Italian director of the best of the "spaghetti westerns," known for his Man With No Name Trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964) -- I would have loved to see this when it first came out since almost every scene from this movie (and the two sequels) have been imitated (and parodied) in countless movies since. Clint Eastwood is a likeable badass (every time he downs about four or five guys in a few seconds it makes me smile), Ennio Morricone's music is insane, and Leone's direction is both stylish and gritty. One of the greatest westerns, spaghetti or otherwise. (See below for the sequel, For a Few Dollars More.)
For a Few Dollars More (1965) -- An improvement over the the previous movie. All the same action and violence is present, but this time the story is more clear and the characters more interesting. The teaming of Eastwood with Lee Van Cleef's great character works really well. And it even has Klaus Kinski! (See above for the predecessor, A Fistful of Dollars. See below for the sequel, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) -- A great movie, but in many ways the least good of the three (although most say it's the best). Where the first two have clear, economical stories, the narrative of this one is all over the place (sometimes in a good way, sometimes not) and the backdrop of the Civil War is more distracting than epic. This one also seems more interested in morality, goodness, or at least a "code of honor" in a way that is present in most westerns but kind of annoying here. I would have preferred that the title be The Bad, the Badder, and the Worst. In spite of these problems, however, the movie is always entertaining, Eli Wallach pretty much steals the show (also a flaw, by the way) with his comic character, and of course the duels are great. And don't forget Ennio Morricone's ridiculously great score: "Ayee-yahee-yah: wah, wah, wah." (See above for the predecessor, For a Few Dollars More.)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) -- Leone takes the epic nature of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and gives it a more simple story of economic gain and revenge. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in this movie historically: both about the west and western expansion and about the history of western movies. The best thing about the movie is the way it sets everything up, beginning with the slow shots back and forth between the killers (messing with flies, etc.) with the background sound of the windmill. Many other just as cool set pieces follow. Doesn't have the same kind of fun as some of the Clint Eastwood movies, but has just as much opera.
Once Upon a Time In America (1984) -- Proof that epic length, amber tones, multi-generation stories, time pieces, and gangsters don't make a great movie. At 1 hour 30 minutes of the better parts, this would have been merely average (the some-say "butchered" 2 hour 15 minute version was the theatrical release), but at 3 hours and 45 minutes (the intended version) it's downright misery. It's not the length that makes it miserable (because I can tolerate any length of goodness); it's the lack of any real substance and the horrible characters. First we have to watch very, very typical scenes of these assholes as children. Nothing they do then is interesting. They're just skipping around, eating pastries, or gang-banging the underage prostitute. They grow up to dick around some more in some vague, unaffecting gangster-style way. The worst offense is Robert DeNiro's character. He romances a girl for decades, finally goes on a romantic date with her, and then (wow) rapes her in the back seat--and then we're supposed to feel sorry for him or something. Some reviewers say this makes him a complex character. I say it makes him someone not worth wasting my goddamn four hours on. He's not only not likeable; he's not interesting. He's just a dullard idiot. I could say more, but suffice it to say that the passage of time and the absence of a western setting did not bode well for Sergio Leone.
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