Growing up in Rome, Sergio Leone became fascinated with a place he had never been, the American West, and when he followed his dad into movie making, he started making westerns.
No one had seen westerns like his before. There wasn’t anybody wearing a white hat; probably accurately, it was a place where people sweated a lot more often than they shaved.
Though they came to be known as “spaghetti westerns”, he shot them mostly in the deserts of Spain, with a mix of actors who often didn’t speak the same language; the cast was usually Italian and Spanish, with a B-level American, either on the way up or down, as the box-office draw.
But when he was done, movies like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, had changed western movies, and made a star of Clint Eastwood.
After Good/Bad/Ugly, Leone he thought he had said everything he wanted to say in the Western genre, and set out planning on a long-contemplated movie about Jewish mobsters (what became Once Upon A Time In America).
But when presented by the studios with a big budget, and the opportunity to work with Henry Fonda, his favorite actor, he reconsidered.
With Once Upon A Time In The West, Leone left nothing on the field — working with writers Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento (film critics before they became directors themselves), and with iconic Western actors like Woody Strode and Jack Elam appearing, the movie wasn’t just about the passing of an era in history into myth, it was about the passing of an era about how those myths were told in film. It’s the apotheosis of westerns, and probably Leone’s greatest work.
Whether you’ve never seen the great DVD release, or already love the movie, this is a great piece of effort from Hervé Attia. Most of these sets were in Spain, but for some scenes, Leone shot in Monument Valley, an homage to films like Fort Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, movies he had grown up loving.
Leone felt that the music, by longtime Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone, was so integral to the film, he had it composed before shooting began, and would play it on the set during filming as an aid to the characters.
With Henry Fonda as one of the greatest of movie villains, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale, and Charles Bronson, as a man who carries a harmonica around.