Linear Version of Once Upon A Time In America


I think the issue here is that the rape is played out as a humorous sequence, which ever way you look at it.
Again, the audience is lead by the director’s choice to use semi-comedic music cues, that’s saying this is all a bit of fun.
We’re not meant to be appalled by the scene, we the audience are meant to find it funny - that’s a very ignorant misogynistic point of view.

I’m a big fan of the movie overall … but sometimes we as fans have to be honest with ourselves and admit that this casual presentation of rape as a form of revenge played out for laughs is simply bullshit.

I have heard people get all hot and bothered over ‘Angel Eyes’ slapping ‘Maria’ around in GBU, and claiming that Leone was brutalising women for his own amusement. I strongly disagree with this, and pointed out that a few slaps (one in fact in the UK release) is nothing for this character - he has recently shot his former employer full in the face at point blank range, and laughs about it. The action of hitting Maria for information is relevant to the story, - and ironically shocks more than a hail of bullets in the face for ‘Baker’ ! It’s already established what ‘Angel Eyes’ is capable of, so the threat of much more drastic violence towards ‘Maria’ is already implied without being shown. That’s clever film making, … the other not so much.

(Mickey13) #25

Semi-comedic music cues? Um, what? No, not really. I understand why some of the humor in the former part of the movie is a point of contention, but the rape scene is not intended to be comedic IMHO. And no, I don’t think the music is semi-comedic and I must say it corresponds to the tone of the scene quite well too.

It’s somewhat unorthodox, but not in the way that implies that we’re witnessing something funny. The obvious thing to do here would be to bombard the audience with a diarrhea of diminished chords, but that would be very bromidic and vapid to be honest. Even if the music doesn’t resort to obvious tension-inducers, it still contains quite a bit of dissonance and is way too low-key to be classified as comedic.

The melody (a short Juan theme vignette) plays out for one bar or so and then the music just stops in an ominously abrupt way. The melodic part, which could be perhaps construed as jocular, is emblematic of the early 1970s Morricone style and is supposed to encapsulate the rusticity and vulgarity of Miranda rather than arouse laughter. The flute is also implemented in an exceedingly sinister way, barely stays in tune and sounds more like a cat in agony. At the end of that passage, it also glides down in a remarkably foreboding and dissonant way, so… not really all that funny in my book. I have no idea how you can deem the music as jesting with that flute wailing atonally (and kind of agonally) in the background.

Same with Steiger’s lines to be quite frank - they’re vulgar and jocose, but they’re said in the way you would expect a crude peasant to utter them. If the sequence is somewhat comedic, then it is in a deeply sardonic way.

You also need to bear in mind that you kind of have representatives of all classes in that stagecoach (a merchant perchance, a businessman, a member of intelligentsia, a clergyman and a bourgeois woman), hence the sequence itself acquires a new dimension and can be construed in a symbolic manner. The dinner scene kind of attests to the class struggle and the oppression of the proletariat which is subsequently juxtaposed with and followed by the pillaging as well as the victimization of the upper classes perpetrated by the working class and paupers. As opposed to other Zapata westerns though, Leone takes neither side and emphasizes the dog-eat-dog nature of modern society: the oppression will continue no matter what. All in all, Leone wants to drive his message home more effectively. Again, it is a moot point whether he succeeds or not.

(The Man With a Name) #26

Exactly! It might not be pleasant but Leone wasn’t trying to offer us conventional heroes. To be honest, I like A Fistful of Dynamite even more than Once Upon a Time in America. Definitely his most underrated work.


Ok … that’s a highly detailed description of what the music’s doing - however, isn’t the entire sequence set up as a humorous revenge on the stagecoach party ? The humiliation of the entire group is undoubtedly a crowd pleasing moment, after listening to their arrogant and demeaning statements about this peon who is little more than an ignorant animal to them, we want to see them punished. And it’s done as a comedy … in my humble opinion :wink:

Miranda makes the men all strip naked, and yells at one particularly terrified passenger, “Can you make a baby!?” (pronounced bay bay ) He repeats the question and then turns his attentions to the rather stuck up female of the party.

After herding her, literally like an animal, to the farm house - he shows her his penis and comments, “Not bad, eh?” … followed by “Don’t faint or you miss the best part”.

The scene finishes with the entire stagecoach group being pushed down a hill and crashing naked into what looks like a pig pen or manure pile.

It maybe in very poor taste by today’s standards - but I believe the entire sequence, rape included is intended as comic. The jovial mood only changes when we hear the first explosions from Sean, Sean, Sean.

I’m not trying to be all PC on this topic … but 1970s attitudes were very different than they are today - and there is no way that a sequence like this would pass for a modern audience. Also remember that around the same time period we had ‘Blindman’, which makes Giu La Testa look like a kid’s movie by comparison.

Sexual violence was big box office, otherwise why so many giallo movies ?

(Mickey13) #28

I kinda get what you’re driving at. I guess you could say it sort of functions as a comedic moment, but then again it’s not something that couldn’t happen in real life, meaning that it is not overwhelmingly implausible or slapsticky in its form. In this sense, it technically is a little bit exploitative, but then again the rape scene is where it all actually kind of stops being all that humorous to me. It’s the kind of moment that is bound to divide its audience with its moral ambiguity - it can be seen as comedic, very mordant or dramatic and repulsive.

Some of Duck You Sucker’s comedy embodies the evolution of the kind of humor that was already apparent in one way or another in TGTBATU, but it was all taken to the next level, the underlying action was way more irreverent and acrid in its execution. The bottom line is that it’s not merely about exploitation, not only about cheap laughs.

My point is that these specific sequences are very firmly grounded within the political context of this motion picture and function as a thematic pivot of sorts to solidify and define the political basis of the film. They’re there for a reason and this reason is not solely crowd-pleasing slapstickery or sexual violence (likewise, let’s face it - Leone could have been gone much further if he’d wanted to), but the politics of the movie. The rape scene doesn’t even last that long.

In my previous post, I merely intended to convey my astonishment at how differently people may perceive one piece of music. Not once have I interpreted the passage as something jocose or even semi-comedic. As a matter of fact, it’s very tense.


A very good point … I don’t see it as deliberate exploitation, but rather slightly flippant - as though Leone is playing out the character of Juan Miranda, and thinking what’s the worst form of humiliation I can subject these bastards to … and in the case of the haughty female, the answer is rape her.

Anyway … interesting to hear your thoughts on this - but we have gone off subject somewhat :slightly_smiling_face: Cheers

(Mickey13) #30

I agree that that scene is partially flippant in its tone, yes. All in all, the film is Leone’s most political and unhinged movie ever which is perhaps why it’s so interesting. I would even venture further and say that Leone’s perspective here is not even as misogynistic as it is kind of downright pessimistic and misanthropic. Conspicuously, there is this friendship between Miranda and Mallory, but overall, the film ends on a rather grim note and feels remarkably dark when compared with his other movies except for Once Upon A Time in America.

Well, getting off topic is always fun in my view, but that’s probably just me. Have a good night.


As disturbing as the scenewith Deborah is (and it could have been done differently), I do not think the rest of the film would have the same impact without it. I can’t think of any alternative that would add as much weight to the story and to the characters. If it cut straight from her telling him that she is going to Hollywood; or it became a war of words - say, an argument, which led to him being let into the Taxi- I do no think the scenes in 1968 would have the same impact. What Noodles does is so disgusting and so harmful that it can never be something that either party can come back from.
But I do agree - Could it have been shortened? Yes. Most definitely. Could it have been alluded to and not shown at all? Yes. Definitely. It could have been approached on film differently. I will go back now to why I think it is important as part of the plot.

Noodles selfishness is what this film is about. He is small minded and does not have the same ambitions as his counterpart, Max, or Deborah. Noodles life is all about the small section of streets that he grew up in. That is where he belongs. Those streets are where he wants to belong, and he says as such directly to Max. But Noodles is such a selfish individual that he really is not willing to compromise or change that view.

This becomes uncomfortably apparent in the dressing room scene with Deborah, where he uses her as bait to get information on Bailey, and berates her for meeting someone else. He then makes a pathetic attempt to be ‘sweet’ by saying ‘are you afraid I’ll turn into a pillar of salts’. What rubbish to come from him. He then explicity ignores her warnings of the dangers that seeing him will put them in. He then defiantly ignores her and meets him anyway.

By stubbornly ignoring her and meeting Max again he has signed their death warrant. It will also lead back to Fat Moe.

That is the thing - in 1968 - they are no longer ‘friends’ to Noodles. They are pawns for him to get information, in order to satisfy his own needs, thoughts, actions. He does not care about what it does to them. He is on a very selfish quest.

This is why I have a respect for the picture. For me, it really is the most anti-gangster film that has been made. It has such a cynical approach to the characters.

It is very short on laughs and humour. It does not glorify being in that environment at all. In Maxs and Noodles world - Real friendship, real love, does not exist. Indeed, even reality itself (four small time bootleggers robbing the federal reserve bank in order to become rich for life, anyone???) doesn’t exist in Maxs and Noodles world. Max and Noodles just want to meet their own ends. It is the most anti-gangster film for me.

What else can it be? When the main character ends up in an opium den, alone, by himself. The smile at the end is also selfish. Its like he is saying to the audience **‘I finally got my story told, so what?’

Thats my admiration for this film -as surreal and unrealistic as it may be in terms of narrative and aesthetics- the ‘dream’ element of is also representative of Noodles and Max’s egos.

It highlights a lot of truth about the people that exist in the organised crime world, when you read about the life of real life gangsters. Anyway, thats my take on the film.

(Novecento) #32

Actually the “Gang in water / Car explosion” sequence is the one that I think absolutely should be included. The “Noodles meets Eve at Moe’s place / Deborah in station cafe” sequence would have been nice too had there been no sex scene but it is not as important as the above one.