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Once Upon a Time in the West
Year:
1968
Country:
USA, Italy, Spain
Genre:
Western
IMDB rating:
8.6
Director:
Sergio Leone
Henry Fonda as Frank
Claudia Cardinale as Jill McBain
Jason Robards as Cheyenne
Charles Bronson as Harmonica
Gabriele Ferzetti as Morton (railroad baron)
Woody Strode as Stony - Member of Frank's Gang
Jack Elam as Snaky - Member of Frank's Gang
Keenan Wynn as Sheriff (auctioneer)
Frank Wolff as Brett McBain
Storyline: Story of a young woman, Mrs. McBain, who moves from New Orleans to frontier Utah, on the very edge of the American West. She arrives to find her new husband and family slaughtered, but by whom? The prime suspect, coffee-lover Cheyenne, befriends her and offers to go after the real killer, assassin gang leader Frank, in her honor. He is accompanied by Harmonica, a man already on a quest to get even.
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Reviews
"they call them millions"
For me, no other movie has captured the Wild West like Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West. When a mysterious stranger with a harmonica protects a beautiful but naive widow from a ruthless train baron and his hired gun, they all soon discover that much more than prized land is at stake.This is more than a movie, it's an experience in my mind, a piece of history, as the west is portrayed as a haunting brutal land that discriminates against absolutely no-one. From the eerie silent opening to the unimaginable and unforgettable ending, Leone takes you down a path that hasn't been explored in a western before or since. 10 outta 10 guaranteed!!!
2013-08-02
A cinematic masterpiece.
This is definitively the best western I've ever seen. It might even be the best film I've ever seen. The reasons why I think so are many. Firstly the casting is great. Claudia Cardinale is perfect as Jill and Henry Fonda is one of the best bad guys I've ever witnessed. The wide camera shots are just amazing, it's like you can see the entire wild west when you look at the horizon, wich is a bit ironic since most of the film was shot in Spain. The closeups at the eyes, Leone's trademark, are also to be found here, better and closer than ever. Ennio Morricone has also contributed to the experience by making what I think is the greatest score ever. Every character has it's own song. Some are beautiful (Jill's song) others are truly chilling (like Frank's song), every song is terrific though.

Some people might feel that this film is too slow to be great, but I can't really understand why. The slow tempo is what makes this film what it is, it gives the whole film an arty, wonderful touch to it.

This is what I wish to see everytime I watch a movie, Once Upon a Time in the West is not just film. It's art, it's magic, an enjoyment for every sense. This is without doubt as good as movies get.
2004-02-07
Trans-genre, highly influenced and influential, vengeance narrative
Normally I'm suspicious of Westerns, mostly because I really don't like the Cowboys and Indians sub-genre and I'm not very keen on the expansionist themes inherent in most Westerns, stated or otherwise. Like any genre, however, there are exceptions, and of course Once Upon a Time in the West is one of them. Sergio Leone creates a methodical, tension-rising piece of vengeance narrative set in the hard-grit reality of the West, featuring gorgeous vistas, compellingly brown-faced gunslingers, and a surprisingly unique rocking score by Ennio Morricone.

Four people arrive in a small town in one day. The first is a mysterious stranger later dubbed "Harmonica" because of his token entrance cue and prominent instrument playing, a man searching for a one "Frank." The other is Frank himself, psychotic yet conniving muscle-man of a railroad emperor, out to gain his own business prospects and kill a few men, women, and children in the process. The third is handsome Cheyenne, rascal bandit of the old-school type who has his honor but also his history. And the fourth, and most important, is Jill McBain, ex-prostitute from New Orleans come to a wedding destroyed by cause of death of the groom, who has to learn how to protect her own interests in an outlaw world of grit and steel as the three men connive over the various things they want from her.

Leone takes his time, building relationships like Kurosawa and allowing the camera to just soak in the imagery like his contemporary and script-writer, Dario Argento. Leone is famous for his "spaghetti westerns", Italian takes on what is quintessentially an American-themed genre, but he shows an awareness, respect, and even joy for the type of imagery and action that the genre creates. Furthermore, he sees the isolation as key--this vengeance narrative could not exist in the vigilante-style of a city, nor in a much more temperate climate, much less could the characters really grasp and engage with each other the same way had they closer connections. In a way, heck, one could consider this film something of a horror film, as the unknown (the motivations of Harmonica) drives anxiety and tension to an ultimate moment of revelation that stabs right for the gut. So fine, compare Leone to Hitchcock, too.

--PolarisDiB
2008-01-10
The entire history of the Western - in two-and-a-half hours.
I'm sure this has been said before, perhaps I even read it somewhere or listened to it - but it's worth repeating. This film is not "a' Western - it is all Westerns.

Almost at the same time this was released, Peckinpah released the Wild Bunch. That film took a whole host of Cowboy movie conventions and turned them inside out, first by its infamous portrayal of violence, but more importantly by treating the "bad-guys" with respect while presenting all the supposed "good-guys" as cruds - with the exception of the Mexican revolutionaries; but then, even this was a violation of an unacknowledged convention - ever since the murder of Villa by the American Army, Hollywood has covered over that criminal trespass by portraying Mexican rebels as little better than bandits - which of course was Washington's official line on the Villa case.

At any rate, the point is that Peckinpah's film blew traditional cowboy clichés right out of Hollywood. It hasn't been really possible to make a traditional Western since then.

So it's dam' fortunate for all of us that Leone made OUATITW when he did, because one of the goals he appears to have set for himself is to use practically every Cowboy movie he could remember without actually slipping into overt cliché. And, quite amazingly, he pulls it off.

The chief means of accomplishing this, as a number of reviewers have noted, is structuring the film as an Italian opera, using the character's actions and responses (both physical and verbal) to take the place of opera's lyrics, performed before the magnificent music by Ennio Morricone, enhanced by editing that's so smooth, it's often not noticeable. For instance, on repeated viewings it becomes clear that certain scenes - the massacre of the family, the final shoot-out - which are so tense on first viewing that they seem to go on forever, actually happen rather quickly; other scenes that at first seem to snip along - such as the scene when Cheyanne and Harmonica first meet - are actually fairly leisurely paced.

The ability to manipulate his audience's sense of time is one of Leone's greatest talents. In all four of his major Westerns - this film and the Eastwood films - the final shoot-out (always staged as a set-piece) seems to bring time to a halt; when the smoke clears, we're left wondering what day of the week it is, because even if we have a watch,we don't trust it any more, since it is clearly not in synch with the film. Leone accomplishes this with an editing approach that is musically timed (quite literally, he is editing it to Morricone's score), utilizing long shots as melodic riffs and extreme close-ups for heavy beats.

OUATITW is actually the first movie Leone made where he is fully aware of this. Thus he is taking real risks in his choices of which Western conventions to highlight, and which to let drift into the background. Just as example: All three of the Eastwood films have a horse-chase sequence. There is none in OUATITW. Leone wants the horse to begin drifting into the backdrop of history - this is a film about the coming of the 'iron horse' - the railroad. The second to last image of the film is a man riding off on horseback; the final image is the train facing us as the laborers lay down track leading it directly towards us, as the music we know to be the woman's theme swells, reminding us that she is there with the laborers, and that somehow, while the old West (the West on horseback) has breathed its last, the new West, still a land of promise and new beginnings, remains.

A magnificent farewell to an era - not just an era of American history, but an era in film history as well.
2006-06-28
An epic western – with all the pros and cons that come with that
As the railroad spreads western, bringing with it progress and development, the west is a changing place. The rule of gunmen is ending with the new men of power being land owners and developers. A young woman arrives in one such small town to find her new husband and family murdered by gunman Frank under the lead of a railroad developer. Meanwhile a mysterious man arrives in the town looking for Frank for some reasons. Both he and convict Manuel Gutierrez join forces to try and hold onto what remains of `their' west and deal with Frank.

From the opening ten minutes you should be able to judge whether or not this film will frustrate you or not. The opening scene is one of the best of cinema but, on paper, very little actually happens. This is what you need to carry into the film – as it is so very long there is plenty of silence and pauses. If you feel that these are unnecessary then the running time of this film will feel even longer to you. On the other hand if you, as I do, feel that the silences in this film are just as important and telling as the dialogue or action, then this film should move quite quickly.

The plot is a mix of revenge western while also looking at the death of the West associated with the American movies – the strong gunman, the frontier town etc, they exist here but are being pushed out with every frame of the film. What Leone manages to do which confounds me is he fills the film with so much silence but yet little of it brings boredom, instead the film has it's steady pace and never lets it dip into flagging but just keeps enough happening to keep things moving. I must admit that some of the deeper meaning was lost on me but still felt that the central threads of the three or four main characters were more than enough to hold my interest on their own. Of course, bits did work better than other bits but that is to be expected – I know I got more from the cat and mouse between Harmonica and Frank than I did from the relationship between Gutierrez and Jill. However these minor problems are lost in the sheer scale of the film itself.

The acting is great and some of it could be considered the actors at their best. Certainly I can't think of another role where Charles Bronson was required to do so well. Here he has to have a stone face but still give over character – he manages it and pulls off an iconic type of cool that I'd usually associate with big stars. Fonda plays very naturally as a bad guy. When I first saw this film I was quite young and hadn't seen a lot of his more famous roles, now that I have it is very strange to see him as a bad guy, but the counter casting of him does work anyway. Cardinale is a strong role but I must confess that her character was lost to me a little – this was one of the threads I was weakest on and I'll watch the film again with more focus. Support cast are all pretty good and have a few famous western faces in there.

One of the strongest parts of the film is the score. From the first time you hear that scarring harmonica you know to associate it with bitterness, likewise other parts of the score are very strong and used well. Part of it did remind me of Steptoe & Son but it still worked in it's context! The plot all goes sort of where you expect it to but we are left with the wider picture of the West of Frank coming to an end and the West of Morton moving unstoppably to replace it – the film never suggests that one is better than the other, in fact it highlights that there may be no difference at all. Meanwhile the frontier men are pushed on into a shrinking horizon.

Overall this is an epic, which means it is sweeping in scope, resulting in the occasional stretch showing. The running time is sparsely filled with dialogue which may frustrate some, however Leone has made the silence as loud as the dialogue and the actors provide him with performances that deliver so much without words at times that the time is easily eaten up. Not the most accessible western he made (simply because others are more entertaining) but still an epic and well worth three hours of anyone's time.
2003-09-21
irresistibly stylish
From the opening sequence of three non-verbal gunmen waiting for someone at a train station, grimly determined through the flies, dust, and leaky roof, to the inevitable quick-draw climax shot in extreme close-up with little or no dialogue, Once Upon a Time in the West astounds and entertains with its inventiveness, referencing of other westerns, and its judicious use of actors' reactions to tell the story.

The influence of this film on modern movies is unmistakable. In the sudden demise of pseudo-protagonists in A History of Violence, or the complete vision-and-sound opening 20 minutes of There Will Be Blood, we see the ripples of Leone's first American masterpiece. At the time of writing revisionist westerns like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford are having their day in the sun. But put a Colt 45 to my head and make me choose between these two great movies, and I'll take Bronson's revenge-driven cool over Pitt's sado-masochistic angst every time.

Leone is a master of timing and pace. There isn't a missed beat here, but the sequence that most impresses is Henry Fonda's saloon exit into a street populated with assassins. In one sequence we have rising tension, new questions for the audience about Harmonica's motivations, and evidence that Frank is a formidable antagonist when he cleanly and economically picks off three gunmen.

Often acclaimed for its visual storytelling, the dialogue in Once is spectacularly high-calibre. From the first punched beat about the number of horses, through to Fonda's throwing down the gauntlet to a waiting Bronson, the dialogue continually stays true to the characters while moving the story forward and telling us something new. And sometimes it's funny.

It could reasonably be argued that this is the best western ever made, and will no doubt be number one on many people's all-time best film list. In short, a timeless classic.
2008-06-15
Once Upon a Time in The West: Love Poem to the American Western
Once Upon a Time in The West is my all time favorite film as well as my favorite movie score. Bernardo Bertolucci, the co-writer of Once Upon a Time in The West, later directs The Last Emperor, which is my second all time favorite film as well as my second favorite movie score. Beware this is not your usual western. It is epic poetry. It is opera. It is a perfectly crafted art film that expresses Sergio Leone's true love for the great American Westerns. Leone doesn't necessarily romanticize the American West, he romanticizes American Western films. He makes references to High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma, The Comancheros, Shane, The Searchers, My Darling Clementine and many other great American Westerns very much the way Quentin Tarrantino has made films that pay homage to the gangster film genre. BTW Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds pays tribute to this film with an opening sequence entitled Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France.

Although most of the film was shot in Spain & Italy like most spaghetti westerns, Leone traveled to John Ford's Monument Valley to capture the authentic Western United States panorama. Like Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar, it has a poetic quality that uses strong symbolism; but instead of symbolic words and lyrical phrases in the dialog, Leone relies on the alliteration of sights and sounds to formulate poetic stanzas out of every scene. The length of the film is a result of Leone's choice to direct in a sometimes painstakingly slow pace that builds up incredible tension before key action scenes. He allows us time to imbibe the majestic landscapes, and appreciate the details of the authentic sets and costume design documenting this pivotal period in American history. Instead of cluttering the beauty of his carefully photographed frames with dialog, close shots of these actor's iconic faces express all that needs to be said.

Ennio Morricone, also my favorite movie composer, scored five distinct musical themes that embody each of the main characters: widowed new bride Jill (Claudia Cardinale), mysterious harmonica-playing gunman (Charles Bronson), bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards), hired gun Frank (Henry Fonda) and railroad tycoon Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti). Instead of a musical prelude, the movie opens with a symphony of natural sounds using a screeching windmill, a buzzing fly, dropping water and a ticking telegraph. Meticulous sound editors maintain continuity throughout this mostly visual narrative, composing a perfect harmony between each of the main character's musical motifs along side the multitude of natural sounds mostly inspired by the two major symbols, the railroad and the water. An impressive lengthy tracking shot introduces the "anti-heroine" Jill as well as the beginnings of a bustling railroad town. Don't miss the first few minutes of this movie. Without music nor dialog, Leone creates one of the most suspenseful thrilling first few minutes of a movie whilst still rolling the opening credits. For all 168 minutes I was captivated by each and every frame! Once Upon a Time in the West is the finest example of Sergio Leone's creativity and perfectionism as a director, but most of all it is his greatest testament of love for the American Western.
2010-12-31
Far Away The Best Movie Ever
This is one true masterpiece, I can't remember any other movie (and I have seen a lot of movies) that is so powerful like this one. This movie has everything great ambient, scenes larger then life, hypnotic Morricone music and what is most important great acting. In this move Sergio Leone proved that he is one of the most unique directors in movie history. If you saw this movie you know that almost every scene is great piece of art in almost every scene you are amazed by visual style of Leone. In all other great movies (like: Godfather, Casablanca, Citizen Cane, Notorious,Big Sleep, The Third Man, etc.), you won't find these many great scenes like in this one. This is an ultimate Western and i want to say: Thank you Sergio Leone for your great vision and this masterpiece, after this one there is no need for any other western, in compare to this one John Fords westerns are movies for kids and women.
2004-11-09
The King of Westerns !
Many people have written about this movie over the years, therefore this is just another positive comment about probably the closest to perfect movie you will ever see.

My collection of Western movies is endless, from Alan Ladd to the master of the cowboy Clint Eastwood. But this movie leads the pack just ahead of the Good the Bad and the Ugly.

The story is simple and complicated at the same time.. if that makes sense. It is constructed in such a way that you become deeply entrenched into each characters persona, and the story as it unfolds slowly.

Sergio Leone is the master of turning a standard scene into a small story in its self. He describes a character not with words but with actions. The scene with Snaky (Jack Elam)and the fly is classical Leone as are many other scenes with no dialog...brilliant! Dialogue is not plentiful but it is perfect. Its Quality rather than Quantity in this movie!

The settings around the movie capitulate the whole story and is probably the closest you would get to reality in the West.

If you want to watch a classic film that you will never forget, then Once Upon a Time in the West is it.

You really cannot call yourself a fan of the Western if you do not love and appreciate this movie!
2007-03-07
Epic story about a mysterious stranger with a harmonica and a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.
I watched this for a month ago, and as soon as the opening scene begun I was hooked. The mood, the silence and the wind blowing in the sunlight. I consider this as one of the greatest openings for any movie. It goes on for like ten minutes and when the train appear, you wish the scene could have been lasted a little bit longer.

Charles Bronson plays the main character, his performance is similar to Clint Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy. But he pulls it off pretty good, and through out the movie you get to know more about his past and why he's playing on the harmonica. You get to know a dark secret at the end, which makes the character fully developed. This right here makes the movie stronger then ''The Good The Bad and The Ugly''. Because in that movie you don't really get to know Clint Eastwood character, which makes him interesting. But you wish sometimes that you just could have get to known the character a little bit better.

But what is a western without an incredible soundtrack, well ''The Good The Bad and The Ugly'' is most known for Ennio Marricones fantastic soundtrack. But ''Once Upon A Time in The West'' is in my opinion better, it's so fantastic to listen to, that I can not even describe how amazing it is. You just got to listen.

Anyways, there is much more I love with this movie. But I don't wan't to ruin my hands writing every single detail I love. But I highly recommend this movie, even if your not a western fan it is worth watching.
2011-08-10
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