I had put off watching Sergio Leone’s final western for many many years, believing it to be a lesser film in the director’s canon, but in fact it’s an incredibly dense and weighty affair, buoyed up by a pair of delightfully larger-than-life performances. Both Rod Steiger and James Coburn impress, not only with their Mexican and Irish accents, but in the versatility of their characters and the nuanced interplay of two reluctant partners propelled forward by their camaraderie and passion for rebellion. Beautifully shot, with an eccentric yet intoxicating Morricone score, this is definitely a film I will enjoy revisiting in the future.
After completing his “Dollars Trilogy”, Sergio Leone was done with the Western, until Paramount offered him a huge budget and the opportunity to work with his favourite actor, Henry Fonda. The result is a more sombre, elegiac affair than his previous films, but one which in which Leone attempted to have the final word in the genre. Claudia Cardinale is the former prostitute who arrives in town, only to discover that her new husband and his family have been brutally murdered by Fonda’s hired gun. While he tries to pin the crimes on Jason Robards’ bandit, Cheyenne, a mysterious gunman known only as Harmonica (Charles Bronson) arrives in town, with a score to settle. Slow, ponderous, though equally epic and operatic, Once Upon a Time in the West is an incredibly different beast to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but no less a masterpiece of the spaghetti western genre, if only for Morricone’s hauntingly eerie central harmonica tune.
Sergio Leone’s third and final chapter in his loose “dollars trilogy” with Clint Eastwood is also the first of two back-to-back masterpieces of the genre from the king of the Spaghetti Western. Eastwood’s “Blondie” (aka The Man With No Name) is as cool and mysterious as ever, while Lee Van Cleef is suitably villainous as Angel Eyes. But the film really belongs to the never-better Eli Wallach as Mexican bandit, Tuco. Never before (or since) has a character so vile, amoral and wretched proved so likeable. From its epic vistas to its probing close-ups, that explore the landscape of the human face with as much interest as John Ford examined the American wilderness, Leone stages a Wild West opera of grandiose proportions, set to the unmistakable wails of Ennio Morricone’s instantly recognisable score. Even at 3 hours long, the film is eminently rewatchable and enduringly entertaining, as a trio of desperate individuals are forced into uneasy alliances in their quest for hidden gold. A flat-out masterpiece.