Although I know many love it, I’ve never been a big fan of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In fact the only film I really enjoy out of the “Man with No Name” trilogy is the second film – For a Few Dollars More. For my money Sergio Leone‘s best western, and his best film, is Once Upon a Time in the West.
Co-written by Leone’s longtime partner Sergio Donati, Once Upon a Time in the West is a love letter to the mythology of the Old West and more than thirty American Westerns Leone had deep affection (several of which are referenced throughout the film including High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Iron Horse, and The Magnificent Seven).
The film’s long sequences, slow pacing, and lack of dialogue may put off some viewers, but those with patience to see a great film unfold slowly before their eyes should give this one a long look. The tension Leone is able to build in these sequences is amazing. In a film like Once Upon a Time in the West the sequences between the showdowns and gun fights are as, if not more, important than the “payoff” scenes.
The story, as happens often in westerns, revolves around land and the railroad making its way into the Western Territories. Defying convention, Leone cast Henry Fonda against type in the role of the film’s villain who could shoot a child in the back without batting an eye. After killing a family and framing a local bandit (Jason Robards) Frank (Fonda) finds himself pursued by a mysterious stranger with a harmonica (Charles Bronson) who has a personal score to settle with the killer. Throw in a beautiful Claudia Cardinale, terrific cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli, and the score by Ennio Morricone, and you’ve got the makings of a classic.
The new Blu-ray edition includes several of the extras from the two-disc Special Edition DVD such as the commentary track by John Carpenter, John Milius, Alex Cox, and film historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall. Also included are the three featurettes from the Special Edition DVD: “An Opera of Violence,” “The Wages of Sin,” and “Something to do with Death.” Additionally, this version has featurettes on the film’s locations and the role of the railroad in reshaping the Old West.
Other than the chance to own a remastered high-definition version of the film I’m not sure there’s enough for those who already own the two-disc Special Edition to buy this one as well. However, if you never picked up the Special Edition then this is an easy recommendation to make. Once Upon a Time in the West is a movie that belongs on everyone’s DVD shelf.