With this movie, I initially wanted to start a new sub-category on “The Motion Picture”, and I saw that its description already fitted other four movies as well. I have considered for years now, Once Upon a Time in America my favorite movie of all times. I’m not sure it still stays like that. It is a beautiful story, different from The Hoods, the book which was the inspiration. Harry Grey, (Herschel Goldberg), the book’s author, is “Noodle”, the main character in the movie, played by De Niro.
The movie is about five Jewish friends from childhood, in the East Side, New York, forced by the social realities of the twenties to become gangsters. They grew together, they evolved together. The film is the perfect story, of growing up, friendship, love, maturity and betrayal.
It is claimed that the book is “reality” and actually that’s not, because Goldberg was an informer, and maybe some things could have been altered just for protection reasons. I don’t think so, because the book was a very good read and it was very credible, especially that all the characters were taken from real life, the book is not a novel, but a partially fictionalized biography. There is a common thread, the main characters, the kids who were actually schoolmates and not preponderantly Jewish, Patsy was Italian, and Dominic died differently, Moe’s establishment was the gang’s headquarters and Moe, a sort of an employee.
The “rape” episode between Noodles and Carol, at the jewelry has never happened, but it is stated that the coup was “fixed” to have even this possibility in mind, the gal, a nymphomaniac married with a swinger, didn’t have anything under her dress.
Once Upon a Time in America is a 1984 Italian epic crime drama film co-written and directed by Sergio Leone and starring Robert De Niro, James Woods, Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Elizabeth McGovern, Treat Williams, and introducing Jennifer Connelly.
It has been released in 1984, and has a controversial story itself, connected with Leone’s dream (they called it “his pet project”), and his refusal to direct the famous American trilogy, The Godfather. If you don’t read the book, this could be the perfect movie, otherwise, you start to see a few aspects that could have been better represented. But as I said, without knowing what’s in the book, every filmed sequence seems perfect, every edit, every cut. I haven’t noticed the extremely vulgar expression in the book, but that was maybe the times fashion. In the movie they are somehow part of James Woods’ and De Niro’s style.
Of course that perfection is not possible, the troubles were caused less by greed than by envy and a superiority complex.
After all these years, if you miss the movie and you want to watch it again, you will feel that everyone has been perfectly cast. Sergio Leone, an Italian director living all his life in Italy, not in America, has these movies in his portfolio: The Colossus of Rhodes (1961), A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Once Upon a Time in the Revolution (1971). He featured great actors like Clint Eastwood, Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonté. So, you will not find incredible what he initially had in mind with the cast of Once Upon a Time In America. The project started in 1975, with Leone having Gerard Depardieu in mind for the mature Max, and Jean Gabin for the older Max. Depardieu promised he will learn English with whatever accent he needed. Richard Dreyfuss was the mature Noodles and James Cagney the older one. In 1980, he was thought at Tom Berenger as mature Noodles with Paul Newman the old one, and by the way, I’ve just watched yesterday, The Big Chill, very Steinbeckish and light. American light. Sorry for the parenthesis, Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, John Malkovich and John Belushi were also considered for playing Max. Before casting McGovern as Deborah, he wanted Brooke Shields, because he liked her in The Blue Lagoon. Joe Pesci wanted to play Max but received a smaller role because he was friends with De Niro.
The movie was originally released in a shorted version for United States (139 minutes), which was wrong because they never made the investment. It seems that the last released version has 229 minutes, and it’s the version I had, but it seems that the original version is 260 minutes (four hours and twenty minutes).
I wanted to end my short review with a video of some sort, but I found just a spoiler made by Quentin Tarantino and a sort of Italian documentary, so I have chosen this pic I found on Scott Schutzman Tiler’s page on imdb.
Once Upon a Time in America is No.77 in Top 250 imdb of all times, with an 8.4 rating out of ten.
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