Monday, October 3, 2011

Westerns: Sergio Leone and Peter Fonda

One of my favorite films of all time started streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly this past weekend: Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West.  Possibly the most flamboyant and operatic of Leone's westerns, and even more contemplative than his "Dollars Trilogy," this film simply has great scene after great scene, with a fantastic cast led by Charles Bronson in one of the few films I like him in.  Henry Fonda, cast against type, plays one of the great screen villains of all time.  Whenever I come across this on cable television I usually stop what I'm doing and watch it from that point until the end.  If you haven't seen it, set aside some time, sit up close to the screen, turn the volume up, and enjoy.

If you're in the mood for other subsequent responses to the Western genre from the 1970s, you might also look at the Leone's Duck, You Sucker (sometimes re-titled as Fistful of Dynamite or Once Upon a Time...the Revolution to capitalize on the Leone earlier successes) and Henry's son Peter Fonda's post-Easy Rider directorial debut, The Hired Hand.

Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, USA/Italy, 1968, 165 minutes) 
Netflix: This Sergio Leone classic, a tribute to Hollywood Westerns, stars Henry Fonda as Frank, a deft gunslinger hired by the powerful owner of a railroad conglomerate to kill anyone who derails the project. But Frank contends with the wrong person when he murders Brett (Frank Wolff), a landowner, prompting Brett's wife (Claudia Cardinale) to hire two renegades (Charles Bronson and Jason Robards) to go after Frank. Netflix link. 

Duck, You Sucker (Sergio Leone, USA/Italy, 1971, 156 minutes)
Netflix: While on the lam in Mexico, Irish Republican Army demolition expert John Malloy (James Coburn) hooks up with Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger), a crass, stogie-chomping bandit with designs on the Mesa Verde Bank. Reluctant partners with differing agendas, they find themselves caught up in the turmoil of the Mexican revolution when their heist nets more than gold in director Sergio Leone's sprawling 1971 Western. Netflix link.

The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda, USA, 1971, 91 minutes)
Netflix: Harry Collings (Peter Fonda) has been traveling around with his fellow drifter and friend Arch Harris (Warren Oates). Disturbed by thoughts of the wife (Verna Bloom) and child he left behind so long ago, Harry decides to attempt a reunion with them by working on the family farm. All is well until Arch is taken prisoner by a past enemy; now, Harry must choose whether to uphold his responsibility to the family or save his longtime friend. Netflix link.

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