The original Time Out review of Sergio Leone’s conceited and long-winded eulogy to the passing of America’s frontier days claimed that Peckinpah’s ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ was its only rival when it came to the title of ‘best western ever’. How times have changed. ‘Once Upon a Time…’ now looks like an over-cooked mess of style, metaphor and reference, while ‘Pat…’ strides ahead, every bit the poetic modern masterpiece.
Charles Bronson is the squinty cipher pitted against a countercast Henry Fonda in a tale of bloody revenge that takes numerous detours into areas of property law and corporate malaise, only to conclude with the displacement of ‘man’ (the humble cowpoke) by his distant, cold-hearted brethren, ‘the businessman’. In technical terms, scenes such as the operatic opening shoot-out are hard to fault,but this is a film that rewards the eyes and ears without properly considering the heart and head.