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Please, May I Award a Sixth Star?
Once Upon A Time in the West
(dir: Sergio Leone)
(Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Claudia Cardinale)
|Another reviewer has said, in talking about this
film, that when you start throwing around superlatives -- announcing that
something is the "Best" (or the "Worst) of its genre -- that logical analysis
pretty much goes by the board.
And, make no mistake, this is my choice for the *best* Western ever made,
an opinion that i do not believe any amount of mere logical argument could
shake me on.
Leone was, of course, the master of the spaghetti Western, and in this film
he comes to America to shoot; knowing full well that comparisons to John
Ford were inevitable, given the size of the film and the cast, he shoots
in Monument Valley to emphasise the point that this film is a *serious* Western.
A Note at a Later Time: After shooting in Monument Valley, they had to ship several hundred pounds of dust to Spain where the bulk of the shooting took place (for use in shots like Cheyenne's entry in the cantina scene) because the soil in Monument Valley is reddish and that in the section of Spain where they were shooting is yellowish.
Casting Henry Fonda so thoroughly against type, as Frank, a cold-blooded
killer for hire who doesn't even blink as he guns down an eight-year-old
boy as disinterestedly as most of us would step on an ant, was a brilliant
move; adding Charles Bronson (in what was allegedly originally supposed to
be Clint Eastwood's part) as the mysterious gunman with no name who is stalking
Frank and stirring up trouble for reasons of his own, was genius.
The size of this film can be deduced from the fact that people like Jack
Elam, Woodie Strode, Lionel Stander and Keenan Wynne are present in what
amount to character cameos...
Claudia Cardinale and Jason Robards round out the powerful list of principals
-- but it's Fonda and Bronson's film all the way, and they run with it.
Leone is even more than his usual laconic self -- minimal/minimalist dialog,
long languid buildups to sudden shocking action and brilliant camerawork
that loves and emphasises the broad vistas of the American West and just
as much makes giants of the actors in the middle of that vast panorama.
Ennio Morricone provides the music (what a surprise...) and has done a masterful
job, representing each of the four main characters by his or her own theme
-- waltzing strings for Cardinale, menacing orchestra for Fonda, the slippery
silver harmonica that Bronson's character plays as he stands and watches
and waits and the clip-clopping, almost bluegrass theme for Robards as the
local outlaw, Cheyenne.
Co-plotted by Leone, Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertollucci (and isn't *that*
a three-way parlay), the script's oblique approach to the story and gradual
revelations of motive and intent among the four leads make this a film to
savour and watch carefully so that you don't miss anything.
The sheer audacity of the filmmaking and cinematography -- from an opening
credit sequence that may be the longest ever filmed, featuring masterful
performances by Jack Elam and Woodie Strode demonstrating that doing essentially
nothing in the right way can be at least as interesting to watch as violent
action, and builds suspense better, through one of the most spectacular crane
shots i have ever seen, to brilliantly choreographed and photographed and
edited action sequences -- is amazingly refreshing after one cookie-cutter,
timid, by-the-numbers "action" film after another.
And the final revelation and shoot-out are Perfect.
I like this film a lot (can you tell?) and i think you will, too.