By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 2, 2011)
Once Upon a Time in the West – Paramount Blu-ray
Although it is chockablock with classic “western” tropes, director Sergio Leone somehow manages to honor, parody, and transcend the genre all at once with this 1968 masterpiece. This is a textbook example of pure cinema, distilled to a crystalline perfection of mood, atmosphere and narrative.
At its heart, it’s a simple revenge tale, involving a headstrong widow (Claudia Cardinale) and an enigmatic “harmonica man” (Charles Bronson) who both have a bone to pick with a sociopathic gun for hire (Henry Fonda, cast against type as one of the most execrable villains in screen history). But there are bigger doings afoot-like building a railroad and winning the (mythic) American West. Also on board: Jason Robards, Jack Elam, Woody Strode and Keenan Wynn.
Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci helped develop the story, and it wouldn’t be classic Leone without a rousing soundtrack by his longtime musical collaborator, Ennio Morricone (be advised you won’t be able to get the “Harmonica Man Theme” out of your head).
It goes without saying that the film is breathtaking in HD. Paramount’s Blu-ray includes both the theatrical and fully restored versions, and carries over all extras from the previous DVD edition.