The Art of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West

A Critical Appreciation

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About the Book

Few directors are characterized by both extraordinary film craft and the ironic reputation for lowbrow films. Despite his many achievements as a child of the Italian Cinecitta studios, however, Sergio Leone has been judged severely by writers who find his films lacking in ideas and moralists who find his films unduly cynical. Nevertheless, Leone’s greatest cinematic achievement, Once Upon a Time in the West, served to refute these criticisms while exposing the director’s unique romanticism and artistic ambition. As Leone’s fourth successful American western film, Once Upon a Time in the West earned him acclaim for liberating the western genre, restoring it to a place of antique American simplicity.
The principal goal of this book is to sharpen an appreciation for Sergio Leone and his most famous American western. The first two chapters deal with the relationship between Once Upon a Time in the West and the western films that preceded it, particularly those of John Ford. Subsequent chapters concentrate on the central characters of Once Upon a Time in the West, with special attention to Jill, Leone’s first female protagonist and a surprisingly successful character, central to the plot and accorded a kind of existential strength usually reserved for men in Westerns. The sixth, seventh and eighth chapters address Leone’s visual style, which represents a unique fusion of Hollywood classicism and modernism, and reveals the influences of Italian Surrealism and the French New Wave. The final chapters explore the rhythm, romanticism, and musical character of Once Upon a Time in the West, espousing the theory that Leone’s approach to film is, above all, musical.

About the Author(s)

John Fawell, a professor of humanities in the College of General Studies at Boston University, has written books on Alfred Hitchcock, Sergio Leone and the studio-era Hollywood film, as well as provided the film commentary for Universal Studio’s Blu-ray release of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. He lives in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Bibliographic Details

John Fawell
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 223
Bibliographic Info: photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2005
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2092-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0181-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface       1

1. Defending Leone      5

2. Once Upon a Time in the West: The Meta-Western      23

3. Ford and Once Upon a Time in the West41

4. Harmonica and Cheyenne      56

5. Jill      76

6. Morton and the Politics of Once Upon a Time in the West      92

7. A Neo-Realist Fairy Tale: Leone’s Set Design      111

8. Composition      122

9. Leone’s Close-ups      138

10. “A Rhythm He Believes In”: Leone’s Editing      154

11. The Leone-Morricone Soundtrack      169

12. The Music of Sound and Dialogue      189

Chapter Notes      203

Bibliography      209

Index      211

Book Reviews & Awards

“critical study”—Wrangler’s Roost; “a scholarly and an engaging book”—Film International; “illuminates…enthusiastic and thoughtful…a treasure”—Cinescape.