Film Reviews Cat

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)


A story about a bunch of young Jewish kids that grow up in New York and establish themselves as one of the gangsters of their generation during the prohibition-era. The story is being told through the eyes of the main character Noodles while he revisits his past.

The concept of this movie is heavily inspired by “The Godfather” and was released a decade after “The Godfather” part 2 (1974). And six years before part 3 (1990).  It seems to be the case that they really wanted a story similar to “The Godfather” part 2, but didn’t want to wait any longer. Another possibility is that they saw an opportunity to cash in on the popularity of “The Godfather” part 2. Whatever the answer is, one thing is for sure and that is that the market was definitely ‘hot’ for these kinds of movies during that time. And there is nothing wrong with this, but you can’t just make one of these specific subgenre movies, add great actors to it, and then expect it to be like “The Godfather. The concept of a Jewish version of the “Godfather” is interesting, and could have been absolutely great. However, why make it into something which is similar to a musical? At this point you might be questioning if you are reading the correct review. But let me explain why this 3 Hour, and 49 minutes ‘movie’ is overrated.

Let’s start with the format. Why is this ‘movie’ 3.49 Hours long? They could have created a mini-series of 8 times 30 minutes. I also don’t think that this was the norm for the early, and mid 1980’s. I know that “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966), which was also directed by Sergio Leone, was almost three hours long. But that is not almost four hours. Is it because certain actors needed their screen time, or was this a script issue? I think it is the latter because everything sounds, feels, and even smells like a telenovela and not a movie. How is it even possible that people in 1984 went to the movie theater to see this movie? How many breaks did they give you, and how many times did you refill that sodapop of yours? Maybe this is a generational issue. However I firmly believe that even in 1984 people didn’t want to get stuck inside of a movie theater for almost five hours (including breaks… I hope). And don’t give me the argument that it’s worth it because of any of the actors. Yes, I also really like the work of Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci. But not for almost four hours. It’s like somebody forces you to eat ten bars of good chocolate within an hour. It’s simply way too much to digest. 

So what about the script? Again, it is great if you are into the telenovela genre and you can’t stop watching it for almost four hours. Additionally, It’s just way too dramatic, and melancholic at times. Especially when they go back to the early youth of Noodles, and this happens often. Moreover, most of the young child actors are not performing well because they are not convincing child actors. It’s a sad thing to say but it’s true. What you normally would do is limit their screen time but they didn’t. And this is exactly how they could have cut an hour from this movie. We as the audience don’t need to see all of the minor details of a gangster’s youth experience. At least not in a movie. Yes, you can do this within the format of a mini-series but definitely not with a regular movie. Moreover, the extremely weird pan flute music during some of the essential scenes was simply horrendous. Please picture in your mind a melancholic, melodramatic pan flute scene. It’s just completely hideous.  

Is there something good to say about this film? Yes, because the older, or rather non child actors, are very good. Additionally, certain scenes, and shots are epic and highly cinematic. And the concept is interesting. It’s just a shame that they decided to tell such a large story in such a format. If there is one thing we can learn from “Once Upon a Time in America” it is that the wrong format can totally ruin a project. Another option would have been to create two parts, but this is generally not done because such a format is very quirky. 

Directed by 

Sergio Leone

Writing Credits  

Harry Grey(based on novel “The Hoods” by)
Leonardo Benvenuti(screenplay by) &
Piero De Bernardi(screenplay by) &
Enrico Medioli(screenplay by) &
Franco Arcalli(screenplay by) &
Franco Ferrini(screenplay by) &
Sergio Leone(screenplay by)
Stuart Kaminsky(additional dialogue)
Ernesto Gastaldi(screenplay) (uncredited)


Robert De NiroNoodles
James WoodsMax
Elizabeth McGovernDeborah
Treat WilliamsJimmy O’Donnell
Tuesday WeldCarol
Burt YoungJoe
Joe PesciFrankie
Danny AielloPolice Chief Aiello
William ForsytheCockeye
James HaydenPatsy
Darlanne FluegelEve (as Darlanne Fleugel)
Larry RappFat Moe
Dutch MillerVan Linden
Robert HarperSharkey
Richard BrightChicken Joe
Gerard MurphyCrowning

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