Once Upon a Time in the West
A lonely railway station in the middle of nowhere. Three men enter the wooden building and lock up the station chef. His wife runs away for safety. The gunslingers spread themselves. Not a word is being said. The only sounds are a fly and the wind meter. The train arrives. Nobody gets off, only a package is dropped. The train starts to leave again. The gunmen prepare to leave aswell. Suddenly the sound of a harmonica is heard. Behind the departing train a man stands, holding a harmonica. The men turn around, facing the newcomer. A short dialogue follows. The killers state they are a horse short to take the man anywhere. The man replies that they’ve brought two horses too many. Four shots are fired. Everyone falls down. A couple of seconds later the man with the harmonica stands up. He’s shot but the only one still alive.
This introduction of Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West perfectly reflects Sergio Leone’s masterpiece with Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Henry Ford and Jason Robards.
The storyline goes as follows : Frank (Fonda) is a coldblooded killer in the service of Morton, a railroad baron. His job is to make sure nobody stands in the way of the expansion of the railroad’s expansion towards California. Brett McBain is about to get married with Jill (Cardinale), a former prostitude from New Orleans who wants to build up a new life, when he and his family get killed by Frank and his men who leave “evidence” that the outlaw Cheyenne (Robards) did the killing. Cheyenne and his men escape from the raging townspeople and go to McBain’s place to find out who wanted to make it appear as if they did the killing. Meanwhile, Harmonica (Bronson) is also going to McBain’s place as he is convinced Frank is the killer and he wants to even the score between them. Together with Cheyenne and Jill, Harmonica will make Frank pay for all the things he’s done in the past. Harmonica will become Frank’s worst nightmare.
Sound and Vision:
Paramount has done a nice thing by cleaning up the source. Scratches and dust have been completely erased which of course enhances the image quality greatly. Unfortunately, grain is still omnipresent and edge enhacenemt has been added aswell. Also at the end of the film some minor compression errors can be viewed but luckily they aren’t too disturbing. Still, for a movie of this age we can’t really complain as the levels of detail and darkness are very good just like the contrast and brightness.
The sound is being marketed with a 5.1 track but you can still hear the dialogues are dubbed and sound a bit weird, just like with most dubbed spaghetti westerns. The music from Ennio Morricone is magnificent and creates the atmosphere throughout the entire movie. This is where the 5.1 track adds an extra dimension 🙂
Once Upon a Time in the West comes on two disks and a booklet with some extra information on the movie.
The first disk contains an audio commentary track next to the main movie. Comments come from John Carpenter, John Milius and Alex Cox, film historics Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall aswell as some of the cast and crew.
The second disk is where things get interesting with “three” documentaries (An opera of violence,The wage of Sin, Something to do with Death) where the same people from the commentary track tell about how Leone created the movie and what he was influenced by. We get a pretty good picture of what kind of director he was and how he wanted his movies to be. The sad thing however, is that these three documentaries are in fact one and are cut into three pieces without any apparant reason other than that Paramount may have thought it looks better to have three titles on a box than only one. Really a shame. Next up is a featurette called Railroad: Revolutionising the West which gives a little bit of information on the role of trains in movies and more particularly in this film. Again the same comment: it’s clear this was part of the original documentary which was cut into pieces. Furthermore there’s two foto galleries, cast profiles and the original trailer.
Once Upon a Time in the West is one of those classics which cannot miss in your dvd collection and this is the complete edition which was only shown in a handful of theaters so most of the – in the US – deleted scenes are present. The image and sound quality are decent for such an old movie and the extras are interesting to watch although Paramount should not have cut the documentary into parts but add it as a whole. Good stuff that should definitely not be missed !