Undoubtedly one of the hardest parts about reviewing films is that there are just so many of them. It’s quite the daunting task trying to see all the “must-watch” films while keeping up with the newest releases. This week for “What’s Streaming” I chose to watch the Sergio Leone classic, ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ because A) I had not seen it yet and B)…because I had not seen it yet. Confession: Although I have seen/own quite a repertoire of films whose subject matter spans a multitude of eras and histories (okay, not that many), by directors both burgeoning and long-dead, I am sorely behind when it comes to obvious films. And by “obvious” I mean everyone on the planet has seen it. Except me. And so here we are.
A mysterious harmonica-playing wanderer (Charles Bronson) hops off a train only to be met by three murderous men who’ve been sent to take his life. A widow (Claudia Cardinale) must contend with the ruthless assassin who murdered her family in cold blood. A bandit (Jason Robards) escapes capture from law enforcement and must decide whether to team up with the aforementioned two so that they might shoot, seduce, fight, outsmart, and outrun the satanic forces of a greed-ridden industrializing machine headed by a physically/morally crippled railway investor. A sprint from start to finish, ‘Time’ and its foreboding conclusion is as inevitable as America’s expansion West.
When it comes to me and run-of-the-mill spaghetti westerns, I’m really not the biggest fan. Of all the film genres I’ve had the pleasure of bearing witness to, the ‘ol wild west, to me, has always had a sort of lackluster novelty. It’s like: “we get it—hero walks into town, takes out bad guys, takes off into sunset.” Just seems so repetitive and unnecessary. I feel that it’s important you’re aware of how staunchly adverse I feel toward them so that when I tell you that ‘Time’ blew me away, what I’m trying to get across is that this film totally rocked (I swear I just heard about half of you say, “Yeah, we know.”)
A common theme you’ll find in many cowboy films (except ‘Brokeback Mountain’, I guess) is its stark "mythical" fairy tale-ness, a reality which is doomed to recede into the dust clouds of industrialization, starting with the railroad. Although ‘Time’ doesn’t necessarily emasculate its heroes as Zinnemann does in his 'High Noon', it romanticizes them to the point of becoming a sort of fantastic-ideal. I mean, hello, the title is ‘Once Upon a Time in the West.’ The heroine is not only independent, strong, and matronly, she’s sexy as hell; the two protagonists—aptly named Harmonica and Cheyenne—are able to shoot their way out of anything, gunshot wounds or not (more on that in a sec); the baddie (Henry Fonda in what I refuse to believe wasn't his best role) is beyond cruel, killing women, children, and whose piercing blue eyes invoke a fear not unlike coming face-to-face with a shark. As these killers make their rounds, silently brooding or loudly shooting, every movement down to a twitch of the finger or strand of hair seems emphasized and emblazoned onto our retinas in a final “oorah!” of sun-soaked sweaty masculinity
Throughout the film it's brought to your attention the train tracks are constantly being laid down, nailed into place. It serves as a constant reminder to the inevitable extinction of men like Harmonica and Cheyenne, men who we revere today with a sort of mystical pathos. Minor spoiler here. This is no clearer than at the very end when Harmonica and Cheyenne have successfully killed Frank, stopped the corrupt railroad investor’s plot for monetary gain, and have released the damsel-in-distress from the bonds of vengeance—the two ride off into the sunset. But both have suffered gun wounds that neither had seen to getting cleaned up, instead letting the wounds fester and grow (not unlike the railway!). Cheyenne, in a slow series of shots shows him disembarking from his horse only yards from where the railroad is being constructed nearby. He slowly succumbs to death, but not before alluding to Harmonica's inevitable passing as well. They are, in their own words, an “ancient race.” One that no longer fits the mold of “contemporary” society.
Because this film was streamed, there are no special features included in this post. However, links to DVD version of this post can be seen below.
‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ is rated PG-13 for western violence and brief sensuality. For more detailed information on questionable content within this film, click HERE.
This film is available at the following streaming sites:
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Comment below to continue the discussion of the review above, or even just to suggest any films you would like to see reviewed in the future.