Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West
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There were three men in her life. One to take her... one to love her... and one to kill her.
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This classic western masterpiece is an epic film about a widow whose land and life are in danger as the railroad is getting closer and closer to taking them over. A mysterious harmonica player joins forces with a desperado to protect the woman and her land.

Title:Once Upon a Time in the West
Original Title:C'era una volta il West
Release Date:December 21, 1968
Runtime:
Genres:Action, Western
Production Co.:Paramount Pictures, Rafran Cinematografica, Finanzia San Marco
Production Countries:Spain, Italy, United States of America
Director:Sergio Leone
Writers:, , , ,
Casts:, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Plot Keywords:showdown, bounty, bounty hunter, loss of brother, sadness, blackmail, harmonica, anti hero, auction, dying and death, peasant, insanity, spaghetti western
Alternative Titles:
  • Érase una vez en el Oeste - [AR]
  • Il était une fois dans l'Ouest - [FR]
  • Era Uma Vez no Oeste - [BR]
  • Hasta que llegó su hora - [ES]
  • 狂沙十万里 - [CN]
  • 狂沙十萬里 - [TW]
  • Odnazhdy na Dikom Zapade. - [RU]
  • Vestens hårde halse - [DK]

Once Upon a Time in the West Reviews

  • No western has ever come close to this one....and no western ever will.
    by daniken (rcp@planet.nl) on 23 June 2002

    647 out of 843 people found the following review useful:

    I can't quite find the words to even come close to describing the pure brilliance of this movie. When this movie was made, the western genre was dominated by the big hollywood studios. The western was taken by these studios and transformed into an opportunity to portray classic superheroes like John Wayne and Burt Lancaster in their fight against all sorts of smalltime crooks and outlaws in smalltime stories and smalltime towns. It was a genuine effort to portray 'Americanism', the American Way, along with a romanticised view of the west as 'Frontier country' where good always triumphed over bad and where the life was hard but honest. It was the American Way.

    And then came this film. The title, 'Once Upon A Time In The West' must have seemed to mean nothing more than 'just another western' to the unexpecting viewers at the time. Oh boy were they wrong. With this movie, Sergio Leone singlehandedly redefined the western genre and no American western would ever match the brilliant spirit in which it was made. While the story is basically the same as in any other western, it is the WAY in which it is presented that so clearly distances this western from others. Whereas other westerns are simply stories that are designed to entertain, this movie is an emotional masterpiece that will move your heart. Sergio Leone takes the ordinary western and replaces words with looks, and conversations with feelings and emotions. With his brutal but honest portrayal of the sheer hardness of life and death in those times he thoroughly destroys the old romantic idea of the west as a 'generally-hunky-dory-kind-of-scene with the occasional bad guy and indian' and replaces it with an eerie, dark, hot and dry place where life is cheap and only the strongest will survive.

    I cannot adequately convey in words the way in which Sergio Leone deepens and defines the characters by pure means of visual persuasion. It starts with the three gunman in the beginning of the movie, waiting for some reason at a train station for someone or something that obviously is going to be on the next train. No explanation, no conversation; not a word is said. Even the stationmaster is ushered into captivity without a single audible threat. Then comes the waiting... Any other director would have skipped directly to the moment of arrival, but Sergio Leone takes minutes of boredom and translates it into a visual feast, deepening the characters that are portrayed and making them more human, more real to the viewer, while at the same time encompassing us with a deep dark sense of foreboding. This way in which the story is not just augmented but in times completely replaced by the sheer visual drama, is perfected by the absolute fantastic music, directed by Ennio Morricone. Who needs words and explanations when the combined forces of cinematic mastery and heart-tearing music are not just able to carry the story, but pick it up and push it up to such heights of excellence that it has no equal in it's genre?

    Another great feat that adds to the power of this movie is the minimalistic way of portrayal of the characters as real, emotional people. Not a single word is said that isn't required for the understanding of the story, yet the characters feel more true than those in movies where whole conversations are added merely to explain their motives. Instead of words, the camera focuses on the characters...so that you can simply read the emotion off their faces. Often no explanation is given other than than a mere facial expression. No superheroes or supercriminals, just real, desire-laden, traumatised, obsessed people that act upon motives inherently understood by the viewer.

    All in all this is without a single doubt in my mind the greatest western of all times, and even though Sergio Leone has made many more mindblowing, heart-shattering westerns like this one, like 'A Fistful of Dynamite', 'The Good The Bad and The Ugly', and 'For a Few Dollars More', none could equal 'Once Upon A Time In The West' in sheer magnitude of perfection. Western has never been the same since....

    I only wish I'd have been there in 1969 when the movie was new and see it, for the first time with fresh innocent eyes and an unexpecting mind..just like 2001: A Space Odyssey (also of 1969, a year of legends).

    A tip for those who have never seen this movie: Bribe, beg, borrow, or steal yourself into possession of a Videobeam and Hifi-audio equipment if you can't find a cinema that is showing this movie. Turn the audio up WAY HIGH (never mind the neighbors) and prepare never to be the same again.........

    I (obviously) gave this movie a 10 because no matter how hard I try I can't find anything less than perfect about it.

  • One of the best
    by Scott-8 on 10 April 1999

    307 out of 422 people found the following review useful:

    There's two things that stand out to me always about this movie, and indeed about all of Sergio Leone's movies. One is his understanding of pacing events, and the other is using his actors/actresses to actually act. When you see Claudia Cardinale riding up to the ranch, all you see is her face, but you can tell instantly what she is looking at and everything she's feeling. You know Henry Fonda's the bad guy, but when he smiles faintly at the young boy, you feel there's something more to him, a personality and human qualities, even if he is evil. The final shoot-out itself is a masterpiece. The two protagonists say nothing, but as they face off the music lets you know the moment as come. As they stand ready the scene that's been hinted at throughout the movie plays out like a dream, revealing what the whole story was about. Then, without warning, they draw and fire. Just as in real life, it's over before you notice it. What today's movies lack is how quickly they cater to MTV video inspired nonstop action and endless clichés. The bad and good guy duke it it out, the violence is so extreme that no human could actually survive it, and always just when you think the bad guy is dead he gets back up for one last shot. How much I wish today's film makers would learn Leone's lesson about TIMING, and let suspense build rather than force it in. The music score, which had certain pieces and sections for various moods and to signify the main characters, is one of my favorites. Even if Clint Eastwood wasn't in it, Charles Bronson fills the role of the mysterious stranger and adds his own elements to the character. How I wish they still made movies like this

  • "Something To Do With Death"
    by Michael Coy (michael.coy@virgin.net) on 4 January 2001

    288 out of 405 people found the following review useful:

    Sergio goes Hollywood for this big-name, big-budget Spaghetti Western. Fonda, Bronson, Robards and Cardinale queue up and take Leone's choreographic direction in an epic tale of blood and revenge.

    Frank is a bad guy who has killed a lot of people. He now works for a railroad entrepreneur whose ruthless sterile tracks are spreading ever westward. The time has come for the real Americans to confront both the railroad and Frank.

    Leone sat down with film intellectuals Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento and watched dozens of Hollywood westerns. From this saturation-viewing emerged a 300-page treatment which was eventually distilled into the script, penned by Leone and Sergio Donati. There are conscious echoes of "Shane" and "High Noon" in the meticulously-plotted screenplay. Ennio Morricone apparently sat in on the planning stage and had composed the score in toto before shooting began, the reverese of the usual process of fitting music to existing footage. The result is a tight matching of soundtrack and visuals. Robards, Bronson and Cardinale each have musical 'signatures' which play whenever their characters are onscreen. Bronson's is an eerily-wailing harmonica, Robards has the plonking banjo and Cardinale the lush strings. So intricately was everything structured that the themes were available to be played on set, so that the actors could co-ordinate every nuance of gesture to fit with the score.

    The film is a grandiose lament to the death of the Wild West. Decay is everywhere to be seen. Streets, bars, buildings and people all have a beat-up, grungy look. When Cheyenne (Robards) pauses beside a rough-hewn wooden post, there is little difference in texture between his face and the post. Morton the cripple is killing the romantic West of open spaces with his "snail trail" of railroad tracks, leaving the fine adventurous men (Cheyenne and Harmonica) nowhere to go.

    There can be few opening scenes with the visual and aural brilliance of this one. Three bad guys stake out Flagstone's railroad depot in a High Noon pastiche. Jack Elam (who was actually in "High Noon") leads the villains. The only spoken words throughout this long (but totally gripping) scene are uttered by the old station clerk. Haunting rhythms raise the tension to an unbearable pitch ... the squeaking windmill, the chattering tickertape, the creaking bench. This wonderful crescendo climaxes with the appearance of Bronson, a sequence as stylised and choreographed as a Shinto ceremony, all the more effective for the absence of spontaneity.

    Equal to and counterbalancing this scene is the very next one, the introduction of Frank. This time it is "Shane" that gets the treatment as the McBain boy spots five men in yellow duster topcoats. A growing sense of unease on the McBain homestead is beautifully conveyed (was the stopping of a cicada chirp ever so effective?) A cinematic multiple orgasm ensues, with the musical theme crashing in as the boy sees the devastation, and the camera swoops round to reveal the baddie to be none other than Henry Fonda as Morricone's trademark solitary tubular bell peals out.

    Cheyenne's entrance is also a piece of impressive cinema. Inside Lionel Stander's strange labyrinthine tavern, quite unlike any saloon ever filmed before, the violence which hovers around Cheyenne like a dustcloud is heard but not seen, preparing us for his appearance in person. The sliding of the lamp towards Bronson works brilliantly, the film's two good men sharing the light of humour, the symbolic forging of a meaningful friendship.

    By a slow accretion, the plot reveals itself. The leviathan of the railroad must be stopped, and there must be a reckoning with Frank. Gradually the fates of the main characters converge, and swim into sharp focus for the shoot-out.

    It is not the story, excellent though that is, which lingers in the memory, but rather a hundred individual flashes of brilliance: Claudia Cardinale (are those eyes for real?) filmed on the bed, viewed vertically downward, through a lace canopy: Cheyenne's surprise method of concealing himself on the train: Morton ("when you're not on that train, you're like a turtle out of its shell") imprisoned by the armature that helps him walk: the 'heartbeat' of the train's engine during the cardgame: the tension of the ambush preparations against Frank: the eruption of guitar music as Bronson enters the frame: Bronson's stillness and self-possession, the emblem of his righteousness: Fonda's eyes flickering rapidly in his motionless head, denoting the waning of his self-confidence: the amazing super-close-ups of Bronson: and the weird brick arch, the only man-made intrusion into the entire terrain, and the focus of human depravity.

  • pure cinematic paradise
    by Saracen on 26 July 1999

    259 out of 361 people found the following review useful:

    Thank god that I'm a Bronson fan. This was my first Leone movie, and dumb kid that I was, I actually watched it thinking I was in for a typical Bronson "vehicle"! Looking back I'm thankful, because if it wasn't for his involvement, I would never have discovered the beauty and majesty that is Once Upon a Time in the West.

    I absolutely love this movie. It's probably my all time favourite, certainly one of the few that I can watch OVER and OVER again without losing interest. I love the way Leone creates intrigue and mystery around what is a relatively thin plot. He can make even the smallest twist of fate seem like an epic turn of events, with that amazing sense of revelation that he generates out of old hackneyed situations (something Argento has since picked up). Leone proves in this film that he could seemingly take anyone, even peripheral characters, and give them screen charisma without using dialogue as a crutch.

    OUATITW features the most tense two man stand-offs ever, with some serious deja-vu in the direction of his "Dollars" trilogy. In fact, it does feel like those three movies were warm ups, practice sessions in the build up to OUATITW. Here though, he perfected everything; despite the long running time, it's all focused, and without a single irrelevant scene. For me, the two hours plus just fly by, I wish it would never end. Leone was without question at his artistic peak when he made this, that's not to say that he went downhill from then on, but I honestly don't think he ever did another film where everything came together so perfectly.

    The cast is flawless. Fonda eclipsed every good guy he ever did in one fell swoop, truly chilling. Robards is a great comic character, the lovable rogue with an edge. And Cardinale is more than just (incredible) window dressing; she switches between passionate, angry, delicate and sentimental at all the right moments.

    Which leaves the hero; I'm a huge Eastwood fan, but I honestly don't believe he could have done the role justice. His "man with no name" was a cool, sly character with hidden complexities. Eastwood always does these layered personalities, with some kind of mental baggage. Bronson, on the other hand, mostly does himself; simple, uncomplicated figures with only one state of mind, that's why he's put in so many revenge flicks. Plus, he looks like he's been seriously wronged at some point in his life, Eastwood doesn't have that quality. Bronson is the genuine hard-as-nails article. You can readily imagine that, had he been born decades earlier and been put in the same situation, he would resolve the problem in much the same way as his character in the movie (sometimes I affectionately refer to this movie as Deathwish part 0- could Harmonica be the great granddaddy of Paul Kersey?).

    Of course the other great contribution is the music. I still think that the main theme is one of the most breathtaking pieces of music I have ever heard. It affects me deeply whenever I hear it, regardless of the mood I'm in. Maybe I should listen to more opera or something, I don't know, but that's the way I feel. And the individual character themes are just so well integrated into the film, it's unbelievable. Leone replaces words with music, and it conveys so much more in return. Bronson just plays that melancholy tune on the harmonica instead of answering people back, it consistently cracks me up.

    High Noon, Naked Spur, Shane, The Searchers, etc. are all classics of the genre, but I really don't think it's possible to compare those "traditional" westerns with OUATITW. For me, it exists on a plane of it's own, it's the kind of film experience that you let wash over you, a waking dream. I recommend this movie to anyone, if you're on the right wavelength you'll be greatly rewarded.

  • It doesn't get any better than this: this is movie history
    by gogoschka-1 on 24 December 2013

    110 out of 118 people found the following review useful:

    This one only gets better with each viewing. Leone's masterful storytelling and Morricone's crazy, beautiful, epic soundtrack; desperate, haunted faces which look like the barren landscapes the story is set in and a plot that unfolds with impeccable pacing to culminate in THE ultimate western finale.

    As in Leone's previous films, music isn't just used to add to the atmosphere but is essential to the story, or perhaps even more: Morricone's main musical theme plays the actual role of a (or rather: the) protagonist in the film.

    Anyone who thought that the so called "Spaghetti westerns" were nothing but cheap, violent B-movies had to reconsider after seeing this film. It doesn't get any better than this: this is movie history; iconic, classic, unforgettable, epic. For this film, I just run out of superlatives.

    My vote: 10 out of 10

    Favorite films: http://www.IMDb.com/list/mkjOKvqlSBs/

    Lesser-known Masterpieces: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070242495/

    Favorite Low-Budget and B-movies: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls054808375/

    Favorite TV-Shows reviewed: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls075552387/

  • One for all time !!!
    by slaforce on 24 January 2006

    195 out of 303 people found the following review useful:

    I thought I knew westerns, I'd seen John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Glen Ford, Audie Murphy, Richard Widmark, Alan Ladd, all of them save the day many times. I was wrong, I was 14 yrs old when I went to the local movie house to see this movie in 1969. My grandmother took me, she had always been a huge fan of Henry Fonda's, and even though she didn't care for western's, she dragged me to this one. I'll never forget how engrossed I was from beginning to end. And this one movie was the basis for all my future wish's to have been born a cowboy. Everything about this movie impressed me one way or the other.

    Simply put, this movie is the most visually stimulating and engrossing movie I have ever watched.

    I have seen plenty of great movies in my in my fifty years of life, but this one, is in my opinion more than a movie, it's a piece of history unfolding in front of your eyes with no censorship or BS added for flavor. True, the movie has been chopped up some for TV and other forms of presentation, but when I was in that theater in 1969, the movie was, to use a semi modern term "AWESOME".

    No one, not even if you dislike westerns, should pass on this one.

  • Leone's film unfolds across the screen in time and space with all the mellowness and majesty of such great Westerns as "Shane," "The Searchers," and "The Magnificent Seven."
    by Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) on 29 January 2000

    147 out of 238 people found the following review useful:

    "Once upon a Time in the West" is Leone's masterpiece and certainly one of the best Westerns of all time... It is beautifully shot, perfectly cast, ambitious, erotic, humorous and wonderfully scored by Leone's regular composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting melodies are just as important as the widely separated dialog occurring on the action..

    The film opens with an extreme close-ups of Jack Elam, Woody Strode and Lionel Stander waiting at a station for Charles Bronson... Henry Fonda has sent them to kill him...

    The railroad wants a property for its water well belonging to the newly widowed Claudia Cardinale, a fancy lady from New Orleans who just arrived in Flagstone and learns about the tragedy... We would come to understand, much later, Claudia Cardinale's role as the bearer of water, life, and continuity to the civilization of the New West...

    Fonda, a despicable hired gun, kills her husband and orders, without a twinge of guilt, the slaughter of the entire family, innocents women and children...

    Henry Fonda, in a chilling performance, plays the cold-blooded murderer, the most vicious villain in Westerns history to ever ride the big country... the blue ice-eyed child killer, gunning down a 9-year old boy...

    Bronson as 'The Man' is like Clint Eastwood 'The Man With No Name,' with only one thing in common: they are the most ruthless heroes in Westerns history sharing the same character in their quality 'not' to say much in their need of emotions, in their fast draw, in their disinterest in women, in their air of mystery and in their macabre sense of humor...

    Their differences are also very clear: 'The Man With No Name' has no past whatsoever, and 'The Man' is motivated by revenge to settle an old personal score...

    Claudia Cardinale plays Jill, the well-proportioned, husky-voiced beauty, the lady, the businesswoman, the maker of coffee involved with Fonda in an incredible perverse erotic sequence...

    The blood, the violence, the humor, the several gunfights and the final showdown have been constants in Leone's Westerns since "A Fistful of Dollars"...

    The highlights of his movie are so many: Leone's overwhelming shot when he raises his camera over the Flagstone train station office revealing the sprawling town; when he replaces a shot of a smoking gun with a shot of a smoking train; when he uses close-ups instead of dialog to reveal what a character is thinking; and the striking use of his extreme close-up in the final shootout... Leone builds up tension by slowly circling his two characters, focusing with his camera on their eyes, hands and guns while the level of the music is raised to evoke the action...

    Leone's film is a brave epic Western, extremely violent, immensely powerful... It's above all fable and fantasy, as the desire for revenge is childish and fruitless... It is the essence of a great filmmaker...

  • Sergio Leone:I salute you
    by DavidRobinson10 on 14 May 2004

    135 out of 232 people found the following review useful:

    I have recently commented on Leone's GBU and was intending on reviewing AFOD and FAFDM as well as this one - OUATITW, but after reading a number of the comments about these from all the avid fans on this great site, I will simply give you a short account of how these films have affected my life. I am 55years young and saw all these films on their first release in Sydney.(late '60's) They were cut, but it didn't stop me seeing the brilliance in them. I would imagine that a lot of the members of this site are much younger than myself and have only watched these films on DVD or TV quite recently. (Stood the test of time, eh!!) (WideScreen is a must for these.) Leone's films exhibit an idealism in art that surpassed his Hollywood models (eg: Ford). Although, at the time of creation, I doubt he would have thought he was. He simply had a vision.

    From film to film he improved on this. Like most artists, I don't think he was too concerned with the financial gains that might or might not be realized.(This was probably his downfall). That these little films can impress all you younger fans so much says a lot about good taste and the sad lack of it in American films of recent times.

    Great directors, like Leone, don't come along every day and it saddens me greatly to know he died before he was recognised for the genius he surely was. Morricone must be 75 now, soon we will loose him too. I am a successful composer in Australia and can tell you, without bias, that Morricone is in the top five best ever film composers just from these four films alone, if not one of the best composers in general (yes, this includes Stravinsky, Bartok, Debussy and Schoenberg.) of the 20th century. Eastwood is also reaching the end of his life and although I'm not a huge fan of his recent work, he is one of the last living greats. Without the inspirations put forth by these men, I might not still be writing and recording my music these days. Plenty of times I could have stopped when things got tough but all I had to do was revisit these gems of modern art to realise that greatness does still exhist , all you have to have is the love and desire and guts to make your visions a reality. Leone, Morricone and Eastwood: I salute you.

  • Fonda's favorite, and mine too
    by anonymous on 15 January 1999

    138 out of 241 people found the following review useful:

    There are few movies that can combine great directing, acting ,music, cinematography, and writing into one movie, but this one does. There are no weak points. Every scene is a piece of art. I know of no other film that affects the senses as this one. Henry Fonda said this was his favorite film and role. It's easy to see why. He created 1 of the great "bad guy" roles in history. In a side note, Leone wanted to put brown contacts in Fonda's eyes,("who ever saw a villain with blue eyes", Leone said), but Fonda wouldn't have it, and the effect is magic in the famous Leone close-ups. Bronson, Cardinale, and Robards are equally powerful, all have great lines and the camera loves them. Speaking of cameras, the visuals are stunning. There is nothing fancy about this movie. Raw power is what you see and feel. Simply the best western if not film ever made.

  • Far Away The Best Movie Ever
    by tiberijegrozni on 9 November 2004

    165 out of 299 people found the following review useful:

    This is one true masterpiece, I can't remember any other movie (and I have seen a lot of movies) that is so powerful like this one. This movie has everything great ambient, scenes larger then life, hypnotic Morricone music and what is most important great acting. In this move Sergio Leone proved that he is one of the most unique directors in movie history. If you saw this movie you know that almost every scene is great piece of art in almost every scene you are amazed by visual style of Leone. In all other great movies (like: Godfather, Casablanca, Citizen Cane, Notorious,Big Sleep, The Third Man, etc.), you won't find these many great scenes like in this one. This is an ultimate Western and i want to say: Thank you Sergio Leone for your great vision and this masterpiece, after this one there is no need for any other western, in compare to this one John Fords westerns are movies for kids and women.

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