loves everything that modern technology has to offer film has discovered the beauty of action pre-CGI.  And so we have been on a little bit of a binge.   


We started out with the Dollars Trilogy...A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, all starring a young and extremely dude-ish Clint Eastwood.  (Even my daughter thinks he's hot.)  These films firmly established a Western sub-genre called "Spaghetti Westerns" in the US, primarily because they were directed by an Italian (Sergio Leone in this case) and the cast was primarily made up of unknown Italian actors pretending to be Hispanic.  This trilogy is absolutely AMAZING in so many ways.  I will do a post about them someday.  


After the huge success of this trilogy, Leone followed it up with Once Upon a Time in the West.  He wanted to get Eastwood in on this endeavor as well, but he was busy (filming Hang 'Em High I'm guessing), so Leone recruited a killer cast that made us forget about old Clint...Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, and Claudia Cardinale.  In the past, Henry Fonda had always been a good guy.  To shock his audiences, Leone cast him as an absolutely despicable character, who takes pleasure in cruelly killing his adversaries in cold blood, even kids.    




Unlike most Westerns, our leading character is a female!  Ms. McBain (Cardinale), a hooker-turned-legitimate from New Orleans has married a widower.  When she arrives at her new home and her new life, in the undeveloped frontier of Utah, she finds her new husband and step-children all slaughtered. A well-meaning harmonica-toting Cheyenne (Bronson) offers to find out who has committed this heinous act.  However, he may just have an agenda of his own.




This movie is darned close to 3 hours long, which spooked me at first, but in hindsight was absolutely necessary.  Each character in this movie is developed to the fullest extent.  Leone shows us all the little bits of baggage and idiosyncrasies and motivations, revenge being the biggest one.  I particularly enjoyed Cardinale, who is drop-dead gorgeous - with lots of cleavage, but is a strong, clever woman.  I found this curious, because you just don't see these qualities in female roles in Westerns made in the '60's.




I found Leone's directorial skills to be incredibly unique, for movies made back then and even now.  There are some scenes in which the pacing is so torturously slow and deliberate and patient, they are unreal.  And the musical score, written by Ennio Morricone, who also wrote the score for the Dollars Trilogy, almost needs no introduction.  Even if you don't watch Westerns, you're going to know his music.  Leone actually wrote some scenes around the music, instead of the other way around, and it shows.


Many lists have placed this film as one of the top Westerns ever made, and is considered a masterpiece.  On Rotten Tomatoes, it has received a 98% rating.  So if you were ever going to try a movie from this genre, this would be the one. 





17 comments:

Beth F said...

I think I saw this years ago, but I barely remember it. Time to revisit. What fun to watch the western classics with the boy.

Nymeth said...

Okay, you got me: that WAS my first post :P But 98% IS pretty impressive.

bermudaonion said...

Between my dad and Carl I've been subjected to many Westerns, and they're just not my thing.

We went to New Orleans years and years ago with another couple and saw Clint Eastwood and Sandra Locke in a bar. We stood and watched them for a while and, when they got up, the female half of the other couple and I broke our necks to get their table. I got Clint's seat.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't know - I just can't stand westerns, although I did like High Noon.

Brooke said...

Always wanted to give Westerns a shot. Added to Netflix - prepared to be amazed or at least thoroughly entertained!

Teacher/Learner said...

I also didn't expect to like westerns either, then I saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Booyah! Love this one, too. And how about that love scene with Henry Fonda & Claudia Cardinale?

Zibilee said...

I actually love Westerns, and haven't seen as many as I'd have liked to. I think this is one that I need to watch, and I am now off to Netflix to see if I can find it. Great post today!

Alyce said...

I can't believe that I haven't even heard of this film before! My dad made us sit through a ton of westerns growing up (especially those with John Wayne). I have to admit that I've never been a big fan of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but my husband loves Eastwood's westerns. I think my opinion may be skewed by years of pro-John Wayne indoctrination by my dad. :)

Amy said...

I have not seen this, but..I don't hate Westerns! And I always want to find the good ones so I'll definitely keep this in mind.

Kathleen said...

I grew up watching Westerns with my dad. He's almost 88 now and can still be counted on to stop the channel when he lands on anything that faintly resembles a Western. The ones you've mentioned have not been seen in a long time but I am feeling a hankering to take another look at these one day soon.

softdrink said...

I'm not much of a western fan, either...but I'd watch this before any of the horror movies you and your family watch!

Julie P. said...

I don't think I've ever even seen a Western!

C.B. James said...

This is a good choice if you're only going to ever watch one western. I love it, but I think Good, Bad and Ugly is my favorite. I love it when Tuco says, "If you're going to shoot, shoot, don't talk!" and for the closing shoot-out in the graveyard.

Did you know that several of these westerns are based on samurai movies by Kurasawa. You and your son might want to check out Yojimbo and Sanjuro. They feature sword fights that feel like gun fights.

Tasha B. said...

I took a western film course last year, so I've seen many westerns! I love the spaghetti westerns, and High Noon is surprisingly good. I would also recommend The Searchers and 3:10 To Yuma (the 2007 version).

Jenners said...

You're right … my hand was hovering over "Mark As Read" without reading it but I trust you. I'm still not sure I'm convinced (maybe I'll wait for my son to be older and we can discover this together) but I always wondered why they were called "spaghetti Westerns" and now I know! Thanks!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Like you, I avoided westerns for years. I've been trying to watch more of them lately, but I haven't gotten to this one yet.

John Braine said...

I'm the same, I don't like western's in general but yet some of my favourite books and movies are westerns. I think there's a particular old school type of western that doesn't appeal to me at all. They usually tend to have injuns as evil savage beasts and yanks as the heroes.

The parts in Once Upon a Time in The West when it's just scenery and THAT soundtrack are truly breathtaking.

If you've not seen Unforgiven yet you really should give it a go. One of my favourite movies. That's about it - I can't think of any other western's I've loved.

Bookwise The Sisters Brothers is great and Blood Meridian is just in a league of it's own.