Once Upon A Time In the West Sergio Leone

DVD is the best thing to happen to film's most maligned and misunderstood genre, the western. Finally, many of the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks and Italian director Sergio Leone can be appreciated not as dusty anachronisms, but as the epic film achievements many were. But if you're in a High Noon mood and are new to the genre, Once Upon A Time in the West is not the place to start, since it operates as a deconstruction of and a funeral dirge for the heyday of western epics. For fans, however, West's arrival on DVD marks the first time this nearly three-hour epic has been seen in any complete form in North America. Mentioned in featurettes as "the longest art western ever made," studios immediately started hacking away at its running time, including chopping off the downbeat ending. But while the story — which concerns the vengeance and greed of the murderous Frank (Henry Fonda in his darkest ever role), his pursuit by the Man (Charles Bronson) and framing murder on an innocent (Jason Robards) — is sparse, even ponderous, the filmmaking is breathtaking. Beyond the obvious mastery of Leone, mining West's riches is rewarding indeed: its thematic resonance only deepens and the story of its creation is fascinating as well. (One tidbit — Leone had master composer and long-time collaborator Ennio Morricone finish the score before a single frame of film was shot, played it on set during filming, and edited the film to its rhythms.) It shouldn't be the first western you ever see, but once you do, you'll see all others in a different light. Plus: three "making of" featurettes, "Railroad: Revolutionizing the West" featurette, commentary by cast and appreciators, gallery, more. (Paramount)