Paramount Pictures | Release Date: September 30, 2005
8.5
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GregePorterAug 31, 2015
This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Bottom line: I've always thought I hated westerns and its because of movies like Once Upon A Time in the West.
.5/4

Once Upon A Time in the West opens to a quiet dusty train station. An old, wiry, prospector type man (really, he is a caricature) is held up by three intimidating, quiet men. The three men are waiting for the next train to arrive. After several minutes of standing and waiting and sitting and waiting, the train arrives. Charles Bronson (we come to know him as Harmonica) stands alone with a bag in one hand. He drops it, pulls out a gun and kills the three men. Now before I get much further, let me start with my first gripe about this movie: the art direction.

It's like Leone said," Alright, we are going to make this a Western Epic!" The movie is overflowing with landscape shots of "The West": covered wagons going into the distance flanked by mesas, stagecoaches, bustling "wild west towns". It is like the art director pulled out the Wild West Catalog and said," I want two of everything! We need children’s toys? Wooden railroad stations and widdled horses. Oh, and don't forget dusters which can be the gang uniform." It's like walking into a Cracker Barrel. There is something to be said about creating a fully fleshed out world but let's not get carried away.

The thing that troubles me the most about this movie is the treatment of women. It has a general, gross, misogynistic vibe that makes me uncomfortable. Then again when is misogyny not gross? I mean just about every line directed towards or about women has a rape-y vibe. This isn't something shockingly new; I was playing the video game Red Dead Redemption and just about every single line, I kid you not, is suggestive of rape. Let me give you some examples from Once Upon A Time in the West:

Jill McBain comes from New Orleans to live with her new husband and his three children. Before she arrives at the homestead the outlaw, Cheyenne, supposedly murders the family. Cheyenne comes to the widow to explain that he isn’t guilty. At one point she says, "Why don't you throw me over the table and have your way with me and, better yet, why don't you call your men in too! All I'll need to do it jump in a pot of boiling water and I'll be exactly the same as I was..." Now, when she said that she would need to jump in a pot of boiling water, I thought she was saying that she could just quickly commit suicide, but no! She was just saying that she would use the water to clean herself. Germs are really the only damage of rape, right? Mental and emotional damage? Meh, that doesn't happen so we can just ignore that.

At one point Frank, the man who murdered Jill’s husband, kidnaps her. The camera cuts to them lying in bed together. She helps him take off her pink corset while he says," You're the type of woman that needs to feel a man's hands...all over you...even if they are the hands that murdered your husband. Is there anything you won't do to save your own skin?" "No, Frank." She kisses him and turns onto her stomach, taking off her blouse in the process. The camera pans away and fades. So how are we supposed to feel about this? The dialog has a weird, problematic, rape-y, sadistic vibe to it.

We aren't supposed to sympathize with Frank but the camera is, for the most part, positioned from above the bed looking down on her. The dialog and camerawork force us to gaze at Jill. How I am supposed to sympathize with her if she is able to sleep with this guy without hesitation? But wait, there’s more!

Jill is living alone and the railroad is being built through her land. Before leaving, Cheyenne looks at the railroad workers and says," You should go give [the railroad workers] some water. They are tired hardworking men and there's nothing like seeing a beautiful young woman. And if one of them should pat you on the behind, act like nothing happened, they've earned it." He pats her on the butt, winks at her, says," Just act like nothing happened," and leaves. The movie closes with her giving the crowd of men water. Yeah, just go, little lady; let those men objective and grope you because they've earned it! That's how this 175 minute movie ends and it makes me sick. It's as if sexual harassment is endearing with a "Boys will be boys" type of attitude.

I think it goes without saying that I was really disappointed by Once Upon A Time in the West. The extended cut of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is over three hours long but it doesn't feel like it. The film has the patience to slow down. It is a wonderful way of building tension by contrasting the speed of a gunfight with the desolation of the empty, western landscape. In Once Upon A Time in the West, the extended silence feels like little more than an imitation. If you want to see a good Western, or even a reasonable Western go see one of Leone’s other films.
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