Once Upon a Time in the West 4K Limited Edition Blu-ray Review

John Nguyen

The Western genre has remained popular throughout the decades including Django Unchained, Yellowstone, Billy the Kid, Unforgiven, Tombstone, Young Guns, and many more. One name that instantly comes to mind when referring to classic Western films is Sergio Leone, the man behind The Man with No Name/Dollars Trilogy starring Clint Eastwood. One of his other classics outside of the trilogy is the 1968 film, Once Upon a Time in the West. We’ll be discussing the film and its 55th Anniversary 4K Blu-ray.

Once Upon a Time in the West

Leone originally wanted Eastwood to play the part of Harmonica, the main protagonist, but Charles Bronson took on the role. He’s a mysterious gunslinger with a penchant for playing the harmonica and on the hunt. Set in the Old West in the town of Flagstone, the bad guys want to claim a piece of land with access to water and will do anything to get it including murder. The epic spaghetti Western features an excellent score from Ennio Morricone, sweeping cinematography, and a gritty cast with rugged features that are great for Leone’s close-up and long takes. (The score is such a great piece of music that it was featured in the intro for Muse’s performance of Knights of Cydonia in concert.)

Henry Fonda is Frank, the main antagonist who is part of a plot to take control over a land in Flagstone. The actor was known for playing Western heroes, so playing a villain was something to see. As a result of his performance and changing up his roles, Frank is one of the best villains in cinema. Claudia Cardinale adds innocence and beauty to the rugged cast as Jill, and Jason Robards as Cheyenne is an intriguing bandit.

The film has many setup shots, a far cry from modern cinema, with many long takes and little dialogue. It really helps with setting the mood of the Old West with its lengthy, slow-burn scenes. It’s one of my favorite Western films of all time and a great tale of these gunmen clinging to the old ways as the Old West fades into history.

Film Score: 4.5/5 Atoms


Once Upon a Time in the West

The stills used in the review are from promotional materials and not from the 4K transfer.

The film is presented in HDR-10 and Dolby Vision in 4K Ultra HD and has been restored from its original 35mm Techniscope camera negative by Paramount’s archive team, L’Immagine Ritrovata and The Film Foundation.

Sergio Leone and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli are master craftsmen with wonderful attention to shots. There are many cool scenes to show off the 4K including wide shots of Harmonica going up against his rivals at the train station and a closeup shot of his oily face as the lamp moves back and forth during a saloon scene, creating dynamic shadows on his face. There are also close-up shots of Fonda’s face with his piercing blue eyes.

The 4K video quality shows off details including the saloon scene with Harmonica and Frank withtThe tables, chairs, and brick walls. The wide shots of the town of Flagstone and the train station show off the details of the people and the buildings. There are some scenes where the details aren’t as crisp as they could be, and this could be due to the film being old or the focus of the lens. (Additionally, there are plenty of bokeh to be seen.) It does a decent job of colors and brightness, but it’s not something to demonstrate the quality of HDR. What is noticeable is the absence of film grain.

Video Score: 3.5/5 Atoms


The audio is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The highlights include Ennio Morricone’s emotional and haunting score, the sounds of gunfire, weapons reloading, the train station, and that sweet harmonica. The dialogue is clear and at the center, but what’s lacking is the subwoofer department with little to no bass and surround sound immersion.

Audio Score: 3.5/5 Atoms

Bonus Features

The bonus features include old and new content. Check out the list below:

  • Commentary by the Hosts of the Spaghetti Western Podcast –NEW!
  • A Look Back with Leonard Maltin—NEW!
  • Commentary with contributions from directors John Carpenter, John Milius & Alex Cox, film historians Sir Christopher Frayling & Dr. Sheldon Hall, and cast and crew
  • An Opera of Violence
  • The Wages of Sin
  • Something To Do With Death
  • Railroad: Revolutionising the West
  • Locations Then & Now (Gallery)
  • Production Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

Bonus Score: 3.5/5 Atoms

Once Upon a Time in the West Final Reaction

Once Upon a Time in the West is one of Sergio Leone’s best films and also one of the best Westerns of all time. The setting, music, characters, and cinematography are astounding. The audio and video do a job of showing off an old film transfer with clarity. However, it felt lacking in certain aspects.

Overall Score: 4/5 Atoms

Once Upon a Time in the West was released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on May 14.

A copy was provided for review purposes.