Possibly the greatest Spaghetti Western ever made. Starred Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, and Jason Robards, and Claudia Cardinale.

Directed by the great Sergio Leone, this movie is usually cut down from its original run time of 165 minutes. It is the only film in which Fonda ever played the villain, and he is spectacularly evil. Bronson's subdued style is perfect for the enigmatic Harmonica, while Robards finds a sort of aged Billy The Kid in the character of Cheyenne.

Surreal and full of mystery, this film is a cut above anything else in the genre. It's simultaneously funny and chilling and has a fantastic female lead who, unusually for a Western, is as strong and important a character as any of the men.

The Italian title of the film is C'era una volta il west.

The original story was dreamed up (after weeks of the three watching the great American westerns) by Sergio Leone, Dario Argento, and Bernardo Bertolucci. Argento later became a director of stylish, if gory, horror films like Suspiria (1977) and Tenebrae (1982, heavily censored and released in the U.S. as Unsane). Bertolucci is best known for more artistic films like The Conformist (1970, Il Conformista) and the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor (1987).

From a 300 page treatment, Leone and co-writer Sergio Donati fashioned a script that treats the west and the western as grand opera, both creating and revising the myths of the genre (plus some added black humor). In an inspired move, the production filmed in Monument Valley, made famous by the classic westerns of John Ford (again an homage to the western and a backdrop to rework its conventions within their story).

Continuing his long relationship with the prolific Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, Leone had the score written prior to the film and even used it as an aid with the acting and pace of the scenes. Each of the four main characters was given his or her own musical theme with its own style. Bronson's "Man with a Harmonica" theme is especially chilling, which complements and is complemented by his acting.

"Once Upon a Time in the West" is also a Dire Straits song featured in their second album Comminuqué.

The song starts off with a wonderful guitar intro displaying Mark Knopfler's genious of emotional notes. As Pick Withers' drums together with John Illsley's bass shift in and lay down the simple rhythm you feel the feeling when you feel something special is going to happen.

Some people get a cheap laugh breaking up the speed limit
Scaring the pedestrians for a minute
Everytime Mark sings about bad drivers, peacekeeping forces and heroes with bullets in their chests I get in a peaceful mood; the song and his guitar somehow reminds me that this time will pass, and old yellow memories will be all that is left behind.

Once Upon a Time in the West is different from the majority of the album in that it doesn't tell a story or a situation, but seems to be just a collection of comments.

Yes, it's no use saying that you don't know nothing
It's still gonna get you if don't do something

Legend has it that Sergio Leone originally intended for the three gunmen at the beginning of the film to be played by the three stars of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef). The idea was that Once Upon a Time in the West was to be the last great Spaghetti Western and as such, Leone thought it would be poignant for the three biggest western stars (of his films, anyway) to be killed off in the first scene, signifying the death of the western.

Personally, I can't imagine anyone else playing the three gunmen. Even years after I've seen the movie, their faces are still etched in my memory. Just another great thing about the way Leone shoots his films, I guess.

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