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Upon A Time In The West
Digital 5.1, English 1.0 Mono, French Mono
John Carpenter, Alex Cox and John Milius; Sheldon Hall and Christopher
of Violence; The Wages of Sin; Something To Do With Death
Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernardo Bertolucci and Tonino Delli Colli
Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Woody Strode, Jack
Elam, Lionel Standler, Frank Wolff, Keenan Wynn, Paolo Stoppa
Mickey Knox (English dialog)
Told like some mythic western fairy
tale, Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West may be his
best film. It's outrageous and darker than an John Ford western.
Leone's trademark sweeping camera moves and larger than life
moments are all here. What makes West so memorable is the
way it plays with the western genre, the myths perpetrated
by cinema and the more self consciously arty European cinema
(in contrast to the narrative pulp driven American cinema).
It's also as simple as this; Leone fills the screen with images
as epic as anything written by Homer.
The plot itself isn't as important as the way its told.
In the hands of a more conventional director, West could have
still been a very good western but it would have lacked the
central element of all Leone's films--the element of satire
that brims beneath the surface of his films. There was also
a sense of irony at work in all Leone's westerns that helped
to breathe new life into a moribound film genre.
Harmonica (Charles Bronson)is on the trail of Frank a
ruthless sociopath and killer. We're never clued into why
but Frank, despite his brutal nature, is clearly concerned
about Harmonica; he sends three of his best men (two of them
are played by Ford regulars Jack Elam and Woody Strode in
a brilliant nearly wordless opening sequence) to meet him
at the train station and kill him. Harmonica's nickname proves
to be a misnomer; he plays a series of long, mournful notes
almost like a bizarre funeral march as a prelude to killing
Shortly after meeting Harmonica, we see just how ruthless
and deadly Frank can be. He quietly attacks the McBain family
who are preparing a feast to welcome their father Brett's
new bride. In a brilliantly shot sequence (almost as stunning
as the opening sequence), Frank and the members of his gang
gun down the family. We see Frank for the first time and we're
stunned as we recognize the blue eyes of Henry Fonda.
Shortly after the murders, McBain's new bride arrives
(Claudia Cardinale) in town. When she isn't greeted at the
station by McBain or eldest son, she hires a driver to take
her to her new home. She arrives just as the funeral is commencing
for the family on the very day the McBain family was to celebrate
her arrival and the marriage. The murder is blamed on Cheyenne
(Jason Robards) an escaped convict and his gang of men. Cheyenne
wants to get to the bottom of who murdered the McBains almost
as much as his bride. It seems the town has formed a posse
and they're pursuing Cheyenne. While Cheyenne doesn't shy
away from admitting he's murdered men before, he is offended
that someone would think he would kill children.
There are mysteries throughout this fine film; who is
Frank and why has he murdered an innocent family celebrating
a wedding? Why is Harmonica pursuing Frank?
The DVD transfer is vivid and sharp.
The film has some minor blemishes in the form of edge enhancement
but even these aren't a major issue. The film's rich color
and cinematography are finally rendered in an aspect ratio
similar to the original theatrical version. None of Leone's
widescreen images are cropped and we see Monument Valley in
all its glory (which is important as the valley itself is
an important character).
Paramount has done a spledid job of presenting the most
important part of the film--it has been restored to its original
running time. When the film first appeared and the box office
wasn't all that great, Paramount pulled it from circulation,
recut it removing about 30 or so minutes of the film. The
recut film was re-released and did just as badly before at
the box office. The longer cut of West hasn't been seen in
the United States in quite some time. Surprisingly, the original
negative with the restored footage looks marvelous. Obviously,
they didn't have to piece together the film from a variety
of sources (and if they did the look of the film is even more
The soundtrack is almost as good as the visuals. The film
is presented in Dolby Digital (English 5.1 Surround) with
a restored English mono track. Not surprisingly, the dialog
is slightly out of synch with the picture (as it was during
the original release). Since the film was directed and edited
by an Italian crew, this shouldn't come as a shock.
appear on the second disc and include interviews with Claudia
Cardinale, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernardo Bertolucci (who helped
come up with the story) and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli.
Of the three I found An Opera of Violence to be the most enlightening
but all three are very good. The featurette Railroad: Revolutionizing
The West brings added background as the coming of the railroad
is instrumental to the plot of the film. There's also a cast
profile which, although interesting, I found to be less than
DVD set comes with a number of extras. Unfortunately, Leone
died in the 80's before the advent of DVD's (or popularity of
laserdiscs) so there's no audio commentary from him. Instead,
we get commentary from other film directors (including John
Carpenter and John Milius)that helps bring added depth to the
film. There's also commentary from Leone biographher Christopher
Frayling and film historian Dr. Sheldon Hall. I personally felt
that the most interesting comments were from the film directors
vs. the historians.
West was one of Leone's most important pictures and has finally
been returned to that position with the restoration of the cut
footage. The extras and care with which the transfer was handled
make this an essential addition to any collection.