Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

R   |    |  Crime, Drama


Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Poster

A former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to the Lower East Side of Manhattan over thirty years later, where he once again must confront the ghosts and regrets of his old life.


8.4/10
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  • Sergio Leone and Tuesday Weld in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
  • Robert De Niro and James Woods in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
  • Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci at an event for Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
  • Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
  • Robert De Niro and Tuesday Weld in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
  • William Forsythe at an event for Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

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16 May 1999 | tenco
Leone's ultimate film
Sergio Leone's films are all love letters to America, the American dreams of an Italian who grew up at the movies, who apprenticed with Wyler, and Aldrich, signed himself Bob Robertson, and gave us Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Charles Bronson as we know them. Sadly, America didn't always repay the compliment. Leone's were "spaghetti westerns", money makers to be sure, but deemed disrespectful of the great tradition of Ford, Walsh and Hathaway. Many critics and Holllywood insiders called his earlier Eastwood films cynical and violent bottom-line commercial exploitation. By the time that they caught on to Leone's genuine popular appeal, the director had already moved on. And, his Once Upon a Time in the West was damned as pretentious, bloated, self-indulgent: an art film disguised as a Western, the Heaven's Gate of its day. That film's canny blend of pop appeal and pure cinematic genius gradually dawned on the powers that be (or were), and helped give rise to the renaissance of American filmmaking in the early seventies. It is worth noting that The Godfather could have been made by Leone, had he chosen. Leone had been pitching a gangster film that would encompass generations, for a generation or two, himself. Rather than do the Puzo version finally thrown back at him, he waited an eternity, and finally realized this, his last finished project. That ellipse of a decade or so between conception and completed movie is paralleled in the film, itself, by Robert De Niro's ("Noodles'") opium dream of the American twentieth century, its promises, and betrayals. Naturally, Leone was betrayed, once again, himself, by America, and this truly amazing film, with its densely multi-layered, overlapping flashback structure was butchered upon its release, becoming a linear-plotted sub-Godfather knockoff in the process. Luckily, the critics had grown up enough in the meantime to finally get a glimmering of what Leone was up to, and demand restitution. Very few saw it properly in theaters, but the video version respects the director's intentions, more or less. Ironically, Leone had foreseen television screen aspect ratios as determining home viewing of the future, and abbreviated his usual wide screen format for this movie, so this most troubled last project was the first released on video to most properly resemble the true cinematic experience. For diehard fans of the Eastwood westerns impatient with this at first, watch those movies till you want and need more. This will eventually get to you. For art film fanatics who don't get the earlier Leones, travel in the reverse direction, and you will be pleasantly surprised. This is the movie that Leone spent a decade conceiving. It will deliver for decades of viewing to come.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

The script was written in Italian by Leonardo Benvenuti. In 1981, writing partners Piero De Bernardi and Enrico Medioli, and Stuart Kaminsky were brought in to appropriately translate it into English. According to Kaminsky, Benvenuti was primarily responsible for devising the visual scenes, Medioli maintained the epic nature of the film, and Kaminsky wrote all of the dialogue (Kaminsky also collaborated with Robert De Niro to ensure the characterization between Max and David "Noodles" Aaronson was both similar and distinct).


Quotes

Beefy: Where is he? Where's he hiding?
Eve: I don't know... I've been looking for him since yesterday.
Beefy: I'm gonna ask you for the last time: Where is he?
Eve: I don't know... What are you gonna do to him?
Beefy: Stay here in case that rat shows up...


Goofs

When Noodles and Max confront for the first time, while unloading the chandelier and Noodles takes the watch back, the police officer asks where he got the watch, who gave it to him. They respond that it was from Noodle's little brother, Max's uncle, who was from Chisinau Poland. In 1920, Chisinau was a city in Romania, later being capital city of the Republic of Moldova, it was never part of Poland.


Crazy Credits

Joey Faye is credited as the "adorable old man."


Alternate Versions

The infamous 139 minute American version was the version given wide release in America. Heavily cut by the Ladd Company against Leone's wishes, the film's story was rearranged in chronological order, which had the effect of making it even more difficult to follow. Most of the major cuts involved the childhood sequences, making the 1933 sections the most prominent part of the film. All of the scenes in 1968 with Deborah were excised, and the scene with "Secretary Bailey" ended with him shooting himself (albeit off-screen), rather than the famous garbage truck conclusion of the 229-minute version. The shortened version, while briefly on VHS in the 1980s, is in little demand and almost impossible to find.


Soundtracks

Yesterday
Words and Music by
John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Courtesy of Northern Songs Ltd./ATV Music

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Crime | Drama

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