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Film / Once Upon a Time in the West

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Harmonica: The reward for this man is 5,000 dollars, is that right?
Cheyenne: Judas was content for 4,970 dollars less.
Harmonica: There were no dollars in them days.
Cheyenne: But sons of bitches? Yeah.

Once Upon a Time in the West (in Italian: C'era una volta il West) (1968) is considered Sergio Leone's masterpiece; according to That Other Wiki, it's a prime example of an Epic Western.

It is remembered for its beautiful cinematography, extremely quotable dialogue, and fascinatingly enigmatic characters, as well for its brilliant casting: Charles Bronson as another "man with no name" seeking revenge, Claudia Cardinale as Jill, the young, pretty widow with a past, Jason Robards as the bandit Cheyenne, and Henry Fonda as the villainous Frank, who works for the railroad tycoon Mr. Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti).

City Slicker Jill arrives at the town of Flagstone by train just as Bronson's nameless character drifts into town. By chance their paths cross at a roadside establishment. Cheyenne, who has just escaped from his prison escort, dubs Bronson's character "Harmonica." Jill then discovers that her husband and his children have been murdered at their homestead. Frank, the real killer, frames Cheyenne.


Harmonica has a personal vendetta against Frank, so he and Cheyenne fight against Frank and his boss, Mr. Morton. They defend Jill's homestead and discover her late husband's plan to make a fortune.

Based on a story created by Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento. Under Leone's direction, Ennio Morricone composed the soundtrack before the actual filming started, and most of the narrative is built around the music, instead of the traditional way of fitting the soundtrack to the film.


Once Upon a Time in the West provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absolute Cleavage: Jill, towards the end of the movie.
  • Accidental Public Confession: A chilling version occurs at the beginning of the movie. Frank and his men have just finished massacring a family, only to exit the house and find a small boy staring at them.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Affably Evil: Cheyenne is 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).
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Morton had the desperate goal of seeing the blue ocean of the Pacific before he succumbed to his fatal disease. He instead dies slowly face down in a mud puddle while he imagines to hear the ocean.
  • Amazon Chaser: Cheyenne thought Jill was a soft and sheltered city-slicker he could bully into sleeping with him, but instead found a courageous madame daring him and his men to rape her, sneering how all it takes will be taking a hot bath to wash off the bad memories. Jill's courage immediately earns the bandit's respect, and from their next scene together, Cheynne treats her with warmth, friendship and respect.
  • Anti-Hero: Harmonica is completely remorseless and nearly machine-like in his pursuit of Frank, using Jill as bait, and brutalizing those who get in his way.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • Cheyenne, who also gains Anti-Hero traits as the film goes along. It helps that he never kills anybody likable onscreen.
    • Mr. Morton, whose primary goal is to see the Pacific Ocean again one last time before succumbing to his disease.
  • Arch-Enemy: Frank and Harmonica.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: In the opening scene, one of the gunmen catches an annoying fly in the barrel of his gun, then keeps it in by putting his finger on the end, keeping his index finger on the trigger the entire time.
  • Auction: Frank holds a rigged one to sell Jill's land, sending his goons to intimidate people from bidding. Harmonica bids $5, 000 with the bounty on Cheyenne's head.
  • Ax-Crazy: Frank is 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:
    • Cheyenne's.
    • Frank sports one as well. But only in the flashback at the end of the film.
  • Badass Boast: Harmonica's 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.
    • Cheyenne's 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 Grandpa: Frank. His hair is turning gray, but his deadliness and resolve seem as firm as ever.
  • Badass Longcoat: Cheyenne's gang. Frank sports a similar outfit when framing Cheyenne for the murder of the McBain family.
    Cheyenne: That's a crazy story, Harmonica, for two reasons. One, nobody around these parts got the guts to wear those dusters except Cheyenne's men. Two, Cheyenne's men don't get killed.
  • Bandito:
    • Frank, in the flashback.
    • Cheyenne is a sympathetic example.
  • 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.
  • Best Served Cold: Harmonica has spent most of his life hunting down Frank, who murdered his brother when they were teenagers. By putting a noose round the brother's neck, and forcing him to stand on Harmonica's shoulders until his legs gave way, no less.
  • Big Bad: Frank. 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.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Morton. Sure, it was him who hired Frank and set the plan in motion, but compared to him, Morton is much more sympathetic and lacks of ruthlessness. Furthermore, Morton is constantly bullied by Frank.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The bad guys die and the train finally gets to Sweetwater, which will grow into a beautiful town where Jill is going to be a very successful woman. On the other hand, Cheyenne, perhaps the most likable character in the film, dies, and Harmonica leaves to (presumably) never be seen again. It's also true on a metaphorical level, as it's shown that the advent of the new industrial era (a major theme of the film) wipes the old-fashioned individualist characters - noble warriors and crude villains alike.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Frank is a sociopath, Cheyenne a bandit, and Harmonica a ruthless gunslinger.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted, Stony is the last of the three gunmen to be killed in the opening. He even manages to shoot Harmonica as he goes.
  • Break the Cutie: Played with. It's straight for four minutes with Jill, in the second last scene, once she realizes that Harmonica will not stay with her, and that she will most likely live as a widow until her death... then inverted, after Cheyenne gives her some advice that takes a few minutes for her to fully comprehend, and then adhere.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Frank 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.
  • But Now I Must Go: Harmonica and Cheyenne are drifters with no place in a settled town. Cheyenne is also about to bleed to death, unknown to any of the other characters.
  • Butt-Monkey: Wobbles.
  • Captivity Harmonica: Guess who?
  • Casting Gag: Claudia Cardinale and Paolo Stoppa share several scenes together after playing daughter and father in The Leopard several years earlier.
  • Character Tics: Frank is constantly spitting out in a less than pleasant manner, another sign that he'll never make a proper businessman.
  • The Chessmaster: Frank—for a time, anyway. Harmonica is revealed to be one, over the course of the film.
  • Child Hater: Frank 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.
  • City Slicker: Jill at first. 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.
  • *Click* Hello: Frank does this to Harmonica when he catches him climbing down the train.
  • Close on Title: The film has a very long, drawn-out opening scene in which essentially every possible credit is shown except for the title, which shows up when the end credits begin. Hailing from 1968, this is one of the oldest examples of this trope.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Harmonica uses Hidden Weapons to get the drop on others. Cheyenne and Frank also show few compunctions, striking from hiding, and distracting opponents in order to win.
  • The Comically Serious: In the opening scene, Stony, who is completely stone-faced as water drips from the rafters onto his head, and then onto his hat.
  • Cool Old Guy: Frank is a gunslinger played by Henry Fonda, and an example of Love to Hate despite how horrible he is.
  • Cool Train: Morton's special train.
  • 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.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: Frank's eyes. Henry Fonda originally wanted to wear brown contacts, as he was playing a villain. Leone told him to take them off.
  • Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: After Cheyenne cuts him loose aboard Morton's train, Harmonica's seen rubbing his wrists in the background.
  • Dark Is Evil: Frank is always wearing dark and black clothes, and that is perfectly adjusted to his extreme evilness.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Frank and Harmonica are both exceptionally sarcastic.
    • Jill's a worldly woman who has her fair share of dry one-liners.
  • Death Glare: Jill does this to Harmonica after he rips her clothes and sends her to get some water. She doesn't realize it yet that he did it to distract the bandits that came to get her.
  • Death of a Child: Frank kills the McBain family in his introduction scene, including a little boy. Not only that, but he saves the little boy for last (though it might be just because the kid happened to be inside at the time, and only came out after the others were killed). Also while the others were sniped from a distance, Frank goes right up to the boy, and smiles as he pulls out his gun.
  • Deconstruction: This movie definitively deconstructs The Western even more than the Dollars Trilogy did. Sergio Leone filmed much of it in Monument Valley, where the John Ford classics were filmed, and the film bears specific allusions to other films such as Johnny Guitar and Shane. Complete with obvious inclusions of typical western stereotypes being used in a very not-typical manner. It says a lot that Leone intended to use the lead actors from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as the three thugs whom Harmonica kills in the first ten minutes of the film. (All three of the actors liked the idea, but it was scrapped when Clint Eastwood wasn't available.)
  • Determinator: Morton will reach the Pacific Ocean before he dies, no matter how many others die in the process.
  • Determined Widow: Jill, 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 Girl: Jill 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. And since this aspect of the resolution is played largely from Jill's point of view, it's also a case of Did Not Get The Guy.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Cheyenne 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.
  • Doesn't Trust Those Guys: "How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can't even trust his own pants."
  • The Dog Bites Back: Unfortunately for Frank, the young Harmonica eventually grows up to become Charles Bronson.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Frank becomes the biggest threat following the death of Mr. Morton.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Frank is the focus of the plot, and has his own agenda, which involves getting Jill to sell the land to him so that he can then sell it to his nominal boss, Mister Morton at a higher price. Toyed with during the later parts of the film, as Morton proves that in his own way, he can be just as dangerous.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Done by Harmonica after the climatic final duel.
  • The Dreaded: Frank.
  • The Drifter: Harmonica hits the archetype. Unlike most examples of this trope, he's in town for a specific reason, and not by accident.
  • Duel to the Death: Harmonica and Frank's showdown.
  • Dying Alone: Cheyenne made an effort to return to Jill even asking her if he shouldn't stay, before leaving with Harmonica and collapsing just out of sight of everybody from a bullet he had caught a few hours ago, because he didn't want her to know. He specifically requests this of Harmonica as his final words.
  • The Dying Walk: Before the climax, Frank escapes a shootout with Morton's hired goons and returns to Morton's train to confront him, only to find Morton dying of wounds he sustained during a run-in with the outlaw Cheyenne. Morton, lying pitifully in the dirt, ignores Frank's arrival and instead desperately crawls over to a nearby mud puddle representing a stand-in for the Pacific Ocean that he will never be able to reach.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Cheyenne dies, but Frank and his employer are both dead, and Harmonica has avenged his brother. Jill will go on to become a wealthy widow, and a respected and well-loved member of the Sweetwater railroad town.
  • End of an Age: The railroads herald the end of the Wild West. In Romanticism Versus Enlightenment, the film is firmly on the side of romanticism.
    Harmonica: So you found out you're not a businessman after all?
    Frank: Just a man.
    Harmonica: An ancient race. [looks to the approaching railroad] Other Mortons will be along and they'll kill it off.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • A man of few words 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.
    • Frank shows up as the leader of a gang that has massacred a family, and ends the deed by killing a little boy.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Cheyenne draws the line at killing children and Catholic priests.
    • Mister Morton loathes senseless slaughter, and comes to see Frank as little more than an animal.
  • Evil Cripple: Morton is a crippled (and dying) and walking only by crutches Railroad Baron. However, he's pretty much a villainous Woobie.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Frank and Morton spend the second half of the movie trying to checkmate each other, with increasingly violent results.
  • Evil Wears Black
    • Frank wears dark and black clothes, and that is perfectly adjusted to his evilness.
    • In the opening scene, Stony wears dark purple.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Almost every introduction of Harmonica into a scene is like this, especially the scene where he's revealed by a lantern being thrown into the corner of the bar where he's sitting.
  • False Flag Operation: The massacre of the McBains is carried out by Frank's henchmen (really working for Morton's railroad company) while dressed in dusters like Cheyenne's outlaw gang. A posse spends the first part of the film unsuccessfully tracking Cheyenne.
  • False Reassurance/Metaphorically True:
    Morton: Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you to scare them.
    Frank: People scare better when they're dying.
  • Famous Last Words:
    • "W-who are you?" Frank
    • "Go away. Go away. Go away, I don't want you to see me die." Cheyenne
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Slightly subverted in the first scene: Harmonica 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Frank can maintain a layer of civility and behave in a likable, reasonable way when it suits him, but he's eager to murder more and talk less.
  • Flash Back: Used to reveal why Harmonica pursues Frank.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Harmonica's brother is hanged from a bell.
  • Foreshadowing: At the beginning, Mr. McBain tells his daughter that one day they will be rich and won't have to work any more. Later it is revealed that the whole plot revolves around him buying the land for cheap because he knew that the railway will have to pass it and he will get rich by running a station there. Mr. Morton wants to get the land for himself, obviously. Another occurs later when Cheyenne tell Jill she deserves better than her present circumstances; she replies that the last man to tell her that is buried in her front yard
  • Gallows Humor: A dying Cheyenne takes a moment of levity to trifle about his circumstances.
    Cheyenne: Hey, Harmonica - when they do you in, pray it's somebody who knows where to shoot.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Frank always wears dark brown or black. Harmonica always wears light yellow, almost white.
  • Grand Finale: This film is generally seen as the grand finale to Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western films. Or as the prelude to the grand finale.
  • The Gunslinger: Harmonica, Frank, and Cheyenne.
  • Handicapped Badass: Morton. Not only does he have the balls to play mind games with Frank, he would have succeeded in having him killed as well, if Harmonica hadn't intervened. He also killed Cheyenne. Frank even lampshades it:
    Frank: Who knows how far you'd have gone with two good legs.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Frank is this when he's angered.
    Frank: How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can't even trust his own pants!
  • Happily Married: Brief as it was, Jill and Brett truly loved each other; she also notably insists on using his last name, not hers.
  • Hate Sink: Frank is 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: Frank, Morton's top field agent, who is the real threat to Jill, as well as the reason for Harmonica's involvement.
  • Heroic BSoD: Jill during her final meeting with both Cheyenne and Harmonica.
  • Honor Before Reason: Frank 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."
  • 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.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty:
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Frank, and it's actually an Justified Trope, in that Sergio Leone "felt that Fonda's blue eyes best reflected the cold, icy nature of the killer."
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Mr. Morton 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.
  • Instant Death Bullet: The slaughter of the McBain family plays out as this, as does the shootout at the railroad in the opening scene.
  • Invincible Hero: Averted right from the start, as Harmonica, badass though he unquestionably is, is wounded in the very first fight. From then on, it's not inconceivable that he might lose to Frank.
  • Ironic Echo: Harmonica places his harmonica between the lips of a moribund Frank, a Call-Back to the death of Harmonica's brother, which Frank caused by hanging him from a bell.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: Harmonica interferes with railroad baron Mr. Morton's efforts to take Jill McBain's land, but his primary goal is to kill Morton's henchman Frank, who killed Harmonica's brother decades earlier.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Harmonica tortures a man to get information of Frank.
  • Jerkass: Frank is easily the biggest jerk in the entire film: He's toxic, cruel, short-tempered, ruthless, sadistic and vile.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Cheyenne arguably treats Jill with the most respect out of all of the men in the movie.
    • Mr. McBain abuses one of his sons when the lad talks back, and seems to be a domineering man in general, but it's also evident that the man deeply cares for his family, specially for his daughter.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Frank. He shows no remorse for his actions whatsoever, and his less indecent actions are motivated by the wrong reasons, be it sadism or greed.
  • Justified Criminal: Cheyenne, who 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.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Frank and his gang kill a family of four, including a young child.
    • Frank gets another one near the end of the film in the "keep your lovin' brother happy" flashback. While Frank does spare the life of young Harmonica, he does it only to experience sadistic glee at seeing the guy witness the murder of his brother.
    • Frank kicking Morton's crutches out from under him.
  • Killed Offscreen:
    • Cheyenne provides a playful double example. First, he's mortally wounded in an off-screen skirmish, and then during his actual death, he asks his companion to look away, which the camera also respects with a brief discretion shot.
    • When Frank shoots the younger McBain boy, the camera cuts away to the train with Jill arriving at the station, merging the sound of the bullet with the train's whistle.
    • All of Cheyenne's men and the last five of Morton's men, killed in the train battle.
  • Leave No Witnesses: One of the earliest evil deeds Frank does is kill a child after this sinister excerpt of dialogue:
    Goon: [about the boy] What are we gonna do with him, Frank?
    Frank: [beat] Well, now that you've called me by name — [shoots the child]
  • Leave the Camera Running: Sergio Leone's signature style, the first scene has the characters waiting for a train and runs for almost 15 minutes before the first words are spoken.
  • Left the Background Music On: Just before Harmonica's entrance, the music changes subtly. Everybody starts looking around, then it is revealed the new tune is being played by a man with a harmonica.
  • Leitmotif: Most of the main characters have their own - Jill a romantic harmony, Cheyenne a comical banjo, Frank a sinister electric guitar and Harmonica is self-explanatory. During Frank and Harmonica's duel, their themes overlap.
  • 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.
  • Light Is Good: Harmonica. Basically Sergio Leone playing with the Western tradition of the "good guys" wearing a white hat.
  • Love Triangle: Very subtle. Over the course of the film, Cheyenne gets a bit of a soft spot for Jill. Who in turn develops one for Harmonica. Harmonica's feelings are unsaid and he moves on at the end of the film.
  • Mail-Order Bride: The plot is kicked off when Jill 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.
  • Man in White: It's easy to miss, but Harmonica dresses almost completely in white. Or in his case, a worn and patched outfit in a range of light beige and sand colors. Which in this world is as white as it gets.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jill has a lot of moments of this, often against her wishes.
  • Miss Kitty: Jill is a former prostitute.
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: Happens with Cheyenne, after his ambush of the the rail baron's private train.
  • Motivated By Fear: Frank quipping to Mr. Morton, that people are more likely sell the land to them if they're properly scared and that 'people scare better when they're dying.'
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Morton just wants his opposition bought out or intimidated, but Frank prefers to massacre first and ask questions later.
    Morton: Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you to scare them.
    Frank: People scare better when they're dying.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Cheyenne's theme pauses several times so he can say a line, and starts up again. It even stops to allow his dead body to drop to the ground.
  • Mutual Kill: A delayed one. During a shootout Mister Morton and Cheyenne mortally wound one another. Morton dies a few minutes later, Cheyenne a few hours later.
  • My Name Is Inigo Montoya: Beautifully subverted. Harmonica never tells Frank his name. When Frank demands to know, he gives him plenty of names, but none of them are his.
    Frank: Who are you?
    Harmonica: Jim Cooper, Chuck Youngblood.
    Frank: More dead men.
    Harmonica: They were all alive until they met you, Frank.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer makes it look like Harmonica is the villain, and a ruthless killing machine. Frank, meanwhile, almost looks like he's the hero.
  • Nice Gal: Jill is friendly, civil, and by far the nicest person in the film.
  • Nice Guy: Cheyenne has his moments in the film.
  • No Last Name Given: Frank, which adds to his mystique.
  • No Name Given: The man out for revenge is only ever called Harmonica, as he plays a harmonica everywhere he goes. Cheyenne is probably an alias too and Frank an example of No Last Name Given. All this adds a lot of mystique to the story.
  • No Place for Me There: Once his business is completed, Harmonica leaves Sweetwater, as the new society has no use for him.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Mr. Morton. A theme of the movie is how new money will displace old weapons in the villainy business.
    Morton: How does it feel sitting behind that desk, Frank?
    Frank: Almost like holding a gun... only much more powerful.
  • Not Me This Time: Frank frames Cheyenne for the massacre of the McBain family, knowing that it's plausible since Cheyenne's no saint himself.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Mr. Morton, who refuses to be intimidated, convinces Frank's men to betray him, and kills Cheyenne.
  • Not So Stoic: Harmonica 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.
  • Number Two:
    • Cheyenne has an unnamed lieutenant, who among other things, is responsible for carrying his coat and smuggles him off the train to Yuma "Two tickets, amigo, to the next station. One way only." He gets killed in the shootout with Morton's men.
    • Frank has two: One participates in the massacre of the McBain family (he's the one who asks "What are we going to do with this one, Frank?" and the other found Jim and Logan dead, killed by Harmonica and reports that to Frank. Both are killed by Cheyenne's men.
  • Obviously Evil: The three gunmen in the intro. Maybe not Woody Strode, but Jack Elam with his lazy eye and perma-stubble? Al Mulock cracking his knuckles?
  • Ocean Awe: Mr. Morton is motivated by a desire to see the Pacific Ocean before he dies from his illness.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Cheyenne gets two: his escape from a prison escort and his shootout with Morton and his henchmen.
  • One-Woman Wail: "Jill's America": slow, arching very high and very low, and achingly beautiful. It first appears in the background when she arrives at her house and sees what should have been her new family, every member gunned down in cold blood.
  • Only I Can Kill Him: Averted. There's a good reason to suspect that Frank would have been killed by his own henchmen, bribed by Morton if it were not for Harmonica's The Only One Allowed to Defeat You; and Cheyenne was killed by crippled Mr. Morton. That both cases are attributable to Mr. Morton is no coincidence, as it shows that in this new world the power of money is going to eventually prevail.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Why Harmonica helps Frank against Morton's minions.
    Jill: You saved his life!
    Harmonica: I didn't let them kill him – and that's not the same thing.
  • Overly Long Gag: Frank's henchman Snaky getting increasingly annoyed by a fly landing on his face. There's also the joke of a residue or water dripping from the ceiling onto Stony's head, and then onto his hat.
  • Pet the Dog: Jill serves as a big Morality Pet for Cheyenne.
  • Police are Useless: The Sheriff of Flagstone's only role in the movie is to oversee Jill's auction of Sweetwater. In a deleted scene his deputies rough up Harmonica, and he's revealed to be a Dirty Cop on Morton's payroll.
  • Postmodernism: See Deconstruction or Wikipedia. French theorist Jean Baudrillard once deemed Once Upon a Time in the West the first postmodern film.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: "When you hear a strange sound, drop to the ground..." It's referenced in a later shootout:
    Jill: I swear we're gonna hear that strange sound again.
    Harmonica: Right about... now.
  • 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.
  • Psycho for Hire: Frank, who enjoys killing every bit as much as he enjoys the money he makes from it.
  • Punch Spin Gape: A gunshot instead of a punch, but this happens to Frank.
  • Quick Draw: Harmonica has a very fast one. So does Frank. And Cheyenne.
  • The Quiet One: Harmonica is the strong, silent type. He prefers to let his instrument, revolver and body language do the talk.
  • Race Lift: Cheyenne was originally Mexican, his real name being Manuel Gutierrez, according to the script. Sergio Leone didn't feel that Jason Robards made a convincing Mexican, so he dropped this.
  • Railroad Baron: Mr. Morton.
  • Railroad Plot: McBain knew that any train line through the region could only refuel water for the steam engine in a single place and build his farm on the site, expecting to make a small fortune by selling water to the train company. So Morton had the family killed by Frank so that he could buy the land himself.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: If you did not hate Frank after he gleefully gunned down the last Mc Cain child, then you will loathe him after he forced Jill to sleep with him in exchange for her life.
  • Reality Ensues: Taking on three armed men out in the open, Harmonica was bound to get shot.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Cheyenne doesn't get to enjoy his newly heroic life very long.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Cheyenne and Harmonica respectively.
  • Reluctant Fanservice Girl: Jill gets her dress ripped by Harmonica, and is seen wearing nothing but a towel.
  • Retired Outlaw: Frank is a former bandit, who now works for the railroad company. This has not made him a more sympathetic individual.
  • The Reveal: Harmonica's motivation for wanting to kill Frank. Frank hanged Harmonica's brother with sadism; a young Harmonica, on his knees, was made to support his older brother above his shoulders, until the inevitable happened when he either collapsed from exhaustion or his brother kicked him away on purpose.
  • Reveal Shot: Repeated flashbacks are shown of Harmonica's first meeting with Frank, but it's rather sparse on the details. When we do see the scene in it's entirety, it's horrifying.
  • Revenge: Harmonica is driven entirely by desire for revenge on Frank.
  • Rewatch Bonus: On the second viewing, Cheyenne's grave condition is painfully obvious. He even holds his hand over the bullet wound while approaching Harmonica.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Harmonica 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.
  • Sadist: Take a wild guess.
  • Same Content, Different Rating: The film features about the same amount of violence and mature themes as Sergio Leone's previous westerns, but it got an M (a precursor to PG) whereas the others all got Rs. It was updated to a PG-13 in 2003.
  • Save the Villain: Harmonica kills one member of Frank's gang when they betray him for Morton and try to kill him. But unlike other examples of this trope, he's not doing this to save his life, as Jill accuses him of doing, but because Harmonica hates Frank enough to consider himself the only one allowed to kill him.
  • Say My Name: "MAUREEN!" It's quite heartbreaking.
  • Scenery Porn: Emphasis on Monument Valley, Utah.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!:
    Mr. Morton: 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?
    • Once Morton realises that Frank has gone too far and needs to go.
    Goon: [After Morton deals out stacks of money to him and his men like cards] How do you, uh... how do you play this game, Mr. Morton?
    Mr. Morton:It's very simple. As long as you use your head, you never lose.
  • Secret Stab Wound: Gunshot wound, actually.
  • Secretly Dying: Due to the above gunshot wound. Throughout the whole of the last scene with Jill, you can tell that there's something wrong with Cheyenne, but he's doing his best to hide it from her. It's only once he leaves that we find out what happened.
  • Settling the Frontier: Jill becomes the matriarch of the small community literally being built up around her as the railroad approaches.
  • Ship Tease and Ship Sinking: Jill seems to be showing interest in Harmonica and Cheyenne as the film progresses. However, when Jill expresses her interest in Cheyenne, he replies that he's not the right man...and neither is Harmonica.
    • However this maybe because Cheyenne knows he is dying.
  • Shout-Out: Bursting with references both obvious and subtle to classic American Westerns, from High Noon and Shane to Johnny Guitar and Run of the Arrow.
  • Showdown at High Noon: Harmonica and Frank finally settle their conflict this way.
  • Signature Style: This film signals a shift to the second phase of Sergio Leone's style, being slower and more serious than the Dollars Trilogy.
  • Silence Is Golden: The opening has no dialogue as a trio of gunman wait for their target to arrive on a train. The final showdown is over nine minutes long, in which a total of 8 words are spoken.
  • Slasher Smile: Frank and some of his men in Harmonica's flashback.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Jill is the only female member of the principal cast.
  • The Sociopath: Frank is possibly one of the most perfect examples in a Sergio Leone film.
  • Son of a Whore: Cheyenne. He still calls her "the finest woman who ever lived".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Cheyenne's upbeat little motif plays as he dies.
  • Spaghetti Western
  • Special Guest:
    • Woody Strode and Jack Elam as two of the hitmen waiting for the train at the beginning.
    • Keenan Wynn as the Sheriff at the auction, Frank Wolff as Jill's ill-fated husband, and Lionel Stander as the barman at the saloon where we first encounter Cheyenne.
  • The Starscream: Frank becomes this to Morton. Flawed as he finds Morton, Franks holds some respect for the man's tenacity in the process.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Jill. She's icey towards Cheyenne and Harmonica in their first interactions, but eventually warms up to them.
  • Team Dad: Cheyenne to a degree. He goes out of his way to protect Jill and Harmonica. And while he speaks rough of his men, he trusts them.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: The spooky sound of the hamonica accompanies his raging revenge through the movie, and every time you hear it you know that he'll do something awesome.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Jill rides into town a somewhat aloof city girl and ends up the head of a soon-to-be-functioning, prosperous railroad company.
    • Harmonica 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.
  • Tragic Dream: Morton desperately wishes to see his railway reach the Pacific Ocean before the tuberculosis that has crippled him fully claims his lungs and his life, so much so that he enlists the aid of a monster like Frank to 'clear the track' and eliminate any problems they find in the way (thus jump-starting the plot). Frank makes some grim comments about the progression of Morton's disease as they've crossed the country, and given Morton's pitiably feeble state it seems doubtful he'd ever make it to the ocean even if he weren't ultimately killed in a shootout at the end.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The synopsis on the back of the DVD case has a pretty significant spoiler about just what Harmonica's beef with Frank is, saying that he "remembers how his brother was savagely tortured". Although it doesn't say outright who did it, it isn't difficult to put two and two together, and on top of that, it gives away one of the film's most shocking scenes.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Harmonica 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.
  • Turncoat: Endemic among the bad guys. Frank betrays Morton; Frank's henchmen betray him.
  • Twilight of the Old West: The railroad is used as an analogy for the dying Wild West, with Frank and Harmonica exchanging these lines:
    Harmonica: So you found out you're not a businessman after all?
    Frank: Just a man.
    Harmonica: An ancient race. [looks to the approaching railroad] Other Mortonsnote  will be along and they'll kill it off.
  • Vehicle Vanish: Harmonica makes his entrance this way, behind a train.
  • Villain Protagonist: Played completely straight in Frank. Although Jill is arguably the film's protagonist, a lot of it is told through Frank's P.O.V., and it is ultimately his actions that set off the main storyline.
  • Villainy Discretion Shot: Cheyenne killing his prison escort.
  • Weapon of Choice: Frank uses a nickel-plated Colt Single Action Army revolver "Cavalry" style (7.5 inch barrel) with black grips.
  • Wham Line: "Keep your lovin' brother happy."
  • Wham Shot: Cheyenne getting the drink he ordered, revealing to the camera his shackled wrists.
  • Whammy Bid: Jill''s land had been put in auction. The bids were in the hundreds when Harmonica bids $5,000. Instead of paying with money, he brings in Cheyenne, for which a reward in the bid's value had been offered.
  • White Shirt of Death: Most noticeable on Maureen (well, dress actually) and Timmy McBain.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?:
    • Frank and Harmonica have several opportunities to shoot the other sneakily, but they wait out their time for a proper duel instead. See Honor Before Reason.
    • When Frank killed Harmonica's brother, he had the chance to kill Harmonica too. Instead, he left him alive, only for Harmonica to come back for a revenge.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Subverted with Jill. The story begins during her Wedding Day party with McBain, but it's revealed they already married in New Orleans the month before.
  • Would Hurt a Child: One of the earliest evil deeds Frank does is kill a child after this sinister excerpt of dialogue —
    Goon: (about the boy) What are we gonna do with him, Frank?
    Frank: (beat) Well, now that you've called me by name... (shoots the child)
    • 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 Have Failed Me: Frank dispatches Wobbles when he finds out that Harmonica followed him.
  • You Killed My Father: Brother, actually.
  • You Remind Me of X: Cheyenne tells Jill that he reminds her of his mother.
    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.
  • Younger Than He Looks: Though you really can't tell with him being as sun-dried and wrinkled as he is, Harmonica is roughly 20 years younger than Frank.


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