Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie the western The Hateful Eight has just expanded to wide release and in the spirit of westerns today’s Sunday Matinee is one of my favourite westerns.
Sergio Leone didn’t make a lot of movies but the few that he did make were awesome. He gained fame for his western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars which also catapulted Clint Eastwood into action star status. Two more movies starring Eastwood followed. For a Few Dollars More and then the classic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. By then Leone had tired of the western. Paramount studios offered Leone a lot of money and the chance to work with Henry Fonda if he would make one more western. Leone agreed.
Once Upon a Time in the West starts off slow. Three men arrive at a train station. They threaten the lone worker there and then sit and wait for a train to arrive. They wait. Eventual a train arrives. No one appears to get off. The train leaves and the men are about to do the same when a harmonica starts playing. Behind the train is Charles Bronson, standing and playing the harmonica. He asks which one is Frank and the men reply that Frank couldn’t make it, he sent them instead to give him a lift. Bronson looks at the three horses. The men laugh saying the forgot to bring him a horse. Bronson shakes his head. “No you brought two horses too many.”
I love Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s slow and methodical with calm moments waiting for eruptions of violence. The plot has a railroad hiring the evil Frank (Henry Fonda) to clear folks off of land that they want. Claudia Cardinale is a recently married and widowed woman who is in possession of land that the railroad wants. Jason Robards is an outlaw who wants to help and Bronson, well he’s out of revenge.
The movie was co-written by Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci before they became filmmakers themselves. And Ennio Morricone score is fantastic. The film was a huge hit in Europe but flopped in the U.S. when Paramount cut the film by 20 minutes eliminating most of Robards scenes making his appearance confusing. The uncut version didn’t make it to North America until the movie was screened on TV. They used the international cut with some edits. The 2003 DVD release was first time that it was released completely uncut. Still an excellent film.