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Once upon a Time in Widescreen: The Films of Sergio Leone

Sunday, October 28, 2007
3:30 p.m. Once upon a Time in America
Sergio Leone (U.S., 1984)

Restored Print!

(C'era una volta in America). When Leone's pulp masterpiece was originally released, the studio gunned it down, leaving a wound some eighty minutes wide. They also restitched the action, making chronological what had been a gauzy experiment in atemporal storytelling, and missed Leone's intention entirely: "The principal character in the film is Time," he chimed. Covering almost five decades, this bloodied American fairytale follows two Jewish pals, Noodles Aaronson (Robert De Niro) and Max Bercovicz (James Woods), as they rise through the ranks of Roaring Twenties racketeering in New York's Lower East Side. Shot in elegiac tones by Tonino Delli Colli, the film gives us craven double-dealings and street-side ambushes, brute betrayals and manhandled mistresses, all with the poetry of the gutter, and all seen through the unfaltering eyes of Noodles, now an aged gangster whose great melancholy will not release him from the prison of time. Leone's panoramic glimpse of New York's underworld is a violent meditation, not about gangsterism, but about the price one pays when following the darkest path. It should have been called Remembrance of Crimes Past.

—Steve Seid

• Written by Leone, Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, from the novel The Hoods by Harry Grey. Photographed by Tonino Delli Colli. Music by Ennio Morricone. With Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Treat Williams. (227 mins, Color, 35mm, From Warner Bros.)