Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)




Sergio Leone


Italy, USA


Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Gabriele Ferzetti, Paolo Stoppa Marco Zuanelli, Keenan Wynn, Frank Wolff, Lionel Stander, Woody Strode Jack Alam, Al Mulock


Harmonica (Charles Bronson) and Cheyenne (Jason Robards) joins forces to protect the beautiful Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) from a ruthless assassin (Henry Fonda) working for the railroad. 


Once Upon a Time in the West and I have a history. It is both the first western and the first Sergio Leone movie I've seen. But it's more than that. It is also that film that I watch and makes me see what western lovers see in westerns. It is good on so many levels, each time I watch it I love it a little more. That's the kind of film Once Upon a Time in the West is to me.

The story isn't very complex and it's basically the same as in any other western, not to mention the incredibly slow pace it has, nonetheless it is incredibly compelling as Leone manages to create mystery, intrigue and suspense around so little. There isn't any epic plot twist, still it feels like there are because of how brilliantly the story is told. Also, this is not the kind of story that is supposed to entertain only, but to make you feel something as well.

That, however, isn't by far the best feat of the film. That role belongs to the characters. They are very minimalistic and they barely speak and yet they are well defined, convincing and they feel incredibly real thanks to a solid script, even more solid performances from all the actors involved in the important roles, and, this one is the most important to me, a spectacular camera work. The way Leone captures every single glance, facial expression and body movement is beyond spectacular and the characters really benefit from that.

The characters are also the reason why this will always be one of my favourite westerns. Actually, one particular character, Jill McBain, the only (major) female character. Unlike in most westerns, this is a strong, leading woman. Sure, she still is a prostitute, but she is well characterized and she is fundamental to plot development.

Definitely worth of a mention is the opening sequence. An almost ten minute silent opening sequence where nothing really happens but is nevertheless memorable. One of my favourite openings ever in movies. It's pretty much perfect.

At last but not least there's Ennio Morricone's score. It really adds to the film - if that's even possible considering how spectacular Once Upon a Time in the West already is - adding more drama and emotions. And I'm pretty sure many will agree with me when I say this score is what better than The Hateful Eight's.


  1. Love this film for so many reasons including the one's you mention here. I love it that Henry Fonda, who almost always played an upstanding man of value, was a cold hearted killer here. I love the beginning with Jack Elam as one of the men who bites the dust. Actually at the end of Support Your Local Gunfighter (hilarious as well as its sister "Support Your Local Sheriff)< Jack Elam mentions how he ends up in spaghetti westerns:) Claudia's role is so beaten by the men but it's funny that the one who seems to bring out the passion in her is the nasty Fonda role. I love the buddy camaraderie of Bronson and Robards Jnr (who was great here). This is Sergio leone's masterpiece in my humble opinion when it comes to the westerns he made

    1. I've seen only three of Leone's movies, but this is the best on so far. And I'm pretty sure the others won't be better than this.

  2. For me, this is absolutely the best western of all time. Leone does a masterful job in all areas. This includes the characters. As you mention, they are very minimalistic, but also well defined. That's a tough trick to pull off, and this film makes it look easy.

  3. I'm so happy to see such a shining endorsement of a movie I plan to watch for the first time soon. I am working my way through Leone's Man with No Name trilogy first but should get to this one before the year is out. Can't wait!

    1. I'm sure you're gonna love it! I watched it for the first time at high school (my law teacher loved Leone's movies so we'd watch some with him when he was doing substitution hours) and I felt in love with it. It's pure magic.