Once Upon a Time in the West

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(1968) ★★★★★

Sky Movies Select: Tuesday 17 November, 12.15pm and 10pm

“How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders?” says Henry Fonda, eyeing up a railroad flunky. “The man can’t even trust his own pants.” Sergio Leone’s majestic frontier township epic, a note-perfect operatic dance of death, boldly cast Fonda, an actor synomynous with on-screen probity, as Frank, the conscienceless killer working for crooked railroad tycoon Gabriele Ferzetti.

With ultra-blue contact lenses and his familiarly placid features unnaturally swollen by a huge chaw, Fonda is a chilling villain. “What do we do with them, Frank?” asks a gang member when shots bring the dead man’s wife and son running from their home. “Seeing as how you used name…” The marvellous Fonda, at least, never confused his screen persona with the real man: “I’m not really Henry Fonda,” he once said. “Nobody could have that much integrity.”

Integrity here, or at least the promise of a human face for the new frontier, is embodied by Claudia Cardinale. Her allies, and Frank’s adversaries, are Jason Robards as the sentimental hooligan Cheyenne and Charles Bronson, sliding panther-like into frame as an enigmatic gunman dubbed Harmonica. From first to last, it is Harmonica who gives this rich film such resonance.

What a fantastic beginning it is, a carefully detailed opening sequence that perfectly captures Leone’s commitment to pure cinema. With its epic scope and soaring crane shots, this wondrously framed picture is Leone’s masterpiece, a grandiose western that’s as ritualistic as a samurai picture, celebrating the mythic qualities of the Old West even as it undercuts accepted folk lores with bitter cynicism. And if Ennio Morricone ever composed a more beautiful score, I never heard it.

Certificate: 15

Duration: 165min

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Other Showings Date & Time
Sky Movies Select Thursday, 19 November at 6:30AM
Sky Movies Select Thursday, 19 November at 4:15PM
Sky Movies Select Sunday, 22 November at 12:00AM
Sky Movies Select Sunday, 22 November at 8:30PM