Once Upon a Time in the West


Once Upon a Time in the West

Critics Consensus

A landmark Sergio Leone spaghetti western masterpiece featuring a classic Morricone score.



Total Count: 58


Audience Score

User Ratings: 65,577
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Once Upon a Time in the West Photos

Movie Info

In Sergio Leone's epic Western, shot partly in Monument Valley, a revenge story becomes an epic contemplation of the Western past. To get his hands on prime railroad land in Sweetwater, crippled railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) hires killers, led by blue-eyed sadist Frank (Henry Fonda), who wipe out property owner Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his family. McBain's newly arrived bride, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), however, inherits it instead. Both outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and lethally mysterious Harmonica (Charles Bronson) take it upon themselves to look after Jill and thwart Frank's plans to seize her land. As alliances and betrayals mutate, it soon becomes clear that Harmonica wants to get Frank for another reason -- it has "something to do with death." As in his "Dollars" trilogy, Leone transforms the standard Western plot through the visual impact of widescreen landscapes and the figures therein. At its full length, Once Upon a Time in the West is Leone's operatic masterwork, worthy of its legend-making title. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi

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Claudia Cardinale
as Jill McBain
Jason Robards
as Cheyenne
Charles Bronson
as Harmonica
Frank Wolff
as Brett McBain
Keenan Wynn
as Sheriff
Jack Elam
as Knuckles
John Frederick
as Member of Frank's Gang
Dino Mele
as Harmonica as a Boy
Claudio Mancini
as Harmonica's Brother
Salvo Basile
as Member of Cheyenne's Gang
Aldo Berti
as Member of Frank's Gang
Luigi Ciavarro
as Older Sheriff's Deputy
Livio Andronico
as Bit part (uncredited)
Marilu Carteny
as Extra (uncredited)
Spartaco Conversi
as Member of Frank's Gang
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Critic Reviews for Once Upon a Time in the West

All Critics (58) | Top Critics (12) | Fresh (57) | Rotten (1)

  • There is something touching and maniacal about the two-and-three-quarter- hour result.

    Jun 18, 2013 | Full Review…
  • These days, cartoonish, genre-pastiching movies are everywhere, but Leone's films in this vein are still more enjoyable than most.

    Jul 28, 2009 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • 'Once Upon a Time...' now looks like an over-cooked mess of style, metaphor and reference.

    Jul 24, 2009 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    David Jenkins

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Sergio Leone's 1969 masterwork, in which he pulls together most of the themes of his three Dollar films, and also contributes one of the most famous credit sequences in history, will wet your lips all over again.

    Jul 24, 2009 | Rating: 5/5
  • For a lesson in how to resuscitate a dying genre, you could do worse than Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone's masterpiece from 1968.

    Jul 24, 2009 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Perhaps the clearer and crisper this film appears, and the more its reputation grows, the more unsettling its indulgences and ellipses appear to be. Well ... never mind. It's still a landmark.

    Jul 24, 2009 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Once Upon a Time in the West

  • Feb 24, 2018
    Coming in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, and giving us vast canvases of the old west, this film from director Sergio Leone is truly epic in scope. The cinematography is fantastic, and while marveling over the wide shots, you really feel as dry and dusty as the characters. The overall tone screams old west, and while it takes awhile to get there, the final 30 minutes or so is stirring, and memorable. The film is legendary in reputation and adored by many, so I'll tread as lightly as possible in my criticism. I just found it fell a little short in its casting, in its muddled middle portion, and its treatment of Claudia Cardinale's character. I'll start with Henry Fonda, who is a mixed bag for me. I liked the contrast of his blue eyes with his dark character, and he certainly does things which emphasize his cruelty - killing a child in cold blood, knocking down his crippled boss, and committing rape. It's a decent performance, but to me Fonda didn't quite fit in the part. Not enough grit to be believable, and at 63, too old. Charles Bronson is similarly 'just ok', and he's certainly no Clint Eastwood. It may be unfair to compare Leone to his other work, but I liked 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly' much more, because of Eastwood, a more compelling plot, and that extraordinary musical refrain. The harmonica we get here kind of pales in comparison. While it's fantastic to see the beautiful Cardinale in the film, the rape scene made me cringe, and not because of the act itself, but because how Leone captures it. Cardinale is supposed to be pretending to go along with Fonda to survive, so some of what we see is to be expected, but to see no fear or disgust, and just waves of rapture instead, is sickening. Earlier Cardinale says that Cheyenne (Jason Robards) could bend her over the table and have his men have their way with her, and all she'd have to do is wash off with hot water afterwards. It could be the voice of the hardened prostitute talking, but the overall impression of rape this scene and the other give is that it's just a sex act, one a woman may actually enjoy, instead of an act of great violence with devastating consequences. So we have a male fantasy of rape to go alone with that of the fantasy of the fearless, cool gunslinger, the latter of which has plenty of Americans wanting to walk around carrying a gun, thinking they fit this image. My apologies if this is coming across unbalanced in the other direction, and too negative. There are plenty of great moments and great shots, both of the scenery and in close-ups. The relationship between Fonda and Bronson is effective, and as in Leone's other works, they share the mindset of the hardened killer, understanding one another as they circle each other's path throughout the movie. While we certainly have an idea of the backstory behind Bronson's character, the reveal towards the end is a powerful moment. If you like westerns, this is must-see. If you don't, I don't think I'd pick this one to try to convert you.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 26, 2014
    Henry Fonda is good, Charles Bronson is the man and Claudia Cardinale is hot but the movie is pretty sexist when it comes to her character. My second Western movies!
    Mesh B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 22, 2013
    The films opening 45 minutes was gritty fun and always enjoyable, I watched this three hour epic over several days due to school though, and I felt it lost its touch. I mean if I was to watch a three hour spaghetti western I'd have to choose the modern Django Unchained over this. While I wouldn't call it over rated I can't say I was impressed. I loved Harmonicas character and see the hype behind him, because he's so mysteriously funny, but Fonda never really opened my eyes. Over all it's just to long, and the great moments are neutralized with extensive scenes of emptiness.
    Daniel D Super Reviewer
  • Dec 08, 2012
    Arguably Leone's magnus opus, Once Upon a Time in the West just might be the best Western of all time.
    Jeff L Super Reviewer

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