Friday, October 21, 2011
[24th w 21,210]
1. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, The (1966) #36
2. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) #52
3. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
4. For a Few Dollars More (1965) #508
5. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) #1583
For me, Leono has one really good film, Once Upon a Time in America (of course, the long version only), and a bunch of good popcorn entertainment, mostly designed for drive-ins - that's where I first saw all the spaghetti westerns, as the genre he helped create was called. It really meant Italian 'westerns', which were usually filmed in Spain or North Africa. In my opinion, they denigrate a more serious genre by creating satires built of excess and stereotypical characters.
They did make a star of Clint Eastwood, who had only done mostly tv (Rawhide) up to then. The first, Fistful of Dollars, is actually based on Akira Kurosawa's film Yojimbo, about a drifter who pits two rival sides of a town against each other, collecting money from each side. Kurosawa's film was in turn inspired by the westerns of John Ford!
Nowhere is this more evident than The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, perhaps the most over-ranked film in our compendium of polls, now #36 all-time and well ahead of such true classic westerns like The Searchers (1956) and High Noon (1952), which I find preposterous. Leone's hasn't nearly the grace or artistry of either of those films. This film has hammy acting, a long, boring pace, incongruent sequences (such as the Civil War intrusion), and a ridiculously long, anti-climactic ending - which comically ends where it begins. Once Upon a Time in the West is much better, casting Henry Fonda against type as a ruthless killer, hunted by Charles Bronson for reasons unknown. This one at least remains serious throughout, unlike GB and U.
Once Upon a Time in America [photo left], a brilliant, multi-decade study of Jewish gangsters in New York, their rise from street-wise kids to a successful, if small, crime organization. An overall perfect cast was led by one of Robert De Niro's best performances, as he ages about 40 years - almost matched by one of James Woods' best. It also featured the first performance of a 12-yr old Jennifer Connelly, as a young dancer and object of De Niro's eye as a teenager. This film is on par with the two Godfathers, in fact, I like it better than the first, not as much as II, and I can re-watch it more often than Godfather I.