Sunday, August 1, 2021



Continuing the third list of my personal Top 10 + 2 films, based on the Otto Watchability and Repeated Watching Index © . . .

The list so far:
1. Breakfast Club
2. The Enemy Below
3. The Searchers
4. The Quiet Man
5. Forrest Gump
6. Midnight Sting

(Steve, you probably won’t like these next ones either).

Warning: spoilers ahead.


7. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

I watched this on TV the other night and was captivated all over again. Just the first 20 minutes alone – the scene at the railway station with the three bad guys waiting for the Charles Bronson character Man With the Harmonica (as he is only identified) – is worth the price of admission. That is what is shown on the poster above. The dust coats, the repetitive squeaking windmill sound, the hard men in a harsh environment, the minimal action and sound slowly building the tension . . . beautiful. A short film in itself. And what superb dialogue:
    Harmonica: [facing three men] And Frank?
    Snaky: Frank sent us.
    Harmonica: Did you bring a horse for me?
    Snaky: Well... looks like we're...
    Snaky: ...looks like we're shy one horse.
    Harmonica: [shaking head] You brought two too many.

Once Upon a Time in the West (Italian: C'era una volta il West, "Once upon a time (there was) the West") is a 1968 epic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone, who co-wrote it. It stars Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale, plus has a great score by Ennio Morricone.

  • Afraid of being typecast after having made three spaghetti Westerns in a row with Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood declined the role of harmonica.
  • The film is the first instalment in Leone's Once Upon a Time trilogy, followed by Duck, You Sucker! and Once Upon a Time in America, though the films do not share any characters in common.
  • The original version by the director was 166 minutes when it was first released on 21 December 1968. This version was shown in European cinemas, and was a box-office success. For the US release on 28 May 1969, Once Upon a Time in the West was edited down to 145 minutes by Paramount and was a financial flop.
  • Up to this film, Henry Fonda has always been cast as a good guy. He originally turned down the role of Frank but director Sergio Leone flew to the United States and met with Fonda, who asked why he was wanted for the film. Leone replied, "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's Henry Fonda".
  • Henry Fonda prepared for his role as the villain "Frank" by arriving in Italy with a pair of brown coloured contact lenses and a moustache. When Sergio Leone saw them, he ordered them removed. Leone had planned an important close-up shot of Frank's entrance and wanted the audience to instantly recognize Fonda with his blue eyes.
  • For the opening sequence where the three men in dustcoats waited for the train, filmmakers lightly coated the face of Jack Elam with jam and began filming close-ups while letting a fly out of a jar filled with flies, attempting to get Elam's reaction as one would land on his cheek.
  • Unlike the Dollars trilogy, which were all solely shot in Spain, Sergio Leone travelled to the U.S. to shoot some scenes in the iconic Monument Valley, one of John Ford's favourite locations, making it the first "spaghetti Western" to be shot in the U.S.
  • Sergio Leone made hundreds of references to films that influenced him. Some were quite obvious (like three men waiting for the train as in High Noon (1952)) and some were very subtle, like the choice of Woody Strode's sawed-off Winchester rifle, similar to the weapon Steve McQueen carried in Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958). McQueen referred to this unique weapon as a "Mare's Leg".
  • The Indian woman who flees from the train station in the opening sequence was played by Hawaiian Princess Luukialuana (Luana) Kalaeloa. the real life wife of Woody Strode, one of the men in the dustcoats.

If you love cowies, spaghetti westerns, a good Sergio Leone film, and Bronson and Fonda, don’t go past this if you haven’t yet seen it.


8. Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Many would think that this great film should have been in my first Top 10 + 2 list and I would be hard put to contest that view except to say that a cut must be made somewhere. Many also felt that it should not have missed out to Forest Gump for Best Pic and I agree (Gump also getting the nod for Best Director and Best Actor). Shawshank missed the Oscar boat entirely, paralleled by being a flop at the box office. Wiki summarises it as follows: “Many reasons were cited for its failure at the time, including competition from films such as Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, the general unpopularity of prison films, its lack of female characters, and even the title, which was considered to be confusing for audiences.”

Which all goes to show that many people getting it wrong doesn’t equal being right. The movie is a homage to the strength and dignity of the human spirit at times of adversity and crushing events.

How many great moments:
  • Red’s final speech to the parole board.
  • The comeuppance of the warden.
  • The sadness of Brooks’ departure, unable to cope with freedom after becoming institutionalised.
  • Andy’s emergence in the rain from the sewer pipe, his escape being a rebirth.
  • Red and Andy reuniting.

  • The prison site, which was planned to be fully torn down after filming, became a tourist attraction. The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society, a group of enthusiasts of the film, purchased the building and site from Ohio for one dollar in 2000 and took up maintaining it as a historical landmark, both as its purpose as a prison and as the filming site. A 2019 report estimated the attraction to be earning $16 million in annual revenue.
  • The oak tree, under which Andy leaves his note for Red, ended up becoming a symbol of hope for many because of its role in the film, attracting thousands of visitors annually. The tree was partially destroyed in 2011 when it was split by lightning, news of the damage being reported across the United States on newscasts, in newspapers, and on websites as far away as India. The tree was completely felled by strong winds in 2016.

Red approaches Andy’s oak.

The oak after the 2016 damage.
  • The wood was used to make expensive souvenirs: key chains and magnets ($40), mini rock hammers ($85), bottle openers ($130), and shadow boxes with an inscription of Andy's note to Red ($500). Still, as Andy tells Red in the film, “no good thing ever dies.”

Numbers 9 and 10 + 2 to come, what will they be?

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