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ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

Director: SERGIO LEONE

ITALY-U.S.A. • 1968 • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 35MM • 165 MIN


A WELCOME REISSUE — IN A NEWLY RESTORED VERSION — FOR SERGIO LEONE’S EPIC FRONTIER TALE, ENCOMPASSING RAILROADS, SIX-SHOOTERS AND STANDOFFS IN THE HORSE OPERA TO END THEM ALL.

While his groundbreaking Clint Eastwood ‘spaghetti westerns’ were all shot in Europe, here Leone got to film in Utah’s Monument Valley — where John Ford etched the celluloid iconography of the West — and the result has the euphoric intensity of a dream achieved. Compared to the flash-cut pacing of today’s action cinema, it’s just so refreshing to experience Leone’s highly individual sense of time: you feel it right away in the legendary opening sequence, where three hit-men await the arrival of their target at a remote railway station. The clock stands still, but heartbeats race, and violence comes as swiftly as a speeding bullet with the arrival of Charles Bronson’s enigmatic harmonica-playing stranger. Vengeance is afoot, and it will corral the destinies of wanted gunslinger Jason Robards, grieving widow Claudia Cardinale, and Henry Fonda as the exterminator easing the railway west by clearing any human obstacles in its path.

Usually seen as the face of moral integrity, here Fonda’s piercing blue eyes are like some pitiless void. It’s a truly choice example of casting against type, but then again Leone’s trademark use of concentrated close-ups requires actors of the finest calibre to withstand the scrutiny. With Ennio Morricone’s all-time greatest score upping the intensity at every juncture, it’s a film of grandiose emotions — greed, passion, revenge — but also an elegiac sadness that the coming of civilisation means the end of an era for these mythic tumbleweed warriors. Don’t dare miss the opportunity to catch this one on the big screen. — Trevor Johnston.

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