Released two years after his iconic, Italian-made "Dollars trilogy" - which launched the career of TV actor Clint Eastwood and created the "Spaghetti Western" sub-genre - 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West is arguably director Sergio Leone's crowning achievement. The inspired casting of blue-eyed American great Henry Fonda as a cruel villain is matched by the spectacle of Charles Bronson as the mysterious "Harmonica" and Jason Robards as the likeable gun-slinging outlaw, whilst Ennio Morricone's score - and an ingenious diegetic sound-scape - upstages everyone in a near three-hour epic with less than 15 pages of dialogue. In many ways Leone was the original Quentin Tarantino: a dedicated cinephile who made films which consciously referenced those that inspired him. In Once Upon a Time in the West there are clear allusions to the work of John Ford, Howard Hawks and Nicholas Ray, among others. Yet far from being a derivative hack, Leone brought his own, oft-imitated style to the Western. He contrasted extreme close-ups with expansive wide-shots, cut his films with music in mind (the score for this one was composed prior to filming) and popularised a dirty, sweaty, rough-edged aesthetic in which the great icons of the American West were subverted - and critiqued - even as they were celebrated. Here all the classic themes of the genre are in play. In Claudia Cardinale's Jill is a character who embodies both the Madonna and the whore: a caring mother-figure and a former prostitute - and the emotional centre of this story. Another well-worn trope employed is that of the rail-road, the expansion of which brings wealth and corruption, forever destroying the idyll of simple frontier life. This aspect is personified by Gabriele Ferzetti's Mr. Morton - a businessman confined to a decadent train carriage with his physical deformity serving as a metaphor for an internal weakness of character. The three male stars, previously mentioned, clearly embody other established Western archetypes: the black-hatted villain, the wise-cracking rouge and the hero with no name. Though each is morally ambiguous in their own way, with no clear heroes. Some make the distinction between art and entertainment, but this is one of those films you'd have to work very hard to discredit as a genuine example of both. The sound and production design are intoxicating, the screenplay - developed by Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci in conjunction with Leone and Sergio Donati (translated into English by blacklisted Mickey Knox) - is full of memorable one-liners and the photography is breathtaking. And for something that often feels more akin to modern European slow cinema, with long takes and intense periods of inaction, the film also has its share of satisfying action, the best of which surpasses even the Dollar films in terms of choreography and visceral brutality.