1968 Fest – Making A Monkey Out Of Charlton Heston – Planet Of The Apes (1968)

I find it hard to believe that in all the time that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve not written about one of my all-time favorite movies.Fortunately this 1968-fest gives me a chance to rectify that.

I can’t remember how young I was when I first saw Planet of the Apes. One of the great things about the late 90s and early 70s was that studios would regularly re-release recent hits to theaters in what was both an opportunity for them to make a bit more return on investment and for audiences to revisit a movie they liked of to catch one they may have missed the first time around. This is how I saw a number of movies from Disney classics to Ray Harryhausen effects extravaganzas, to, yes, the Planet of the Apes films and yes, I got to see them on the big screen.

As a matter of fact, one of the local theaters would regularly have extra cheap Saturday morning matinees where they would, for instance, run a month of Sinbad movies or Apes movies or whatever.

Anyway, that was how my introduction to the Planet of the Apes films came about.

Now I don’t figure, at this point, that I need to go into the plot of the movie very much. It’s become so much a part of the cultural lexicon that even those who have never seen the movie know most of the plot points including the climactic ending. So that’s not where I want to put my focus today. Instead I want to take a look at the character of Taylor and how he reflects a lot of the feelings and concerns of the people and the world at the time the movie was made.

And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown. We’re now on full automatic, in the hands of the computers. I have tucked my crew in for the long sleep and I’ll be joining them soon. In less than an hour, we’ll finish our sixth month out of Cape Kennedy. Six months in deep space – by our time, that is. According to Dr. Haslein’s theory of time, in a vehicle traveling nearly the speed of light, the Earth has aged nearly 700 years since we left it, while we’ve aged hardly at all. Maybe so. This much is probably true – the men who sent us on this journey are long since dead and gone. You who are reading me now are a different breed – I hope a better one. I leave the 20th century with no regrets. But one more thing – if anybody’s listening, that is. Nothing scientific. It’s purely personal. But seen from out here everything seems different. Time bends. Space is boundless. It squashes a man’s ego. I feel lonely. That’s about it. Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor’s children starving?

The movie opens with Taylor’s monologue which serves as an precis of his outlook toward mankind. He mentions that the people he imagines listening to his recording are a different and hopefully better breed, and then goes on to call man, with no small amount of irony and cynicism, a “marvel of the universe” and a “glorious paradox”.

We get even more insight into Taylor’s outlook in a conversation with fellow astronaut Landon as they begin their trek across the wasteland they have found themselves stranded on. First, Taylor engages in a little  psychoanalysis of his crewmate:

“Straighten me out on something,” he says “Why did you come along at all? You volunteered. Why?” When Landon seemingly has no answer, he continues: “I’ll tell you. They nominated you for the Big One and you couldn’t turn it down. Not without losing your All-American standing”

“Climb off me, will you!” Landon replies. It’s obvious that Taylor’s words are cutting a little too close to the heart.

Taylor won’t stop, however, going on to say “And the glory, don’t forget that. There’s a life-sized bronze statue of you somewhere. It’s probably turned green by now, and nobody can read the name plate. But never let it be said we forget our heroes…Oh, and one last item. Immortality. You wanted to go on forever. (pause) Well, you damn near made it. Except for Dodge and me, you’ve lived longer than anybody. And with Stewart dead, it looks like we’re the last of the strain. You got what you wanted, kid. How does it taste?”

Finally, after a bit of a rest, Landon responds. “Okay. You read me well enough. Why can’t I read you?” Even though Taylor tells him not to bother, Landon continues: “Dodge … he’s not like me at all. But he makes sense. Held walk naked into a live volcano if he thought he could learn something no other man knew. I understand why he’s here. But you…You’re no seeker. You’re negative.”

“But I’m not prepared to die,” Taylor says, referring to an earlier conversation.

“I’d like to know why not. You thought life on Earth was meaningless. You despised people. So what did you do? You ran away.”

For a moment Taylor is quiet. Then he quietly responds “No, not quite, Landon. I’m a seeker too. But my dreams aren’t like yours. I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be. .”

Of course, the irony in all of this is that the culture that Taylor does find is truly no better than the one he left behind. It could even be argued that it is worse. Certainly it is for humanity. For the most part, though, it mostly resembles a pre-industrial revolution Earth, both in its technology and its mores.

The Apes, while not strictly segregated, certainly have a type of caste system that sets their place in society. They are also ruled by their religion which is embodied in the ape who is also their chief scientist, Dr. Zaius. Then their is their treatment on humans, whom they consider to be merely beasts with no thoughts or feelings of their own.

But let’s go back to Zaius for just a moment, because we find out that despite his outward facade, he is an ape with a secret, because while he may be willfully ignorant of the full truth about the relationship between man and ape, he certainly knows more than he is letting on, and that is enough to make him afraid of Taylor and what he may represent. At one point he even tells Taylor “All my life I’ve awaited your coming and dreaded it.” At another he states “You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself. ”

So where does this leave Taylor? Well, as we know from the climax, his worse thoughts about the world and people he left behind have come true. He hasn’t found that intelligence grater than man, that something better. And, especially considering what happens in the sequel, it seems that neither he, nor mankind, ever will.

In some way, it seems fitting to wrap up this look back at 1968 with Planet of the Apes. because in a lot of ways, and most especially in its ending, it encapsulates a lot of what was going on in that year. It is a film in some ways about hope for a better future. It’s a film that can be read as being about race relations. There’s even a teenage character who can be said to represent the burgeoning youth culture of the time. It’s a movie about the relationship between religion and politics. And it is, like many of the films that came out in that year and the next few, a film that ends on a decidedly downbeat note that leaves one with a question about just what humanity is doing to ourselves and our world.




Saturday Double Feature: Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and…

Another Saturday means another Saturday Double Feature!

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

I suppose there’s no avoiding this weekend’s big release, and if I’m being honest I have to admit that I’m rather looking forward to seeing Avengers: Infinity War. Marvel has been doing a lot of things right lately with their movies, and I have high hopes that the trend will continue with this one.

Of course, it does run the risk of being an impossibly bloated movie with its ambitions of bringing together pretty much every hero who has ever appeared in a Marvel movie,but nonetheless, if it’s approached with the same thoughtfulness, style, and sense of humor that have characterized the studio’s film of late, it may very well pay off its premise and its promise.

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of promos and trailers already unless you’ve just been completely abstaining from media for the past few weeks, but let’s go ahead and take a look at the trailer anyway.

Okay, so as we have been all month I wanted to stick to the theme of pairing the new film with one from 1968. Not one of the easiest tasks of the month, since there wasn’t exactly a proliferation of superhero movies during the era.

There was, however, one hero who made his debut that year, and to make it even better, since Marvel is now owned by Disney, they were also the studio behind this film.

If there’s one thing that Marvel movies have shown us, it’s that heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. After all, this is the studio that had a movie where the breakout stars were a perverse space-faring racoon and an animate tree. So I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to call a Volkswagen Beetle, especially one as talented and charming as Herbie, a hero.

That’s right, the movie I’ve picked for our double feature today is The Love Bug.

Dean Jones plays Jim Douglas, a down-on-his-luck race car driver who is now competing in demolition derbies. He goes looking for a new car and runs into a white Beetle that is being abused by its owner. He defends the car and the next day wakes up to find it sitting outside his home.with the owner charging him with grand theft. He is finally persuaded to buy the car which soon proves to have a mind of its own.

Herbie, as the car is christened, soon proves his mettle on the race track, while at the same time proving that he is also a master of the heart as he works at bringing Jim and his girlfriend Carole together.

The movie went on to spawn a number of sequels and even a short lived TV show..

Here’s your trailer:

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Hurricane Heist? Leave your thoughts in the comments, along with ideas of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

1968 Fest – The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Ia a lot of ways, The Thomas Crown Affair is an interesting point of confluence between the old school studio system and the burgeoning independent films that were beginning to come into their own in 1968.

With its split-screen technique and jazz-influenced score by Michel Legrand, Crown defied audience expectations and caused some critics to dismiss it a mere style over substance.

While it’s true that the film’s plot is not as complex as some might expect, as is true with any great heist movie, it’s not so much about the objective as it is the getting there.

In this case it’s not so much about the heist itself as the aftermath and the cat and mouse back and forth between Steve McQueen’s millionaire businessman Thomas Crown and Faye Dunaway’s insurance investigator Vicky Anderson.

Four strangers, both to themselves and their boss, pull off a bank job netting over two and a half million dollars. The bank calls in insurance investigator Vicky Anderson to try to track down the mastermind behind the heist. Anderson gas a reputation for being smart and ruthless and always catching her prey, though her tactics are not always above board.

The suspects are narrowed down to five, and as soon as she sees Crown’s picture, Anderson is sure that he is her man. She also appears to be somewhat enamored of him.Of course, this is completely believable, because it’s hard to conceive of anyone who wouldn’t be taken with McQueen, whose magnetism and charm, even when he is playing the character at his most callous, crawls off the screen and curls up into the viewers lap.

Of course, that’s not at all to slight Dunaway, who is as lovely in this picture as she has ever been and yet manages to keep her cool to such an extent that it is hard to tell, even as she insinuates herself deeper and deeper into Crown’s life, just who is playing whom.

Because that’s really what the film is. It’s about watching McQueen and Dunaway and their interactions. She wastes no time in letting him know that she is after him and he seems to be taking pleasure in finally having an opponent who is up to his intellectual level.

Both the actors and the characters are so charming that at times it’s hard to know, as an audience member just who to root for. Of course Crown is a crook, but there is always something appealing about the charming rogue.At the same time Anderson seems caught between her attraction to Crown and her duty to her employers and herself as an investigator.

I mentioned above that producer and director Norman Jewison incorporated a number of distinctive stylistic techniques, including split-screen into the film which gives it an interestingly modern look that goes beyond what most audiences of the day would expect to see in a typical Hollywood production. This appears to have come about as a result of McQueen having seen the film A Place to Stand at the 1967 World’s Fair and being so impressed by that film’s use of the technique that he convinced Jewison to incorporate it into Affair, even though he had already finished filming and was well on the way to having it completed.

Michel Legrande’s score is also of note, not just, as mentioned above, due to it’s jazz-heavy stylings, but also because he actually wrote it as long pieces which were then cut and the film was then edited to match the music pieces with Legrande himself involved in the editing process along with Jewison and award-winning editor Hal Ashy, who of course went on to be an acclaimed director himself.

All of this serves to raise The Thomas Crown Affair above the light fluff that it might have been to give it a place among the best-remembered and most fun films of the year. If you haven’t seen it, or perhaps have only seen the 1999 remake with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, I highly recommend checking it out.



Throwback Thursday -Bandolero! (1968)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

One last throwback to a movie from 1968.


Sometimes It’s Hard To Tell The Good Guys From the Bad – Bandolero! (1968)

***SPOILER WARNING! Yeah, the movie is almost 50 years old, but as I’ve often noted, if you haven’t seen it before, then it might as well have come out yesterday. Plus, it’s not one of those that’s well enough known that the plot twists (and there are a few) would be popularly known, and this is the kind of movie that does depend on bringing a couple of twists to the table. Plus, I’ll be discussing, at least in vague ways, the ending of the movie, so the warning, while perhaps not necessary, does seem appropriate. SPOILER WARNING***

Flipping through Netflix a couple of nights ago, trying to find something quick and easy to watch, (nothing foreign, nothing too complex, nothing that would be too much of a downer) I ran across the 1968 western Bandolero!. (Yes, the onscreen title does include the exclamation point.) Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, and starring Dean Martin, James Stewart, Raquel Welch, and George Kennedy, Bandolero! is the kind of relatively light western movie that I really tend to enjoy.

(Here’s a quick rule of thumb: if a western stars either Jimmy Stewart or Dean Martin, then it’s probably going to be right up my alley. Put them together, and well…)

The story opens with Martin’s character Dee Bishop and his gang arriving in a small Texas town with a plan to rob the local bank. Unfortunately, they are noticed by sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy) who immediately goes on guard. When things go wrong during the robbery and the just arriving Maria Stoner (Welch)’s husband is killed, the gang is arrested by Johnson, locked up and sentenced to be hanged.

Word of the gang’s capture quickly spreads, and Stewart, upon hearing it immediately heads toward the town. In a seeming coincidence he just happens to meet the hangman who is scheduled to perform the hangings, and finds out all he can about the gentleman and his profession. That evening, the hangman arrives in town, but it turns out to be Stewart in disguise. It turns out that Stewart and Martin are actually brothers, and Mace (Stewart) has come to rescue the gang.

After a dramatic escape, Dee and his gang come upon Mrs. Stoner and take her hostage as they flee across the Mexican border from Sheriff Johnson and his posse. Unfortunately, they have escaped right into bandolero country so not only do they have to deal with the lawmen behind them, but the bandits all around also.

Finally arriving at the small town they had planned to use to gather supplies and refresh themselves before moving further into Mexico, the outlaws find themselves instead in a ghost town. Nonetheless, they decide to hole up there for the night. Unfortunately, it’s not long before the posse catches up to them and then the bandoleros also enter the fray.

I started this review calling this movie a relatively light western, and while that’s true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the film has a happy ending, nor that everyone one might want to comes out unscathed or even alive.

One of the most interesting things that the film does is to use the natural and easy-going charm of both Martin and Stewart to get the viewer to root for them even though they are nominally the “bad guys”. This is also achieved by making the rest of Dee’s gang even worse than they are, and by Kennedy’s portrayal of Sheriff July as single minded in his pursuit of the gang not so much in order to bring them to justice, but because, as Mrs. Stoner notes, they have taken the one thing that he has always wanted: her.

So in the end, while Bandolero! may not have the “gravitas” of many of today’s westerns, nor is it filled with special effects and explosions, opting instead to explore its characters and give them some depth and dimension beyond simply being stereotypical “good guys” and “bad guys”, it is definitely a very entertaining way to spend 106 minutes on an otherwise quiet evening, and it’s a movie I would highly recommend for those of you just looking, as I was, for exactly that.

Here’s the trailer:

By the way, I have never read the book nor watched the mini-series that it inspired, but according to Wikipedia,

Larry McMurtry, the author of the novel Lonesome Dove, reportedly paid homage to Bandolero! by using similar names for the characters in his book. Both tales begin near the Mexico border and involve bandoleros. Both have a sheriff named July Johnson and a deputy Roscoe who travel a great distance in search of a wanted criminal and the woman who has rejected the sheriff’s love. Both stories have a charismatic outlaw named Dee, who is about to be hanged and who wins the love of the woman before he dies. In the Lonesome Dove miniseries, the main characters twice pass directly in front of the Alamo—or at least a set built to replicate the Alamo.

Hmmm… sounds like there might be just a bit more than simply “paying homage” to me, but I’ll let those of you who have seen it form your own opinions.

Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

OTR Tuesday – Dragnet (1949-1957)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR  Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Next week we’ll spend more time talking about the radio version of Dragnet, but today I thought I’d give you a sampling of episodes to listen to to get you in the mood.





1968 Fest – An Oddly Abrasive Pairing – The Odd Couple (1968)

“I cannot stand little notes on my pillow! “We are all out of cornflakes, F.U.” It took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Unger.”

Of course, most people (or at least those who remember it at all) will remember The Odd Couple as a TV show starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. However, before the television show was the Neil Simon play and the 1968 movie that was made from it.

The plot is relatively simple: uptight Felix Unger is thrown out of his house by his wife after 12 years of marriage. After an unsuccessful attempt at killing himself and an equally unsuccessful attempt to drown his sorrows, Felix makes his way to his friend Oscar Madison’s apartment.where the weekly poker game is in progress. Oscar and the other guys have already been alerted to Felix’s state of mind because they called his wife to see if she knew why he was late for the poker game. Finding out that he sent her a telegrammed suicide note, they are understandably concerned, and when he arrives they walk on eggshells to keep from letting him know that they know what is going on, instead waiting for him to reveal the situation himself.

Okay, long story at least a little bit shorter, prim and proper Felix winds up moving in with slob Oscar, and immediately begins attempting to change his way of living. In some ways this is great for Oscar because Felix is a wonderful cook and is helping Oscar finally get his life back in order for the first time since his own divorce, in other ways, it’s terrible because Felix is so obsessive that he is making Oscar’s life miserable.

Things finally come to a head when Oscar arranges a double date for himself and Felix with a pair of sisters that live upstairs in their apartment building. Though it seems at first that Felix is going to ruin the date by reminiscing about his children and wife while Oscar is out of the room getting drinks for everyone, it turns out that this just endears him to the girls, and when it turns out that the meatloaf he was fixing for their dinner is ruined, the girls suggest instead that they go up to their place for pot-luck.

After the girls leave to get things ready, however, Felix refuses to go, telling Oscar that he’s just not over his wife and not ready to try to be social yet. Though Oscar perseveres and winds up oing to the girl’s place by himself, it is obvious the next day that things do not go well. This leads to a near knock-down brawl, both physical and verbal, which ends with Oscar kicking Felix out of the apartment.

Immediately regretting his decision and concerned over what his friend might do to himself, Oscar immediately calls up the rest of the guys and they scour the city looking for Felix. Eventually giving up and returning to Oscar’s apartment, they soon discover…

Naah, I won’t give away the ending here. But I will say that it seems surprising, given the ending we’re shown, that the film would inspire such a long-running television series.

And I have to admit that I actually prefer the version of the characters we are presented with in the series to the ones in the movie. Though Jack Lemmon is charming as always, he is so neurotic that it’s easy to see why no one would want to live with him for long, and though I generally love Walter Matthau in almost anything, here he is so cranked up to twelve at all time, almost shouting every line, that even those moments when he is supposed to come off as tender seem completely forced.

Nevertheless, The Odd Couple was a certified box office hit, the number four money-getter of the year, and, as noted, it inspired a successful television show, so obviously there was a lot of appeal.

Here’s your trailer:



Saturday Double Feature: Godard Mon Amour (2018) and…

Another Saturday means another Saturday Double Feature!

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

Usually for this feature I like to look at the bigger movies that come out in a particular week, either the blockbusters or the ones that are getting a lot of buzz. This week, however, I thought I’d feature one of the smaller movies that should be getting more attention than it is. Especially since, unfortunately, this week’s major release line-up just doesn’t look to be that promising.

Godard Mon Amour was a festival darling in 2017, but it’s just getting a wider release this weekend. It is the story of film critic turned director Jean-Luc Godard at a pivotal point in his life.His marriage to his first wife Anna Karina had just ended and he was beginning a new relationship with a student activist, Anne Wiazemsky, who would become his new muse and lover. The film is a comedic look at their relationship and at a man trying to figure out where he wants to go with his art.

So in looking for a double feature for Godard Mon Amour I wanted to stick with out 1968 theme for this month, and actually, Godard had two films released in that year. The first was A Film Like Any Other, but the second, far more interesting film was Sympathy for the Devil, in which Godard filmed the making of the Rolling Stones song and then contrasted and interspersed the studio footage with shots depicting the cultural climate of the time

Among the scenes featured in the film are shots of the Black Panthers both reading from tracts and committing various acts of violence, a scene which takes place in a Nazi bookstore, an appearance by the aforementioned Anne Wiazemsky as Eve Democracy, and other short bits that provide a commentary and contrast to what is happening with the Stones themselves, including the dissolution of Brian Jones.

Here’s a peek:

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Godard Mon Amour? Leave your thoughts in the comments, along with ideas of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

Throwback Thursday -Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

Another look back at another S&S Top 250 movie from 1968.


Top 250 Tuesday: #078 – Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #144 on the list, Sergio Leone‘s Once Upon a Time in the West. For a longer introduction and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll be posting that info later in the day.

Once upon a time, Italy’s greatest director of spaghetti westerns teamed up with one of the all-time greatest composers of music for film scores and an all-star cast in an effort to create the best movie ever in that genre.

They succeeded.

The end.

I’m actually tempted to leave my comments on this film right there, because really Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West is one of those movies that is hard to write about without sounding like one is simply gushing superlatives. Still, I feel like I owe you guys a bit more than that, so let’s see what I can do.

There are times when I approach these movies in the top 250 wondering what it is about them that has put them on this list. Sometimes, as the film develops it becomes fairly obvious. Other times, for instance with The Conversation, it’s not until the very end that I understand the power of the movie or the skills on display. There are even even times when I simply make no connection with the movie at all or have a negative reaction that I’m still left wondering at the end just what it is that so many people love about a film.

That’s definitely not a problem that I had with this one. From the opening moments of the film it’s obvious that we are dealing with a director who is at the top of his game and is bringing everything that he has learned in his previous outings to the film, and thereby getting the most not only out of the performers we see onscreen, but from all of his behind the camera associates as well, especially cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, with whom he had also worked on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The beginning also serves to put the audience on notice that they are in for a different experience with this movie than with any of the director’s previous outings.

The film begins in media res, with no explanation of who the characters are that we are seeing, or why they are there, and it is only through later flashbacks and exposition that we really gain insight into what we are seeing, and the significance of the events that follow, and this is actually a technique that Leone uses to great effect throughout the movie as characters weave in and out of the film, some of them seemingly only tangentially relating to the ongoing narrative until later they become much more significant. Indeed, instead of using the opening to explain the characters or the setting, Leone instead uses a number of long (some would probably say slow) takes to create a sense of atmosphere, of dread and foreboding, that sets the entire mood of the film.

That’s not to say that this is a dark movie. Far from it. It’s actually quite a bright film with an incredibly saturated color palate. However even the brightness, especially when it’s coming from the outdoor sun, carries with it a sense of the ever-pervasive and inescapable heat that also at times seems to be a character in this film. It also, perhaps helps to explain why the title of the movie focuses the viewer’s attention on its setting in the “west”, rather than its characters as the previous film’s title did.

So does that mean that the characters get short shrift here? No, far from it. Again, it is to Leone’s credit that he not only gives his individual characters time to develop, time to breathe and become living beings that we care about, but also to develop their own individual quirks and moments that make them more than just performers hitting their marks and saying their lines, but real characters who you know have past lives (some of which we again become aware of as the film progresses, some of which are only hinted at) that inform each performance and which the actors for the most part use to enhance their interpretations of these people.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Leone is working with a pretty incredible cast here. The choice to feature Henry Fonda, for instance as lead “bad guy” Frank not only provides immediate interest for the audience, bringing as it does all of the memories and expectations that we have from seeing Fonda in the exact opposite of this role, but also gives Fonda himself extra motivation to show that he can stretch, that he can actually be as vile and nasty as the character calls for him to be, and it is something that he pulls off very well. And the rest of the cast, from Charles Bronson‘s “Harmonica” on down all seem to realize that they are truly in something that is special, and they all bring, to use the cliche, their “A game” to elevate this film from what could have been a fairly typical outing to something that is truly spectacular.

And perhaps, in the end, that really is the key here. I tried to indicate at the beginning of this post that this movie really is a truly collaborative effort, one that really does live up to that probably overly used cliche about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, but really, when the parts are individually as great as these, and when they are being brought together by a master craftsman such as Leone, it’s probably inevitable that what is going to wind up on the screen is going to be one of the best films ever.

Plus, let’s face it: don’t all of the best stories begin with the phrase “Once upon a time…”?

So what are your thoughts on Once Upon a Time in the West? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.

Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.