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A Movie A Day: Quint on ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)
I like the stink of the streets… It gives me a hard-on.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Today we follow both James Woods and Burt Young over from yesterday’s piece of ‘70s grit and grime filmmaking THE GAMBLER to today’s ‘80s mob epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. I’m a big, big Sergio Leone fan, so you can imagine how excited I was to finally get to this film, one of the last big films of his I haven’t yet seen. You know, that more Leone I watch and rewatch the more I come to believe that he might be the one director who gets the medium of film more than anybody else. There can be genius directors… the Hitchcocks, Welles’, Curtizs, Spielbergs, Jacksons, Scorseses, Fellinis, etc, but I think Leone is without equal when it comes to visual storytelling.

Watch his Man With No Name Trilogy, watch ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST… and watch this movie and pay close attention to the flow of the editing, the length of shots, the character he puts into every frame, the faces he chooses to occupy each frame, the acting he gets from every single person in the film, from Clint Eastwood to featured extra #482. His films are a film school in and of themselves. But you can’t imitate him. I’ve seen people try and it just doesn’t feel right. I really like ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, but Rodriguez didn’t pull it off. He made a hugely entertaining movie, no doubt, but there’s something missing. Actually, the closest I’ve seen is the South Korean film THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD by Ji-woon Kim. That film feels effortlessly epic, the humor, drama and tragedy all balanced perfectly, dense and complex, but still iconic characters and the action incredible.

I don’t think ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA is Leone’s most entertaining movie, but that’s no knock on it. I was riveted throughout and fully invested in each minute of the nearly 4 hour runtime, but the aim of the movie isn’t to give the audience a fun time, not like his spaghetti westerns. Here we are to witness one character’s life from childhood to old age, seeing him at his best and worst without flinching. And we do see his worst… boy, do we. Basically the flick opens with two hard-noses searching for Robert De Niro. They shoot a blonde in the titty, they beat the ever-lovin’ shit out of Larry Rapp, demanding to know where De Niro’s David “Noodles” Aaronson is, asking why Rapp is protecting him. He’s a rat. Rapp can’t take it and gives up Noodles, who is high out of his mind in a Chinese theater that doubles as an Opium Den. Noodles escapes, running off to parts unknown to hide out. The film plays with time rather liberally. We jump back and forth between multiple periods in Noodles’ life, sometimes for an hour at a time, sometimes for a few minutes. We spend the most time with Young Noodles meeting his gang and how, as teenagers, they started rising through the crime ranks and Noodles at the prime of power, leading up to the betrayal we know is coming. Those are our main big chunks, but we get a bit of Old Noodles returning to New York after 30 plus years and trying to piece a mystery together. He and his buddies had set aside a million bucks… it stayed in a bus station locker with only one key, held by an intermediary (“Fat” Moe) and could only be received if all the gang is there to pick it up. But when De Niro goes to flee, taking the key as the last surviving member of the gang he finds a suitcase stuffed with newspaper.

Thirty some years later he is sent a letter… he’s been found, but he wasn’t wacked. Someone knows where he is and wants him back in New York. Who is it? Who took the money? In any other filmmaker’s hands, that mystery would be the point of the movie, but in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA that is really only a garnish on a giant steak. What’s more important is the character of Noodles and how one’s life is dynamically shifted depending on what choices he makes. Not by coincidence most of these splits on the road of his destiny involve the character of Deborah Gelly. As kids, young Noodles (played by Scott Tiler), spies on Young Deborah dancing. It could be considered him peeping, but there’s something very innocent about it. Even when she disrobes, she knows he’s there and is positioning herself in such a way that he doesn’t get to see much, but sees enough to make it worth the trouble of spying from the hole above the toilet. It’s still innocent.

Deborah is real. She is innocence incarnate, the chance Noodles has at a real life, free of crime and filth, but he bungles it every time. There are at least 4 times I counted during the film where Deborah represented an out for Noodles. The first is as kids where Young Noodles and Deborah, played at this age by an incredibly young Jennifer Connelly. She drops the act of disinterest and kisses him. Her sister is incredibly sexualized, selling herself for sweets and money, but young Deborah is not that. Her purity and sweetness is what draws Noodles to her. But he’s interrupted by his partner in crime, Max, who calls for him. And here’s his first choice. Does he stay and let the romance budding between him and Deborah florish or is it bros before hos? Max or Deborah? He can only have one. And like most stupid young people, he takes real love for granted… hell, he’s just a teenager, there’s going to be plenty of women, right?

Deborah becomes the regret of his life. She pops up again when we transition into adult Noodles, now played by De Niro with Deborah played by Elizabeth McGovern. Once again he has a choice. He went down the wrong path before and it cost him years in jail. What does he do now? Once again, he chooses his friend, Max (James Woods), and a career in crime as prohibition flourishes in the ‘30s. And I see why. His group is incredibly likable. As kids and adults, I found I very much liked these guys and their friendship… that kind of true, deep friendship that only exists between people who grew up together. But as these guys get more and more powerful, the adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” comes true. There are divisions among the guys, arguments, but it doesn’t go crazy soap opera dramatic. Most of the tension is aleved by a smile and friendship showing through. However, even though big missteps are routinely avoided, they baby-step their way into becoming monsters. The full extent of how monstrous they become isn’t revealed until the final 20 minutes, but it’s pretty shady.

There’s a whole lot of movie to cover here and I’m not even going to try to detail the story beat by beat. I will highlight some specific favorite moments, character and performances before I wrap this up, though. First of all… Ennio Morricone’s score is unbelievable. Soft, emotional, but also pounding and fast when needed. The score to a film can be its soul and Morricone gives this film every bit as fascinating and complex as the characters within it. De Niro is fantastic throughout. I especially like his more subdued work later on as an old man. He returns to New York in the late ‘60s under heavy make-up which isn’t too far off from what he ended up looking like. When he returns he’s essentially had 30 years to toss and turn in the bed he’s made for himself starting as a kid, blaming himself for the death of his friends, reflecting on what could have been. James Woods really shines here, though. He’s incredible, both charming and sometimes psychotic. He’s De Niro’s right hand man… or maybe De Niro is his right hand man… either way, they are like brothers and Woods has a few moments that are absolutely amazing. One scene where he chastises De Niro for being so caught up on Deborah and shows that he doesn’t have the same trouble by telling Tuesday Weld, a clinging prostitute, to fuck off and throws her out of the room and another scene… his final confrontation with De Niro, which is much subtler, but even more raw than anything else in the movie. You get great turns by Jennifer Connelly, the great Burt Young (Paulie!), Tuesday Weld looking crazy hot even in middle age (but if you really want to go ga-ga for Weld, check out PRETTY POISON with Anthony Perkins), Treat Williams (remember when he used be in big movies and was really damn good in them?), Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello (who has one of my favorite scenes in the movie, as a police captain whose wife finally gave birth to a son only to have Noodles and his gang switch the tags up at the hospital so his boy is now a girl), William Forsythe as the adult Cockeye and Elizabeth McGovern as the adult Deborah carries all the innocence and purity that began with Connelly as the younger version of the character. The violence is operatic and graphic. There’s a particular kill, a bullet to the eye, that had me cringing on the couch. There’s no violence like Leone violence, even if I’d say that both Verhoeven and Peckinpah have outdone him in other movies. But there’s an elegance to the way Leone handles violence… that is at once very real, but very theatrical. That’s the thing. The man knows and uses iconography to brilliant effect.

Which brings us back to Leone. Throughout the writing of this entire review I’ve been trying to think of another filmmaker as visually amazing as Leone. And I don’t mean flashy, but how ever camera move means something, adds to the movie, the characters and the atmosphere. I don’t think he has an equal, or at the very least not an equal in my eyes. His style of visual filmmaking is what I think is best about the art of filmmaking. In my opinion nobody does it better. Final Thoughts: This is an incredible movie, just be warned that it’s a big time commitment. The film clocks in at nearly 4 hours, but there is a 6 hour assembly that Leone put together originally and I’m fasincated at what that would be like. Apparently at least 45 minutes of this long cut was deemed “crucial to the story” by Robert De Niro. I wonder if that cut will ever get a release… maybe at the same time as Malick’s 6 hour long cut of THE THIN RED LINE… But if you haven’t seen this film or Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, you owe it to yourself to give them both a spin to see what cinema can truly be when handled by a master.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Monday, November 17th: SALVADOR (1986)

Tuesday, November 18th: BEST SELLER (1987)

Wednesday, November 19th: THE HOLCROT COVENANT (1985)

Thursday, November 20th: BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962)

Friday, November 21st: WHITE HEAT (1949)

Saturday, November 22nd: MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957)

Sunday, November 23rd: EACH DAWN I DIE (1938)

Tons of Cagney coming up! Hell yeah! But even before that, we continue on our James Woods-A-Thon! See you tomorrow for Woods in Oliver Stone's SALVADOR! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 16, 2008, 9:58 p.m. CST


    by Giphangster


  • Nov. 16, 2008, 10:09 p.m. CST


    by britney spears rusted clit ring

    HAH u won this one! Seriously..this is my fav movie!!

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 10:13 p.m. CST

    I remember watching this movie as a kid

    by BobParr

    I was probably about 11 years old and Tuesday Weld as well as the chubby young whore gave me a major woody.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 10:15 p.m. CST

    No argument there, Quint.

    by MaxTheSilent

    Leone probably IS the greatest pure visual storyteller of all time.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 10:21 p.m. CST

    My used DVD keeps on blitzing out---

    by seppukudkurosawa

    whenever that bank-robbery scene comes up. Particularly the parts involving Tuesday Weld...<p> </p>It makes you wonder just what manner of person owns these DVDs before you stumble across them. o_O

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 10:22 p.m. CST

    Don't see the 2-hr mutilated version!

    by Catbarf the 12th

    I'm not sure if I'm getting all the details right here, but I recall my film prof told me this was originally theatrically released in the US with nearly 2 hours removed from the 4-hour cut, and what remained was re-edited in chronogical order (instead of jumping around in time as Quint describes). Apparently it's a serious hatchet job, which got terrible reviews, and should be avoided at all costs... and renters and buyers beware, it might still be in print!

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 10:33 p.m. CST

    FYI - The gangters in this movie aren't Italians!

    by Catbarf the 12th

    Or at least not Catholic... they're Jewish! The movie refers to this explicitly throughout. My film prof , who specialized in depictions of Jews in cinema, said it was a little pun on Leone's part... an Italian-owned film studio making a movie about Jewish gangsters. There was nothing overly mean-spirited about it, but apparently Leone was getting a little sick of all the bad press for Italians, even though he loved the genre. Were there Irish gangsters in this too? Memory dims... I gotta see this again. But Oh do I ever remember how painful this movie is. When it wants to hurt you, it STINGS. The violence and cruelty, while not graphic, is the psychological kind that haunts you for years afterwards. The relationship between Di Niro and McGovern's characters (and the child versions thereof) is one of the most painful lost innocence stories I've EVER seen. Truly a great gangster film, right up there with the all-time classics, and frequently overlooked.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:01 p.m. CST

    Fuck this, where's the quicktime STAR TREK trailer?

    by SmokeFilledTavern

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:05 p.m. CST

    Finally, a movie I've seen

    by volcanopele2

    Wow, I feel kinda special, there is a movie I have seen (several times) before Quint. I wonder if this signals the end of the world. This is definitely in my top 5 for gangster movies.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:07 p.m. CST

    One odd thing about this movie...

    by WhinyNegativeBitch

    ...The two instances of rather graphic sexual violence. Just not something all that prominent in epic gangster movies is all. Still never seen this flick on DVD.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:12 p.m. CST

    Great writeup

    by Darth Thoth

    That's all

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:16 p.m. CST

    Epic Movie!

    by TheMcflyFarm

    Once Upon a Time in America I mean... not Epic Movie.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:35 p.m. CST

    There's tits and bush in this movie

    by Thrillho77

    and some young Jennifer Connolly ass. Although I'm not sure it was really hers or what. Anyway, she was far too young at the time.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:39 p.m. CST


    by Catbarf the 12th

    Yeah, the rapes were sickening. The Weld one was creeeeeepy because she actually gets turned on by it. The other one with McGovern is just heartbreaking. Some of the most potent R stuff ever... I saw this movie nearly 20 years ago and I squirm whenever I think of the title of this movie because of these scenes. It's still a masterpiece though.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:46 p.m. CST


    by Quint

    By far. The emotional impact of that scene is incredible. That's the point where Noodles doesn't just choose the wrong path, but permanently kills the innocence of their love, shatters it into a million pieces, beyond repair. Neither one should be fun to watch, but the McGovern one represents so much more than violent lust... plus Weld weirdly enjoys that and it turns from rape to consentual sex, somehow. McGovern is screaming no the whole time. It's a heartbreaking scene.

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:47 p.m. CST


    by kungfuhustler84

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:48 p.m. CST

    Once Upon A Time in the West

    by kungfuhustler84

    is easily the greatest western movie I have ever seen. i even rewatched The Good, The Bad, The Ugly today to make sure. Nope, Once Upon A Time in the West is better!<p>Now when the hell do I get to test that on The Good The Bad The Weird damnit?!!! WHEN?!!

  • Nov. 16, 2008, 11:53 p.m. CST

    M-O-O-N. That spells "Magnificent"...

    by Tom Cullen

    A truly epic film, and you're right Quint, no one makes films like Leone. There's just a visual poetry to his films that really was all his own. It's just a damn shame that he died before he could make the epic war film he was planning to direct about the battle of Leningrad. <p>It also always surprises me how many Leone fans have never seen Once Upon A Time in America, or, perhaps even more surprisingly, even A Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker, aka Once Upon A Time... The Revolution), especially as the latter was his last western, and is an absolute overlooked gem in my opinion, with a first rate lead performance by James Coburn. Rod Steiger was pretty damn good too. Definitely a must see for anyone who hasn't checked it out and loves Leone, particularly now that it's been restored in recent years.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 12:16 a.m. CST

    Excellent Review Mr. Quint

    by Xiphos_2

    Sergio Leone is unquestionably on the list of best directors, somewhere near the top I'd say. Once upon a Time in America is in my top five favorite gnagster flicks. It's so damn good.

  • This film is great. I really love how Leone's films always take a genre and short of show us something that we don't see. For example, so much of the brilliance of his MWNN Trilogy (looking historically) is that the film was one of the first westerns to really paint the cowboy archetype in a different light (or shadow). He showed us his cowboy--the antithesis of the prepackaged-idealistic-"moral-driven" Cowboys and Sheriffs of the American west. And the same is true with this movie. He really shows the parts of gangster movies that aren't shown. It de-romanticizes them--beautifully.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 12:47 a.m. CST

    Alternate Theory on The Movie (The Opium Dream)

    by brons0n81

    Richard Schickel does a great audio commentary on the DVD for Once Upon A Time In America. In it he brings up a popular theory that much of the movie is in fact just an opium dream that De Niro is having. The movie begins and ends with De Niro in an Opium Den in 1933. You seem him smoke the pipe and then you get a strange transition involving a telephone ringing. The editing in the movie has a very specific meaning and purpose that make it seem like a dream. Opium users have reported that when high they often dream about the past and possible future. Also you will notice that between 1933 and 1968 Elizabeth McGovern hasn't aged at all. That's because that's how De Niro remembers her. Also the way James Woods Disappears at the end behind the garbage truck is very eerie and dream like. The last shot shows De Niro in the opium den and he's smiling. There are a lot more hints that support this theory. It's one that I truly believe Leone intended.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:04 a.m. CST

    One small correction, Quint.

    by alynch3

    It is not Tuesday Weld who is killed in the opening scene. She's still alive during the 1960s scenes; she's the old gray-haired lady De Niro briefly speaks to before meeting with Deborah. The woman who gets killed is De Niro's girlfriend Eve, played by Darlanne Fleugel. It's a small part (she only has one other scene in the movie), but she's meant to be his rebound girl of sorts. It's an easy mistake to make, though.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:08 a.m. CST

    First heard of this movie in a documentary.

    by Voice O. Reason

    This movie is discussed at great length in the documentary "Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession."

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:10 a.m. CST

    The opium theory.

    by Voice O. Reason

    While interesting, I have to wonder how Noodles was able to accurately predict future history up to 1968 while being high on opium.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:12 a.m. CST

    I got soooo pissed at watching this movie....

    by The Dum Guy

    Not for the movie itself, but the fact that Netflix (I sent an e-mail b/c of it) only sent one of the discs and for some reason never sent the 2nd one... I've never been able to see the whole film, and I am less of person for it?

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:30 a.m. CST

    Netflix offers this as a "watch instantly" movie.

    by Voice O. Reason

    The video is streamed, and the picture is DVD quality.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:59 a.m. CST

    TY: Voice O. Reason

    by The Dum Guy

    I got the movie from them awhile back, so I shall now (sometime in the future) try to see it again... although, I do wish I could have done so from the comfort of my own bed (and without the worry of load times).<br><br>Anyhoot, I still recommend Netflix, if only for the selections available.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 2:48 a.m. CST

    This one is pretty fuckin' good

    by caruso_stalker217

    ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is still my favorite Leone picture, but this one is like up there somewhere.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 3:57 a.m. CST

    Opium dream and McGovern

    by Lazarus Long

    McGovern seeming like she hasn't aged is, I think, done on purpose. For one, she's in heavy theatrical makeup for her performance, and you see her removing it as her scene with DeNiro progresses. But more importantly, I believe we're seeing her through Noodles' eyes. Deborah is appearing in Shakespeare's play Antony and Cleopatra, and Noodles quotes from the text: "Age cannot wither her", and then comments "It's like the play was written for you". So I believe he's viewing her as she was the last time he saw her. I will say that the ending in the opium den is one of the most tragically beautiful conclusions I've seen in cinema. It ends elliptically, touching back where the film started, but here you see Noodles about to disappear into a haze where he can forget everything. This is before he escapes, goes into exile, becomes old, and then has to face his regrets by coming back to the scene of his crimes. He'd likely be better off staying in that haze, and that Leone chooses this place to leave him, a smile on his face, is almost enough to make one weep. One of my favorite films of all time.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 4:08 a.m. CST


    by DC Films

    The only filmmaker in his league is Kubrick. Most either excel in mainstream OR arthouse. Only these two filmmakers span both equally and successfully. For me, Leone has the edge, with slightly more heart - cynicism is easier than optimism without cliche; Leone manages it with aplomb. I think Tarantino is the closest we have to this right now, but he needs to be braver and experiment with optimism, before he approaches the league of Leone.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 5:34 a.m. CST

    Great review for one of the best movies of all-time

    by smiler2

    Nice to see this appreciated. Apart from the incredible film itself, I personally believe that this movie - uniquely - has the PERFECT score, which has never been equalled. In my all-time top 5 movies.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 5:52 a.m. CST

    If you're going to watch Cagney...

    by Nordling

    make sure to see ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. It's my personal favorite of his and Cagney's amazing in it.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 6:19 a.m. CST

    Angels with dirty faces....

    by Righteous Brother

    fantastic film, very quotable, loved this film when I was a kid. Still do.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 6:38 a.m. CST

    Each Dawn I Die

    by Taklamakan

    I see you have that one coming up soon. I just watched it a couple of weeks ago...decent film, but nothing special. I will commend it for having a likable George Raft performance, which is a rarity.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 6:45 a.m. CST

    Yep, powerful film.

    by theycallmemrglass

    but that rape scene did disturb me. All that time I thought he is on the wrong path but there was always hope that he can redeem himself. but after the rape, man, he was beyond fucking redemption and somehow the rest of the film bacame so bitter for me, especially after such a great first half of pure innocence and wicked charm. I have watched this film a couple of times in its entirety and it is a truly great film but somehow I find myself watching just the first half several times. Oh, if Quint hasnt seen Fistful of Dynamite, then I hope he adds that to the list to reinforce the greatness of Leone as master director who I think is woefully underrated and should be ranked along with the elite.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 6:52 a.m. CST

    Once Upon A Time In America

    by Arcangel2020

    Once Upon A Time In America was one of the first Movies dealing with Gangsters that I really enjoyed as a kid and got me interested in the whole genre (The other(s) being the Godfather I & II). I recently watched this movie on DVD and it still holds up well after all these years since it was made. The story is good, you got DeNiro ('nuff said) and Woods (what a low down crazy fuck he is in this Movie) and a pretty good supporting cast that is fun to watch and realize who they all are too (Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Danny Aiello, Burt Young, Jennifer Connelly and Elizabeth Perkins...just to name a few). The one thing about the DVD that REALLY bugs me? Why was it cut in half and the "Intermission" part still left in like back when it was on Video? I found that really, really annoying and uncalled for

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 7 a.m. CST

    Prefer the shortened version

    by Drunken Rage

    Which isn't saying much, because I didn't like that one, either. Movie is terribly paced, not well-acted, script is very weak and just doesn't work. Yes, the score is very good, yes, the rape scenes are brutal, but... what about the incredibly bad "old age" make-up? What about the telephone that rings 17 times to signify a "memory" transition? No, those aren't good things and the man who directed "Once Upon a Time in the West." Yeah, Leone was very good but this is really inferior stuff.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 7:15 a.m. CST


    by Buffalo500

    One of my favourite cinema experiences was seeing this on the big screen a few years ago, the full 4 hour version. I actually loved the telephone ringing scene, it felt like it was never going to stop! and the ending, infuriating but genius

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 7:18 a.m. CST

    I Fucking Love This Film - So rewatchable

    by L. Ron Bumquist

    Hey Quint, has watching all these classy films like this and Barry Lyndon changed the way you evaluate films in general? You should check out more European flicks. Have you seen any Andrei Tarkovsky?

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 7:36 a.m. CST

    One of the best films of all time

    by kwisatzhaderach

    All the nuts creaming themselves over the Star Trek trailer need to take a long, hard look at this film.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 8:23 a.m. CST

    I rented this flick...I'm guessing...nearly 20 years ago.

    by JDanielP

    And it left a permanent mark, as Sergio Leone movies tend to do. What a visionary the man was. And Leone was (and STILL is) one of the greatest talents in film history. --And I think to myself,...if only Michael Bay would take a close look at what made Sergio Leone great...because, in a sense, they share the same eye for the visual. Unfortunately, Leone and Bay share little else.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 9:06 a.m. CST

    Brian DePalma

    by Spandau Belly

    I'd say DePalma is as good with camera work as Leone. Sadly, DePalma has wasted his visual eye an awful lot of stinkers, whereas even Leone's worst movie, 'Duck You Sucker', is still actually pretty good and visually brilliant.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 9:29 a.m. CST

    That Endless Ringing Phone

    by Catbarf the 12th

    this is irritating on purpose (like the SFX before the shootout in Once Upon a Time in the West) and I kind of liked it. Hahahah

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 9:38 a.m. CST

    Paramount was incredibly stupid

    by Mr. A

    When first released this film it was so badly butchered down it was incomprehensible. Thankfully we now get to see it in a finished form. By the way, Paramount neglected to enter Morricone's score into the oscar competition that year. Do you believe that?

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 10:09 a.m. CST

    Leone is far better than De Palma, even visually

    by zapano

    De Palma is far less original than Leone. De Palma's films are an amalgamation of other directors' work, such as Hitchcock, Argento and Leone himself. Then again it could be argued that Leone was the first post-modern film director and that de Palma follows in that line. You could also throw in Tarantino into that category of director.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 10:32 a.m. CST

    Great movie, but hard to take in

    by IndyAbbey Jones

    its such a long film, that its hard to watch and take it all in on one veiwing, the rape scenes are brilliant though, they do exactly what leone intended which is too make the audience terrified and fell pity for the characters <P>oh and what is up with the film break on the DVD, disc one ends, and then Disc two starts for 10 mins then theres the intermission, you telling me they couldn't fit 10 more mins onto disc one to have the intented intermission appear between disc...when is this movie gonna be on bluray where we can watch it all at once without changing discs<P>oh and WB was the distributer, not paramount..but yes they fucked up during the release by editing the film, it should have won so many awrds, but instead it was ripped apart and no one saw it

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 11:16 a.m. CST

    It's interesting how you're gonna be moving on from

    by seppukudkurosawa

    Once Upon a Time in America to Salvador, which also has a really fucking harsh rape scene with some nuns, which brings to mind Last House on the Left.<p> Out of the two movies I far prefer Salvador, however. It may be uneven- it may start out like Where the Buffalo Roam and end like The Killing Fields, but it leaves me with that feeling that I started the movie one person and ended it another in a way that Once Upon a Time...doesn't quite manage. James Woods would probably say he prefers Leone's movie, as I think I remember reading that he actually walked out on Salvador at one point, when he thought that Oliver Stone had blurred the lines between fiction and reality.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 11:23 a.m. CST

    by Mr. A

    "Leone's worst movie, 'Duck You Sucker', is still actually pretty good and visually brilliant." Actually Leone's worst film is Collassis of Rhodes"

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 11:25 a.m. CST

    Fuck Yeah! Finally!

    by TheWaqman

    A talkback on this Sergio Leone masterpiece. Will you be doing a talkback on The Good the Bad and the Ugly any time soon?

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 11:58 a.m. CST

    Glad you liked it

    by JackSmack

    But I wish you showed more talent in writing about it. Aside from being full of spoilers, your prose -- when juxtaposed with the genius of this movie -- is made to look even more shallow and simple minded. Your ability to appreciate this widely underestimated film is admirable, Quint, but you need to work much harder on your writing style and your powers of observation.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 12:05 p.m. CST

    DePalma versus Leone, plus David Lean

    by Spandau Belly

    Well, I'll agree that DePalma has way more turds on his resume. <br><br>As for who is more original in their visual style. Yeah, DePalma samples Hitchcock and Argento, but Leone also samples Kurosawa and even remade on of his films. And Leone mostly worked with one type of landscape and a lot of his stories were similiar.<br><br>Don't get me wrong, Fistful of Dollars is one of the best remakes out there. I love it and I love Leone. DePalma is more of a mixed bag and has worked in a broader scope of genres. But I'm not going trash either of these guys just for having influences. But I will say DePalma can build sequences visually just as well as Leone.<br><br>I'll also throw David Lean in the mix for guys who can really work patient visual sequences to the max.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 12:16 p.m. CST

    DePalma vs. Leone

    by JackSmack

    No contest. DePalma: Has talent. Lacks taste.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 12:48 p.m. CST

    I forgot about the McGover rape

    by BobParr

    I would compare it to Michael Corleone having Fredo killed. It ended any chance of redemption for Noodles. A horrible scene.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 12:50 p.m. CST

    visual storytelling

    by mrbong

    you omit Kubrick? clearly you need to add 2001 and Barry Lyndon to your watching list, sir. for a start at least, get the rest of his films thereafter. no doubting the high quality of the directors you mention, but are you sure they are all visual storytellers? Spielberg rarely trusts his audience with visuals alone, for one.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:01 p.m. CST

    Once Upon A Time

    by mrbong

    was indeed a harsh, unsettling watching experience, but well worth the effort. i don't recall Woods ever being as good in anything as he was here, and it's easily one of De Niro's best from a time when he gave his best, never mind the paycheck films he takes on these days. if you haven't seen it, well, go get it and watch! good luck with Salvador; it's probably Woods' second best to this, and after seeing it you wonder how the hell it all went wrong for Belushi career wise, he was ace in it.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:08 p.m. CST

    Why SALVADOR works

    by BobParr

    I usually don't like hard-left political movies but the characters in this movie are so great that I didn't give a crap about Stone's preaching. After SALVADOR James Woods was typecasted as for a while. He did a lot of mediocre movies in the 80s playing basically that same guy.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 1:57 p.m. CST

    Awesome Thoughts

    by Count3D

    Thank you Quint! I agree very much with your views of this fantastic Leone film. I look forward to reading more soon.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 2:47 p.m. CST

    It's weird that Woods would play such a left-wing

    by seppukudkurosawa

    character, when he's one of the few actors that is an open Republican. I guess he either a) hadn't yet settled down into his Republican stance (it took almost getting filleted by an airplane rotor for that), or b) he, you know, did his job and ACTED, partisan politics be damned. I'm banking on option A.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 2:49 p.m. CST

    The above post is referring to Salvador

    by seppukudkurosawa

    I don't know why I'm talking about it here. Can't I wait a day? I guess I'll C&P it in the first post of the next Movie of the Day talkback...just so I can skew the thing into another Republicans VS Democrats master-debate. Bwahahaha!

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 3:50 p.m. CST

    Sergio FUCKING Leone

    by palimpsest

    That's about all you need to know. A genius. Check out the documentary "Something To Do With Death" if you haven't already seen it - at least part of it's on YouTube...

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 4:22 p.m. CST

    Not seen...

    by DylanDenham

    Let me get this right, a film critic of a cult website hadn't seen OUATIAmerica, Point Blank, Rio Bravo, Papillon, Cat People, Shadow of a Doubt, Laura, a Bucket of Blood, Barry Lyndon, A Shot in the Dark, Red River or the Elephant Man..? I find this suspect, I've seen them all and I'm a 22yr old Brit.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 5:56 p.m. CST

    I saw the six hour version

    by ebolamonkey

    Leone pads the beginning with an hour of Tom and Jerry cartoons.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 5:58 p.m. CST

    But DylanDenham,

    by psychedelic

    He's seen them now. That's the point of this column. I'm sure there are plenty of things Quint's seen that you haven't. To reveal my shortcomings, I still haven't seen Once Upon A Time In The West and I'm about as crazy a film nut as there is. <p> I've seen Once Upon A Time In America once and the opium dream theory makes sense to me. I can't remember if I heard the theroy before or after viewing, or just intuited it while watching. Was lucky enough to hear Woods speak in person about how much he loves this movie. He told of Morricone playing the whole score on the piano for just a few people--before they shot anything--and how amazing it was to hear it.<p> Salvador's terrific. You're in for a treat. If you've never seen Cop starring Woods, check it out. I think it's an overlooked gem.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 9:07 p.m. CST

    Awesome movie...

    by sonnyfern

    Truly an epic. They just don't make movies like this anymore...and that is sad.

  • Nov. 17, 2008, 9:23 p.m. CST

    Butchered U.S. theatrical release....

    by darthliquidator

    Almost an hour was taken out of it when Warners opened it in U.S. theatres.... And I seem to remember one of the many producers was none other than Mark Damon (the young stud of "Fall Of The House Of Usher"...who later evolved into some kind of international movie wheeler-dealer) And the DeNiro/McGovern scene still stands as one of the saddest, more repulsive moments in modern cinema.

  • Nov. 18, 2008, 8 p.m. CST

    Agee 200% with darthliquidator

    by thegreatwhatzit

    The U.S. abortion looks like a trailer for the European release. The American cut is linear while Leone's edit oscillates between the past and present. And DON'T screen the TV revision; heavily censored (SPOILER AHEAD: James Wood's character suicidally leaps into a trash compactor [off-screen]. In the TV mutilation, you hear the sound of a gun shot, implying that Woods opted for a more conventional method. Dreadful).

  • Nov. 23, 2008, 3:10 p.m. CST

    what about Kubrick?

    by Die_Hardest

    Far exceeds DePalma and is at least on par with Leone.

  • Nov. 5, 2009, 9:04 p.m. CST

    Sergio Leone is my favoirte director

    by TakingScorpiosCalls

    This man is who i will be like.