A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.
Are you bored yet? Then this movie is probably not for you.
But are you dying to know what the three men are waiting for? Does a light anxiety creep onto you whilst reading that description? Can't you wait for the tension to resolve? Then this movie is all you ever wanted.
The almost lawless world where outlaws and bandits roam the country with ease that is the setting of the story, is shown by Tonino Delli Colli (director of photography) in all its splendorous grandeur and it's uncountable little details. The set pieces, the costumes and the real life locations in Arizona and Utah make everything believable. And together with the characters and figurants, everything creates a vibrant and utterly believable Western civilisation.
Charles Bronson plays the man with the harmonica: a lone wolf looking for something that he chooses not to reveal to anyone until he gets it. A character with no name roaming the endless fields under the sun, announcing his presence at all times with the same melody he plays on his harmonica that echo's in an unsettling way. Bronson does this brilliantly, with a face that overflows with held back emotions and a determination that is downright scary.
In a tavern the man meets Manuel 'Cheyenne' Gutiérrez (Jason Robards), a bandit that recently escaped being hung by the neck, re-joining his band of outlaws. With already greying hair, he takes on the situation that arises in the area, trying his part to be the hero that saves the day. Robards portrays a character that, by only one look at him, we can see how the years have shaped him. His performance is outstanding; we want to grab a drink with Cheyenne, but we also get the feeling that being on your guard around him wouldn't be an overrated luxury.
The 'damsel in distress' (although she isn't in the original meaning of the word) Jill McBain (played by Claudia Cardinale) turns into a toy of Fate itself. Without any warning she gets involved in something quite over her head, but she handles it masterfully; she refuses to return to New Orleans with her tail between her legs and stays to face the difficulties put before her. Cardinale playing Jill is both an erotic marvel and a woman you wouldn't want to cross.
They are all opposed by Frank (Henry Fonda): the local gang leader with a heart of stone and a business proposal at the ready at all times. With his ruthless blue eyes and his gun at the ready he keeps the town quiet. Fonda gives you the creeps with just one gaze at the camera and every sentence leaves the bitter taste of malfeasance.
And finally, Gabriele Ferzetti finishes the line of main characters with his deliciously sickening portrayal of the crippled railroad baron Morton. A character that you'd like to slap in the face, but one you feel pity for as well. Outstandingly brought!
The soundtrack is composed by the never beaten maestro of film scoring himself: Ennio Morricone. His genius lies in the creation of themes and melodies that will haunt your dreams forever for better or worse. The melancholic main theme that is brought with a heavenly choir draws tears from your eyes after hearing only a couple of chords. The theme of the man with the harmonica is as unsettling as it is epic and Cheyennes' theme creates the lighter counter points in the movie. Morricone uses these motifs ingeniously, hinting at plot points, character motifs and feelings and giving you a sense of the world the movie takes place in. If I could give twelve out of ten stars for the score, I'd do it.
Sergio Leone was a masterful director, no need to prove that. He manages to turn even a scene of seven minutes, where three men are merely waiting for a train, into an epic storyline. Two hours and three quarters the tension builds and then resolves... partially, always building towards the end. And that finale! That finale! That finale chilled me to the bone! Throughout the film, question after question is raised, and when one question is answered, another one pops up. So when all pieces of the puzzle fall into place to the score of Ennio Morricone, how can one not be moved by it?
For Leone, there was no better way to reach the top of the Western genre.
And for us, there never will be a film that is more Western than 'Once Upon a Time in the West'.
- Apr 24, 2019