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Sergio Leone
Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale
Writing Credits:
Sergio Leone, Sergio Donati

A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby 1.0
Spanish Dolby 1.0
French Dolby 1.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 166 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 5/31/2011

• Audio Commentary with Filmmakers John Carpenter, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Milius, and Alex Cox, Film Historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall, and Actor Claudia Cardinale
• “An Opera of Violence” Featurette
• "The Wages of Sin" Featurette
• "Something to Do With Death" Featurette
• “Revolutionizing the West” Featurette
• “Locations Then and Now” Featurette
• Production Gallery
• Trailer


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Once Upon a Time In the West [Blu-Ray] (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 22, 2021)

After the conclusion of his “Man With No Name Trilogy” with 1966’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, director Sergio Leone stayed in the “Spaghetti Western” genre. This led to 1968’s epic Once Upon A Time In the West.

Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) ventures west to Utah. These she plans to start a life with new husband Brett (Frank Wolff) and his kids.

However, when Jill arrives, she discovers Brett and kids murdered. As Jill deals with this tragedy and related challenges, she contends with a mix of others in this rough territory – including Frank (Henry Fonda), the gunslinger who killed Brett and the family.

To say the least, West offers an unconventional take on the genre, one that can feel more interested in atmosphere than plot. Objectively, it takes forever for the story to really get into motion, and we don’t get real exposition until many minutes have passed.

This should flop, but Leone pulls it off with such style and aplomb that he makes the film’s potential weaknesses into strengths. This becomes a moody, dark exploration.

Take the film’s opening credits, for instance. This scene lasts an exceedingly long time and barely moves along the plot.

None of this matters. While the sequence should bore, Leone wrings tension and drama out of it.

The credits set the stage for what we’ll find yet to come, and the rest of the movie proceeds in a similarly positive way. As noted, plot and character development take their sweet time, but given the evocative path Leone follows, we don’t care.

Leone never tries to play things straight, so this never becomes a remotely “reality based” Western. Leone focuses on grand mythology, and while he can go over the top, it works.

The film boasts a fine cast, with only Cardinale as the potentially weak link. While lovely, she just doesn’t come with the same talent as the other main players.

In addition to Fonda, West features Charles Bronson and Jason Robards in pivotal parts. They do well, though Fonda stands out as the most memorable.

Playing against type as a vicious killer, Fonda relishes the chance to step away from his usual nice guy persona, and he pulls it off shockingly well. It’s a shame Fonda didn’t go for more roles of this sort, as he creates a chilling character.

Though West should become both boring and ridiculous, it avoids those pitfalls. It enjoys a deserved reputation as a classic Western.

Note that the Blu-ray includes both the film’s theatrical version (2:46:01) and a restored version (2:45:24). From what I understand, the US theatrical cut ran about 140 minutes, so the Blu-ray’s “theatrical” represents an international version.

As you can deduce from that fact “restored” runs a mere 37 seconds longer than “theatrical”, the two remain almost entirely identical. There’s no reason not to watch the slightly extended cut, but no one should expect it to seem much different from its slightly shorter counterpart.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Once Upon a Time In the West appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not flawless, the image held up well.

Sharpness was usually strong. The majority of the film looked tight and concise, with only a few instances of softness on display.

I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering. Print flaws caused few problems, so I saw a few specks, but otherwise this was a clean, smooth transfer.

Colors usually looked quite good, as they often appeared bold and accurate. The movie didn’t offer a broad palette, as it preferred sandy, neutral tones much of the time, but the hues were positive within those parameters.

Black levels also worked well, as they demonstrated depth and richness, and shadow detail looked fine; I never had trouble making out nuances in darker scenes, though some shots threatened to become too dense. Overall, this was a positive transfer.

Though not as good, the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack seemed more than adequate given the film’s vintage. That said, don’t expect greatness from the audio, as it could seem a bit iffy at times.

Mainly, I found distortion to become an occasional issue. Louder effects like gunshots could come across as a bit rough, and the score could sound somewhat shrill as well. Still, both seemed decent for the most part.

Like other Sergio Leone efforts, West used extensive looping for dialogue. This left the lines less than natural, but they remained intelligible and concise.

Taken from the original monaural – which also appears on the disc – the remixed 5.1 soundscape seemed pretty convincing. Trains and various elements of violence used the spectrum in a fairly smooth manner that created a good impression of place.

None of this compared with a more modern effort, of course, but the soundfield seemed appealing for something taken from circa 1968 mono stems. While the occasional instances of distortion became a distraction, this was still a perfectly acceptable track given its age.

A mix of extras appear here, and we find an audio commentary with filmmakers John Carpenter, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Milius, and Alex Cox, film historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall, and actor Claudia Cardinale. Unsurprisingly, all sit separately for this edited discussion of story and characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, music and sound design, photography, influences, and connected domains.

Most of the track provides content from Frayling, and he carries the load well. Frayling gives us a good array of movie-related details.

Expect less consistency from the others, as some offer insights while others tell us little of value. Overall, however, this becomes a good commentary.

Some featurettes follow, and An Opera of Violence lasts 28 minutes, 49 seconds. It includes notes from Carpenter, Milius, Cardinale, Frayling, Bertolucci, director of photography Tonino Delli Colli, filmmaker Alex Cox, and actor Gabriele Ferzetti. We also find circa 1984 comments from director Sergio Leone and 1975 notes from actor Henry Fonda.

“Opera” examines the career of Leone and his take on the Western genre as well as aspects of West. Some of this repeats from the commentary, but “Opera” becomes a fairly efficient discussion.

The Wages of Sin goes for 19 minutes, 36 seconds and involves Cardinale, Cox, Frayling, Delli Colli, Ferzetti, Carpenter, and Milius.

“Wages” covers sets and locations, costumes and makeup, editing and cinematography. This delivers another informative program.

With Something to Do With Death, we get an 18-minute, 16-second segment that features Cardinale, Ferzetti, Frayling, Carpenter, Cox, Bertolucci, and Milius.

This one discusses music and audio, political influences, the film’s reception and additional edits. We find a pretty good chat.

Revolutionizing the West fills six minutes. 21 seconds as it gives us info from Cox and Frayling. After a basic history of the expansion of railroads across the US, we get a look at how trains impacted West. It seems short but useful.

Finally, Locations: Then and Now occupies four minutes, 29 seconds and provides images that contrast film shots with the shooting spots in later years. It’s worth a look.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we conclude with a Production Gallery. This running montage spans five minutes, 16 seconds and displays 68 images. It becomes a decent but not especially memorable collection.

Stylish and audacious, Once Upon a Time In the West turns into a fine cinematic experience. Told at a deliberate but evocative pace, the movie involves the viewer and fires on all cylinders. The Blu-ray offers pretty good picture with decent audio and a mix of bonus materials. This becomes a fine genre effort.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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