“You don’t understand, Jill. People like that have something inside… something to do with death.”
In December 1966 directors Sergio Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci (“Last Tango in Paris”, “The Last Emperor”) and Dario Argento (“Suspira”, “Tenebrae”), three life-long fans of the American Western, discussed the possibility of creating a new film incorporating well-worn motifs and cliches from the genre. The film would not just be a pastiche but something new, a homage that would be greater than the sum of it’s parts – a new kind of Western. Over the next few months they created a story outline referencing over 50 other Westerns – from films as diverse as “Iron Horse” (1924) to “Johnny Guitar” (1954), “High Noon” (1952) to “The Searchers” (1956). They incorporated well used character motifs such as the gunfighter bent on revenge, the thief with a conscience, the stone-cold killer and the whore with the heart of gold.
Once the plot outline was finished Leone commissioned Sergio Donati to write the final script and production on “Once Upon a Time in the West” began. Leone cast actors well known to fans of the genre: Henry Fonda; Charles Bronson; Jason Robards; Woody Strode and Jack Elam, amongst others. He shot scenes in Monument Valley, one of John Ford’s favourite locations – he even brought back a sack of the valley’s distinctive red sand to use as set dressing to give the film that extra sense of verisimilitude.
Since it’s release the film has been heralded as Leone’s masterpiece and has become as influential and as iconic as the films it honoured – a fitting tribute to this lovingly-made elegy to the Western.
Once Upon a Time in America at IMDB
Once Upon a Time in America at Amazon