Once Upon a Time in the West film

I recorded it yesterday, and only watched a few minutes before the DVR ran out of disk space and I had to restart it.
Why did an actor like Henry Fonda play a bad guy who murders children? Did he need the money that badly?
Charles Bronson is surely a tough guy.

I think he wanted to show he could play against type.

He liked the role. It wasn’t the first time Fonda was cast against type (See Fort Apache, though he wasn’t quite as bad).

Fonda was an actor. By the time the movie was made, money wasn’t an issue.

He surely did.

Jack Elam in Support Your Local Gun Fighter: “And me? I go on to be a big star in Italian Westerns.”

The point was to make the bad guy not look like a bad guy. I doubt they could have got Jimmy Stewart (the quintessential good guy) to play that part, but Henry Fonda was another beloved face and he was obvious willing to take on the role. Perhaps he felt he needed to show up his son.

He’s certainly not a bad guy in Fort Apache. Arrogant, stubborn and cold but not bad. When Peter Fonda was asked what his father was like in real life he said, “Watch Fort Apache.”

He was brilliant in Once Upon a Time in the West. Leone also knew how to focus in on those blue eyes.

There’s that scene in Magnificent Seven where Brynner and McQueen recruit him…he’s splitting wood effortlessly. That’s not acting, that’s muscle! :smiley:

I’ve heard Leone specifically wanted him as the villain. When the camera zooms in on Fonda’s face for the first time, he wanted everyone in the audience to gasp and think “Holy crap, that’s Henry Fonda!” :eek:

Peter’s shadow didn’t reach the top of his father’s shoes. He just wasn’t a factor.

The reality is inconsequential, what matters is how Henry felt about that little upstart pipsqueak. Sometimes you got to make sure the kid knows who’s boss around here.

There was also the fact that Henry Fonda just happened to be Leone’s favorite actor. He was always trying to cast him. He would have preferred Fonda instead of Eastwood( who was cast as ‘The Man with No Name’ only after a long line of actors including Bronson turned down the role ) or Van Cleef( as Colonel Mortimer ).

Ok, I suppose that’s possible, but I don’t think you’ll find anything to back that up.

In an interview I once saw, he said his first choice for Eastwood’s role was James Coburn. Hard to imagine now.

Much of the casting in the film is against type, or at least against archtype. Robards as the roguish anti-hero, Claudia Cardinale as the hooker with with surprising bravery, and Gabriele Ferzetti as the scheming, dying railroad barron. The opening scene of the film is some of the best pure cinematographic storytelling ever.

Bronson (birth name Charles Dennis Buchinsky) dug coal as a teenager and served in the Army Air Corps during WWII with distinction before becoming an actor. He came from a family of Lithuanian Tartars and grew up speaking Russian and Lithuanian; he actually ad libbed the line of Russian in The Great Escape that he feeds to James Colburn’s character. (“‘I love you’? What bloody good is that?” “I don’t know, I wasn’t going to use it myself.”) He didn’t have a lot of range as an actor, and later in his career largely played in formulamatic actioneers, but he had some genuine presence on screen, and was never better than in this film.


It’s even better if you watch it dubbed into German:

*“Haben Sie ein Pferd für mich?”

“Nein. Wir haben nur drei. Ein zu wening.”

“Nein. Zwei zu viel.”*

In the film Hard Times he plays a bare-knuckle boxer. When he takes off his shirt, his torso is solid whipcord muscle–not bulky like Arnold, but sinewy and solid. There’s also a great story about the time Ingmar Bergman visited the set of one of his films.

I have split wood that way, and I have the physique of, say, Alan Konigsberg. It does not really take that much muscle to do: you have around 200° of swing to get the axe head up to a speed that will split the piece by impact. It gets tiring after a while, but it gets to be more like artistry than labor once you have the hang of it.

Don’t leave us hanging. What’s the story?

With his wife in a Hollywood boutique, Charles Bronson asked the guys to turn up the temperature. They wouldn’t, so he went back to the car while his wife shopped.

I saw Peter Fonda in a 1962 episode of Wagon Train today. Looked like he didn’t shave yet. It was standard 1962 Western stuff. He was ok, not astoundingly good, nor bad. Being compared to Henry Fonda would make anyone look like an amateur.