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Once Upon a Time in the West


Year: 1968 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Sergio Leone 
Starring: Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Claudia Cardinale  
An image from Once Upon a Time in the West

“The rhythm of the film was intended to create the sensation of the last gasps that a person takes just before dying…a dance of death.” So says director Sergio Leone, and it’s easy to see why. From the shocking, bloody opening to the immensely powerful finale, the familiar characters and inevitable march to an (aptly named) dead end.

Sergio Leone’s atmospheric partner in crime, Ennio Morricone, conducts and composes a score perfect in every sense, capturing every intricacy of the plot and the players but leaving plenty of room for the prolonged, cold silences we all know and love of all classic Westerns.

The film opens with a number of high-impact scenes, including the shock of seeing cast-against-type Henry Fonda appearing as the bloodthirsty villain of the piece, Frank. (Fonda later claimed that this role was his personal favourite.) Once gripped, we follow a classic Western story line as three gun-slingers: Frank, ‘Harmonica’ (Bronson), and Cheyenne (Robards), pursue different agendas along the same road inevitably to clash at the road’s conclusion.

Once Upon a Time in the West could be said to have a much more thoughtful heart than Leone’s previous iconic spaghetti Westerns, A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This film reverses many classic Western trademarks to have darker connotations. The plot revolves around the central theme of the end of the cultural heroes of the mythic Old West at the hands of the modern world - hence the title.

An obligatory inclusion on every list of the ‘Greatest Westerns’ and often on lists of ‘Greatest Ever Films’, it has been quoted as a major influence on the careers of subsequent iconic directors such as Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and John Carpenter.

Joel Sinyard

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Screenings of this film:

1985/1986 Autumn Term (35mm)
2010/2011 Spring Term (35mm)
2015/2016 Autumn Term (35mm)