Wednesday, December 15, 2010

#217 Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)


Director: Sergio Leone

Cast: Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Chriele Ferzetti, Paolo Stoppa, Woody Strode, Jack Elam

Always referred to a "masterpiece tribute to Hollywood westerns," I approached Once Upon a Time in the West with an open-mind to the western genre. Growing up, I peered restlessly into my grandfather's grainy television every Christmas as he barraged us with westerns. Always the same scenery, always the same good guys in white hats shooting at the bad guys in black hats, always the same twangs and twaddles. Although these memories are now fond ones because I loved and miss my grandfather, I have to say I never remember finding westerns of any interest. I remember them being long, boring, and confusing. Needless to say, I tried to go into this with a fresh attitude.

Jill McBain (Cardinale) has just arrived to middle of nowhere dessert all the way from New Orleans to meet her recently-wedded husband and his children at his home. When no one fetches her at the station, she makes her way there via carriage to find that her entire new family has been murdered. After burying them, she begins to piece together who killed them and why.

Frank (Fonda) is a mysterious villian renegade, hired by a crippled railroad tycoon to keep everyone and everything out of his and the new railroad's way. Frank's vicious and brutal methods happen to involve the murders of McBain family, who we later find out owned extensive property that was due to make million off of the new railroad's passing through.

Jill, bound and determined to follow through with her dead husband's dream of creating a boom town, hires two renegades to hunt down Frank not only for revenge but also to ensure her own safety.

Through the course of the film, Frank and Jill cross paths, we uncover surprising dark pasts, and the shoot-outs are as creative as they are endless.

While never a big fan of westerns, I struggled through the first hour of this 'epic.' It was then that surprising subplots began to unfold. One of the greatest moments of this film (and perhaps of MOST films I've seen thus far) is Jill's speech about rape:

If you want to, you can lay me over the table and amuse yourself. And even call in your men. Well. No woman ever died from that. When you're finished, all I'll need will be a tub of boiling water, and I'll be exactly what I was before - with just another filthy memory.

Wowza! And although truly one of the most sickeningly deplorable characters ever on film, Frank is played geniously by Henry Fonda.

I highly recommend this film, albeit with patience and an open-mind for the non-western savvy crowd. It'll reel you in, and you'll be glad you took the time. Looking forward to more classic westerns.


  1. Glad to see you recognized this movie for what it is, though you don't even mention Ennio Morricone's eerie and atmospheric musical score, which is worth half a star in and of itself. Is "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" on your list?

  2. Kamron! Ahh yes, the soundtrack. Drove me a bit crazy, but I do 'get it' as well. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is deffo on the list as well. I'm super interested to see how that re-translates to my now 23 year old eyes/brain.