Archive for Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Review

Posted in Once Upon a Time in the West with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

**** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- There Were Three Men in Her Life. One to Take Her. One to Love Her and One to Kill Her

Release Date- December 21st, 1968

Running Time- 165-Minutes

Rating- PG-13

Screenplay- Sergio Leone & Sergio Donati

Director- Sergio Leone

Starring- Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson

Released in 1968 Once Upon a Time in the West was Sergio Leone’s 2nd epic with the first being The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and by many Once Upon a Time in the West is not only seen as one of the greatest westerns, but also one of the all time great films. With A Fistful of Dollars the first film in the Man with no Name Trilogy is when Sergio Leone really arrived as a filmmaker and what I love about watching the trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West was the evolution of Leone as a filmmaker. A Fistful of Dollars was a good film, but it was a little rough around the edges, but you could really see something special in Leone. For a Few Dollars More the production values went up, the writing was sharper and Leone’s direction was a lot more improved as well and than came The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which from a technical side was by far the best of the trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West again speaking from a technical side was the overall better film. Of the 4 films For a Few Dollars More was my favorite and it is possible for one film to be the better made, but not as enjoyable. That’s not to say I disliked The Good, the Bad the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West, but For a Few Dollars More would rate as my favorite film by Sergio Leone. When I reviewed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly I mentioned how when a film goes top far over the 130-minute mark I am a little weary with a few exceptions of course and even though I loved the film I did feel the just under 3-hour running time was a little overly long so I also was a little weary of Once Upon a Time in the West since it ran at 166-minutes. To me Once Upon a Time in the West is one of the greatest films and one of the greatest directed films and quite honestly the only thing that keeps me from giving it the full 5-star rating was I did find the film to be a little overly long and even though I was never bored I did feel though as if it could have been a bit shorter.

The debate between man fans of Sergio Leone is, which film was better between The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West and on the IMDb top 250 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly does rate higher, but there are many myself included who prefer Once Upon a Time in the West, but really a case for either film can easily be made. As a film buff of all eras and countries when I watch films like Once Upon a Time in the West it makes me sad when watching more modern films. Movies like this are truly a thing of the past and what’s even sadder is how a modern audience would watch this and dismiss it as boring. Once Upon a Time in the West has plenty of action, but no it isn’t the most exciting film in that regard, but at the same time it’s not just meant to be an action film. But films like this really do make me sad on how modern films have gone.

The plot focuses on an outlaw Frank (Fonda) who brutally guns down a family in an attempt to get their land and Cheyenne (Robards) is set up for the crime and he teams with a mysterious man with no name (Bronson) who is dubbed Harmonica in an attempt to help a widow Jill (McBain) keep the land while Cheyenne clears his name and Harmonica gets his revenge. The screenplay was written by Sergio Leone & Sergio Donati and the film is well plotted, but like I said in my review for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in terms of writing the main plot and subplots didn’t warrant a film just under 3-hours and I could say the same about this one, which clocks in at 166-minutes. However both films still feature terrific writing and the length of the film never really hurts the film even if it could have been shorter. Characters are excellent with plenty of depth, which is a mixture of the writing, direction and acting. Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy also called the Dollars trilogy, Eastwood actually has a name in all three that was a marketing gimmick when released in the US and if anything Once Upon a Time in the West is the real Man with No Name since we never find out Harmonica’s real name. Harmonica is one of my favorite Leone characters. We know nothing of him though it isn’t hard to figure out his motive even if not fully revealed until the end, but we know nothing about him, but yet the character is filled with depth thanks to the direction by Leone and Charles Bronson. In some ways the script mirrors For a Few Dollars More in regards two guys team up to take out an outlaw and in For a Few Dollars More Lee Van Cleef has a personal vendetta against the outlaw and it isn’t revealed until the end just like how Harmonica has a personal vendetta against Frank. Once Upon a Time in the West features a truly fantastic screenplay and it’s something screenwriters should study.

As director Sergio Leone does a brilliant job; the opening 15-minutes is text book filmmaking. It features very little dialogue and there are several minutes without any, but Leone’s direction, the acting and sound F/X, which play a huge part really elevate the opening. Three guys show up waiting for the train to arrive we have no idea who they’re waiting for and we don’t know why exactly, but we do know whatever it is it isn’t good and these scenes are some of the best suspense and tension I’ve ever seen and I’ve said this before in past reviews for Leone films I really wish Sergio Leone would have done a horror or thriller film since the suspense he’s able to capture on film is better than most horror filmmakers. For a modern audience I’m sure they would be a little bored and wouldn’t quite grasp what Leone was doing, but the opening 15-minutes just might be the best directing I’ve ever seen. The next 10-minutes are equally as strong as we have a family brutally gunned down including a child. Killing children in film is something we don’t often see, but when done it’s always shocking. Films like Psycho and even films by schlock filmmaker HG Lewis started to take filmmaking in a new direction and the late 60s and throughout the 70s we saw these rebel filmmakers not afraid to push the envelope and shock the audience, but killing children was still something rarely seen in an era where again filmmakers pushed the boundaries. In Once Upon a Time in the West the cold blooded killing of a child is quite unsettling and shocking and Sergio Leone shows he’s a filmmaker not afraid to take chances. After the first 25-minutes, Leone settles things down and the film plays at a slower, but equally as steady pace. Leone gets the most out of each scene and really crafts some truly memorable characters. However the last hour is when the pacing can get a little sluggish at times, perhaps that isn’t the right word since I was never bored or anything, but the film does start to run out of a little steam, but again I wasn’t bored. Leone though gets things back on track in the final act and this in my opinion is one of the very best directed films I’ve ever seen. Sergio Leone shows again why he’s a master at his craft.

When it comes to the career of Charles Bronson the first thing people will think of is Death Wish and that’s fair enough as its an excellent film with fun sequels. Death Wish is probably the best Bronson film, but not his best overall as he’s starred in many classic films as part of an ensemble such as the Great Escape and the Magnificent Seven. Of all his films like I said the best Bronson film is Death Wish, but his best film in my opinion was Once Upon a Time in the West. After the success of Death Wish it seemed every character he played was a variation of Paul Kersey and he’d play that role a total of five times. People sometimes forget Bronson was a very good actor and while he didn’t always show the most emotion he’s one of the very best film tough guys along with the likes of Eastwood, McQueen and Lee Van Cleef. As much as I enjoyed his films in the 70s after Death Wish and his work in the 80s he didn’t always have the best material even if the films were a lot of fun, but when given a great script, Bronson was a terrific actor and he’s great here as Harmonica. Charles Bronson really brings a lot of depth to the mysterious man with no name.

Overall Once Upon a Time in the West is truly a great film and quite an achievement in the career of Sergio Leone. While I did feel the 166-minute running time was a little longer than need be and the only reason it doesn’t get the full 5-star rating I was never bored and while again For a Few Dollars More is my favorite Leone film he outdid himself here with the overall production.

Once Upon a Time in the West is a legendary film for many reasons, but for horror fans Dario Argento has a story credit here and its one of his earliest works in film and 3-years after this he would write and direct Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1971, which was his first film and like this film was also scored by Ennio Morricone. Also Giannetto De Rossi best know for his makeup F/X on such Lucio Fulci films as Zombie, The Beyond and House by the Cemetery to name a few also worked on Once Upon a Time in the West on the makeup.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) Review

Posted in Good, the Bad and the Ugly with tags , , , , , , on July 21, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

**** Out of 5

Tagline- For Three Men the Civil War Wasn’t Hell. It Was Practice.

Release Date- December 23rd, 1966

Running Time- 179-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergio Leone

Director- Sergio Leone

Starring- Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach as Tuco

Released in 1966 and in the States in 1967, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the 3rd part of the Man with No Name trilogy and by many it’s seen as the best of the 3 and by many its also seen as the greatest western and the best film in Sergio Leone’s career though some favor Once Upon a Time in the West, but it seems to me The Good, the Bad and the Ugly gets a little more acclaim. I enjoyed Fistful of Dollars a lot, but don’t rate it as highly as some, but with A Few Dollars More I felt Sergio Leone arrived and as influential as Leone’s films are this was his first epic and once again Leone changed the way westerns were made. When released in Italy The Good, the Bad and the Ugly clocked in at 179-minutes, but when released in the States it was cut down to 161-minutes and home video releases have restored the film to its 179-minute running time. For me personally when a film starts to go over 130-minutes I often find it overly long with some exceptions of course and while The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a great film I just found it overly long and I’m not sure the film needed to be 3-hours. As much as I liked the film again it was just a little too long even if still a great film and while its better than A Fistful of Dollars I’d rate For a Few Dollars More as my favorite of the trilogy.

The trilogy is called either the Dollars trilogy or the Man with No Name trilogy, but in all three films Clint Eastwood’s character does have a name it was MGM who came up with that gimmick while marketing the film in the US. Regardless of what you wanna call it none of the three films are connected and each are stand alone the only connection is a lot of the same cast and crew. This time around Blondie (Eastwood) is running a scam with Tuco (Wallach) a wanted outlaw. Blondie brings him in and collects the bounty and when Tuco is about to hang, Blondie shoots the rope helping Tuco getaway and the two split the money. However after one scam Blondie decides to keep the money and Tuco vows revenge. He captures Blondie and makes him walk through the desert. While there they come across a stage coach where everybody is dead except one person who has buried money. He tells Tuco what cemetery and when Tuco leaves to get him water, Blondie finds out what grave it’s buried in. The man than dies, but now Tuco must keep Blondie alive. The two set out for the cemetery, but Angel Eyes (Van Cleef) is also hot on the trail for the money as well.

The screenplay by Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergio Leone is well written with some great characters, but the only problem I had is while the script well written and well plotted, I’m not sure the plot even with the subplots warranted a film running at 179-minutes. The script always remains strong thanks in part of the terrific characters and actors, but some scenes even if they impact the plot also sort of feel like filler scenes. Regardless, the screenplay is terrific with some great characters.

In each film of the trilogy the budget went up as did production values and the direction by Leone also got stronger. While For a Few Dollars More is my favorite of the three this part was the best directed. The first hour is very well paced and its funny, dramatic and exciting. After that things do slightly slow down, but for a 3-hour film the pacing is actually strong and I was never bored, but like I said I just felt as if a few scenes could have been edited and as great as a film this is I don’t think it needed to be 179-minutes. With all that said Leone shows why he’s a master at his craft and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is quite the epic and its influence on filmmakers is quite clear. The one thing that isn’t mentioned enough about Sergio Leone’s films is the suspense level. Too bad Leone never made a horror or thriller since at times his films had some great suspense and tension.

What I loved about For a Few Dollars More was the pairing of Eastwood and Van Cleef two great actors known for playing the tough guy roles. Here Eastwood and Van Cleef don’t have a whole lot of scenes together, but its more than made up for by pairing Eastwood and Wallach together. Both actors worked very well together and as great as Eastwood was, Eli Wallach steals the show with an hysterical performance. Eastwood is great as usual and Lee Van Cleef was also great only downside is not enough screen time.

Overall The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is truly a great film and one of the most influential films of all time. Like I said the 179-minute running time was a little overly long even if the pacing is generally strong. This was a great end to the trilogy.

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For a Few Dollars More (1965) Review

Posted in For a Few Dollars More with tags , , , , on July 17, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE

**** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- The Man with No Name Is Back

Release Date- December 18th, 1965

Running Time- 132-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergio Leone

Director- Sergio Leone

Starring- Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonte, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Klaus Kinski

Released in Italy in 1965 and in the States in 1967, For a Few Dollars more is the 2nd film in Sergio Leone’s epic Man with No Name trilogy, but don’t go into For a Few Dollars more expecting a sequel since all three films stand on their own and none are continuations of the previous. With a Fistful of Dollars, Leone took not only the spaghetti western in a new direction, but the American western as well and as good as Fistful of Dollars was For a Few Dollars More in my opinion trumps it in every single aspect. Fistful of Dollars was an excellent film with a great opening and closing act, but the middle could be a bit sluggish in spots and while I very much enjoyed the film I also don’t think its as good as its reputation. Its a very good film, but I don’t rate it as one of the great films, but For a Few Dollars more is one of the greatest westerns of all time and one of the greatest films of all time. For a Few Dollars More is the film that Sergio Leone truly arrived.

This time around the Man with No Name (Eastwood) or as he’s referred to Monco is a bounty hunter and he’s on the trail of El Indio (Volonte), but Monco has some competition as Col. Douglas Mortimer (Van Cleef) also a bounty hunter arrives into town also seeking to bring down El Indio and Monco and Mortimer end up forming a bit of an uneasy alliance as they set their sights on El Indio and his gang.

The screenplay by Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergio Leone is well plotted and often funny as well at times. The plot for For a Few Dollars More is rather straight forward, but it always works well. Characters are much stronger here than Fistful of Dollars as they have more depth and far more interesting. This is a very well written film with a solid plot and excellent characters. El Indio is one of my favorite movie villains and he’s quite evil; he’s a rapist and murderer and two of his victims are a woman and her 18-month old baby, but Vincenzoni & Leone also show another side of El Indio as he does seem to have some regrets about what he’s done not that it makes him sympathetic or any less evil, but it was an interesting touch to an excellent screenplay.

Director Sergio Leone greatly improved from Fistful of Dollars as this film gets off to a great start and remains just as good throughout the picture. Despite the 132-minute running time, For a Few Dollars More is excellently paced as each scene somehow advances the picture. For a Few Dollars More like many Italian films has a great visual look and the action scenes are better staged and far more polished than Fistful of Dollars (they were good, but greatly improved here). To me this is when Sergio Leone went from a good filmmaker to a great filmmaker and this was a great directed film the action scenes as I stated are excellent and are also very exciting and the suspense level is quite high as well, which is something most people seem to ignore when talking about For a Few Dollars More.

I think a big part of what elevates this film to greatness is the pairing of Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef two of the best film tough guys. Eastwood like always is great here and there isn’t any actor that could have played the role of Monco any better, but in many ways it’s Lee Van Cleef as Mortimer that steals the show. He’s just as deadly and just as tough and has this cool factor working for him. Seeing these two legends together is quite a blast and Mortimer also has a backstory with El Indio though it takes the whole film to get to it.

Overall For a Few Dollars More is a truly great film with an excellent screenplay and fun and exciting action scenes and with Eastwood and Van Cleef its one of the best pairings in film and Gian Maria Volonte is also terrific as the sadistic El Indio. For a Few Dollars More is as good of a western as you’ll find and despite the popularity I think it deserves even more credit.

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A Fistful of Dollars (1964) Review

Posted in Fistful of Dollars with tags , , , , on July 16, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS

*** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- A Fistful of Dollars is the First Motion Picture of Its Kind. It Won’t be the Last!

Release Date- September 12th, 1964

Running Time- 100-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- Victor Andres Catena, Jaime Comas & Sergio Leone

Director- Sergio Leone

Starring- Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, John Wells, W. Lukschy, S. Rupp

Released in 1964 and in the States in 1967 A Fistful of Dollars was the first film in Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy also dubbed the Dollars trilogy. By many A Fistful of Dollars is seen as the first spaghetti western, but that isn’t the case as there were many before it, but it was Leone who made the biggest impact and also heavily inspired American westerns as well. I am a fan of westerns, but I will admit that I’m not a huge fan and while I’ve seen many of the classics there are also plenty I haven’t seen, which is quite odd since as a film buff I seek out films of all eras, genres and countries and while at heart I’m a cult cinema guy, but again I’m a film buff and seek out films, but what makes it odd that I’m not a bigger fan of westerns seeing as that I love old west history and I’ve spent countless hours reading about old west history and watched countless documentaries as well. Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War is what I followed the most, but since I love old west history one would think westerns would be among my favorite genres, which to some degree it is. When I love a western such as High Noon or Tombstone its not only one of my favorite westerns but among my favorite film of all time, but as much as I enjoy the western genre I never really clicked with it as much as other genres.

At the time A Fistful of Dollars was released Clint Eastwood was a TV star with the now classic Rawhide and apperently due to his contract he couldn’t take roles in Americsn films and that’s how he ended up taking the role as the Man with No Name (in the film and credits Joe is given as his name so not exactly Man with No Name, but that was a marketing gimmick by MGM). Taking the role here ended up being a good thing and it started off Clint’s film career and he’d become one of the most iconic tough guy actors and later one one the very best filmmakers in Hollywood. This film would also start a great run for Sergio Leone who is seen as one of the all time great filmmakers. A Fistful of Dollars is an excellent film and while I’m not as high on it as others, but at the end of the day there is good reason for the films reputation.

The screenplay by Victor Andres Catena, Jaime Comas & Sergio Leone is fairly good, but also sort of lacks depth in plot and characters. Joe (Eastwood) shows up into town and gets involved in a feud between two families in an attempt to make himself rich. It’s never mentioned why Joe is doing this or how he knows of the bad blood and some of the kind things he does is never explained however this doesn’t hurt the film at all and if anything helps the film as Joe is very much a mystery and it really adds to his character. As for the rest of the characters the lack of depth on them does slightly hinder the film in spots. Overall the script is for the most part well done, but I do think its also the films biggest flaw.

As director Sergio Leone crafts a fun and exciting film with some fantastic action scenes and while they aren’t anything epic their simple, but highly effective. The pace of the film starts off quite strong, but does get a little sluggish in the middle with a couple of hokey scenes as well, but I’d place more of the blame on the script rather than the directing. While I’m no expert on westerns A Fistful of Dollars along with the Magnificent Seven did start a bit of a change in these films and Leone does offer something different here than what was out there even if I don’t rate the film as highly as others do and the IMDb top 250, A Fistful of Dollars clocks in at number 223 and for me personally again I wouldn’t rate the film that high, but with that said Sergio Leone crafts a very good film that helped take the western to another level.

Clint Eastwood is one of my very favorite actors of all time and I don’t think anyone is better than he is in the tough guy role, but Clint even at the start of his film career had a truly great onscreen presence that most actors can never reach. Clint is the ideal film star and hero and here he’s as good as ever.

Overall A Fistful of Dollars is a very good film and even if I don’t love the movie as much as others do I still very much enjoyed it.

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