This epic Western, with its wide spaces, striking close-ups, and extraordinary music, is considered by many to be Sergio Leone's best movie, and one of the greatest Westerns of all time. The premier master of the Spaghetti Western, Leone also made Clint Eastwood's so-called "Man with No Name" trilogy -- culminating in another masterpiece, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly -- as well as the gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America. Unlike any other filmmaker, he worked in extremes, using huge, empty frames smashed together with shocking close-ups, dark frames punctured by squares of light, and silence broken by squeals of astonishing music.
This movie's nearly wordless, 12-minute opening sequence (featuring Western legends Woody Strode and Jack Elam) is arguably Leone's finest moment, and a moment that all filmmakers could benefit from studying. Ennio Morricone's music score is still the stuff of legend, beautiful, startling, and haunting. Additionally, Once Upon a Time in the West is one of the genre's pinnacles, exploring -- along with Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch -- the bitter end of the Wild West and the onset of civilization. This theme was so effective that it led to many declaring the end of the Western as a movie genre. Once Upon a Time in the West is still a bit convoluted in the plot department (it features a story by Leone and future filmmakers Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci), but every frame of it offers pure energized excellence.