Once Upon A Time In The West (C’era una volta il west) (1969)
Director: Sergio Leone; Starring: Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson
IMDb Plot summary: Epic story of a mysterious stranger with a harmonica who joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad
With sweeping desert shots, a high body count, and pithy one-liners aplenty, OUATITW is somehow just like every Western you’ve ever seen, but also strikingly unique. Tarantino is a big fan, and it’s easy to see why.
It’s a slow film, but a highly compelling one. Layers of tantalising intrigue keep us hooked as the film unfolds at its mesmerising pace: from the tense, unpredictable shootouts to the inscrutable gaze of the man dubbed “Harmonica”, we’re always kept wanting to know more. In some sense this makes the big payoff ending almost disappointing; perhaps it would have been better to leave some questions unanswered? It’s a debatable point, but Leone’s mastery of dramatic pacing is undeniable.
The extraordinary cinematography is among the best I have ever seen, while Ennio Morricone’s memorable score is absolutely essential to the film’s operatic tone. And unlike many Westerns, the acting here is a strong point. Henry Fonda, renowned for his heroic characters in films like 12 Angry Men, takes a stunning and shocking turn in a bad-guy role, one that he does surprisingly convincingly. Those clear blue eyes of his suit those of a cold-blooded killer quite well, actually! Claudia Cardinale is a sultry anachronism, looking like she’s stepped right out of one of her 60s Fellini movies, but she manages to convey a character with more depth than her “hooker with a heart of gold” archetype suggests.
Flamboyant, poetic and just…well, cool, OUATITW is one that all cinephiles should see.