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Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West (C'era una volta il West, 1968), directed by Sergio Leone, is considered by many to be his greatest film. Its critical acclaim has led some to declare it the greatest Western ever made. more...

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The epic film stars Henry Fonda, in his most villainous role, Charles Bronson as his nemesis, Jason Robards, as a generally benign bandit, and Claudia Cardinale, as a newly-widowed homesteader with a past.

Stylistically unique as a Western, the film has several striking features - emotionally resonant leitmotivs which relate to each of the main characters (each with their own unique theme music), as well as to the spirit of the American West, and long scenes in which there is very little dialogue and not much happens, broken by brief and sudden violence. Leone was more interested in the rituals preceding violence than with the violence itself. The dry, unsentimental tone of the film is consistent with the arid semi-desert in which the story unfolds, and imbues it with a feeling of realism which contrasts with the elaborately choreographed gunplay.

The composer Ennio Morricone wrote the score before Sergio Leone began filming, forcing the movie to conform to the music. Like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the stirring music almost defines the film and adds to its mythic or operatic grandeur.

Famous dialogs

-How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? -The man can't even trust his own pants.

-Did you bring a horse for me? -Well, looks like we're... -Looks like we're shy of one horse. -You brought two too many.

-You interested in fashions,Harmonica? -I saw three of these dustersa short time ago. -They were waiting for a train. -Inside the dusters,there were three men. -So? -Inside the men,there were three bullets. -That's a crazy story, Harmonica. -For two reasons. -One, nobody around these parts -got the guts to wear those dustersexcept Cheyenne's, man. -Two, Cheyenne's men don't get killed. -That surprise you? -Yeah. -Well, you know music. - And you can count.All the way up to two. -All the way up to six, if I have to. -And maybe faster than you.

-Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? -I only told you to scare them. -People scare better when they're dying.

-Mrs McBain goes back to civilisation. -Minus a husbandand plus a great future. -You deserve better. -The last man who told me that is buried out there. -You know, Jill,you remind me of my mother. -She was the biggest whore in Alameida -and the finest woman that ever lived. -whoever my father was,for an hour or for a month,... -..he must have been a happy man.

Origin of the Film

After making The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Leone wanted to retire from making Westerns. He had come across the novel The Hoods by "Harry Grey" (a pseudonym), an autobiographical book based on the author's own experiences as a Jewish hood during Prohibition. (Leone would, seventeen years later, adapt this book into his final film, Once Upon A Time In America.) Leone was offered numerous other Westerns. MGM/UA (who had produced the Dollars Trilogy) came to him with an offer for a film starring Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas, and Gregory Peck, but Leone was displeased with this. Paramount, however, offered Leone access to Henry Fonda, Leone's favorite actor whom he had wanted to work with for virtually all of his career, plus a generous budget. Leone accepted this offer.

Leone commissioned then-film critics (and future directors) Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento to help him develop the idea of the film in late 1966. The men spent much of the following year watching and discussing numerous classic Westerns at Leone's house. The movie was made up almost entirely of "quotes" from American Westerns (see below).

Leone later commissioned Sergio Donati, who had worked on several of Leone's other films, to help him refine the screenplay, largely to curb the length of the film towards the end of production. Many of the film's most memorable lines of dialogue came from him or from the film's English dialogue director, expatriate American actor Mickey Knox.


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