The Movies-to-Watch List: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

I should have more westerns under my belt. Not only do I like things that are derived from them (such as post-apocalyptic narratives that build off of westerns instead of science fiction or horror) but the few I have seen I’ve genuinely liked. No one was more surprised than me when I started reading Lonesome Dove and really enjoyed it. Yet I’ve never really gone out of my way to see more westerns, and I tend to not think of it as a genre of interest to me.

And then there’s the fact that I saw The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly not too long ago and it just did nothing for me. I found it slow and dull and it was tough to get to the end of it. So cueing up another Sergio Leone film wasn’t too appealing to me but hey, that’s what this project is all about.

I enjoyed Once Upon a Time in the West. I wasn’t sure at first; it also has a very slow pace in which we linger and linger and linger on scenes to the point where I assume Jack Webb is somehow involved. The opening scene goes on forever, and did not convince me that I’d made a good choice here. The characters, however, won me over. Henry Fonda is just amazing at being rotten, and Jason Robards is a hoot. Even Charles Bronson, who I think has the charisma of one of your less-charismatic logs brings a kind of charm to his role.

It’s a good thing, too, because the deliberate pace really did irritate me. I don’t need to have action going on at all times, or non-stop witty banter, but there were plenty of “OKAY WE GET IT” moments. Sometimes holding on to the scene resulted in some subtleties being teased out, but more often I didn’t feel any payoff. I’m not that kind of a movie fan, I guess.

So I’d say yes to more westerns, but I might still shy away from Leone.

(Incidentally, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is pretty good, but I think I think I liked it better the first time, when it was called “New Order”.)

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