Archive for the ‘Classics’ Category

 

Touch of Evil

 

It’s Orson Welles’ birthday today (he would have been 98), and so here’s a little thing I recently wrote about one of his masterpieces, TOUCH OF EVIL

 

TOUCH OF EVIL

 

Here is a movie that can’t be contained by a single paragraph. There’s not a single aspect of its essence that lacks for greatness. Before you even see a human being in the frame, TOUCH OF EVIL announces its excellence with Russell Metty’s landmark camerawork, roving up and over the terrain of the bordertown where the story takes place. The typically cool, swinging, swaggering score is by Henry Mancini.

 

 

 

 

Then the movie brings in its sole source of light in Janet Leigh, and one of its many sources of weirdness in Charlton Heston, playing her new husband. His role is as a Mexican cop, and of all the memorable histrionics Heston snarled through gritted teeth over the course of his career, there’s good reason he was never revered for his accent work.

 

Mexican

 

The sudden and conspicuous explosion of a car brings law enforcement officials to the scene, most notably Hank Quinlan, who is played by an unrecognizable Orson Welles, who also wrote and directed. As galvanizing a figure as he was in CITIZEN KANE and as romantic a figure as he was in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, that’s how grotesque and captivating Welles is as Hank Quinlan. As visually repellent as Welles makes himself here, there’s a magnetism that makes him the immediate and eternal center of this film, and it’s wholly believable that Marlene Dietrich’s Tanya still carries residual feelings for Quinlan, no matter how far he’s gone to seed. 

 

ORSON & MARLENE THEN

 

TOUCH OF EVIL is one of the more eccentric, unusual of the widely-acknowledged canon classics you’re likely to see. It works as tragic noir but it is also full of strange, unique touches — unless you know of another border thriller where the lovely blond ingenue has a hallucinatory drug trip in a seedy motel. Really! If you haven’t already, check it out, and have your cranial movie glossary instantly expanded.

 

ORANGE

 

 

Here’s a drawing I did of Welles as Hank Quinlan:

(a Hank Quinlan drawing I did)

 

@jonnyabomb

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

“Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”

— Clint Eastwood, as The Outlaw Josey Wales in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES:

Clint Eastwood’s career is so long-running and so varied in subject matter that the mainstream reactions to his work have really run the range.  He was nobody, then he was a sudden success, then he was underrated, then he was accused of shallowness and sadism, then he was ignored, then he was discovered as a great director, then there was a backlash or seven, then he was called overrated by some, then the waves of rediscovery surged and ebbed and flowed, and so on.  By any measure there are plenty of bright spots on that lengthy resume, many under-seen and under-appreciated films, and some stone-cold masterpieces.  As actor and collaborator he has THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and DIRTY HARRY, and as director, he has UNFORGIVEN, BIRD, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, and this one right here.

 

 

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is about a farmer who joins the then-raging Civil War when his family is massacred by marauders.  When the war ends, he becomes an outlaw rather than surrender his guns.  In the course of his travels, he meets a variety of companions and, as their protector, forms a kind of frontier community that due to his outlaw status he may or may not be able to join for good.

Time Out New York has referred  to THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES as “messy” and “rather ponderous” and I truly hope that you take my word for it over theirs.  THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES takes everything that Clint ever learned from Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, and everything he learned from cinema in general and Westerns in particular, and pours it all into this one glorious epic.  The film is stuffed with savvy references to the history of American Western cinema, from the dizzying callback to the “Ecstasy Of Gold” sequence from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY when Josey’s home is attacked, to a pointed reference to the white scorpion from THE WILD BUNCH, to about a hundred visual cues and thematic echoes of the work of John Ford, particularly in the complicated, layered depiction of Native American characters, which is virtually unique to THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES.


  

 

 

One part revenge picture, one part Lone Ranger & Tonto picaresque (a travelling odyssey with the greatest Indian sidekick ever in movies, Chief Dan George), one part political allegory, and one part mournful hymn, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is clearly Clint’s warm-up lap before UNFORGIVEN.  It’s a meditation on violence and the effects of a life of violence on its perpetrators.  Interestingly, it factors in the Native American experience in an unusual way, as something of a peripheral but running concern.  Josey’s most consistent companion in a film where he has several of them — something of an irony in both the one-man-army Eastwood career and in a film where he’s billed as an outlaw — is Lone Watie, a very elderly man of measured speech whose easygoing, pointed humor and relaxing manner are a fascinating contrast to the typical clenched-teeth Eastwood gunslinger performance.  The most charismatic, funniest role in the entire movie is carried out by a then-77-year-old man.

 

 

Chief Dan George

 

Consider also the taciturn young Navajo woman, Little Moonlight, who gets wrapped up into the defacto community that Josey Wales and Lone Watie pick up along the way in their travels.  Her very existence in the film has an accumulated history to it — she is visually reminiscent of the Comanche squaw in THE SEARCHERS, but while that character was treated with less respect, literally booted down a hill by Jeffrey Hunter and laughed at by John Wayne, there is a redemptive quality to how Little Moonlight is portrayed here.  She gets to carry a gun!  I’ve seen a ton of Westerns and I’m pretty sure I never before or since saw an Indian squaw get a chance to fight alongside the heroes.

 

 

There’s also the warrior chief Ten Bears, a character who isn’t in much more than one scene but is played indelibly by the 1970s’ go-to Native American character actor, Will Sampson.   An artist in life, Sampson was often framed as a looming, possibly dangerous figure on film.  He was the deaf-mute Chief in the anti-establishment classic ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and the observant man-who-knows-whales Jacob in the wackadoo killer-whale epic ORCA.  While even those roles bordered on stereotyping, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES inverts the image by portraying Ten Bears as a fearsome warrior chief, but then immediately equating him with the film’s hero.  There is an instant recognition of equals that passes between Ten Bears and Josey Wales.  It’s not unforeseeable that, had he lived, Will Sampson could have gone on to his own UNFORGIVEN, playing a similar violent-but-self-aware character in advancing age.  Clint would direct, of course.

 

 

The brilliance of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is that it works on so many different levels at once — it can and has been watched as a Clint’s-so-badass manly-man classic action film, from the epic gunfights right down to the quotability — but there’s an incredible depth and poetry to its engagement with American history and American film.  It’s simultaneously traditional and revisionist.  No action star before or since has ever been as knowing and sly about his onscreen persona as Clint has been, and none have deployed it so cannily.  If all you see when you look at Clint is “Dirty Harry” or “The Man With No Name,” well, he gives that to you here, but even as he’s delivering it sincerely, he’s also serving it up as a rejoinder.  For one thing, this is a good movie to watch for any of those skeptics who assume Clint’s acting is limited.  Here he fills in the image of his standard vengeful-gunslinger character with pools of complicated emotion.  Josey Wales can be nasty, not only to his enemies but to many who deserve compassion.  I mean, in this movie he spits on a dog!  Josey Wales is often a dick.  He’s maladjusted but that makes sense:  He’s a veteran.  He’s seen heinous things, and done them too.  He’s good at killing, less so at living.

 

 

 

There’s a lot more to be said about this movie, from the sweeping landscapes by cinematographer Bruce Surtees (PLAY MISTY FOR ME, THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID) to the score by composer Jerry Fielding (THE WILD BUNCH, THE GAUNTLET), but there’s only so much time and space.  Let’s end with a special hand for the bad guys:  John Vernon, who plays Clint’s ally-turned-nemesis Fletcher, has between this, his roles in POINT BLANK and CHARLEY VARRICK, and Dean Wormer in ANIMAL HOUSE, played at least four of the greatest heavies in film history.  (Five, if you count KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.)  He could do ominous erudition with ease, but here there’s a melancholy and a weariness to his relentless pursuit of his quarry in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES that really stays with you, as much as Clint’s iconic warrior-gunman does.   Eastwood regular Bill McKinney, probably best known for his part in DELIVERANCE, is menacing and monstrous here as the more straight-ahead villain, Captain “Redlegs” Terrill.  A hero is only as tough as his toughest enemies.  It’s not easy to play the equal but opposing force in a Clint Eastwood action film, but both of these gentlemen do a phenomenal job.  Respect.  Thank you.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

MEN IN WAR (1957)

 

MEN IN WAR is a 1957 film directed by Anthony Mann, from a script by Philip Yordan which was adapted from a novel by someone named Van Van Praag (awesome).  Even though the majority of movies of the era were being shot in Technicolor, MEN IN WAR is in black and white.  I wonder if that was a budgetary issue, an aesthetic decision, or something else.  I’d be projecting, as I haven’t been able to dig up an answer to that question just yet, but there is something to the idea that black and white is a more fitting format for this story.  It’s less Hollywood-idyllic, and more stark and unforgiving.  There’s redemption in it, but not in a sweeping, overstated way.  It’s an unabashed tribute to the American military, but an appropriately business-like one.  The score by Elmer Bernstein is typically right on-point to the movie’s aims.  It’s lovely and effective music, and outside of the title song (whose lyrics are a little too on-the-nose to ever play by today’s standards), it’s as relevant still as the rest of the movie is.

 

 

 

MEN IN WAR stars Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray, two of the most underrated movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s, and two of my all-time favorites.  Ryan is the dark figure with the world-weary eyes and fighter’s frame who is best known by today’s audiences, if at all, from his small role in THE DIRTY DOZEN.   His career was much longer and more distinguished than that, as described by this tribute that I wrote in honor of the man and ten of his greatest movies.

Ray, for his part, is possibly even less well-remembered today, although the reasons why are hard to understand.  (It may have something to do with the apparently sad later years.)  At his peak, Ray had an appealing, gravel-gargling voice and an every-day tough-guy manner that are enormously charismatic.  I can’t help but think of Michael Chiklis when I think of Aldo Ray, although Quentin Tarantino thought of Brad Pitt.  (Pitt’s character in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, Aldo Raine, is a direct tribute to this iconoclastic actor.)  Ray also didn’t have the broadest filmography, having not appeared in as many memorable films as he probably deserved to have.  Remind me to write up a nifty film noir called NIGHTFALL that Aldo Ray starred in, the same year as MEN IN WAR.   Generally Ray played scrappy tough guys, outsiders with big mouths and big attitudes.  That’s what he plays here.

 

 

 

MEN IN WAR takes place on a very specific date: September 6th 1950.   It takes place during the Korean War, which is interesting, because in 1957 that wasn’t too far in the past.  Just as historically interesting, both Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray served during World War II, Ray having seen action in Japan.  One has to imagine that this added to the naturalistic performances that this movie displays, something of a hallmark of Anthony Mann’s films.

 

MEN IN WAR (1957)

 

Ryan plays a beleaguered lieutenant, Benson, whose forces have been diminished and separated from any communication with the rest of the American presence in Korea.  He needs to get his men to safety, and they’re already beginning to fall apart.  Vic Morrow (now best known as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dad) makes a strong impression as a shell-shocked young soldier.  So does James Edwards as Sergeant Killan, a kind-hearted African-American G.I. who is a friend to Morrow’s character and, unfortunately, due to cinematic conventions, doomed.  The scene where Killan stops in a clearing to decorate his helmet with the wildflowers he finds, ending as it does with his silent murder by encroaching commandos, is one of the movie’s most striking images.

 

 

Aldo Ray enters the movie in a Jeep, carrying his commanding officer alongside him, even though the colonel has been rendered mute by minefire and, presumably, having witnessed too much carnage.  Ray’s character identifies himself only as Montana, a rambunctious and headstrong G.I. who is fed up with battle and only cares to get his colonel to safety.  Ryan’s character wants to requisition the Jeep, and Montana’s services, in order to press on with his diminished forces.  Ray’s character, even out-ranked as he is, resists every step of the way.  The movie centers around the conflict between the two men.

 

 

It’s a vivid conflict, and it’s profoundly effective, enacted as it is by two such charismatic actors.  The appeal of Ryan and Ray is very different, but equally potent.  Ryan, so often a convincing heavy but in this case allowed to play the kind of role here that his obvious real-life decency fits like a glove, is a quieter, sterner kind of a good guy.  Ray is the more quintessentially American character, brash and arrogant — although you also see his point.  The main question of the movie is about what is the right thing to do in the chaos of war, to look out for self or to fight as part of the unit, even if the latter seems hopeless.  It’s not exactly as if Montana is being selfish — he seems to care about his Colonel as much as, if not more than, himself.  But ultimately, as pro-military as this movie is, Montana must come to understand and embrace Benson’s all-for-one ethos.  That the movie brings us, the audience, to see things the same way, and to appreciate the very real heroism of the men who fight our battles for us overseas, is why it is still a captivating piece of work today, and obviously still just as relevant.  There can be no doubt that Steven Spielberg saw this movie before making SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  MEN IN WAR is a little more ambiguous than that much more recent film, but it is just as effective at approximating the senses and textures of battle — an amazing feat, for a movie fifty years old.

 

Today being Memorial Day, if you’re looking for an appropriate movie to mark the occasion and spark reflection, let me please recommend this one.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

MEN IN WAR (1957)

 

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

 

 

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962, d. John Ford) is essential.  It’s essential as a work of storytelling art.  It’s essential as cinematic text.  It’s an essential piece of the careers of its stars, and of that of its director.

 

Stewart,  Ford and Wayne

 

This film came towards the end of John Ford’s directing career, and it’s the second-to-last he made with John Wayne. (DONOVAN’S REEF, a lark, was their final collaboration.)  This one has incredible symbolic power.  Without getting into a more fraught conversation about offscreen politics, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart are two of the stars in cinema history who most clearly represent America.  Wayne was the pioneering, swaggering, boistrous side of America, and Stewart represented a more relatable, emotional, idealistic, and valiant side.  THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is where these two visions of America collide, and where they diverge.

 

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance PUNCH

 

This movie arrived at what was almost exactly the midpoint of American cinema.  It’s an explosive elegy for the great films of the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s.  From here, the 1960s dawned, and America changed.  The genius of this film is how it is about all of these things even while providing a terrific story.  The way that the film is bookended by scenes that take place in the character’s old age certainly confirms the historical reading of the film, but it’s certainly also possible to enjoy the film as a purely commercial old-school Western.

 

Wayne + Stewart

 

Stewart plays a lawyer whose Arrival in a frontier town called Shinbone begins with a brutal assault by the guy in the title, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin!).  He’s rescued by the Wayne character, the only man around who isn’t afeared of Liberty Valance.  What follows is nothing less than a battle between civilization and frontier justice.   Wayne wants to deal with the outlaw gang in the most effective way, while Stewart argues for the more democratic solution.  On top of that, both Wayne and Stewart are in love with the same girl (Vera Miles, best known to younger generations for her role in PSYCHO).  This movie has an incredible cast, including Ford stock players such as John Qualen and Andy Devine, and Woody Strode and Edmond O’Brien on the side of goodness and decency, and Strother Martin and Lee Motherfucking Van Cleef on the side of lawlessness and nasty-actin’.

 

 

And then there’s Lee Marvin, patron saint of shitkickers, who from this role graduated to leading-man parts.  He played heels and heavies for years before playing this, quite possibly the nastiest of them all (although he’s pretty fucking ugly in THE BIG HEAT).  Lee being Lee, he continued to play bad men, but they were a more likable breed.  This was arguably his last straight-up villainous role.  After this definitive bad-guy, there was no way to deny that Lee was not on the iconic level of a John Wayne, rather than playing support to him, which is why their next movie, DONOVAN’S REEF, literally isn’t much more than a series of epic slugfests between the two of them.

 

Van Cleef, Marvin, Stewart, Wayne

 

This movie is necessary in every way.  It’s a virtual textbook of masculinity, it’s a profound statement on history and mortality, and it represents some of the best work of all of its bold-faced participants.  Fail to see it and fail to have your opinions on film taken seriously.

Stare me down on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

Liberty

 

Lee Drankin

 

Woody

 

 

Bill Hicks Sane Man (1989)

If one were to step back and truly consider the unceasing patchwork of entertainment news clobbering our eyes, ears and minds twenty-four-hours-a-day, it would serve as a disturbing reminder of how little has changed since Bill Hicks prowled comedy stages, serving as a lonely voice of sanity out amongst the wilderness of institutionalized idiocy.

I’ve written about Bill Hicks once before. I was impressed by David Letterman’s 2009 tribute to Hicks, where he brought on Bill’s mother and personally apologized to her for the infamous incident where Hicks was kept off The Late Show due to Hicks’s propensity for inflammatory material. I thought it was a classy move on Letterman’s part – if belated, since Hicks died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer. I then went on to describe why I believe that Hicks’ brand of inflammatory material would have been necessary to broadcast, as it still is, because I think Hicks’ perspective, and those like his, demand to be heard.

Television, today more than ever, is absolutely flooded with mediocrity and moronity. Since television is only ever a reflection of what the American people are most concerned with at the time, that is a disturbing statement. It’s not a crime to enjoy turn-your-brain-off entertainment – but it IS a crime when the balances are off so badly. Mediocrity is rewarded and morons are everywhere, and even though we’re in the future, nothing’s changed. Some of the same exact same morons are still prominent, in fact!

It’s almost eerie that so many of Bill Hicks’ favorite targets back in the late 1980s and early 1980s are either still lingering, or have made their moronic return. The Bush family and the Iraq War are in sequels. Billy Ray Cyrus has returned with an even more ridiculous haircut, in a new role as world’s creepiest stage dad, pimping out his daughter to the world. The most recent Doritos ad, which was a huge hit at the SuperBowl, was the most-watched ad of all time. The New Kids On The Block are back on tour, clearly not recognizing the obvious irony in their name (or the obvious double-entendre in the name of their tour). And creepy Jay Leno and his gargantuan head are still clogging up the late-night comedy world, an unkillable milquetoast cockroach with a face the size of a parade float and a frame of reference the size of a peanut.

Watching the Bill Hicks concert film Sane Man, I was filled with growing irritation.

That’s not true. Watching Sane Man, I was laughing constantly.

It’s only afterward that the irritation struck, when I realized that all of the aforementioned morons are happily moving into advanced age with ever-thickening wallets, while Bill Hicks was struck down in his prime by an insidious disease. So many people have nothing useful or interesting to say; meanwhile, Bill Hicks was only getting started on expanding our brains and enlightening our perspectives. It’s just plain not fair.

But no one wise ever said the universe was fair. All we can do is keep Hicks’ work fresh in our memory, and luckily, there’s plenty of it available.

Sane Man is a concert film from 1989. It’s basically a rudimentary VHS recording of a typical Hicks performance, live, in front of a typical nightclub audience (with some amazing mullets), for a truly impressive length of time. I generally listen to Hicks’ CDs on repeat, so what struck me about watching him on screen for nearly two hours straight was his amazing confidence in front of a crowd. Hicks owned that stage. He clearly had absolute conviction that his words were worth hearing. (If he felt any personal reservations, it sure didn’t show.) His words were worth hearing, as always, but it’s nice to see that he seemed to know that too. If you like neurotic comedians, this ain’t your guy.

Sane Man probably isn’t my favorite Bill Hicks performance I’ve ever seen – for one thing the dated video elements and imperfect recording make it tiring to watch after a while. Also, a lot of the material Hicks performs here will be very familiar to diehard fans — a lot of it appeared in slightly different form on his albums — although it is a treat to see him act out his Jimi Hendrix routine. And this isn’t one for mixed company – Hicks gets particularly vulgar at a couple moments (understandable considering the fact that he’s playing to a drunken audience.) Personally, I never get tired of hearing any of Hicks’ bits and I’m not offended by his bluer material, so predictably, I loved Sane Man. I just wouldn’t recommend it as someone’s first exposure to Hicks’ brilliance. Start with any of the albums instead – they’re all still in print and available in most any music store that has a comedy section. Look for them (and more information) at the official website.

What I love about Bill Hicks is that, while his anger and disappointment were palpable, it was always clear that he was an optimist at heart. He wasn’t bitter about how things were; he just wanted things to be better. Bill Hicks left this earth too soon, but he left plenty of peerless comedy and immortal inspiration behind. He is as alive as ever, on his albums and videos.

Hear them.

And if you want to read more about Bill Hicks, I recommend tracking down Cynthia True’s terrific biography, American Scream, or this collection of Bill’s writings.

From June 23rd, 2010.

@jonnyabomb

R.I.P. Leo O’Brien.  He played “Richie Green” in THE LAST DRAGON, maybe the best character in the movie.  Definitely the one with all the best lines.

I don’t do irony well.  I tend to take the movies I like in the spirit they were intended.  If a movie feels genuine to me, then my affection for it is genuine.  THE LAST DRAGON is a kid’s movie, but one of the few I will still watch from time to time because it’s guaranteed to lift my mood.  If I’m being completely honest, I love this movie way more than I love most conventionally accepted “classic films.”  Given the choice, I’d opt without hesitation to watch this movie over CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA, and even THE GODFATHER. There, it’s out.  I said it.

I accept that no one will ever let me call this a good movie, but the rest of the world is going to have to accept my insistence that this is a one-of-a- kind genre occurrence, and for that alone it deserves respect.  There aren’t two like it.  As the story of young Leroy “Bruce Leroy” Green (Taimak) and his mission to defend popular VJ Laura Charles (Vanity) against evil arcade owner Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) and local bully The Shogun Of Harlem (Julius J. Carry III), THE LAST DRAGON stands alone in its genre — it’s the first, last, and only Motown-kung fu-action-romantic-comedy musical.  There’s so much genuine goodness about THE LAST DRAGON.  It encourages the mild-mannered to stand up for themselves.  It teaches kids about Eastern philosophy.  It teaches kids about Bruce Lee.  It gave early-career employment to legendary character-actors Mike Starr, Chazz Palminteri, and William H. Macy.  It has music from Willie Hutch, Stevie Wonder, and Vanity.  It has a kid (Leo O’Brien) who’s been tied up by bad guys escaping capture by break-dancing out of the ropes.

This movie is a positive force for the universe.  I watch it and I smile.  It’s one of my few nostalgic indulgences – but it’s still fun to watch as an adult.  I fear the potential remake, despite the involvement of Sam Jackson and the RZA and despite the personal assurance I’ve received from Taimak himself (!).  THE LAST DRAGON was lightning in a bottle, and let’s face it, it’s not actually possible to catch lightning in a bottle… unless a genuine miracle is involved.

This post originally appeared on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.  Give ’em a visit!

Follow Taimak on Twitter:  @iamtaimak

Looking over the list of my top fifty favorite movies today, it seem like a good time to expand a little bit on my writings on Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.  Some days it’s my second favorite movie of all time, after Leone’s own THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY, and most critical writings on the movie call it Leone’s masterpiece.  Clint Eastwood played the lead in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, he shared top billing with Lee Van Cleef in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, and they made it a trio in THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY.  With ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, you have four main characters this time around, each time with their own personal musical cues courtesy of Leone’s most important collaborator, Ennio Morricone, and each one of the quartet  is among the most eternally memorable incarnations of the archetypes they are meant to represent:

The movie’s lonesome stranger, in a role originally offered to Clint Eastwood, is played by cinema’s other great stoneface, Charles Bronson.  His character is known only as Harmonica, and the reason why is a brilliant reveal which I wouldn’t dream of ruining. 

The charismatic rogue, who may or may not be on the side of the angels, is called Cheyenne and played by Jason Robards.  This is arguably the coolest character of all goddamned time, in my opinion.  The tragic romantic figure that the younger Robards was so good at playing is imbued with a terrific (and tremendously quotable) sense of humor in Leone’s hands.

The whore with the heart of gold, Jill, is played by Claudia Cardinale.  For my money, Claudia Cardinale in this movie is as beautiful as a human woman can look.  She’s great for a lot of other reasons, some of them I listed here when I named her my number one of all time, but you can’t argue with that face.

Frank, the bad man in the black hat, is played by all-American good guy Henry Fonda, and seriously speaking, he is one of the greatest villains ever.  I’m sorry to keep using generic platitudes, but that’s the kind of blindly expansive adoration that this movie elicits from me.  Frank has a cruelly and coldly sadistic introduction, and he maintains that level of villainy throughout the movie.

As you can tell from the title, Leone thought of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST as “a fairy tale for adults,” and the fact that each one of these classic Western movie archetypes are simultaneously so broad and so memorable is proof that Leone succeeded.  This is a definitive Western, and a legitimately perfect movie.  It probably helps to go in on it with a working knowledge of Westerns, just so that you can see how Leone so definitively aced it, but I figure it’d be just as good even if you can’t tell a Colt from a Derringer from a Remington.

For plenty more about movies all the time, find me on Twitter@jonnyabomb