“ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST”


New classic film post by guest blogger Ruddy Adam.

The Finale Gunfight Scene in “Once Upon a Time in the West”

A fellow music/movie aficionado asked me to point out that the acting and directing were done without the music. That makes the perfection in placing it in these scenes all the more powerful. Thanks Dante from South Africa for that point.

You get everything this movie has to offer in this scene, the villain and the hero facing off, the hero getting exacting revenge, the entire musical score, facial- and eye-acting with merely a couple of words, brazen photography complete with long-lasting close ups and an extremely long scene relative to almost all film scenes.

No director before or since has had the nerve to prolong scenes and close ups to the point Sergio Leone does in this film. Add to that he makes them so exciting you can’t take your eyes off them.

In this scene the instant you see Henry Fonda start his death march to the final duel between Bronson and him, a low-burning tuba begins and within 10-seconds that hellacious guitar/harmonica combination joins in, along with a set of strings; and next, for the scale building climax more horns and wordless vocals come in as the decibel level rises.

Then there is the eye- and facial-expression acting. At first you see a question on Fonda’s face (Who the hell are you? What do you want?), which is perfect, because you get the answer on his face at the end when—he knows. Every mystery of what Bronson has been after during the entire film is cleared up and brought to a luscious ending in this scene.

This is the gist of what the music and acting give you in this short clip: drama, tension, suspense, and a build to a fine climactic ending. What else could a movie/music lover ask for?

The Finale Gunfight in “Once Upon a Time in the West” (8:00)

Music Note

The wordless vocals in this film are sung by Edda Dell’Orso, a very fine operatic singer famous for working with Ennio Morricone, the composer who scored this film.

Edda worked with all the Italian composers of her day: Nicolai, Piccioni, Umiliani. It is she Morricone uses to sing the operatic piece, “The Ecstasy of Gold,” in another Sergio Leone film, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” starring Clint Eastwood.

Although you may hear different, it was indeed an electric guitar in this film. Some orchestras later have used a Theremin, which is a Russian instrument that is able to make sounds similar to an electric guitar—and ones that can be even more eerie. The reason of using it was that they could not find a guitarist who could play the riff, which surely figures.

Imagine a trained operatic singer having to join in with electric guitars, harmonicas, whistling, and a varying number of horns (Morricone’s favorite scale-building instrument) too numerous to name. Opera singers are elitists, and they mostly stay within the grounds of traditional opera. Edda would join in with anything—and did!

As far as foreign composers go, Ennio Morricone has to top the list, especially for musical scores. In America, we’ve never had anyone to compare to the late John Barry, who hardly received a line of praise at his death. Wonder why? We’ll be showcasing some of his pieces over the year. He is fabulous!

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