Sergio Leone Westerns: Five Film Collection
Directed by Sergio Leone
Starring Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn, Rod Steiger, Eli Wallach, Gian Maria Volonte, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Mario Brega, Marianne Koch, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Giuffre, Al Mulock, Jack Elam, Woody Strode, Gabriele Ferzetti, Keenan Wynn, Frank Wolff, Lionel Stander, Romolo Valli.
Kino Lorber rounds up Sergio Leone’s westerns in a five-film Blu-ray collection that includes a copious amount of bonus features, except the second disc found in their The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Special Edition. It’s a handy way to own the films from Leone’s most fertile period in one set.
If you’re homebound and looking for a big bundle of entertainment that will last a while, you can’t go wrong with Kino Lorber’s new Sergio Leone Westerns: Five Film Collection Blu-ray release. It includes Leone’s classic “man with no name” trilogy starring Clint Eastwood as well as Once Upon a Time in the West and Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck You Sucker).
However, since this is a five-disc set, the second-disc content from KL’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Special Edition isn’t found here. The other Eastwood films were single-disc releases from KL – I’m not sure about the last two films, since I’ve never had them on home video before.
All of the movies have been restored, although none of those restorations are new to this set. If you have KL’s “man with no name” trilogy films released during the past few years, these are the same versions found there. I believe the last two films are restored too.
Here’s the rundown:
A Fistful of Dollars is the movie that made Leone’s mark on the world. Writer/director John Milius and others discuss his early career in one of the Once Upon a Time in the West bonus features and note the ways in which Leone upended conventional wisdom about westerns – there’s even a comment about how the director ushered in the age of “making movies about movies.” (Did that age peak with Robert Altman’s The Player? Perhaps.)
This film also made Clint Eastwood’s mark. He plays “the man with no name,” a wanderer who stumbles into the middle of a conflict between two families for control of the town of San Miguel. Heavily influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, the plot involves the nameless protagonist playing both sides against each other to achieve his own ends.
The bonus features include two commentary tracks, various interviews, the ill-conceived prologue that was added when the film aired on ABC in 1975, and more. You can read all about it in my review.
Leone quickly followed up that success with For a Few Dollars More, bringing back Eastwood in the title role. “The man with no name” returned, albeit technically as a different character because of a lawsuit by a producer on the previous film, and this time he finds himself reluctantly working with a military veteran as both of them chase the bounty on a gang leader who has broken out of prison and is planning a bank heist.
The story follows the pair as each one schemes to not only cut the other out of the bounty when the time comes but also get a piece of the haul from the bank robbery. The bonus features are on par with the ones on A Fistful of Dollars – you can read more about that in my review.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly rounded out the trilogy with both a literal and a figurative bang, and Kino Lorber celebrated its 50th anniversary with a two-disc Blu-ray edition. “The man with no name” is back for his final outing. Perhaps he’s been the same guy with different names the whole time, or maybe he’s a distinctly different character in each movie – either interpretation is true.
This time, Eastwood’s iconic character seeks $200,000 in Confederate gold that was buried in a cemetery during the American Civil War, but the bandit Tuco and a Union sergeant are on the trail of the treasure too. Each of them is willing to make a temporary alliance with one or both of the others, but each is also just as likely to break that alliance to get all the money for themselves.
The original two-disc edition of the film included the theatrical cut as well as an extended 179-minute version that was housed on a second platter, along with more bonus features. That extra disc isn’t found here, so completists may want to double-dip so they have everything.
The theatrical version, which you’ll find in this five-film collection, has a commentary track along with deleted scenes, an alternate scene, and more. You can read all about it in my review.
Leone wanted to move beyond westerns after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and focus on a project that would become Once Upon a Time in America, but Paramount made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and he returned to the genre once more for Once Upon a Time in the West. This is a film that’s arguably the most romantic of the five movies in this collection, with a strong female lead and a wistful look at the pioneering spirit that accompanied the move west in the late 1800s.
Henry Fonda joined this production and went against type as Frank, a criminal who has established ties with the railroad baron Morton. He and his gang kill every member of the McBain family except Jill, the father’s new bride who is on her way from New Orleans to their ranch in Sweetwater. McBain set up shop in the middle of nowhere because of the underlying water rights and the foresight that the new railroad would eventually arrive there.
Before encountering Frank, however, Jill meets a stranger who comes to be called Harmonica (Charles Bronson) and another outlaw gang leader known as Cheyenne (Jason Robards). Both of them have their reasons to move against Frank and Morton, and Jill wants to protect her dead husband’s estate from those who want to forcibly take it from her.
As in Leone’s other films, there’s a certain amount of moral ambiguity here, as Harmonica, Cheyenne and Frank follow the trail of their own ambitions while clashing with each other and deciding how they want to deal with Jill. She is a strong-willed woman, someone very different from the one-note female roles in Leone’s earlier films, although some patriarchal attitudes still come through here, particularly during an intimate scene with Jill and Frank. Even the film’s poster puts her in a submissive position, as if to say that there are limits to what a woman should be allowed to do.
The bonus features on this disc, which were ported from an earlier Paramount Blu-ray that in turn took them from a 2003 DVD, include:
- An audio commentary featuring star Claudia Cardinale (Jill), historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall, and directors John Carpenter, John Milius, Alex Cox, and Bernardo Bertolucci. All of them show up in the other bonus features, and here they offer their thoughts separately, rather than as a group. This track has a nice blend of perspectives, with Cardinale giving her memories from making the movie, Frayling and Hall offering their academic point-of-view, and the directors serving up their thoughts on how it impacted their own work.
- An Opera of Violence (29 minutes): This featurette starts with an overview of Leone’s early career and the decisions he made that led to this film. The folks in the commentary track show up here too, along with others.
- The Wages of Sin (20 minutes): This is a look at the production itself, including Leone’s desire to shoot in Utah’s Monument Valley and offer up nods to many classic westerns in the process. Someone – I forget who – notes that when scouting locations, Leone would put up his hands to frame a shot and explain exactly which movie it came from.
- Something to do with Death (18 minutes): The topic here is Leone’s relationship with music composer Ennio Morricone and how the film’s score helped inform its epic scope.
- Railroad: Revolutionizing the West (6 minutes): This is a quick overview of the way the railroad impacted western settlement in the United States, something that’s a key part of the film.
- Locations Then and Now (4 minutes): A comparison of the film’s locations with how they appeared in the early 2000s.
A production gallery and the theatrical trailer round out the platter.
Finally, we have A Fistful of Dynamite, also known as Duck, You Sucker, which is often seen as an awkward entry in Leone’s pantheon. Referred to as a political western, the story takes place during the 1913 Mexican revolution. Like in Leone’s previous films, the central relationship is one in which the characters can mutually benefit from working together, but they’re not sure they can trust each other.
The pair in question are a Mexican bandit named Juan (Rod Steiger) and John, an Irish demolitions expert (James Coburn). Juan wants to rob a bank and realizes he can use John’s help with it, while John sees an opportunity to further the revolution’s cause, since political prisoners have been detained there. By the end, Juan may end up a revolutionary even though he didn’t plan on it.
There’s plenty of class commentary in this one, of course, along with Leone’s trademark character close-ups and wide-open vistas. A Fistful of Dynamite has more tongue-in-cheek humorous moments than his other films, although some of them fall flat. Steiger and Coburn are also a bit inconsistent with their accents and mannerisms. In the end, it’s an uneven effort, but it’s still worth a viewing.
The bonus features on this disc include:
- Two commentary tracks: Director Alex Cox provides one while film historian Sir Christopher Frayling serves up the other. The Cox track was commissioned by Kino Lorber for their standalone release of this film while the Frayling talk has been around for a while. The two complement each other, with Cox providing the filmmaker’s “I’m in awe of Leone” perspective and Frayling coming at it with a more scholarly approach.
- The Myth of the Revolution (22 minutes): Frayling digs into Leone’s deconstruction of the mythology of westerns.
- Sergio Donati Remembers (7 minutes): The screenwriter talks about working on the film.
- Once Upon a Time in Italy (The Autry Exhibition) (6 minutes): This covers an installation of Leone film props and costumes at the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West.
- Restoration Italian Style (6 minutes): This details the process that led to the restoration of the film.
- Sorting out the Versions (11.5 minutes): There are a few versions of A Fistful of Dynamite floating around, and this featurette details them.
- Location Comparisons (9.5 minutes): The film’s shooting locations in Italy, Ireland, and Spain are compared between then and now.
- Trailers from Hell (4.75 minutes): This is a commentary from TrailersFromHell.com.
Two image galleries, six radio ads, and trailers for all of the movies in this set round out the disc.