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Once Upon A Time In The West
BLU-RAY disk
Jun 24, 2011 By: Chris Bumbray
Once Upon A Time In The West order download
Director:
Sergio Leone

Actors:
Charles Bronson
Jason Robards
Henry Fonda
Claudi Cardinale

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) is an old-west prostitute whose new husband and family are murdered by a ruthless hitman, Frank (Henry Fonda) working on the orders of a railroad magnate looking to clear out the McBain farm to make room for the railroad. Bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards) is framed for the crime, but he’s soon able to convince Jill of his innocence. Enter Harmonica (Charles Bronson), a gunslinger harbouring a vendetta against Frank, who, in his quest for vengeance, comes to Jill and Cheyenne’s aid.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
In terms of Sergio Leone’s finest work, it’s always tough to decide which is better; THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY or ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I really have a hard time deciding which one I like best, as both are essentially perfect films, and among the top five westerns over made. The two have their similarities; epic length, operatic violence, gorgeous scores by Ennio Morricone, but they also have several crucial differences.

For one; THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY is a much harder-edged, cynical film. By comparison, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is not only more elegiac, but also romantic. While Eastwood’s Man With No Name with an essentially amoral gunslinger, only made heroic by the sheer badness of those he went up against, both Robards’ Cheyenne, and Bronson’s Harmonica are truly heroic, and in Cheyenne’s case, selfless. Perhaps this romanticism also has to do with Leone’s choice of protagonist, who’s neither Robards nor Bronson, but rather Claudia Cardinale, as the ex-prostitute Jill. While Jill does have a minor romance with Harmonica, theirs is not a full-blown love affair. Rather, the romantic aspect comes from the fact that Cheyenne and Harmonica are almost knight-like in their protection of Jill, although Harmonica’s vendetta against Frank takes precedence over everything.

Robards, Cardinale, and Bronson are all superb, but the film really belongs to Henry Fonda, in one of the most successful instances of casting against type that I can think of. Fonda’s legendary for his heroic roles in John Ford westerns, where he played Wyatt Earp and Abe Lincoln, in addition to his many other heroic roles, including THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, and MISTER ROBERTS. Here, he’s a real SOB, with our first glimpse of Frank showing him shooting a young boy in the back. Here, he’s evil incarnate, even more so than Lee Van Cleef in THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY.

And let’s not forget the score by Ennio Morricone, which is my choice for the finest ever composed. I actually have a well-worn copy of the soundtrack on vinyl, and it’s an album that’s truly close to my heart. On its own, Morricone’s work would be a masterpiece. Paired with the film, it’s transcendent.

THE EXTRAS
All the extras from the previous DVD are ported over. While anamorphically enhanced, they’re not in HD (aside from the trailer ). First up is a Commentary with Sir Christopher Frayling, John Carpenter, Alex Cox, Sheldon Hall, John Milius and Claudia Cardinale . Next, a superb four-part documentary examining the film’s production and legacy. There’s also a vast still archive , and cast profiles . Exclusive to the blu-ray is an extended restored version of the film , featuring roughly a minute of extra footage (a brief scene featuring Harmonica).
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Obviously, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is a must-have if you’re serious about cinema. It’s truly a masterpiece, and one of the finest films, western or otherwise, ever made.
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1:18AM on 06/29/2011
Great write up Chris. I like how you compared and contrasted it to Leone's other Western classic. For me, the romantic aspects of Once Upon a Time in the West edge it over TGTB&TU by a hair. It's as brilliant a movie as cinema can get. The transfer for the new blu-ray is also spectacular.
Great write up Chris. I like how you compared and contrasted it to Leone's other Western classic. For me, the romantic aspects of Once Upon a Time in the West edge it over TGTB&TU by a hair. It's as brilliant a movie as cinema can get. The transfer for the new blu-ray is also spectacular.
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