A still from Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) directed by Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Presented by the Melbourne Cinémathèque & ACMI

Once Upon a Time in the West

Sergio Leone | Italy, United States of America | 1968 | M

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29 July 2020

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The spaghetti western Sergio Leone never intended to make is now considered his magnum opus

Italy's most commercially successful director of the 1960s, Sergio Leone, capitalised on the huge success of his Clint Eastwood-starrer, A Fistful of Dollars (1964) — the film that launched the spaghetti Western cycle with visual innovations including the use of Techniscope — to elevate the genre to its fullest expression in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

From the against-type casting of venerable American actor Henry Fonda as a sadistic gunslinger who faces off in the film's climactic scenes against Charles Bronson's Harmonica, to the sublime, soaring score by Ennio Morricone (whose very recent passing we mourn), Sergio Leone's dazzling, cinematic valentine to the Wild West — with exteriors shot on location in Arizona's Monument Valley — stands as one of the most vividly realised widescreen representations of a mythic American frontier.

With a tip of the auteur hat to Visconti (whom the director greatly admired) and with a script co-written by Bernardo Bertolucci that drew inspiration from Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954), Leone cast Tunisian-born Italian star Claudia Cardinale, in the only significant female role in his entire Western oeuvre, as a widow who inherits a homestead and whose unbowed character must hold her nerve in an otherwise violent and overwhelmingly masculine universe.

– Roberta Ciabarra, ACMI Curator (Film)

Once Upon a Time in the West screened at ACMI in 2010 as part of Focus on Claudia Cardinale

Format: Colour
Language: Italian, English & Spanish with English subtitles

Event duration

165 mins



How to watch

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Learn more

Great Directors: Sergio Leone
Dan Edwards, Senses of Cinema, October 2002

How Once Upon a Time in the West reflects the social anxiety of 1968
Dan Einav, Little White Lies, 11 March 2018

Sergio Leone - headshot

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