Follow TV Tropes


Characters / Once Upon a Time in the West

Go To

    open/close all folders 

    Jill McBain
"What's he waiting for out there? What's he doing?"

  • Absolute Cleavage: Towards the end of the movie.
  • City Slicker: Originally. She can't even start a fire. Justified Trope since she's alone with the man who she thinks killed her new family — it's not at all surprising that her hands are shaking. She gradually evolves via Character Development.
  • Deadpan Snarker: She's a worldly woman who has her fair share of dry one-liners.
  • Determined Widow: Nothing will stop her from fulfilling Brett's dream. Although she's somewhat of a deconstruction since she was a Hooker with a Heart of Gold looking for a new life and arrives on the scene after her new family is massacred.
  • Did Not Get The Guy: She has lots of sexual tension with Cheyenne, Frank and Harmonica, but no one gets her. Cheyenne dies, Frank never stood a chance considering who he was and what he did to her, and Harmonica couldn't return her feelings.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: By the end of the film, she's become a wealthy widow, and a respected and well-loved member of the Sweetwater railroad town.
  • Happily Married: Brief as it was, she and Brett truly loved each other; Jill also notably insists on using his last name, not hers.
  • Head-Turning Beauty All male eyes are on her when she enters the scene.
  • Heroic BSoD: She has one during her final meeting with both Cheyenne and Harmonica.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Jill is the most morally sound character in the film.
    Cheyenne: You know, Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman that ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or for a month, he must have been a happy man.
  • Leitmotif: A melancholy, string-heavy orchestral piece with choral backing (sopranos courtesy of Edda dell'Orso).
  • Lie Back and Think of England: After being kidnapped by Frank, Jill lets him have his way with her in order to save her own life, and even pretends to enjoy it.
  • Mail-Order Bride: The plot is kicked off when she arrives at her new home just hours after everyone there was slaughtered as part of a land grab. Definitely 'not played for yuks, since he wanted a mother for his children and she wanted a new life.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Throughout the film she is seen in various stages of undress. Near the end of the movie she even wears a dress that features Absolute Cleavage (something that would be very scandalous in 1800s America).
  • Nice Gal: She is friendly, civil, and by far the nicest person in the film.
  • The Protagonist: She's the main focus of the story and the actions of the other three main characters all revolve around her. Ultimately, the film is about her growth.
  • Reluctant Fanservice Girl: Gets her dress ripped by Harmonica, and is seen wearing nothing but a towel.
  • Settling the Frontier: She becomes the matriarch of the small community literally being built up around her as the railroad approaches.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Cardinale is the only female member of the principal cast.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Comes off as a bit icey to Cheyenne and Harmonica, but later warms up to them, and in addition, she's probably the nicest person in the film (well, when you're comparing her to three gunslingers...)
  • Took a Level in Badass: Rides into town a somewhat aloof city girl and ends up the head of a soon-to-be-functioning, prosperous railroad company.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Subverted. The story begins during her wedding party with McBain, but it's revealed they already married in New Orleans the month before.
  • Worthy Opponent: Cheyenne expected yet another frail and vulnerable city-slicker lady whom he can bully at his leisure, but instead finally found a brave and aggressive woman who is worthy of his respect and friendship.

"People scare better when they're dying."
Played by: Henry Fonda

  • Abhorrent Admirer: He plans to make Jill his wife. She's repulsed by the idea.
  • Arch-Enemy: Harmonica has been trailing him for years, itching to get revenge for the death of his brother.
  • Ax-Crazy: A very subtle example, since we rarely ever see him lose his cool demeanor. However, he's a sadistic Psycho for Hire with a very twisted, morbid viewpoint of his actions: He states that "people scare better when they are dying".
  • Badass Beard: During his youth, as shown in Harmonica's flashbacks. Also counts as Beard of Evil.
  • Badass Longcoat: As all traditional good or bad guys must have. Justified in the scene where he murders the McBains, since he's trying to frame Cheyenne's gang, who wear longcoats as their trademark.
  • Bandito: According to Harmonica's flashbacks, he was one of these before graduating to gunfighter status.
  • Beard of Evil: Averted. Henry Fonda planned to grow a beard as well as wear brown contact lenses to play Frank, but Sergio Leone talked him out of it (with one word - "Off!"), since Fonda having his usual appearance in a role so different from his usual humble and noble characters would make it all the more shocking. Frank has a beard, along with longer, more boyish hair, in the flashback scenes.
  • Big Bad: Of the whole film. Although he takes his orders from Morton, Frank manipulates everyone to function as he wants them to. Furthermore, he is wanted by Harmonica throughout the film. Its because he wants revenge on him for killing his brother.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: He doesn't remember who Harmonica is, although Harmonica isn't keen on reminding him until the end. On the other hand, when Frank demands Harmonica's name, Harmonica responds with a couple pseudonyms — which Frank does recognize as the names of other men he's killed. Facial Dialogue shows him finally recognizing Harmonica; Frank asks the man for his name and gets a harmonica stuffed into his mouth for an answer.
  • Character Tics: He's constantly spitting out in a less than pleasant manner, another sign that he'll never make a proper businessman.
  • The Chessmaster: Although he takes his orders from Morton, Frank manipulates everyone to function as he wants them to.
  • Child Hater: Has shades of this. One of the earliest evil deeds Frank does is kill a child with a big smile. He also subjected Harmonica to a horrible torment at a young age, too. If anything, Frank seems to get a special kick out of torturing kids.
  • Cool Old Guy: He's a gunslinger played by Henry Fonda, and an example of Love to Hate despite how horrible he is.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: Leone wanted to enforce Fonda's appearance in a villain role by ordering him to remove the brown contacts he originally planned to wear, since he was playing a villain.
  • Dark Is Evil: He's always wearing dark and black clothes, and that is perfectly adjusted to his extreme evilness.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Emphasis on the "deadpan" part.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Harmonica really did remember what Frank did to him all those years ago...
  • Dragon Ascendant: Becomes the biggest threat following the death of Mr. Morton.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: He's Morton's second-in-command, but is clearly the more savage of the two, and later betrays his employer.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Gets angry pretty quickly when Harmonica refuses to tell him exactly who he is, even triple-slapping Harmonica in the face to prove it, before Morton stops him.
  • Hate Sink: An utterly despicable Child Hater who has no redeemable or likable traits whatsoever. Years ago, he killed off Harmonica's brother in probably the most sadistic way possible, and now he goes and kills off a farming family, including their youngest son. Then he advances on the widow. He is clearly meant to garner much of the viewers' hatred and revulsion as possible.
  • The Heavy: Morton's top field agent, who is the real threat to Jill, as well as the reason for Harmonica's involvement.
  • Honor Before Reason: He has a chance to ride away safely after killing his boss, Morton. Instead he comes back to face his nemesis, the man with the harmonica.
    Frank: "Morton once told me I could never be like him. Now I understand why. Wouldn't have bothered him, knowing you were around somewhere alive."
    Harmonica: "So, you found out you're not a businessman after all."
    Frank: "Just a man."
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Frank's cold, emotionless blue eyes are among his most distinctive features.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: To Jill after he catches up to her, but Jill only plays along with it to save her life.
  • Irony: Frank considers Mr. Morton to be just a sickly weak old man. Ironically, Henry Fonda is twenty years older than Gabriele Ferzetti who plays Mr. Morton and even though Ferzetti is made to look as old as possible, Fonda is still noticeably more older than him.
  • Jerkass: Easily the biggest jerk in the entire film: He's toxic, cruel, short-tempered, ruthless, sadistic and vile.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: He shows no remorse for his actions whatsoever, and his less indecent actions are motivated by the wrong reasons, be it sadism or greed. His sole reason in allowing Harmonica to survive is so that the latter can witness what he (Frank) has done to his (Harmonica's) brother.
  • Kick the Dog: Killing Harmonica's brother and letting the latter suffer while bringing it about, dispatching the entire McBain family, and kicking the helpless Morton's crutches out from underneath him to show who's really in charge.
  • Lack of Empathy: He has zero empathy.
  • Leitmotif: A variation on Harmonica's theme. Usually harsh fuzz guitar, but also played on oboe and trumpet at different points in the film.
  • No Last Name Given: Which adds to his mystique.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: If you did not hate Frank after he gleefully gunned down the last McBain child, then you will loathe him after he forced Jill to sleep with him in exchange for her life.
  • Psycho for Hire: A murderous psychopath who enjoys killing every bit as much as he enjoys the money he makes from it.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Has one when gunning down Timmy and later in Harmonica's flashback when watching his brother get hanged.
  • Retired Outlaw: Is a former bandit, who now works for the railroad company. This has not made him a more sympathetic individual.
  • Sadist: Especially in Harmonica's flashback, the look in his eyes as he watches Harmonica's brother die has to be seen to be believed.
  • The Sociopath: He's ruthless, sadistic and manipulative. One of the most perfect examples in a Sergio Leone film.
  • The Starscream: To Morton, who he sees as a doddering old fool, and couldn't care less what Morton does unless he's being paid.
  • Turn Coat: He betrays Morton, and his own men betray him.
  • Villainous Crush: Is hot for Jill.
  • Villainous Valor: The one remotely admirable thing about Frank is his fearlessness and skill with a gun. He eventually decides to settle the score with Harmonica by challenging him to a fair, honorable duel. This goes along with the film's theme of rugged, manly individualism vs. "civilized" figures like Morton. Morton wouldn't have cared about Harmonica so long as he stayed away, but Frank feels compelled to face his foe boldly.
  • Weapon of Choice: A nickel-plated Colt Single Action Army revolver "Cavalry" style (7.5 inch barrel) with black grips.
  • Would Hurt a Child: It's his Establishing Character Moment. He actually smiles while doing it.
    Goon: What are we gonna do with him, Frank?
    Frank: [beat] Well, now that you've called me by name...
    • Henry Fonda, the actor who played Frank, was initially reluctant to take another a role in a Western, having been in so many already and always playing one of the good guys. That is, until director Sergio Leone told him, "Picture this: the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera pans up to the gunman's face and... it's Henry Fonda." He signed on in a heartbeat (with some encouragement from a mutual friend).

"You deserve better."
Played by: Jason Robards

  • Affably Evil: He's a cheerful, friendly fellow who seems perpetually amused by the events in which he is caught up. He's also a confessed murderer and bandit leader. It helps that A) he's not the villain of the film, just the local badman whose territory the villain trespasses on, and B) all of his crimes take place off-screen (just outside the door in the case of his slaughter of his prison escort).
  • All There in the Script: His real name is Manuel Gutierrez, according to the script. Leone didn't feel Jason Robards made a convincing Mexican, so the film dropped this. Leone and his fellow screenwriters didn't change the way he spoke, however, so he came off as an American speaking like a Mexican speaking English.
  • Amazon Chaser: When he confronted Jill, he was initially aggressive and threatening, but when faced with her courageously daring him and his men to rape her and sneering how all it takes will be taking a hot bath to wash off the bad memories, he significantly softens up and starts treating her with genuine respect.
  • Anti-Villain: He's not nearly as bad as Frank. Despite being a hardened bandit, he's a rather sympathetic man. It helps that he never kills anybody likable onscreen.
  • Badass Boast: His reaction upon hearing Harmonica's account of the shooting: "One, nobody around these parts got the guts to wear those dusters except Cheyenne's men. Two, Cheyenne's men don't get killed." He then spins his revolver and states that he can count "All the way up to six if I have to, and maybe even faster than you."
  • Badass Longcoat: Dusters are his gang's trademark.
  • Bandito: A sympathetic, American example.
  • Dissonant Serenity: He goes about his business and doesn't care one iota about the climatic duel, and is just annoyed when the shooting makes him cut himself while shaving. On top of that, he's secretly dying.
  • Dying Alone: He asks Harmonica to look away as he goes.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Apparently, his mother really got around, but that doesn't stop him from calling her "the finest woman that ever lived."
  • Even Evil Has Standards: He draws the line at killing children and Catholic priests.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When both he and Harmonica were about leave Jill's life forever, he encourages her to find happiness in men who are better than either of them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He arguably treats Jill with the most respect out of all of the men in the movie.
  • Justified Criminal: He actually helps the protagonists after being framed for a series of murders he didn't commit, even going as far as to allow himself to be turned in so that the reward money can be used to keep Jill's farm.
  • Leitmotif: A laid-back banjo and whistling theme.
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: Happens after his ambush of the the rail baron's private train.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: His theme stops a few times to allow him to say a bit of dialogue, and then later on, when his dead body drops to the ground.
  • Mutual Kill: He and Morton kill each other.
  • Price on Their Head: Cheyenne has a $5,000 bounty on his head, which Harmonica uses to bid for Sweetwater and save it from Frank and his goons during the auction.
  • Redemption Equals Death: He doesn't get to enjoy his newly heroic life very long.

"They call them millions."
Played by: Charles Bronson

  • Anti-Hero: Seeks to kill a man who very much deserves to be killed, and shows tantalizing glimmers of having a heart to go with his gun, especially towards Jill. However, he only marginally treats Jill better than Frank does, as shown in the scene where he advances on her and tears off part of her dress.
  • Badass Boast: His first scene, when three of Frank's men are waiting for him:
    Harmonica: Did you bring a horse for me?
    Frank's Man: Looks like we're shy one horse.
    Harmonica: (shakes head) You brought two too many.
  • Badass Longcoat: To match with Frank's, enforcing the Hero vs. Villain theme during the climactic showdown.
  • Celibate Hero: Unlike Cheyenne and Frank, he shows no romantic interest in Jill, as he's more task-orientated. She develops feelings for him, but sadly they're not returned.
  • Combat Pragmatist: He uses Hidden Weapons to get the drop on others.
  • Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: After Cheyenne cuts him loose aboard Morton's train, he's seen rubbing his wrists in the background.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Has a very dry, sardonic wit.
  • Decoy Protagonist: While Harmonica is the first main character introduced and is more akin to Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, the recurring protagonist of the Dollars Trilogy, he's really not the primary focus of the story. After his introduction, Jill takes the role of the main protagonist and even Frank has more screen time and characterization than Harmonica does.
  • The Drifter: Although unlike most examples of this trope, he's in town for a specific reason, and not by accident.
  • Establishing Character Moment: He appears in a train station, blows his harmonica and takes care of the three gunmen who were sent to greet him. He outdraws them while his gun was still in his baggage. A classic, mysterious gunslinger and drifter.
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Slight subversion: He manages to draw his gun and to shoot three men who had already their guns in their hands in a row... and then one of them manages to shoot him back before collapsing.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: His brother is hanged from a bell.
  • Good Is Not Nice: The only thing that differentiates the two is that he wants Frank (a homicidal maniac) dead, in addition to caring for Jill's safety (although he's not very quick to show it).
  • The Gunslinger: Of the Quick Draw variety, as shown when he outdraws Knuckles, Snaky and Stony, and later on against Frank.
  • Invincible Hero: Averted from the beginning, as he gets shot during a showdown with Frank's men, which serves as a disclaimer to the audience that all bets are off in his vendetta against Frank.
  • Ironic Echo: Placing the harmonica in Frank's mouth just before Frank dies as a Call-Back to the moment when Frank did the same for his dying brother.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: His conflict is with Frank, not Morton.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: He tortures Wobbly to get information of Frank.
  • Leitmotif: His ever-present Harmonica, accompanied by electric guitar and orchestra.
  • Light Is Good: Basically Sergio Leone playing with the Western tradition of the "good guys" wearing a white hat.
  • My Name Is Inigo Montoya: Beautifully subverted. He never tells Frank his name. When Frank demands to know, he gives him plenty of names, but none of them his.
    Frank: Who are you?
    Harmonica: Jim Cooper, Chuck Youngblood.
    Frank: More dead men.
    Harmonica: They were all alive until they met you, Frank.
  • Not So Stoic: He remains calm for the most part, and even when he is annoyed it comes off as mild. But he's crying in the flashback of his brother's death.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Is only ever called "Harmonica" by Cheyenne. Frank asks for his real name multiple times, but he gets the names of people he's killed in the past instead. Adds a lot of mystique to the story.
  • The Quiet One: He's the strong, silent type. He prefers to let his instrument, revolver and body language do the talk.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: He obviously has a serious beef against Frank, going as far as to protect him from his other enemies just so he can have the privilege of killing Frank himself. In the end, we find out that he's avenging his brother, who Frank killed in one of the most unforgivable fashions possible when Harmonica was just a little kid.
  • Took a Level in Badass: From his childhood incarnate, where Frank had him tied down to a post with a harmonica in his mouth, hence the reason Harmonica wants to kill Frank.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: He is relentlessly pursuing Frank, with a few flashbacks showing a blurred figure. In the final showdown, we get a full flashback which reveals the blurred figure is Frank, who had Harmonica's brother hung from a bell and standing on his shoulders.
  • Vehicle Vanish: Makes his entrance this way, as a train passes by.
  • You Killed My Father: His entire motive for seeking revenge on Frank, who murdered his brother.
  • Younger Than He Looks: Though you really can't tell with him being as sun-dried and wrinkled as he is, he is roughly 20 years younger than Frank.

    Mr. Morton
"There are many things you'll never understand."
Played by: Gabriele Ferzetti

  • Alas, Poor Villain: The closest he comes to seeing the Pacific Ocean again is a small puddle on the ground, which he had to crawl to after being shot by Cheyenne.
  • Anti-Villain: All he wants to do before dying is take another whiff of the sweet Pacific air.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Subverted. Frank's the one Harmonica is after, and he does most of the killing, while often trying to bully Morton. Yet in the end, Morton buys Frank's gang out from under him and nearly has him killed.
  • Cool Train: He has a special one of his own.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Downplayed; though Morton's rich and unscrupulous, he's not exactly greedy, and views constructing a transcontinental railroad as a worthwhile achievement on its own.
  • Determinator: He will reach the Pacific Ocean before he dies, no matter how many others die in the process.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: He prefers to negotiate or buy out anyone in his way, resorting to violence only as a last resort. However, he consistently underestimates how Ax-Crazy Frank is.
  • Evil Cripple: Suffering from "tuberculous of the bones," which threatens to kill him before he finishes his railroad.
  • Handicapped Badass: Not only does he have the balls to play mind games with Frank, he would have succeeded in having Frank killed as well, if Harmonica had not intervened. He also killed Cheyenne. Frank even lampshades it:
    Frank: Who knows how far you'd have gone with two good legs.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Doesn't do much killing, being a crippled, dying old man. His last dream is to see the Pacific Ocean before he dies. He spends his dying moments desperately crawling towards a small, muddy puddle as a substitute for the Pacific.
  • Leitmotif: A mellow piece for piano and oboe, accompanied by full orchestra for his death scene.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Played with. He's long since been confined to a wheelchair and pays Frank to do his bidding. Regardless, he still manages to hold his own in a gunfight against Cheyenne, of all people, and fires the fatal bullet that kills Cheyenne.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Despite being wheelchair-bound, he refuses to be intimidated, convinces Frank's men to betray him, and even kills Cheyenne.
  • Nothing Personal: He tends to view his villainous deeds as a necessary price of business rather than personal grievance or performing them out of cruelty and sadism. Frank notes that he finally figured out that he and Morton were different when he realised that Morton would be content to allow an enemy to live so long as they were defeated and posed no further threat to his life or interests.
  • Ocean Awe: He's motivated by a desire to see the Pacific Ocean before he dies from his illness.
  • Railroad Baron: And a villainous one at that.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!:
    There are many things you'll never understand. This is one of them. *holds a stack of dollars while looking at Frank's drawn gun* You see, Frank, there are many kinds of weapons. And the only one that can stop that is this. Now, shall we get back to our little problem?

    Stony, Snaky and Knuckles
Played by: Woody Strode, Jack Elam and Al Mulock.

  • Knuckle Cracking: Knuckles does this while they are waiting for the train in the opening scene.
  • Obviously Evil: Maybe not Woody Strode, who did play heroic characters in many of his films, but Jack Elam with his lazy eye and perma-stubble? Al Mulock cracking his knuckles?
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Snaky's tense exchange with Harmonica.
    Snaky: Well, looks like we're shy one horse.
    Harmonica: (shakes head) You brought two too many.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: