#188 Once Upon A Time in the West
After a recently married woman (Claudia Cardinale) is widowed by the brutal murder of her husband and his children, suddenly gunslingers are crawling out the woodwork to try and get the land she now owns. Leading the pack is Frank (Henry Fonda), a dangerous and ruthless killer but he seems to have his hands full with the mysterious Harmonica (Charles Bronson) who has some link to his past.
This one feels a lot like Black Swan to me, in that I can appreciate the tone, the score, the cinematography and the tension in the film as well as thinking every actor involved is giving it their all but still not like the overall finished effect. This film is often called the best western of all time but I just wasn’t feeling it. I don’t like westerns that much as a genre in general but I enjoy Sergio Leone’s other works so I was hoping the same would ring true here. Maybe the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (GBU) spoilt me a bit.
Fonda made his career out of being the golden boy and mister nice guy. The entire premise for my favourite film has him arguing 11 other men down on the chance that an innocent man might be killed so it was an interesting change to see him being the low down dirty criminal in this role. Interesting, but not effective (for me). There’s just something about his face that made it seem he would never actually do these things. Wonderfully acted in every other respect but I just didn’t buy it.
Bronson as Harmonica however I was completely sold on. Whichever scene he was in he just owned. I haven’t had much opportunity to watch him as an actor but this film definitely made me want to check out more of his back catalogue.
Cardinale is an Italian actress, so all of her dialogue was horribly dubbed over. This broke the flow a little but after a while you just come to accept it. Her character was also rather interesting. She was as much a main character as either of her 3 counterparts, which is rather rare in a western, and probably had the most interesting of the back stories. It’s always nice to see a strong female character in a predominantly male driven genre such as this.
On top of this she is heartbreakingly beautiful. I’ve commented on attractive women in films in this blog in the past, and I hold true to those comments, but I haven’t been this stuck by just how attractive a woman has been since Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest. She just exudes sex appeal.
I was also a little underwhelmed by Ennio Morricone’s score this time around. Personally I’d say his scores for the latter two films in the dollars trilogy (I can’t comment on the first having yet to see it) are what helped to make them so culturally iconic. Here the harmonica tune was really about the only memorable piece of music I can recall. It just never helped it reach that epic feeling the other two films achieved.
At 2 hrs 40 minutes this film is long and it really feels it. I don’t want to sound like a broken record here but GBU is 3 hrs long and you are not aware of the time as it’s going on. Here I was checking the time every 20 minutes. Leone is all about the build up to violence but there’s build up and then there’s just stalling.
This is definitely a case of personal opinion going against the norm but despite all the good this film has going for it, it just did not resonate with me and I would be very hard pressed to watch it again 2/5