I have 498 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday or Tuesday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it!
What’s the movie? Once Upon A Time in the West (1968)
What’s it rated? Rated PG-13 for Claudia Cardinale in general, more gunfights than at the Gathering of the Juggalos and Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards getting Man all over the place.
Did people make it? Written by Sergio Leone and Sergio Donati. Based on a story by Sergio Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario (Fucking) Argento. Directed by Sergio (Fucking) Leone. Acted by Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Henry Fonda, Gabriele Ferzetti, Paolo Stoppa, Jack Elam, Woody Strode, Al Mulock and Keenan Wynn.
What’s it like in one sentence? The second greatest western I’ve ever seen in my life.
Why did you watch it? Chewers like therelaxingdragon and John Livingston showed me the hole in my filmographic knowledge.
What’s it about in one paragraph? Mrs. McBain (Cardinale) arrives in Utah to find her new husband and family have been brutally gunned down by some dastardly son of a bitch and his gang. The villain, Frank (Fonda) did the deed for a greedy railroad baron (Ferzetti) in order to open up the McBain farm for purchase so they can create a new town near the area’s only watering hole while train tracks get laid in close proximity. What the bad men weren’t counting on were two also men: Harmonica (Bronson), a mysterious and deadly drifter with revenge on his ice cold plate and Cheyanne (Robards), an outlaw that Frank made the mistake of setting up to take the fall for the McBain slaughter. As these characters converge, so do dozens of bullets, some questionable sexual politics and more iconic poses than shall ever be contained in a single movie again.
Play or remove from my queue? If you haven’t seen this then you’re lucky. You can make sweet love to it with your eyes for the first time like I did last night and, regardless of how much anticipation there is, the first time is perfect; filled with swelling music and lots of eye-contact. Leone directs this film with such precision and grace that, by the time the final credits roll, it feels almost effortless. There are shots in this so iconic and lovely, that 40+ years later, they still feel fresh and filled with texture and theme. I was flabbergasted by the brilliance of this film and wished my previous misconceptions about it hadn’t kept me from seeing it for so many years. I guess I always thought this was going to be a long, laborious slog through male posturing and gender humiliating romance, but I couldn’t have been more wrong: the male posturing and romance is neither long, nor laborious.
I figured as soon as Cheyenne and Harmonica met Jill McBain, we’d get into a love triangle/con scenario with the men fighting over the woman in order to find where all Mr. McBain’s hidden riches are. While this may happen for about 10 minutes of screentime, Leone is primarily concerned with Bronson’s quest for vengeance and Cheyenne’s warped sense of honor. This makes for a film that absolutely takes it’s time to get where it’s going, but never feels stretched to the breaking point like so many movies of this length can seem. Yes, Harmonica has a moment where he tears some of Cardinale’s clothes off, but it’s for reasons more arc important than sexual and it feels completely organic to both characters that he would treat her that way and that she would let him. Jill does quite a few things in this film that probably wouldn’t fly with current audiences (like sleeping with Frank, her husband’s killer), but her back story solidifies her choices that, while questionable, are still understandable and sometimes necessary.
I didn’t plan on falling for Robards’ Cheyenne so hard in this. I thought for sure I would be swept up mostly by the presence of Henry Fonda playing evil or Bronson playing stony badassery, but Cheyenne is really the heart of the entire film. He’s not a good guy and has done some seriously despicable shit, but he is a knight in this, no question. His steely gaze combined with his melodiously grumbly voice makes for one of my all-time top oncreen heroes. His final fate was really unexpected for me and gut-punched me in a way I wasn’t really prepared for. Bronson is also fantastic, but his motivations are unknown for such a large chunk of screen-time, that he’s basically just an archetypal cipher that you dig because it’s Charlie Fucking Bronson. Cardinale is gorgeous, but not just relegated to being eye-candy. Jill McBain is a badass lady who will do whatever it takes to survive because she’s already done everything four or five times before and Cardinale fills her with such a confidant and sold core that it’s impossible not to cheer for her by the film’s final minutes. Fonda is so excellently slimy as Frank that I’m excited to go back and revisit some of his heroic work to see if West leaves any grime on them. He truly seems to be relishing his role here.
Sure, the middle section starts to feel a bit long and the dubbing is pretty terrible in multiple spots but, overall, Once Upon A Time in the West is a perfect film to me. The opening 10 minutes is the finest thing I’ve watched this year and easily one of the top openings in cinematic history. I have to stop or I’ll just keep gushing about all the things that were just so joyous about the movie and how it really gives the true film geek a sense of affirmation that dedicating one’s life to soaking up cinema in all its forms is a pursuit worth following.
How’s the music? It’s hands down the best Morricone score I’ve ever heard. Now, I love his work on The Man With No Name Trilogy, The Untouchables, The Thing and countless other projects as much as the next guy, but this score stayed in my head for days afterwards. It’s epic and personal simultaneously and a goddamned masterpiece.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? My Name is Nobody (Been meaning to watch this for years), Ace High (Eli Wallach!), True Grit (oh yes), Shane (I, shamefully, have never seen this) and Hatfields & McCoys (Looking forward to sitting down with this one),
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? After he was done shooting, actor Al Mulock (the knuckle cracking Duster from the opening) jumped out the window of his hotel, killing himself. Leone was heard shouting at the ambulance to grab his costume because it was still needed for pick-ups.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 4.4
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 5.0
Can you link to the movie? As you wish.
Any last thoughts? The crippled railroad baron’s death was one of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve ever seen. His slow and pathetic crawl to a hole filled with muddy water was incredibly powerful and so fraught with tension and pathos, that I teared up for a character I had zero investment in. It’s a masterful death scene and one more bit of added proof that Leone is one of the all-time greats.
Did you watch anything else this week? I’m on the selection committee for the Bend Film Festival and I watched about 30 documentaries and 50 shorts in the last few weeks. It’s all I really have time for anymore. Although, I saw Room 237, Errors of the Human Body and Antiviral and was damned impressed with all three.
Any spoilerish thoughts about last week’s film, Columbus Circle? Wasn’t the “mystery” behind the strangeness of Kevin Pollak’s character hugely disappointing?
Next Week? Margin Call!