Once Upon a Time in the West
The Western has probably died more deaths than any other genre in film history, but it never died with more heart, more bombast, and more eye-popping panache than in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). A compendium of tropes borrowed from the definitive works of Ford, Hawks, Ray, Mann, and Zinnemann (among many others), Leone, making one more Western than he had intended to after completing the "Dollars" trilogy, continued down the epic path started with his previous film, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), and elevated his craft to attain a level of pure cinematic transcendence. It is such a profound experience that, despite its slimness of narrative, one wants to read everything into it, attaching thematic significance to every deliberate movement, every cutting utterance, and, as is expected in a Leone film, every prolonged stare. That said, what he's saying is often far less important than how he says it, and when it came to cinema, it's possible that no director was equipped with a more confident command of the medium's language than Sergio Leone. Charles Bronson's entrance as "Harmonica," heralded by his plaintive theme wailing forth from the titular instrument strung loosely around his neck, is a beautifully iconic moment that probably established the actor as an archetypal onscreen agent of revenge, even if Leone's film was a flop upon its initial release. Meanwhile, Henry Fonda throws gasoline on his beloved screen image as cold-blooded murderer Frank; this is Fonda's Ethan Edwards, his Scottie Ferguson. The other key characters in the film are Jill, the recently arrived (and suddenly widowed, thanks to Frank) wife of a fortune-seeking landowner, and Cheyenne, the likable rogue leader of a gang of bandits played with great, rugged charm by Jason Robards. Though the Western would be eulogized again, all successive burials, save for Clint Eastwood's much more personal Unforgiven, have seemed redundant. Paramount presents Once Upon a Time in the West in a gorgeous anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that is nothing less than miraculous to anyone who has seen a badly faded print of the film in recent years. Paramount has done a fantastic restoration here, which extends to the superb Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Also on Disc One is a mostly insightful commentary featuring film historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall, and directors John Carpenter, John Milius, and Alex Cox. Three brand new, well-produced documentaries are on Disc Two, "An Opera of Violence" (29 min.), "The Wages of Sin" (19 min.), and "Something to Do With Death" (18 min.), which detail everything from Leone's beginnings as a filmmaker to this film's legacy. Also on board is a featurette called "Railroad: Revolutionizing the West," location and production galleries, cast profiles, and a theatrical trailer. Dual-DVD keep-case.