Once Upon a Time in the West: Shooting A Masterpiece book review

It's hard to believe that it wasn't until the late 1970s/early 1980s that critics started to reappraise Sergio Leone's 'spaghetti' Westerns as something worthy of serious consideration (in the UK and US, that is – as usual French critics had got it right from the very start). The consensus today, of course, is very different – but this lengthy period of critical catch-up means there are still some large gaps when it comes to detailed critical and historical analyses of Leone's movies.

As the author of 1981's Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone, 2000's Sergio Leone: Something to Do With Death and 2005's Sergio Leone: Once Upon a Time in Italy, academic Sir Christopher Frayling is perfectly placed to chart the production of Leone's magnum opus, Once Upon a Time in the West. And for a film that turned 50 last year, its hard to imagine a better birthday gift than this superb book.

Following a typically verbose and meandering foreword from Quentin Tarantino, Frayling's 32-page introduction outlines the film's production and the autobiographical elements Leone slipped into it.

After that, we get to the meat of the book: a collection of interviews Frayling has conducted over the years with people involved in the making of the film. The sheer amount of people featured, running from Leone himself to English-language version scripter Mickey Knox, via Bernardo Bertolucci, Henry Fonda, Ennio Morricone and Carlo Simi, is simply staggering. It all adds up to a remarkably thorough exploration of both the production and the man who masterminded it.

As if that wasn't enough, Frayling also includes a copy of the original story treatment; a day-by-day log of principal photography; descriptions of the main cut sequences (with accompanying photos); tributes from other filmmakers; and a detailed account of the famous final scene.

This is the definitive account of the making and legacy of Leone's epic. Highly recommended.

Once Upon a Time in the West: Shooting A Masterpiece, Sir Christopher Frayling, Reel Art Press, £50

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