YMMV / Once Upon a Time in the West

  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Frank is certainly nuanced for a sociopathic murderer; is Frank serious about his desire to transition into a genteel retirement? Does he finally understand that money is more powerful than guns? Does Frank genuinely respect Morton for his determination and business acumen or is only hiding his contempt for a man who is more powerful than him despite being weaker? When Morton is dying, Frank at the last moment chooses not to finish him with a bullet... is Frank taking delight at watching the man crawling like a worm or is Frank allowing him to reach a puddle, a stand in for his beloved Pacific ocean? The final conversation with Harmonica suggests that he'll never outgrow the bandito mentality: "Not a businessman, just a man."
  • Complete Monster: Frank is a former bandit turned enforcer for the railroad company. During the film's opening sequence, he and his men gun down the McBain family, with Frank shooting down the last survivor, a small boy, himself, before nailing a duster to the door so that local bandito chief Cheyenne will be blamed for the crime. When he reports to his boss, Mr. Morton, Morton says that he only wanted the McBains scared. Frank's response: "People scare better when they're dying." When Morton tries to cut a deal with McBain's newly arrived widow (ex-Hooker with a Heart of Gold Jill), Frank sabotages the plan, takes Jill hostage, has his way with her, and forces her to sell her land at an auction, positioning his own men there to intimidate the bidders. The arrival of Harmonica, the film's protagonist, ruins this plan, and sets the stage for The Reveal of Frank's worst crime. When Harmonica was a boy, Frank made his older brother stand on his shoulders, and put a noose around the brother's neck. When Harmonica collapsed from exhaustion, his brother was hanged. To add an appropriately sadistic touch, Frank instructs him to "keep your lovin' brother happy." He then places a harmonica between the younger brother's lips. No reason is ever given for his actions, and Frank has ultimately gone down in film history as one of the most vicious villains of his era.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Frank does have a very dark, twisted viewpoint when he states that people scare better when they are dying.
  • Crowning Music of Awesome: It's Morricone, so this might be a given, but "The Man With A Harmonica" has got to be one of the most badass film cues of all time.
  • Ear Worm: "Man With a Harmonica".
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Though it was a flop in America and did middling business in Italy, the movie was memetically popular in France, running for years in Paris. French clothing designers even based a line of long coats off the movie's dusters.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Morton's certainly a villain, but ultimately it's hard not to feel sorry for him. He just wants to get his railroad built before dying... even if it requires Frank's help. His tragic death scene certainly helps.
  • Love to Hate: Frank. Henry Fonda's great performance certainly helps.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Frank has two candidates:
    • He crosses it in his very first scene, murdering a whole family right down to their youngest child.
    • The way Frank killed Harmonica's brother — Forcing a little boy to support his fully-grown brother so that he doesn't die by hanging.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Frank. He is the most depraved character in the whole movie, as well as the most terrifying.
  • Vindicated by History: The film received mixed and very mild reviews from critics when it was first screened, and, financially speaking, it only barely recovered its budget. This result was encouraged by the twenty-or-so minutes worth of footage (including the tavern scene between Harmonica and Cheyenne, and Cheyenne's death sequence) cut from the film's original release. Today, it is regarded as one of the greatest Westerns ever made (in the category of The Searchers and Stagecoach), and it holds a 98% on its Rotten Tomatoes profile.
  • The Woobie:
    • Jill, when she becomes a widow and a woman alone in the West.
    • Cheyenne crosses into this when we're revealed that he's Secretly Dying.