6 November 2013 | A_Different_Drummer
Last, butchered, unappreciated, work from one of the greatest...
... Directors of all time. Let's start with a story. Many years ago, when your grandfather was still a boy, a failed, beaten-down actor named Clint Eastwood packed up his horse and saddle (speaking metaphorically here), left Hollywood forever (or so he thought) and headed out to Europe to pick up cash wherever he could. He ended up doing a film in Italy for an almost-unknown director named Sergio Leone and an almost-unknown sound guy named Ennio Morricone. The film was (as history would later record) an "Italian Western," that is, as the iconic western drama was all but disappearing in the US, it was being "re-imagined" by Italian writers and directors, and then filmed in Italy, using mainly Italian actors. On the set, Eastwood spoke in English and everyone else spoke in Italian. (Dubbing later fixed all that). Filming now over, Eastwood took his cash and left. Weeks later, in a bar in another part of Europe, he overheard mention that a certain film was the leading box office attraction on the continent. The name sounded familiar but, frankly, during production, a final name for the film he'd just done had not even been selected. He investigated. Yes, this was the film he had just completed, now titled A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The rest is history. Sort of. Two sequels were done with Eastwood playing the same character. Monster hits.
By this point the critics began to acknowledge not only Clint, but also the man behind the camera, Leone, who was one of the most promising directors of the era. HE DID THINGS WITH THE CAMERA THAT NO ONE HAS DONE BEFORE OR SINCE, especially his use of closeups, especially his ability to match powerful emotional orchestrals to key scenes. The fourth film in the series, done by Leone but by this time lacking Eastwood, was ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. (Eastwood meanwhile had returned to America as a major celebrity, formed his own production company, Malpaso, and over time became a director as well as the #1 box office star. Over the course of his career, Eastwood subtly voiced his distaste for Leone's work by scrupulously avoiding all Leone's trademark camera angles, even in his westerns!)
Back to Leone. While he lent his name to a handful of oddball productions, the last passionate work he left behind as his legacy was this film. OMG. What a film. Showcasing not only Leone's talent behind the camera, but also his musical magic as well as his ability to tell a complex tale like no one before him. It was by and large produced in obscure locations in NA, and the performances of the players, especially James Woods, and also de Niro, could possibly rank even today as the best they have ever given. (Also a performance from a young and charismatic Jennifer Connolly that by itself is worth the price of the ticket)
The film is magical. But here is the catch. Very few people have ever seen it. Even people who "think" they have seen it, really have not. The studio behind the film went berserk when they saw the length and, fearful of losing dollars when they could be changing reels and selling more tickets, they brought in a butcher to shorten it. Now maybe the new editor was not a butcher by trade, but he was sure one by disposition. The late Roger Ebert said that, in his career, this was the most abusive re-edit he had ever seen. The actual film, the one that Leone left, was not seen until years later when the director's version surfaced. It is astounding. It is magical. It is one of the best films ever made. It is a must see.