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Once Upon a Time in the West (4K UHD Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

A ruthless assassin, a rail tycoon, a widow, an outlaw, and a man out for revenge all vie for valuable property where a new railroad will soon be building a line.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

In one of Sergio Leone’s greatest westerns, Once Upon a Time in the West, a look at the corruption and violence of the waning days of the Wild West. In an empty town of Sweetwater, a disabled railroad tycoon Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) wants to get his hands on a prime piece of real estate where the railroad will pass through. He hires three killers, led by steely-eyed Frank (Henry Fonda playing against type) to kill the property owner Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his family. Frank does the deed, but what Morton did not count on was McBain having married former prostitute Jill (Claudia Cardinale), who shows up in Sweetwater to a dead husband and stepchildren. Now McBain’s widow, the property in this empty town will pass to Jill, but she is now in danger, if she continues to build the station and finish before the railroad line reaches the town. Meanwhile, the outlaws Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and mysterious Harmonica (Charles Bronson), also arrive in town and take it upon themselves to battle Frank, Morton, and protect Jill. Harmonica is motivated by a mysterious connection to Frank from the past.

Working from a story by Dario Argento and Leone himself, with a screenplay re-written by Sergio Donati, Once Upon a Time in the West is elevated to epic proportions by Leone with the widescreen cinematography Tonino Delli Colli and his masterful handling of the characters’ motivations, the multiple layers of subplots involving corruption, sexual desires, and revenge. With parts of the film captured in the famous monument valley, the movie has the gorgeous backdrop of the familiar western landscape.

Fonda puts in a brilliant turn as the villain in this film and Charles Bronson, who was not famous yet, is an excellent protagonist out for revenge. The repartee between the two could have been written by Tarantino, given its wit and the superb deliveries by both actors. Wrap it all in a bow of Ennio Morricone’s elegiac score, and we have a wonderfully revisionist, operatic “spaghetti western” from the master himself.

Purchase Once Upon a Time in the West (Limited Edition) 4K Ultra HD Combo on Amazon.com

  • Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  • Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  • Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  • Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  • Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  • Once Upon a Time in the West 4K Ultra HD Combo (Paramount Presents)
  • Once Upon a Time in the West 4K Ultra HD Combo (Paramount Presents)
  • Once Upon a Time in the West 4K Ultra HD Combo (Paramount Presents)

The Video

Once Upon a Time in the West was restored from the original camera negative by Paramount’s archive team, L’imaggine Ritrovata and The Film Foundation, personally “scrutinized and signed off on” by Martin Scorsese. The film is presented on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a 2.35:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) Dolby Vision encodement. There has obviously some heavy-handed grain reduction applied to this restoration, but it does not reach the point where faces are waxy and smooth. The extreme close-ups on faces still show lots of detail and texture. Where you see the most obvious grain reduction is the skies, where it can look a bit too smooth, but grain is still there, just very thin. Colors are warm and the shadows show a good amount of nuance. This overall has a less gritty and a bit more colorful look than the previous Blu-ray, but highlights and overall brightness remain reserved.

The Audio

Once Upon a Time in the West comes with a lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and a fully restored version of the original mono mix in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The purists out there will not be disappointed with basically clean and intelligible lossy mono mix of what was and is a film that uses some incredible sound design. The 5.1 mix, however, really brings out the sound design, from the opening scene of the men and the railroad station, dealing with various nuisances from a fly buzzing around and water dripping onto Woody Strode’s hat. The mix could hardly be considered aggressive, but it expands the soundstage well with a bit of atmospherics and slight boost in the low-end extension. The dialogue is also fuller and clearer.

The Supplements

Blu-ray Bonus Features:

  • Filmmaker Focus: A Look Back with Leonard Maltin (1080p; 00:05:32) (NEW)
  • Commentary by the hosts of The Spaghetti Western Podcast (NEW)
  • Commentary with contributions from directors John Carpenter, John Milius, and Alex Cox, film historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall, and cast and crew
  • An Opera of Violence (SD; 00:28:50)
  • The Wages of Sin (SD; 00:19:38)
  • Something to do with Death (SD; 00:18:20)
  • Railroad: Revolutionising the West (SD; 00:06:20)
  • Locations Then & Now (SD; 00:04:30)
  • Production Gallery (SD; 00:05:17)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 00:02:53)

The Final Assessment

A master work that originally opened to tepid critical response, Once Upon a Time in the West has since gone on to become regarded as a masterpiece and arguably Leone’s crowning achievement. This 4K release from Paramount Presents is a bit of a mixed bag. It is not the worst – it certainly does not look as artificial as True Lies and Aliens – but it has obvious DNR that makes it look not as organic as it should It is still an enjoyable watch, however.


Once Upon a Time in the West (Limited Edition) is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo May 14, 2024 from Paramount Home Entertainment

Purchase Once Upon a Time in the West (Limited Edition) 4K Ultra HD Combo on Amazon.com


  • Rating Certificate: PG-13 (for western violence and brief sensuality)
  • Studios & Distributors: Rafran Cinematografica | San Marco | Paramount Pictures | Euro International Films | Paramount Home Entertainment
  • Director: Sergio Leone
  • Written By: Sergio Donati | Sergio Leone | Dario Argento
  • Run Time: 166 Mins.
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Secondary Audio: English Restored DD 2.0 Mono | German DD 2.0 Mono | Spanish (Castilian) DD 2.0 Mono | French DD 2.0 Mono | Japanese DD 2.0 Mono
  • Subtitles: English | English SDH | German | Spanish (Castilian) | French | Japanese
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A ruthless assassin, a rail tycoon, a widow, an outlaw, and a man out for revenge all vie for valuable property where a new railroad will soon be building a line. Once Upon a Time in the West (4K UHD Review)