Three gunslingers enters in the old west station, get rid of poor station master by locking him inside the room and they carefully made a women to watch this act so she will not make any mistake. These harsh looking men are on the mission to kill a mysterious Harmonica. And now they are patiently waiting for the train and Him. Lonely station surrounded by the dray west landscape showing no mercy. The gradual increase in the train whistle make these killers alert and they calmly start getting ready with their gears to face a man who will get down from the train. Apparently it seems that no one get down from the train and these killers are about to turn back and…..they heard a chilling sound of a tune that confirms the arrival of their man. It’s Harmonica playing that mysterious haunting tune now standing in front of them. With a quick exchange of words guns triggered off and all three dies in a fraction of second. That’s Sergio Leone!
This is the opening scene of the epic saga, Once Upon a Time in the West, directed by Maestro Sergio Leone. It takes more than 10 minutes (12.5 min to be precise in my DVD version) to hear the first dialogue except a brief murmur of the station master. Sergio with his special tight close up make the viewers think about the men on the screen, their expression and emotions through eyes, slowly building the tension in the atmosphere. You can make out that Sergio has carefully selected the faces of killers. Each of them has its own way of relaxation and the peculiar style of cold professional look. He brought Woody Strode, Jack Elam and Al Mulock for this one of the most memorable opening scenes in the movie history. The mannerisms in small actions that these legendary actors showed in the tiny space of time actually bring the air of something that is going to happen. Catching fly in the gun and listening to its sound is a classic example of how Sergio engages viewers with his techniques.
It’s endless to speak about this timeless classic. Sergio experimented with the actors by choosing Henry Fonda as Frank, the cold blooded assassin who otherwise played good guy on the screen. But Sergio proved to be perfect in his choice because Fonda’s blue eyes and cold face created a history on the silver screen as a bad man. Claudia Cardinale look beautiful yet strangely simple and dignified with the western outfit. She is merged with the western landscape. Its joy to watch the firework between Claudia and Jason Robards. Jason Robard’s Cheyenne seems to be the only relief in this otherwise tense flick. Charles Bronson definitely brings the mysterious tone to lonely gunslinger carrying single aim of the vendetta of his brother’s death. Gabriele Ferzetti’s Morton is memorable. His greed and limited physical mobility make this bad man actually a very complex character in the movie.
Ennio Morricone’s background music is another highlight of the movie. It’s simply outstanding. I am sure it will remain as a milestone for the generations to come. He composed five different tunes for five characters. The specific tune starts when that character comes in the frame, gives a kind of depth to the scene. The tunes are composed in such a way that if you listen carefully can actually reveal the personality of the character. The opening scene mentioned above has no music as he experimented with train whistle, telegraph machine sound and other natural sound of door hinges etc. It has its own impact. Morricone’s music so well blended with the vast landscape of west as if it’s an extension of those mountains, dry lands and the rough characters too.
“Once Upon a Time in the West” is a landmark of western genre. It’s a complete movie with no loose ends. The perfect piece of art. Truly the peak of movie making. We now belong to the time of computer generated effects. We get to see everything that we can’t even imagine if I can say so. As we get CGI effects more, this movie will become more important for its human touch which seems to be missing today…..and the raw landscapes, tough faces and of course the fast gun play…….