Once Upon A Time In The West: Special Collector’s Edition

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

A few years ago on a weekend of a hot June summer, I was working the entire day of an Irish Fair, so far the only year in the few years that it has been run that both days of it were sunny. As I had come back from working, I had noticed the widescreen debut of a western classic coming onto one of the classic movie channels. From the moment it started with it’s long title sequence, it was a true channel locker. It hooked me in a way that was hypnotic and I just couldn’t describe what grabbed me but I wanted to know at each moment what happens next and for 2 hours and 45 minutes, it was a welcome end to a hard working day. That movie was Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West and it’s story and it’s characters spun quite a tale.

Once upon a time, there were three men (Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Al Mulock) waiting impatiently at a railroad station until a mysterious stranger with no name, whose only identification is the instrument he plays around his neck, appears as the railroad passes. They represent a man named Frank (Henry Fonda) who’s sinister methods are being applied at the other side of town and while these sinister acts are being pinned on a scruffy gunfighter named Cheyenne (Jason Robards), a young lady (Claudia Cardinale) arrives in town slowly but surely discovering her late husband’s plans for the future with Cheyenne, Harmonica and Frank hot on her trail for their own reasons and thus continues our journey into the Sergio Leone western that hangs, hooks, twists and goes the distance from start to finish and they all lived happily or unhappily depending on your point of view.

I admit there are two kinds of long length casually paced movies. There are the ones that the viewer ponders when the movie is going to end and there are the ones that go on and give you a curiosity of what’s going to happen next and this film is certainly a case of the latter. The less-is-more dialogue choice is a great one as the ensemble get some of the best introductions to their characters, accompanied by a haunting but memorable score by Ennio Morricone. In short, Once Upon A Time In The West leaves you with a great mark visually and never lets go from one scene to the next. It’s great to see a movie, especially a Sergio Leone western minus Clint Eastwood, that still holds up so well after so many years.

Video: How does it look?

Paramount gives the grand treatment of this title with an outstanding transfer onto DVD. It is presented in the Techniscope 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the transfer captures the landscapes and the view of the town as well as the closeups of all the players. The cinematography by Tonini Della Colli is well preserved with no oversaturation of color and not a scratch on the print. Not too much difficulty on the contrast side and the images are sharp and smooth as glass. Very impressive!

Audio: How does it sound?

The Ennio Morricone score and many other sounds were truly a feast for the ears in the Dolby Digital 5.1 Remix. The exaggerated gunshots of the Spaghetti Westerns, the drops of water on the head and hat of Woody Strode, and even the whistles of the train were well balanced in all channels. From the front, to the back and returning to the center, a very nice soundtrack indeed, even for a film from the 60’s. This disc also includes a English and French mono track with English Subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Paramount has given us a healthy helping on this 2 Disc Special Collector’s Edition with a wide array of extras.

On Disc 1, we are treated to a commentary with a multitude of participants dominated by Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Seldon Hall with a little help from directors John Milius, John Carpenter and Alex Cox with a touch of some of the cast and crew as well. This is a descriptive track noting a lot of the references to past westerns as well as an informative track chatting up about filming and on the set stories, but it’s also an anectdotal track sharing stories about the director’s work, the scenes, and their view of the movie today. With this potpourri track, it is worth a listen.

On Disc 2, there are 3 Documentaries, 1 Featurette, 2 Photo Galleries, Cast Profiles, and a theatrical trailer. The Opera of Violence, covers pre-production and casting. The Wages of Sin, covers filming, locations, choices of shots and editing. Something To Do With Death covers the scoring, the audiences reaction, and the reaction to the majority of the commentary participants and their experiences of the first time seeing the film. I liked the fact that it was not redundant with the commentary and all 3 were equally great, all done by Lancelot Narayan. The one regret I have is that there’s no “play all” function.

The featurette, Railroad: Revolutionizing the West is an interesting mix of film, photo gallery, and summarization montages along with an on screen narration of words reminding me of a shrunken newsreel by way of todays multimedia style. An interesting addition and more insight by Alex Cox and Sir Christopher Frayling.

The two photo galleries, like the beautiful on-screen menus, are accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s score and show the Locations Then and Now and Production Stills. This is my favorite kind of photo gallery when you don’t have to chapter switch and be accompanied by movements of photos with music.

The cast profiles are short and highlight individually each of the main people along with their piece of the score on the first page of the profile.

Lastly, a classic Paramount trailer covering some of the action as well as titling the movie different with 3 dots(Once Upon A Time…). It’s always refreshing to see any trailer on a Paramount title. (Also if you highlight the Documentaries section, press left and you’ll highlight the title to uncover a more modernized trailer of the film. A nice hidden addition!)

In conclusion, Once Upon A Time In The West is not only one of the best DVDs of the year but one of the best 2 Disc additions to anyone’s collection.

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