****/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A-
starring Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson
screenplay by Sergio Donati and Sergio Leone and Mickey Knox
directed by Sergio Leone
by Bill Chambers Ennio Morricone's score for Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West is responsive and we're conditioned to expect dictatorial. For the first time in the enduring Morricone-Leone collaboration, a kind of pantomime pervades the music, with notes and actions so closely coordinated that the Charles Bronson character's theme becomes diegetic: Every time Bronson, called Harmonica because the instrument is practically his first language, blows into his harp, the resulting noise is incongruously omnipresent. (It seems to come from everywhere but his instrument.) The film has been likened--and regarded as a precursor--to rock videos for how inextricable its sound and image are, a by-product of Leone playing Morricone's ready-made compositions on set. Leone later applied this pre-synch technique to Once Upon a Time in America, but there, it was used more as a mood-enhancer than as a cue card.