Sergio Leone's Western masterpiece finds Charles Bronson stepping into the "No Name" role as the vengeance-seeking Harmonica and Henry Fonda trashing his Wyatt Earp image as the dead-faced, blue-eyed killer, Frank. The opening - Woody Strode. Al Mulock, and Jack Elam waiting for a train and bothered by a fly and dripping water - is masterful bravura, homing in on tiny details for a fascinating but eventless length of time before Bronson arrives for the shoot-out that gets the film going.
Once Upon a Time in the West is the first Leone film to place violence in a truly political context, indicting the corrupt (and crippled) railroad tycoon who "leaves two shiny, slimy tracks like a snail" as he bulldozes across the landscape, employing outlaw flunkeys to dispose of inconvenient settlers who won't unsettle easily. Rapacious civilization taints the wide open spaces as Harmonica quests to track down the sadist who hanged his brother, widow-whore-earth mother Claudia Cardinale tries to fulfill her murdered husband's dream of a real community out West, and bandido Jason Robards just wants to be left in a natural state of childish abandon. With striking widescreen compositions and epic running time, this is truly a Western that wins points to both length and width.
John Landis was one of the stunt men on this film.
Jason Robards showed up at the set completely drunk on the first day of filming, and Leone threatened to fire him if he ever did that again. Robards was generally well-behaved thereafter, though in June 1968, after receiving word of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Robards broke down and refused to perform until the day was over, and Leone decided to stop filming for the day.
A film dominated by uncommunicative, unreconstructed men, it's a spectacular, gaping epic, all thundering theme music, evocative cicadas and dusty landscapes under a scorching sun you can almost feel. Reviewed by: Tom Cox of The Telegraph UK.
Long on looks and short on sense, Sergio Leone's celebrated spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West is a remarkable achievement of cinematography but comes across today as a more muddled story than ever. Reviewed by: Christopher Null of Film Critic.
It is mostly fun for the way it cherishes movie styles and attitudes from the past. Reviewed by: Vincent Canby of The New York Times.
If only the first 10 minutes of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West still existed, this most hyperbolic of oat operas would still be acknowledged as one of the genre's greatest exhumations. –Reviewed by: Chuck Stephens of The Village Voice.