When the western was dying out in its native land of the US of A, inspired European filmmakers took the tradition and ran with it, much like the Japanese took Betty Boop and made sweet love to her with alien tentacles. Thus was the “spaghetti western” born, and the name of director Sergio Leone enshrined at the altar of western fans. While more famous for his “man with no name” trilogy, I chanced upon “Once Upon a Time in the West” at a friend’s house and decided to give it a try. When it was released, the movie broke many barriers with its casting, with the oft-heroic Henry Fonda cast as the villain and Charles Bronson, more commonly seen as a goon, cast as the Harmonica playing desperado out to get revenge on Fonda.
The movie opens up with what I’ve read is Leone’s trademark 10-minute long introduction, which takes its sweet time and immerses you into the sounds and visuals of the old west (ie windmills creaking, flies buzzing about, and water dripping onto a cowboy’s hat) until “Harmonica” comes in by train and the action begins. Then stops. This becomes a familiar routine as long winded scenes stretch on almost infinitely before anything truly significant occurs. I found myself at times rapt with the visual style and cinematography of the movie, but at certain times looking at my watch wondering when it would end (the movie’s 2 hours and 45 minutes long).
Perhaps I’m just spoiled, seeing as movies rarely stretch for more than 2 hours these days, but the movie could have benefitted from some major editing and trimming of unneccesary scenes. I read that the original release was 20 minutes short. That, (while still 20 minutes too long for me) coupled with seeing this on the big screen, may have made this a more enjoyable film. As it was, I couldn’t wait to turn my DVD player off.