In 1968 my friend Craig Dindinger (yes, Dindinger) pestered me into going to see a double feature at a local walk-in, HIGH NOON and a new movie, THE GOOD, THE BAD,AND THE UGLY. Craig knew that I liked westerns and thought I should see GBU, as he thought it was the greatest western ever made. I knew he was full of s***, but went anyway. The idea of seeing High Noon on the big screen was attractive.
Well...I gotta admit, I was horrified by GBU. The scruffy actors, the scene where Tuco gets beaten by Wallace, the flies buzzing around the carriage of the dead, maybe worst of all the scene where Blondie goes off through the shelled town to look for Tuco and is followed by one of Angel Eyes' men. Blondie surprises him, shakes his head, whistles, and shoots him point blank. And Tuco's butt, we weren't used to seeing actor's asses in those days! So I was pretty well stunned and a little offended. Just a little. I told Craig "Yeah, it was okay, but I like High Noon better!" But then I went back to see GBU again, and again. The music was stuck in my head, the guns, the shoot outs, the towns, the desert. It's probably at this point in my life, the movie I've seen the most.
Pretty soon the first two Clint films showed up at the drive-in; A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. I saw them and liked them, although they weren't as good as GBU. Then HANG 'EM HIGH came to town. I knew it was different, more American than Italian. Pretty soon Lee Van Cleef started showing up on his own, in DAY OF ANGER, DEATH RIDES A HORSE, and later on THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER. THE BIG GUNDOWN, SABATA, Tony Anthony's Stranger films, these never came to Santa Rosa. I watched for and saw virtually every spaghetti western that showed up; THE MERCENARY, COMPANEROS, RED SUN, VILLA RIDES, I went to them all.
Now ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is a different story. It played briefly at a local drive-in, the Redwood (now a Wal Mart occupies its place) and I missed seeing it. I didn't know it was a spaghetti. From its cast list, you'd doubt it, and I didn't notice Leone's name on the poster in the paper. Later on I caught it when ABC showed it, and didn't like it. I was expecting another GBU, but instead got a slow, ponderous story about a woman and real estate. All the gunshots were cut out, well, most of them, and I actually skipped around to see what else was on before going back and finishing the movie. I was disappointed. "Leone has lost it!" I thought, and went about my life. Some months later at work I was listening to the radio, and they announced "here's the theme from HOW THE WEST WAS WON!" but by some mistake they played Man with a Harmonica from OUATIW. I recognized it for what it was and it sent chills down my spine. I kept thinking about the movie, the men in dusters, the music, Harmonica, Cheyenne, and when KTVU showed it a couple of years later (letterboxed and uncut!) I loved the entire experience! I've seen it many times since and rank it very highly on my list of favorite films.