Ask the average person to name a western film, And they’ll most likely mention The Good,The Bad, And The Ugly.And that makes perfect sense.It’s probably the most well known Western of all time.To be quite honest though, The title of greatest of all time belongs to the film Sergio Leone directed right after it.1968’s Once Upon A Time In The West.Over time it has been hailed as one of the most influential films ever made.Highly stylized with a once-in-a-lifetime cast,Leone’s camerawork in this film could be considered his best.The film would even introduce the world to a young film critic from Rome named Dario Argento.
The cast of the film would include one of the greatest actors to come out of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, Henry Fonda.Fonda who had become a household name with films such as The Grapes Of Wrath and 12 Angry men.Cast perfectly as the films antagonist.A cold hearted killer named Frank.This was one of the first times a films lead actor would play the villain.Also, fresh off of his success in The Magnificent 7 Charles Bronson was cast as the films hero, Harmonica.Jason Robards would play Harmonica’s anti-hero outlaw partner Cheyenne.And I would be lying if I didn’t say I love the way Robards and Bronson play off one another.Leone, carrying on the theme he had started in his “Dollars” trilogy of the “man with no name”, and his deadly outlaw partner.Fonda himself gives one of his best performances. The film wastes no time in establishing him as a cold,methodical killer who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals.Claudia Cadinale, Who had been in films such as Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard,Gives a very memorable performance as the widow McBain.
As far as the story Leone wanted for the film, It is innovative to say the least.He had enlisted the help of two film critics.One being Dario Argento, who had been writing film reviews for several newspapers in Rome.As well as Bernardo Bertolucci who would go on to direct such films as Last Tango In Paris and The Last Emperor.Leone had wanted to make a western with references to previous American western that had been very popular.Such as High Noon,Shane and The Searchers.A technique Australian director named Baz Luhrman would later claim to be influenced by in his film Moulin Rouge.
(by the way, I hate Baz, any director who provides exposition dialogue in the beginning of his films has little or no respect for the audience)
Speaking of the writing for the film, There is an element of the story that screams Argento.Harmonica has a flashback during several scenes that gets more lengthened and reaches a conclusion towards the end of the film.This is a technique Argento would use in his Giallo film Four Flies On Grey Velvet.The plot itself unfolds the very same way a lot of Giallo films would later in the years to come. Bertolucci’s touch is also very recognizable, with its bleak plot points and focus and emphasis on the individual characters.It’s no surprise Argento and Bertolucci would both go on to be successful directors in their own right.
Which brings me to the final topic of this film;The camera work.As I mentioned earlier, This is without a doubt his finest cinematography.His use of close zooms and wide angled shots greatly accent the story.He had developed this style in depth while filming his “Dollars” trilogy, and here is the payoff.By now he had perfected the technique.He knew exactly where to put the camera at exactly the right moment.Argento and Bertolucci had obviously taken their notes on this.As this is an element present in a lot of their films.
If you get the chance to sit down with this one,Please do.It is without a doubt the greatest western of all time.And set a standard that to this day is unequaled.