I’m pretty sure that was the lowest vote count of the round so far. Is it a weekend thing? But anyway, despite coming into the game late, R.L. Logan took the win by quite a large margin. Congrats! Similarly, this next round also includes a replacement contestant for somebody else that had to drop out. And we’re looking at the next western of the tournament, Once Upon a Time in the West. Read, vote, comment, enjoy! You have until Wednesday. Below is the updated bracket. Click to make it bigger.
Release Date: 21 December 1968
Cast: Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale
Director: Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Sergio Donati, Sergio Leone
Story By: Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, Sergio Leone
There’s a certain elegance in the simple life of a wanderer. All he needs are the clothes on his back and a desire to move ever onward. However, when that journey is disrupted by the ruthless hand of a tycoon driven into paranoid hysterics by the prospect of losing out on a chance to further expand his empire, the calm in a wanderer’s step becomes heavy with burdens he never intended to take on.
Such is the case for a mysterious man known simply as “Harmonica” (Bronson). Confronted by a band of men as he disembarks a train, he steps into a nasty fight over land. His harmonica skills are second only to his ability to shoot fast and with terrifying accuracy. The shrill sounds of the notes as his dry lips pass air through the instrument are hymnal tones belying the thick atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the fight over land becomes the battle between gangs and for the life of a young woman. Frank (Fonda), a ruthless killer with ice coursing through ever part of his body, is hired to intimidate the owner of Sweetwater (so named because it’s the only part of the desert dustbowl known as Flagstone with any real water to speak of). Instead, he kills the owner and his family, framing rival gang leader Cheyenne (Robards) by dressing in the same duster as he and his men and leaving behind a scrap of cloth leading right back to Cheyenne’s crew. In the midst of this sordid tale of greed and vengeance, a woman named Jill (Cardinale) is mercilessly shoved between the demureness of her femininity and the vitriol of her scorn – after all, it was her husband that was murdered. Her life hangs listlessly by a thread, as she is now Frank’s next target. But her determination to carry on the will of her felled husband propels her forward despite the supposed frailty of her sex.
As is to be expected in a Western, the men are burly, rough and exacting in their actions. Bronson’s turn as the brooding harmonica player is precise, delicate. He wastes no movements and his lines are delivered with the same shrill precision of the notes mewling from his mouthpiece. Robards’s countenance is eagle-sharp, but there’s also an intelligence and unwavering confidence that adds volumes to Cheyenne’s personality. Fonda as Frank is cold, steady. However, it pales in comparison to the understated fire of Bronson or Robards’s arrogant stride. In the mix, the sole female presence, Cardinale doesn’t suffer the obvious weak damsel trope prevalent in most Westerns. She’s ferocious, fearless. Her eyes are hard and cutting, as deep set and determined as her character.
Though Westerns have never been my particular finger of brandy, there’s an undeniable beauty in the technical detail of the film that spoke to my love of visual poetics. As a story from the very rose-tinged imagination of Dario Argento, it’s no wonder that the visual palette of this piece of film is incredibly intricate, immediately capturing the eye and forcing the audience to, at the very least, respect its artistry.
Beyond the crackling sonic landscape of the film, there’s an impeccable use of camera angle and cinematic imagery that allows the audience, whether fans of the genre or not, to become fully immersed in the story. It impresses me as the type of film that surrounds you in its environment, cloaking you in textures that will steep you further into the scope of the story.
As far as Westerns go, Once Upon a Time in the West easily stands a world apart. The direction and vision of Sergio Leone stretches beyond the quick-draw antics of most films of the genre and focuses on the minute details of each scene in order to heighten the sense of desperation in certain moments. The drip of water on a rawhide hat, the crunch of worn down pebbles under the chapped leather of a boot. Each detail informs the tension of the scene, leaving the ears perched for shifts in sonic cadence, the muscles taut with the expectation of elevated drama. However, Leone’s subtle care with each main character creates a story that’s equal parts engaging and enlightening.
This film is a lesson in detail, a piece of cinema full of nuance and grace that should be touted for its psychological merits as much as its action.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
I usually don’t watch westerns, not because I don’t like them, but because I haven’t had much access to them: they don’t go on TV as often as they did before, and the modern westerns are so far in between and so different to those made in the heyday of the genre (60’s-70’s) that when you see them you are watching a movie that references those films and not actual western genre pieces… nothing against modern westerns, but the real genre is present here, in the movie that I’m reviewing today: ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ by Sergio Leone.
It is quite a marvelous thing when you watch a movie that its runtime is more than 2 and a half hours and when you are in the minute 45 you are still being introduced to the characters that will be important to the plot, and yet you don’t find yourself bored or think that the movie is slow, and it’s not because of the action set pieces that fill those first minutes (they are far apart from each other as far as I can tell), but because the cinematography, the music and the atmosphere that the director has created is so real and rich, that you feel inside of it, you are now living in the west, and that may be the greatest strenght of this film: OuaTitW is a unique film, one of its kind.
The pace that stablishes from the first minutes of the film tell you inmediatly the kind of movie you’re going to watch and what you can expect, and it holds you closer to the screen in all its cinematographic majesty. It may also be one of the most emotionally envolving westerns ever made, all the characters are related to one another in such a perfect way that you can’t go wrong when you tell your friends that the best credit ever is ‘Story by: Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone’. How can you go wrong and not love this movie? One of the three best italian directors working together to bring you a movie that is incredible amounts of fun and emotion from every one of its shots.
Because, oh my God, the shots in this movie are gorgeous. I don’t think I saw one shot that wasn’t perfectly framed regarding the information that it delivers or the emotion/reaction that the filmmaker expected to get from the audience. The closeups, a landmark in Leone’s filmmaking abilities, are used here beyond the gun duels in such an emotional and perfect way that you feel that he might as well have directed some romantic melodramas, because the way the characters look at each other in the final scenes of the film seem right out of the greatest love story ever told, and while “love” isn’t what you inmediatly think of when you see Charles Bronson’s face, well, you might as well go into this expecting a lot of surprises.
I don’t know, this might be the greatest western ever made, and I haven’t even seen some of the classics of the genre, but I don’t know how much perfect this can go. Anyway, that doesn’t mean that this film doesn’t have flaws… for me, that is, because I may be the one with the wrong set of braincells or I’m just an imbecile that can’t just admit that this may be one of the greatest movies (not westerns) ever made. But, for example, even if I say that the movie was filled with deep emotions, I say this out of the structure, the shots, the cinematography and the music… not because I actually felt those emotions myself, because I must be honest and say that I wasn’t really moved by the plot elements nor the actions… nor the big reveal at the end, but I can still see the intention of it, and I applaud it, but I just wish I felt it, maybe I’m just an emotion-less prick.
On the other hand, I was surprised by how… plot-less the film is. Maybe it’s a wrong choice of words, and of course, I’m not talking about the flaws that I felt with the movie (the only one was the thing with the emotions, zip)… maybe it’s… it’s almost like a silent film. There’s little dialogue, and if it didn’t exist, you could understand it right away, just think about the final duel… usually the good guy and the bad guy exchange some words, specially when there’s revenge involved, and I’m not like asuming that all pistol duels are talky, I know they aren’t, but usually when such a strong element as the one presented in the flashback is there… you asume there would be a exchange of words, but there isn’t, and it’s oh so much perfect that way, and so strong at the same time.
The western is a visual genre above all, and no wonder there are so many bad westerns out there, because they forget what they should be doing first: have good visuals. Plot comes afterwards, and the greatest westerns (and sometimes the greatest movies) are those that combine the greatest imagery/cinematography and the greatest plot/script, and ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ is one of the few that actually manages to get both right. Of course you can talk great lenghts about the sound design of this film, that to modern ears may seem clichéd, but the problem is that this sound design IS the cliché, it is what drew the inspiration for the ‘western ambient’, and that’s because it is above all a movie about a mood, an ambient that is filled with violence, revenge, blood and love.
I think I should be honest with you here. I had already watched this film before, I only rewatched it for purposes of this magnificent tournament. I haven’t seen this movie in 4 years, and I still can’t believe that I haven’t done so. Maybe it was fear, I saw it on a really small TV and the effect of the film may have gone over my head and I may have just gone with it for its action sequences (few and too far inbetween, as I’ve said before), but now I see it as what it really is, a movie about atmosphere and characters, about people that pass and try to find a place, a movie that show us with every second that goes on that its on its own, it doesn’t need the rest of the genre: this is western, and the genre might as well exist only with this movie.
Oh, I didn’t mention the plot of the film… oh, you can google that.
Tags: Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob