Once Upon a Time in America - Blu-ray Review
By Jeff Swindoll Jan 10, 2011, 16:57 GMT
Ten years in planning, Sergio Leone\'s epic "Once upon a Time in America" portrays 50 years of riveting underworld history and offers rich roles to a remarkable cast. Robert De Niro and James Woods play lifelong Lower East Side pals whose wary partnership unravels in death and mystery. Strong support comes from Tuesday Weld, Joe Pesci, Jennifer Connelly, Elizabeth McGovern and the young actors playing the central characters as ghetto ...more
Sergio Leone’s claim to fame may be his spaghetti westerns, but towards the end of his career he helmed this gangster masterwork.
Sadly, it was butchered on its US release and in recent years has been revealed to be the maestro’s final masterpiece.
We follow a group of kids from a Jewish neighborhood (not exactly the stereotypical Italian gangsters), “Noodles” (Scott Tiler), Max (Rusty Jacobs), Patsy (Brian Bloom), “Cockeye” (Adrian Currie), and Dominic (Noah Mozelli), in the 1920s. Noodles loves Deborah (Jennifer Connelly, in her debut) from afar, but their ambitions and social standing make their romance improbable.
The group begins to get more into crime and a rival gang leader causes the death of Dominic and Noodles extracts a bloody revenge that ends up with him in prison. In the 1930s, Noodles (Robert DeNiro) is released and met by Max (James Woods).
Max, Patsy (James Hayden), “Cockeye” (William Forsythe), continued their ascent into crime and brings Noodles back into the fold. Prohibition, prostitution, and other crime have made them rich men.
Noodles tries to reconnect with Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern), but again their differences push them apart. Prohibition is repealed and it appears their good times and cash flow is over. Max’s sadomasochistic mistress Carol (Tuesday Weld) conspires with Noodles to get the gang arrested so that Max won’t try and rob the Federal Reserve.
That plan backfires and Noodles goes on the run until the 1960s when an elderly Noodles returns to find that there’s a mystery that has been waiting for him.
For about fifteen years, Sergio Leone had been wanting to make a film based on Harry Grey’s novel The Hoods (Grey was supposedly involved in gangland so it’s almost a tell all book).
In fact, Leone had “shot” the film mentally but had to wrangle the novel’s rights and go over other hurdles. So complete in his mind was the film that his constant collaborator Ennio Morricone had already scored some of this film of the mind long before cameras ever rolled.
Leone had always been fascinated with America, even before he had visited the US, so delving into American genres such as westerns or gangster films seemed like a perfect fit. His westerns were certainly hits. It was shaping up that his gangster film would also show great acclaim. When premiering at Cannes the film supposedly got a fifteen minute standing ovation.
However, when the film was show in the land that so interested him, America, the distribution made sure that the film would sleep with the fishes. They re-edited the film to occur in chronological order, destroying Leone’s flashback structure, and rendered the film a mess.
It broke Leone’s heart (perhaps even literally as he died of a heart attack five years later). He had planned other films but Once Upon a Time in America would be his last. It wasn’t until decades later that his original cut was shown and rediscovered as the masterpiece that it was.
Woods is interviewed and tells the tale of one critic savaging the US cut and years later seeing Leone’s original cut and telling a completely different tale declaring that cut a masterpiece.
So incompetent were the editing distributors that they neglected to fill out the proper paperwork to include Morricone’s masterful score for an Oscar nomination. It is one of Morricone’s best and certainly deserved recognition.
Once Upon a Time in America is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (1.85:1). Special features are presented in standard definition. They include a highly informative commentary by historian Richard Schickel (from the DVD release), a 19 minute excerpt from “Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone” that covers this film, and the film’s 90 second trailer.
The commentary fills in the blanks nicely but the documentary is disappointing since it’s only a bit of the whole thing and left me salivating to see the whole thing (the DVD also featured the same tease).
Once Upon a Time in America has finally gotten its due and judged to be the final masterpiece from a director who is tops in my book. It’s a tribute to masterful filmmaking and looks fantastic in high definition.
Visit the DVD database for more information.
FROM THE WEB
Further Reading on M&CJames Woods Biography -
James Woods Links - M&C is not responsible for the content in external sitesJennifer Connelly Biography -
Jennifer Connelly Links - M&C is not responsible for the content in external sitesRobert De Niro Biography -
Robert De Niro Links - M&C is not responsible for the content in external sites
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