Lindsey Appreciates a Western: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

This post is technically a part of the “Favorite things about…” series. I decided to give it a fun name since this was one of the only Westerns I loved before beginning the “Lindsey Tries to Appreciate Westerns” project.

The favorite film:
Once Upon a Time in the West, also known as C’era una volta il West, a spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Leone

(Image via Doctor Macro)
(Image via Doctor Macro)

The synopsis:
Jill McBain is moving from New Orleans to Utah’s frontierlands, where she’ll marry an Irish widower and help him raise his children. When she arrives, though, she finds that her new family have all been killed. A man named Cheyenne is the top suspect at first, but he befriends Jill and offers to help her track down Frank, the assassin who killed the family along with his gang of gun-slingers.

The cast:

  • Claudia Cardinale as Jill McBain
  • Jason Robards as Cheyenne
  • Charles Bronson as “Harmonica”
  • Henry Fonda as Frank
  • Gabriele Ferzetti as Morton, the railroad baron
(Image via A Potpourri of Vestiges)
(Image via A Potpourri of Vestiges)

Fun facts:

  • The film is full of references to some of Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci’s greatest influences, including The Last SunsetHigh Noon and the TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive.
  • Clint Eastwood was at one point offered the role of Harmonica. Leone also hoped, in the first version of the script, that Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach would reprise their roles from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the opening sequence.
  • The wagon ride taken by Claudia Cardinale and Paolo Stoppa is claimed to be “the longest buggy ride in movie history” according to IMDb.
  • Jack Elam’s reactions to the fly in the opening sequence were natural. His face was coated with jam before a fly was let out of a jar nearby him.
  • Henry Fonda originally turned down his role in the film, but was convinced when director Sergio Leone described what would be his first scene in the picture, and how the role would be a change of pace from his “good guy” screen persona. Fonda was also advised to take the role by Eli Wallach, who had just worked with Leone.
(Image via Doctor Marco)
(Image via Doctor Marco)

Favorite things:

  • The wonderful, dialogue-light opening. The use of sound is so striking in the opening and throughout the entire film.
  • Jack Elam and the fly
  • Upon hearing that there aren’t enough horses, Harmonica responds “You brought two too many.” OOOOH.
  • This film is so beautifully shot that listing all of my favorite visual moments would make this the longest post I’ve ever written on TMP.
  • I feel bad for laughing since the characters all die, but the falls that the actors make when Jill’s husband-to-be and his family are shot are so dramatic.
  • Henry Fonda’s first scene — what a shocker it must have been to realize he was a villain, for fans seeing this in the theater in 1968! Beautiful, blue-eyed Henry Fonda kicks off his appearance in the film by shooting a child. That’s one way to break out of the type-casting box. It was such a genius decision to put him in this role.
  • The beautiful, dusty town that Jill arrives in. One thing I’ve always loved about the Western genre is the visual style, despite the reservations that have kept me from watching many of them until I started “LTTAW.”
  • “SWEETWATER… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”
  • The expressiveness of Claudia Cardinale’s face in this film. I’ve only seen a handful of her movies, but I would definitely consider this one of her best performances, if not the very best.
  • Harmonica is such a great character. He doesn’t speak much, but when he does, it’s usually highly quotable, and Bronson’s performance turns him into one of the most captivating elements of the great ensemble cast.
  • I drool every time the beautifully detailed interior of the train car is shown. DROOOOOL.
  • “Do you know anything about a guy going around playing the harmonica? He’s someone you’d remember. Instead of talking, he plays. And when he better play, he talks.”
  • Hanging upside-down in the train window, gun in hand… a boring Tuesday for the outlaws of this film!
  • Once Upon a Time in the West is a very long film, nearly three hours, but it doesn’t feel nearly as long as it actually is. It’s such a fantastic piece of film-making in all respects that it has no trouble holding the viewer’s interest.
(Image via Listal)
(Image via Listal)

 

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9 thoughts on “Lindsey Appreciates a Western: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

  1. Ha! ‘Lindsey APPRECIATES a Western’! I thought something sounded funny about that when I first saw it! I own this movie, and what I loved about it most were the great shots, and the cinematography. And of course, Fonda as a bad guy. Pretty cool.

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        1. Actually, I only have three drafted right now! I’ve published 17 including today’s post. I’m hoping to squeeze in a couple more Western viewings soon. I’ll be ending the project in October (one year after starting it) because I feel like it’s accomplished its purpose, haha. After that, I’ll continue to review Westerns in the format I use for any other new-to-me film.

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