Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogies are possibly the greatest "westerns" ever made (his lyrical "Once Upon a Time in the West" has great stuff but doesn't quite match the earlier versions because of the clichés). And Ennio Morricone's music for all four movies were instant classics.
Leone's movie raised a question: after "The Godfather" (I & II) what more needed to be said? Well, being Italian, Leone found a source to use Jewish gangsters. That's a switch.
His powerhouse case included James Woods, Robert DeNiro, Elizabeth McGovern and . . . oh, way down on the list, a very pretty young Jennifer Connelly. I saw the shortened version of this flick long before she was a major star. She looks great.
Major spoiler ahead.
And that's the problem. In one scene she moons the camera (it's probably a body double, but may inspire perverts everywhere); in another scene, when a man changes the diapers for his son, he finds out his "son" was switched for a daughter. The camera sees everything. It's disgusting, showing naked babies.
Lest you think my objects to "Once Upon a Time in America" are merely prurient, I also found the longer version of the movie dull, despite its resorting to violence.
Though I'm a voracious reader, I usually eschew biographies as they deal so much up front with the subjects' childhood. "So?" you might say. But the first third (it feels like a century) of "Once Upon a Time in America" is taken up with the story of Woods, DeNiro and the other little creeps as children, and it seems to go on forever! Leone is a good enough director to give us lots of visual tricks that keep us mostly happy, but I found the entire section with children dull and think it might have been integrated even better.
Leone deals with "heroes" only in the technical sense. The "heroic" antics of Eastwood and Bronson in his earlier movies do not necessarily make them the good guys, despite the ironic title "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (one of the best titles ever, btw). The leads in "Once Upon a Time in America" are even more flawed, being rapists as well as robbers and murderers.
In fact, given the prevalence of prostitution, rape, child exploitation and the rest, sex as a normal and loving act never seems to enter anyone's heads. Perhaps Leone and his writing team don't want his depraved thugs to have any positive characteristics at all.
Jennifer Connelly as the little girl who tries to put the kid playing the younger DeNiro comes off best, as well as the almost clownish version of the 1920 song "Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)" that may be slightly anachronistic by a few years in its first context, but which brings a smile every time it's played.