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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29 October 1999 | jeanpaul-3
Mesmerizing and haunting tale of love, greed, regret, betrayal and revenge
This is, for me, one of the finest examples of cinematic art. It isn't a simple, cut-n-dried 90 minute little package that gets wrapped up with a pretty bow at the end. You get pulled in by the enigmatic opening that unwinds the threads of the story to be found later. For many people having half an hour of purely visual story telling, of stories that are only mysteries at that point, before anything becomes truly linear is difficult to follow and discourages to many people. Our own memories are only snippets that only become linear as we concentrate on scenes from our lives. Once Upon a Time in America is like that as we follow Noodles through the `significant' part of his life - the times that formed him. When the story actually starts, we meet the girl that he always loved but could never have.

David `Noodles' Aaronson (DeNiro) was a kid on the very mean streets of Brooklyn when organized crime was born in America and he grew into and out of it. That's the simplest synopsis of the plot. The reality is that this isn't a movie about gangsters. Being a gangster is the easiest way for Noodles to survive and get ahead, but it also alienates and ruins his one love. Whenever he is close to giving himself to Deborah he always gets pulled back into the gang, in some form or another.

DeNiro's portrayal is of a gangster, through and through, who also has a conscience that, while not preventing him from being a ruthless killer, rules his life with regret, remorse and guilt. Leone takes a bit of poet/historic license by showing the Brooklyn Bridge being built in the background (the bridge had been built 40 years before), but it symbolizes Noodles' own growth. When the bridge is just pilings and incomplete towers, Noodles is just forming his future. By the time the bridge is complete, Noodles is nothing but a gangster and the bridge is majestic. When he returns 35 years later our view of the bridge is from under a freeway -- the world has moved along, but the bridge and Noodles are just as they were.

The length: If you're looking for a brief distraction that you'll barely remember 30 minutes later, this isn't the movie for you. However, if you are prepared and able to be undistributed for the nearly 4 hours that this film uses to compress a lifetime -- you will be rewarded with many facets of thought and examination.

Critic Reviews



Did You Know?

Trivia

Joe Pesci (Frankie) & Burt Young (Joe) also worked together on Betsy's Wedding (1990) as Oscar Henner & Georgie respectively.


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.
One of Beefy's Thugs: Okay.


Goofs

Noodles watches a 1967 telecast concerning the investigation revolving around Chairman Bailey (on a decidedly European-looking television set). Twice during the telecast, we see a cameraman with a portable video camera and an assistant with a portable videotape recorder. The very first Electronic News Gathering (ENG) equipment wasn't available in the US until at least 1971.


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

God Bless America
Music by
Irving Berlin
Irving Berlin Music Corporation
Performed by Kate Smith
Courtesy of RCA Record

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Crime | Drama

Box Office

Budget:

$30,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$2,412,014 3 June 1984

Gross USA:

$5,321,508

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$5,472,914

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