Absolute classic of the western, “Once Upon a Time in the West” showed for the first time Henry Fonda in the guise of a sadistic villain of anthology. And the actor had a starting idea of his own to create his character…
A fabulous 14-minute silent opening, a story of revenge carried by a cast in unison, culminating in a final duel that entered the pantheon of cinema, an original soundtrack by Ennio Morricone in all memories… These are not the Superlatives that are missing regarding Once Upon a Time in the West by Sergio Leone . The film may be rebroadcast multiple times with metronome regularity, but we never tire of seeing it again. That’s good, France 3 is broadcasting it tonight at 9:10 p.m.
“HIS AGENT DIDN’T EVEN SHOW HIM THE SCRIPT!”
The public at the time was all the more shocked from the opening scene when they discovered, dumbfounded, that the one who had just massacred an entire family with his acolytes was none other than Henry Fonda . He who was the living incarnation of a liberal America – the Tom Joad of the Grapes of Wrath was him – here composes one of the greatest bad guys in the history of cinema.
The irony is that Leone had sent him, in 1963, the script for A Fistful of Dollars . “His agent didn’t even show it to him!” remembered the filmmaker. “And then, five years later, I put together an old project that I had matured for a very long time as a spectator. This time I sent the script for Once Upon a Time in the West directly to Henry.
After reading it, Hank didn’t answer yes or no. He asked to see my previous films; and one early morning he started watching For a Fistful of Dollars, And For a Few Dollars More , The Good, the Bad and the Ugly . When he came out, it was well into the afternoon: “Where’s the contract?” was the first thing he said” Leone told the American critical journalist Danny Peary, quoted in his work The Movie Star Book , in 1978.
“TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME!”
The case was therefore heard. Fonda agreed to play a villain. And he had an idea of his own to compose his character, which he saw as an archetype of the villains of Ford westerns. “I had several months to prepare, and I thought about how I could interpret the role” said Fonda, quoted by historian Christopher Frayling in Once upon a time in Italy; reference work on the leonian westerrns.
“I went to an optometrist in the Valley to get black contact lenses. I thought my blue eyes didn’t suit the character. I grew a mustache, John Booth style, Lincoln’s assassin. I was really trying to look mean.
But when I arrived in Rome, Sergio cried out in horror: “Take that away from me!” He was attached to my blue eyes, to my face. Remember the first scene. The camera rotates very slowly until the killer is recognized. Sergio Leone wanted the audience to hold their breath: “ God, it’s Henry Fonda!” It was a lot of fun, I loved every second of this shoot”. Stunning effect guaranteed.