Once Upon a Time in the West. 1968. USA/Italy. Directed by Sergio Leone. Screenplay by Leone, Sergio Donati, from a story by Leone, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci. With Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards. Restored by Cineteca di Bologna in association with Paramount and Leone Film Group. 166. Restored by Cineteca di Bologna in association with Paramount and Leone Film Group min.
If ever a film needed to be seen on a big screen, this is it. Sergio Leone’s love letter to the classic Hollywood Western is storytelling at its finest, a gripping and morally shaded homage to John Ford in its casting of Woody Strode and Henry Fonda and in its pitting of frontier lawlessness against a future of transcontinental railroads and robber barons. But here the comparisons end, for Leone casts Fonda as the villain, imagines civilization as a bargain with the devil, and regards the myth of the Old West as ripe for reinvention. Opposite Charles Bronson, as the mysterious harmonica-playing stranger (his riff on Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name), Claudia Cardinale is the recently widowed landowner who must use her wits and wiles to survive the predations of greedy, covetous men. As Andrew Sarris observes, “[We] come to understand [her] role as the bearer of water, life, and continuity to the civilization of the New West.”