Once Upon a Time in the West - Special/The Extras

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The Different Versions

OnceUponATimeInTheWest-Extras 01.jpg

According to most sources, the original version released in Italian theatres had a running-time of 166 minutes. In many other European countries the 'complete version' only reached cinemas in the course of the seventies. I first saw the movie in my hometown Eindhoven in 1969, in a truncated version. I have not been able to find out the exact running time. In most countries the 'uncut international release' ran 155 minutes, but I found slightly different running-times for some other countries, so maybe various copies were in circulation. Also in circulation was a copy that was about ten minutes shorter; it lacked a couple of scenes, among them the tavern scene in which Jill first meets Cheyenne and Harmonica. It was shown in Belgium in the eighties, and I remember people complaining about missing scenes. For the US a running time of 145 minutes is mentioned, so maybe this copy came from the other side of the ocean.

The Italian version runs eleven minutes longer than the international version, but there are no extra scenes. It simply is an alternative cut of the movie, with some scenes (the opening scene for instance) lasting a bit longer, and some alternative shots used in other scenes (notably the arrival of the train bringing Jill to Flagstone).

Note: Smaller differences in reported running times (of copies or discs) might be caused - in the case of a disc - by technical characteristics (the image turning black before the end of the indicated running time, etc.) but also by the insertion (or not) of separate scenes, for instance the (controversial) scene with Harmonica strapping his wounded arm, that was added to the rough copy of the completed film because some of the earliest viewers thought Harmonica was a ghost.

  • 166 minutes (159 minutes in PAL, that is 2h49m)
  • 155 minutes (149 minutes in PAL, 2h39m)
  • 145 minutes (139 minutes in PAL, 2h19m)


Sergio Leone had always wanted to work with Henry Fonda but the Fonda he had in mind was above all the Henry Fonda from Warlock, released a decade earlier. He had not realized that Fonda was 63 years old and was shocked when he met him for the first time. To make things worse, Fonda had grown a moustache and bought dark contact lenses when he realized that Leone wanted him for the part of the villain. Leone went half mad. Although he had thought of Charles Bronson for his first western - and then again for his third (as Sentenza/Angel eyes) - Leone felt obliged to offer the Harmonica role first to Clint Eastwood. After Eastwood had turned it down, several other actors were considered, among them James Coburn (who didn't like the character) and Terence Stamp, but finally Leone went back to Bronson.

According to most people involved, the Cheyenne character had not been in Bertolucci's original writings, and was only introduced by Sergio Donati, who had written the part with Eli Wallach in mind. Leone thought audiences would identify Wallach too much with his Tuco role from The Good the Bad and the Ugly, but couldn't think of another actor. Jason Robards was proposed to him, and eventually the two men would develop an excellent working relationship, but their first encounter was unpleasant: Robards showed up drunk for his first interview and was almost sent home.

OnceUponATimeInTheWest-Extras 02.jpg
Claudia Cardinale and Sergio Leone.

Unlike Cheyenne, Railway Tycoon Morton had been in Bertolucci's script, but it was Donati who turned the character into a cripple. One year before he had scripted a small western for J.L. Marchent called 100.000 dollari per Lassiter, which had also featured a cripple villain (called Martin!) and Donati had noticed how well the idea had worked. Gabriele Ferzetti (who thinks it's one of the most important roles in his long career) was not the first choice for the part. Leone first thought of Enrico Maria Salerno, the actor who had dubbed Eastwood in Italian for the Dollar movies, but he would become one of the 'disappearing actors' of the movie: their names were mentioned in the first articles in newspapers and magazines dedicated to movies (when it was still a work in progress), but they wouldn't appear in the finished movie; other 'disappearing names' were Robert Hossein, Robert Ryan (he would play the sheriff, but accepted the much bigger role in The Wild Bunch, and was replaced by Keenan Wynn) and Eduardo di Filippo (who was replaced by Paolo Stoppa as Sam, the stagecoach driver).

However, the most important step that was taken, was replacing Sophia Loren with Claudia Cardinale. Leone had expressed his wish to make a movie with Sophia Loren before, and her husband, Carlo Ponti, was willing to invest a considerable sum into the project, but then Leone changed his mind: instead of La Loren, he wanted Claudia. Some say because Claudia was younger, but the age difference was not more than four years, and in 1968 the 34-year old Loren was still a radiant beauty. But Leone knew she also was a diva as well as a temperamental and headstrong woman, and therefore might have feared that she would try to dominate (and influence) the situation on the set.


OnceUponATimeInTheWest-Extras Testi.jpg
Testi falls through the roof.

§ 1 One of the things the movie is famous for, is the long opening scene, with the three men waiting for the train. Morricone decided not to write music for it after he had been to a John Cage concert with only 'natural' sound. The scene with the drop of water falling on Woody Strode's head, was invented on the spot, but the scene with the fly was in the script from the beginning.

§ 2 In a couple of scenes, Al Mulock ('Knuckles') had to be replaced by a double, because ... he had committed suicide, one day before the shooting of the opening sequence would be finished. Mickey Knox (who wrote the English dialogue) and production manager Claudio Mancini (Harmonica's brother!) saw him jumping out of the window and immediately went outside. They immediately put the moribund Mulock in a car to bring him to a hospital, but were held back for a moment by Leone, who told the two men to bring back the costume Mulock was wearing. Knox could never forgive Leone for this and refused to work with him again after this movie.

§ 3 The movie almost cost somebody else his life: Fabio Testi. He was not yet very well known as an actor and hired in the first place as a stuntman, but Leone thought he had an interesting face and invented a scene for him in which he would appear as 'Frank's dandesque henchman'. The scene was never shot because Testi had a bad fall when performing a stunt (was he the man falling through the roof and landing on his back in the shootout with Frank in Flagstone?). Testi can now only briefly be spotted during the auction scene.


The movie was shot between April and July 1968. The opening sequence was filmed near the town of La Calahorra on a railway spur line used to connect the Marquesado mines in the Sierra Nevada with the main Granada – Almeria railway line at La Calahorra station south of Guadix. The rails were removed around 2002 the only clues to the railway now are the embankments that serve as farming tracks. Flagstone railway station was constructed opposite La Calahorra station. Carlo Simi's Flagstone was located next door. Nowadays the shells of several of the buildings exist, the most substantial was the hotel which is now used for keeping goats and sheep. The railway location where Morton is found dying was located on the Guadix – Hernan Valle line, this line was closed in 1985. Sweetwater was located near Tabernas; the house still exists and the location is now called 'Western Leone'. For the first time Leone was able to film in the US, even in Monument Valley, the location immortalized by John Ford. The hanging arch was located in the Utah desert 13 miles from the Arizona-Utah border near Goosenecks Canyon, the base of the arch still exists.

The above link will take you by the hand and lead you through the Wonderful Land of Locations used for the movie. According to Ray Watts, who drew my attention to this video document, it is incorrect at 7':33 (Fonda riding to Morton's train) even though a couple of seconds later they show the correct location. Ray is probably one of the few people in the world able to notice a similar glitch. Anyway, the video-document is a true work of art made by Herve Attia, one of the leading experts in the location hunting business (be sure to visit his facebook page).


Make sure you also read our new review of this film: Once upon a Time in the West - Review

--Texts by Scherpschutter, except 'Locations' by Scherpschutter & Ray Watts; Page Design by Dicfish, Video Document by Herve Attia

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