My Number 2 Son is in grade 11 and has a movie class on his schedule. Where was this choice when I was in high school? I so badly want to sit in this class with him. Heck, I’d love to teach this class!
Anyway, as his year comes to a close he has to pick one director and review three films attributed to him or her. I was quite happy to hear that he picked Sergio Leone as his choice director. The 3 films are basically the Once Upon a Time trilogy. In the West, Upon a Revolution aka Duck You Sucker and In America.
I made a promise to my son Kirk that any of the essays that get an “A” I would feature on here. I was quite happy to see his first result for Once Upon a Time In The West was just that so without any further delays here is a chip off the not-so-old-block.
One Upon a Time In the West Review by Kirk Perry
Once Upon a Time In the West, directed by Sergio Leone and released in Italy, 1968, is one of, if not, the greatest western ever made. This is on account of many different factors, such as: directing, the musical score, and the unique writing.
Directing is something that needs to be done delicately and with precision to make a great film: Sergio Leone is a director that clearly appreciates this concept. Leone uses the long shot extensively in this film without the camera leaving the subject but at the same time showing how small the subject really is in the given landscape or location. Leone is also a master of suspense and utilizes it thoroughly throughout the entire picture. A great example of both of these characteristics of great directing is the opening scene of the film’s villain. In the scene, a small farm is shown in an extreme long shot with a family setting up a fancy dinner outside on tables as they are all dressed nicely for company that is yet to arrive. The scene then has bugs making noise in the bushes around the property that suddenly stop. Everyone looks around as if there is something hidden somewhere and the bugs then continue. Suddenly a flock of birds fly out of the bushes and a gunshot is fired. The father sees that no birds have fallen and turns to see that his daughter drops to the ground.
Writing and dialogue in the film are so perfect for the atmosphere that Leone creates, he did co-write it after all. There are only a total of two to three sentences said by the ten minute mark and that is all that needs to be said. This type of film is very rare as it tells the story through the camera and not obvious and sometimes ridiculous dialogue. That being said, this creates more tension when dialogue actually does occur and adds to the overall viewing experience. A great example of this is when Henry Fonda rides his horse through the (under-construction) town of Sweet Water to meet Charles Bronson. the camera sweeps along the set and establishes the scene and adds tension to the upcoming titanic climax. This carries on for a few minutes and when Henry reaches Bronson, all Bronson says is, “I knew you’d come.”
The musical score in West, composed by Ennio Morricone, is nothing but incredible. Every character has their own themed composition that is completely different from the others and fits their personalities and actions perfectly. In particular, Claudia Cardinale’s composition is just beautiful, as you see her story unfold before you, with the accompaniment of her score you may actually shed a tear on multiple occasions. Bronson’s score on the other hand is a very serious, grimy sounding harmonica. This piece of music actually creates extremely tense moments, making Bronson seem like a very dangerous individual (as he is). Jason Robard’s score in his first appearance also makes him seem like another villain, but it changes later in the film as the viewer gets to know him and he builds more of a reputation as a morally good character. The last main piece of music in the film is the one that never ceases to get the audience pumped up for what is about to happen. This is the score of the final confrontation between Harmonica (Bronson) and Frank (Fonda). This score is so well composed that you know instantly when you hear it that something big is about to happen, really big.
The greatest western ever made is without a doubt Once Upon a Time In the West. This is because of the great work behind exceptional writing, incredible directing and a beautiful musical composition. This film has no equal in it’s genre and never will.
So there it is.
As for me I love to recall the first time I saw this, I might have been about twelve and stayed up late for this 3 hour epic starting well past my scheduled bed time. After about ten minutes I shut it off and went to bed. I was too young to appreciate the iconic opening (I got bored) which I now number among my all time favorites as I do the film. Sometime in the future I’ll write my own “take” on this one.