When anyone — cinephile or casual moviegoer — gushes over Sergio Leone, there’s always one film that’s left out: Once Upon a Time in America.
It’s to be expected. Leone is beloved for his Westerns, and America isn’t a Western. Even if he tread over the same themes, Leone fans want their antiheroes in battered cowboy hats, not crisp fedoras.
Once Upon a Time also suffered from multiple cuts. There are currently three versions of the film available. Leone had shot between 8 to 10 hours of footage; he managed to get it down to six, and then chopped it down to 224 minutes to satisfy his producers. It was further butchered for its American release, where it was a critical and financial disaster. We did finally get the 224 Cannes cut stateside — too late for Leone to receive any comfort — but even so, the film has never been given the kind of love and hype it deserves.
That’s destined to change now. Not only that, but we might actually get the America that Leone intended. According to Variety, a new cut is on the way. Leone’s children, Andrea and Raffaella Leone, have secured the Italian rights to the film and will be pairing up with Bologna Cinemetheque L’Immagine Ritrovata to digitally restore America, and add 40 minutes of new footage. It’s not known what the new footage will be, but there’s obviously a lot to pick from. We may finally get Leone’s six hour cut (he originally wanted it to be two three hour films), or something close to it.
Italy is already planning to re-release the finished film into theaters, and I sincerely hope we see some kind of theatrical re-release here. At the very least, I hope we get a really beautiful box set out of this with all the extras and retrospectives that have been missing from previous DVD editions. America is a film that’s been left out of the dialogue for too long, and it would be wonderful to finally evaluate it as it was meant to be seen.