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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 (alongside the Dollars Trilogy); according to That Other Wiki, it's a prime example of an Epic Western.

It features Claudia Cardinale as Jill, the young widow with a past, Henry Fonda as the villain Frank, Jason Robards as the bandit Cheyenne, and Charles Bronson as a "man with no name" seeking revenge.

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, the railroad tycoon Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti). 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 musicnote , 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:

  • 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:
  • 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.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Jill wears fake eyelashes throughout the movie. Fake eyelashes were invented by Max Factor in the early 1910s.
    • While preparing for the wedding feast, Brett's daughter sings a few lines of "Danny Boy". The words to this song were written in 1910.
  • 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.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: All eyes are on Jill when she enters the inn.
  • Badass Boast: Harmonica's first scene, when three of Frank's men are waiting for him:
    Harmonica: Did you bring a horse for me?
    Snaky: 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 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.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: The camera lingers on a flock of disturbed pheasants in the air above the McBain farm. Then a shot rings out but no bird comes down. Then McBain looks around to see his daughter collapsing.
  • 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 around the brother's neck, and forcing him to stand on Harmonica's shoulders until his legs gave way, no less.
  • Better to Kill Than Frighten: Frank massacred the McBain family, even personally shooting their little son in the face at point-blank range, against the orders of his boss who sent him and his goons to scare the family into leaving their home. His deadpan defense to Morton chewing him out is "people scare better when they're dying".
  • 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: Cheyenne and Harmonica are not good people, the former being a feared leader of banditos and the latter being a stone-cold gunslinger. Frank, however, is much worse than both of them and is responsible the dark path Harmonica took.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Inverted; Stony is the last of the three gunmen to be killed in the opening. He even manages to shoot Harmonica as he goes.note 
  • Bloodless Carnage: When Cheyenne shoots the man who's guarding Harmonica through the train window, there is no blood on the chair the man was sitting in, despite the fact that he was shot at point-blank range.
  • 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. Harmonica literally puts him through the wringer, while Morton treats him with utter contempt - "You should learn to live like you didn't exist." Finally Frank kicks him off the train and then murders him as a kind of joke, shooting him through both suspenders and his belt after commenting that these garments show that "the man can't even trust his own pants." Still, Wobbles's unctuous, toadying personality keeps him far away from Woobie territory.
  • Captivity Harmonica: Harmonica has one himself, having received it from Frank while tied up and forced to hold up his brother from the noose until he couldn't stand anymore.
  • Casting Gag: Claudia Cardinale and Paolo Stoppa share several scenes together after playing daughter and father in The Leopard several years earlier.
  • *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.
  • Cool Train: Morton's special train.
  • 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. 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 non-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.)
  • 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. 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 climactic 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."
  • 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 climactic final duel.
  • 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 is dead, but so are Frank and his employer Morton, and Harmonica has avenged his brother. Jill is still a widow, but a respected and wealthy member of the Sweetwater railroad town.
  • 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.
  • Establishing Character Music:
    • Subverted with Harmonica's theme - he plays it during his first scene at the train station.
    • Frank's theme plays in full during his introduction, the electric guitar building up to a sweeping orchestra.
    • When Cheyenne appears in the trading post, his theme is quite sinister, giving the impression that he's the villain. When the true nature of his character is revealed, his theme is more laid-back.
  • 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 Versus Evil: Frank and Morton spend the second half of the movie trying to checkmate each other, with increasingly violent results.
  • The Expy With No Name: Like Leone's "Man With No Name" character, Harmonica is a skilled gunslinger with a Mysterious Past and a stoic demeanor, whose actual name is never revealed. Clint Eastwood himself was Leone's first choice for the part.
  • 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.
  • Facial Dialogue: As Harmonica leaves, Jill asks if he'll ever come back. He looks at her and the smile drops from her face. After a Beat, he replies, "Someday". It's clear to both of them that is a lie.
  • 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Frank can be surprisingly casual when interacting with others, but it only underlines how little he cares about other people.
  • Flashback: Used to reveal why Harmonica pursues Frank.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls:
  • 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.
  • Gaussian Girl: During their goodbye, the close-up shot on Jill is slightly out-of-focus while the shot on Harmonica is clear.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Heroic BSoD: Jill during her final meeting with both Cheyenne and Harmonica.
  • I Can Explain: Wobbles tries this line together with You Have to Believe Me! when it becomes apparent that he unwittingly led Harmonica to Morton's train.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty:
  • Instant Death Bullet: ANY character hit by a bullet. Notable cases are the slaughter of the McBain family as well as the shootout at the railroad in the opening scene. Except for Frank, Cheyenne and Harmonica.
  • 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.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: The Determined Homesteader early on senses something is up when the crickets suddenly stop chirping.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Harmonica tortures a man to get information of Frank.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: 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, especially for his daughter.
  • Just Train Wrong: The train's boxcars have four wheels, a rounded roof, and other features more akin to European railroad practice. The passenger cars have a more American appearance, but feature buffer and chain couplers which were not used on US railroads. The locomotive, though fitted with a bell, cowcatcher, and other applications seen on American engines, has a plate frame, whereas American engines have bar frames.
  • 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: The four main characters have their own:
  • 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.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Cheyenne and Jill don't know what Harmonica's motivation is. But since they know how cruel Frank is, they might not care.
  • 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.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Brett McBain is shooting birds, and Timmy (Brett's son) collects the birds and shows them to his sister Maureen. The birds are chukkar partridge, which were introduced into the United States by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1920s and were not present before then.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Frank's men are willing to kill him for money.
  • No Place for Me There: Once his business is completed, Harmonica leaves Sweetwater, as the new society has no use for him. Technically Cheyenne does the same, but he doesn't last long before he dies from his gunshot wound.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Cheyenne gets two: his escape from a prison escort and his shootout with Morton and his henchmen.
  • One-Man Army: Cheyenne runs into Morton one last time and manages to kill all of his goons by himself. He doesn't get away unscathed, however, and gets a fatal bullet wound for his troubles.
  • 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.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Harmonica kills one member of Frank's gang when they betray him for Morton and try to kill him. 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.
    Jill: You saved his life!
    Harmonica: I didn't let them kill him – and that's not the same thing.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The movie ends with Harmonica (and Cheyenne) riding off into the distance.
  • Outfit Decoy: Cheyenne fires his gun from inside his boot which he lets harmlessly dangle in front of a coach window.
  • 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 on 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.
  • Quick Draw: Harmonica has a very fast one. So does Frank. And Cheyenne.
    • 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.
  • 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 Plot: McBain knew that any train line through the region could only refuel water for the steam engine in a single place and built 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 McBain child, then you will loathe him after he forced Jill to sleep with him in exchange for her life.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Cheyenne doesn't get to enjoy his newly heroic life very long.
  • 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 its entirety, it's horrifying.
  • Revenge: Harmonica is driven entirely by a desire for revenge on Frank.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Both Harmonica and Frank have ample opportunity to have the other one killed off by others or inaction. But for Harmonica It's Personal. Frank could have taken Morton's place and lived a life of luxury with all he wanted. But he has to know what it is Harmonica wants and can't let go of grievances.
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Say My Name: "MAUREEN!" It's quite heartbreaking.
  • Scare the Dog: The first sign for McBain that something is wrong is when he hears his dogs whimpering.
  • 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.
  • The Seven Western Plots: Most of the film plays out as something of a mix of a Union Pacific and Ranch story, but with the revelation that Frank was responsible for the death of Harmonica's brother, on top of all the other murders Frank committed, the film is, ultimately, a Revenge story.
  • 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: The film is bursting with references both obvious and subtle to classic American Westerns:
    • The low angle shot of a shrieking train rushing towards the screen in the opening scene, and the shot of the train pulling into the Sweetwater station at the end is from The Iron Horse.
    • The massacre scene in West features young Timmy McBain out hunting with his father, just as Joey Starrett does in Shane. The funeral of the McBains is borrowed almost shot-for-shot.
    • The three gunmen awaiting Harmonica is a direct Homage to Frank Miller's gang awaiting him in High Noon.
    • Johnny Guitar - Jill and Vienna have similar backstories (both are former prostitutes who become saloonkeepers), and Harmonica, like Johnny, is a mysterious, gunslinging outsider known by his musical nickname. Some of the central plot (Western settlers vs. the railroad company) may be recycled from that film.
    • Leone admitted that the rustling bushes, the silencing of insect sounds, and the fluttering grouse that suggests menace is approaching the farmhouse when the McBain family is massacred were all taken from The Searchers. The ending of the film — where Western nomads Harmonica and Cheyenne move on rather than join modern society — also echoes the famous ending.
    • The final duel between Frank and Harmonica is shot almost identically to the duel between Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson in The Last Sunset.
    • The dusters worn by Cheyenne and his gang (and by Frank and his men while impersonating them) resemble those worn by Liberty Valance and his henchmen when they are introduced in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In addition, the auction scene in West was intended to recall the election scene.
    • Woody Strode's gunman wields a "Mare's Leg" firearm (Winchester Model 1892), the trademark gun used in Wanted: Dead or Alive.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Frank almost shoots Morton when the latter tries to produce a stack of bills from his drawer.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: It's considerably less cynical than the Dollars Trilogy and feels more like a Classic Hollywood western than Spaghetti Western. The depiction of the Wild West has gone from Crapsack World to on the verge of civilisation.
  • Stop and Go: 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.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: The spooky sound of the harmonica accompanies Harmonica's raging revenge through the movie, and every time you hear it you know that he'll do something awesome.
  • They Just Dont Get It: Wobbles's case. Throughout the film he tries to gain Frank's respect by proving himself useful but, apart from the fact that every time he takes the initiative he only makes a fool of himself, he does not understand that Frank will never respect him simply because Wobbles is what he is: a pathetic imbecile who can look ridiculous at best. Not to mention that his own nickname is itself disparaging, yet he never seems to be offended by its use, or even grasp it. Wobbles, instead, keeps trying until Frank kills him.
  • The Three Faces of Adam: Frank is The Hunter (ambitious and greedy), Cheyenne is The Lord (sardonic and helpful) Harmonica is The Prophet (driven and resourceful).
  • 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. Averted when this was changed for the Blu-ray cover.
  • 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.
  • Underside Ride: Cheyenne clings to the underside of Morton's train.
  • Vehicle Vanish: Harmonica makes his entrance this way, behind a train.
  • Villainy Discretion Shot: Cheyenne killing his prison escort.
  • Wedding/Death Juxtaposition: Played With. Jill arrives to her wedding with Mr. McBain a bit too late: Frank and his men have already murdered him and his children while preparing for the wedding. After Jill discovers their corpses, she reveals that she and McBain had already got married a month before.
  • Western Union Man: In the famous opening sequence, the three thugs waiting at the railway station scare the meek telegraphist away simply by showing up in the dilapidated office. Eventually, much to his distress, they rip the cables off, annoyed by the sound the machine keeps making.
  • 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.
    • 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 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.
  • 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 she reminds him 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."


Video Example(s):


Frank kills a little boy

Frank kills the McBain family in his introduction scene, including a little boy. While the others were sniped from a distance, Frank goes right up to the boy, and smiles as he pulls out his gun.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / DeathOfAChild

Media sources: