Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Once Upon a Time in the West

This classic Sergio Leone “Spaghetti Western” is a lot to undertake. When I looked at the sleeve from Netflix it said at the bottom 2 Hours and 45 minutes. Yeesh.

But I beasted through it. I had to – it is on nearly every list for favorite Western films and it’s Sergio Leone. I mean, come on! Well, I shouldn’t say “beasted” through it. It wasn’t something that had to be dealt with. It was actually really cool! Albeit, a bit long. If there is one thing that I am going to dismiss about this movie is that the film could really have gone through some cutting. I understand that there is a beauty in what he has filmed (the amount of detail that is in this film is astounding) but the beauty could be conveyed in a shorter amount of time.

But back to the story! This isn’t your “typical” western – it is an epic in every sense of the word. I was surprised to find out that Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci ¬†and Sergio Leone wrote the screenplay – three fantastic Italian directors. And then, Henry Fonda plays a villain? What? So strange! Charles Bronson plays the mysterious stranger who knows Fonda but he doesn’t know him. He plays a strange little tune on his harmonica which becomes quite irritating as the film progresses.

Claudia Cardinale plays a newly widowed woman who has a past of being a prostitute. I really wanted her to take revenge for her husband and kill Fonda herself but I think that was too progressive. Besides, she only knew her husband for a month and she’s a prostitute. Can’t really have a heart of gold all the time.

The story is great, but that plays second fiddle to the level of detail that Leone put into his environments. This is going to sound silly, but it really made you feel as if this were actually the Wild West. Also, his use of ambient noise is the best I have ever seen (heard).

Is it worth it? Well, I think so but you have to have a lot of patience and time on your hands. It was cool as hell and of course the ending was excellent. But it was a lot to go through. I’m still sitting here, piecing it together in my head.

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The Hit (1984)

Tim Roth in The Hit

I bought this film on a whim while browsing at a Barnes and Noble. I’m a fan of the Criterion Collection and when I saw that both Tim Roth and John Hurt were in this, I didn’t need any other pressure to buy it. I had never heard of it before and hardly has Criterion let me down.

Willie (Terence Stamp) is a gangster who sells out his pals in England for a free ride and a new life in a faraway village in Spain. He is nabbed by four Spanish boys who deliver him to two hit-men (Tim Roth and John Hurt) who are to bring him back for his destruction. Roth plays a brash punk that doesn’t really gel with the undercover nature of the mission and blows their cover every chance he seems to get. Hurt plays an unwilling leader who just wants to get the mission over with but gets into hang-ups because of Roth and the saucy Maggie (Laura Del Sol).

It is beautifully shot – arid deserts and long expanses of mountains, a raging waterfall and dirt roads. Music by Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and Paco de Lucia – a fantastic flamenco guitarist – and the beauty of the shots made me feel nostalgic for a place I have never been.

It was well worth the time – especially if you want to see Tim Roth in his early days (which, I will admit, was my first reaction). It’s also an early Stephen Frears film (High Fidelity, The Queen) so I was eager to see it.