Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In America"
August 25, 2012 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Once Upon A Time In America [auto-play audio] is the last of a string of films about the past and future of a country [Sergio Leone] knew first and best from the B-movies and yellowing paperbacks America sent abroad. For this 1984 swan song, Leone broke a directing hiatus that stretched back a decade, and turned away from Westerns toward another quintessentially American genre. His fantasia of gangland themes and images barely works by the standards of a gangster film, but succeeds brilliantly by those of epic poetry. - Keith Phipps [all links may contain spoilers]

After an ill-fated test screening, Leone's 229 minute cut was edited by the studio into a chronological 139 minute version - of which Pauline Kael wrote "I don't believe I've ever seen a worse case of mutilation."

This year at the Cannes Film Festival, a digitally restored 245 minute version was screened. Martin Scorsese and Leone's children are working to obtain rights to additional footage in order to assemble a 270 minute edit. Notes of a Film Fanatic reviews the new material and argues that only the 229 minute version should be considered the "director's cut".
posted by Egg Shen (19 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I actually auditioned for the part of Young Noodles. Mother Shen had dragged me along on a shopping trip to Orchard Street where a casting person for the film, casting an exceptionally wide net, gave me a card entitling me to come in and read.

I don't know why I didn't get the part - other than my lack of resemblance to Robert DeNiro and absence of acting ability. But it's the closest I would ever get to meeting Jennifer Connelly.
posted by Egg Shen at 4:04 PM on August 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Great movie. Anyone who thought the shorter "linear edit" was a good idea should be run over with a steamroller.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:23 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The real cognoscenti know that the 230m2s cut is the real thing.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:33 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This movie . . .always a huge fav. And the gangsters--not Italian.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:56 PM on August 25, 2012


Out of respect for this movie and Leone, I avoided Rodrigueze's Once Upon a Time in Mexico until curiosity got the better of me. After seeing it I was, and still, firmly convinced that you shouldn't try to ride the coattails of genius unless you can at least come close. And I generally like his films, but I love me some Leone.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 5:35 PM on August 25, 2012


Wow, I was thinking of this marvelous film fondly earlier tonight when I saw a commercial for the latest piece of direct-to-DVD trash Robert DeNiro is appearing in and shook my head in dismay. How have the mighty fallen?
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:44 PM on August 25, 2012


Here the first chance I had to see it was in a local cable during the '90s, and they showed the mutilation. I thought it was one of the worst gangland films I had seen so far in my young cinefile life, heh. Luckily, another cable made amends a few years later and showed the full original cut, and it was wonderful. Way to learn fast and hard how much influence producers can have on movies, yup.
posted by Iosephus at 6:39 PM on August 25, 2012


(I've pretended DeNiro died during the shooting of the hideous Hide and Seek, that they filled that movie with CGI pastiches of him, and all those other movies that credit him since then are by his evil twin. Helps with the pain.)
posted by Iosephus at 6:44 PM on August 25, 2012


Iosephus: "(I've pretended DeNiro died during the shooting of the hideous Hide and Seek, that they filled that movie with CGI pastiches of him, and all those other movies that credit him since then are by his evil twin. Helps with the pain."

He did Stardust after that, which was good, and he was good in it. He was kind of fun in Machete too, I guess, if you liked that movie (I enjoyed it, more or less).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:15 PM on August 25, 2012


When I got my first Laserdisc player, around 1989 or so, I went out shopping for new titles, and for some reason, picked up this movie, sight unseen. I think I might have recalled Roger Ebert saying something good or bad about it, but the cast & story looked good, and I liked the idea of a gangster epic that could rival The Godfather.

Fortunately, it was the longer version (it says 225 minutes) so I never had to endure the "mutilation." It's been a favorite since then, although it definitely challenges ones' endurance due to its length, and the fact that it tends to REALLY slow down toward the end, which is so contrary to most other films we're used to.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:27 PM on August 25, 2012


This may be my all-time favorite scene in any movie, ever. It's perfection. It's pure cinema. I can't see this being even close to as effective in any other medium.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8oCnc83E8Q
posted by grumblebee at 7:52 PM on August 25, 2012


Original title: Once Upon a Time in My Underwear.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:09 PM on August 25, 2012


From Roger Ebert's review:
Here are some of the specific problems with the shortened version. A speakeasy scene comes before a newspaper headline announces that Prohibition has been ratified. Prohibition is then repealed, on what feels like the next day but must be six years later. Two gangsters talk about robbing a bank in front of a woman who has never been seen before in the film; they've removed the scene explaining who she is. A labor leader turns up, unexplained, and involves the gangsters in an inexplicable situation. He later sells out, but to whom? Men come to kill De Niro's girlfriend, a character we've hardly met, and we don't know if they come from the mob or the police. And here's a real howler: At the end of the shortened version, De Niro leaves a room he has never seen before by walking through a secret panel in the wall. How did he know it was there? In the long version, he was told it was there. In the short version, his startling exit shows simple contempt for the audience.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:11 PM on August 25, 2012


Google street view of the street leading up to the Brooklyn Bridge from the poster.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:16 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Love this movie (the full length version, obviously). This was the movie that made me realize that Leone was one of the great film directors, rather than just.pretty good genre director.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:30 PM on August 25, 2012


~Leone's 229 minute cut was edited by the studio into a chronological 139 minute version...
~...a digitally restored 245 minute version was screened. Martin Scorsese and Leone's children are working to obtain rights to additional footage in order to assemble a 270 minute edit


Oh, Marty...Just restore Sergio's original cut, willya? Stop with the auteur bullshit and respect the guy's vision. I'm pretty sure he had a reason for not using those extra 40+ minutes. Anyway, those cut scenes are what they made the Extras section of DVDs for.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:15 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Manhattan Bridge.
posted by borges at 7:22 AM on August 26, 2012


(I've pretended DeNiro died during the shooting of the hideous Hide and Seek, that they filled that movie with CGI pastiches of him, and all those other movies that credit him since then are by his evil twin. Helps with the pain.)

Good approach, but I'd have to move that back to the truly execrable 15 Minutes.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:46 PM on August 26, 2012


I'm pretty sure he had a reason for not using those extra 40+ minutes.

What if the reason was "Oh, the studio will never go for this, I'd better give them a cut that can play in theaters" but that he'd secretly wished all this footage could be used?

Granted, there are certainly cases in film of "too much of a good thing," but I'd say they're fewer and farther between. The Extended Cuts of the Lord of the Rings movies make a pretty good case for "we want as much as we can get, dammit!"

Cutting a movie for a theatrical audience is certainly different than for an audience watching a DVD on a modern day big-screen TV, something that Leone couldn't possibly have anticipated at the time this was made. Modern audiences are much more open to the idea of couch-potatoing for multiple hours, so long as their attention span is satisfied. (as I previously mentioned, the original 225 minute cut of OUATIA is not only long, but it slows to a crawl toward the end, which hurts its chances in any forum, but more material could improve its chances, if said material were engaging enough)

But yeah, it's true that a lot of times, the stuff that was "left on the cutting room floor" does indeed belong there, and it takes a real expert to know which stuff will add to the experience, and which will simply plod along. Can you think of a more qualified living person to make this determination for us than Martin Scorcese?
posted by ShutterBun at 4:42 AM on August 27, 2012


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