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Once Upon a Time in America

September 14, 2015

OUATIA“This is another one of those films that’s too big for me to explain. So I’ll just say a few short words: It is amazing. A lyrical elegy for broken friendship, suffused like too much cigarette smoke with the aroma of imminent death, Once upon a time in America was Leone’s final film, and the crowning’ achievement of a career dedicated to revealing all that is dark about masculinity. it’s about four friends who begin careers as petty thieves when they’re still supposed to be in school and grow to become powerful gangsters during Prohibition, that weird time in American history when the powers that be believed they could control people’s thoughts. 1 don’t want to tell you much more about the plot, because this one really is worth discovering for yourself. Suffice to say, Dc Niro plays a man broken on the wheels of his own indecision, refusing to grow to take responsibility for his own life, who has spent most of his life hiding from the world. His is a living death, a warning about making selfish choices and blaming everyone else for what has gone wrong. I could go on, hut I think this might just become a reason not to watch it. I’ll just say that lots of people do awful things to each other, lots of people die, and it all ends in tears, But how brilliantly it tells this story. It’s about the glorification of selfishness, fear of the past, the desire to move on, the limits of loyalty, the end of friendship, and the meaning of death itself. To my mind, there has been no better American film in the last twenty years.” How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films by Gareth Higgins p. 75

The “Song of Songs,” as read in the Jewish Bible, is heard twice in the film. The first time, Deborah catches Noodles spying on her and recites it to him; and the second time, Noodles recites it to Deborah while they are on the beach. Notably, the characters are narrating it according to their own understanding of the Song, so neither version is quite accurate.

[Max greets Noodles, who has just gotten out after 10 years in prison]
Max: You’re looking good.
Noodles: You’re looking a little better.

Max: Some we give them the good life, others we give it right up the ass.

Max: I’m not interested in friends from those places, and I don’t trust politicians!
Max: You know, if we’d listened to you, we’d still be rolling out drunks for a living!

Police Chief Aiello: I’m the chief of police, not the chief of the people.

Max: You’ll be carrying the stink of the streets with you for the rest of your life!
Noodles: I like the stink of the streets. It makes me feel good. And I like the smell of it, it opens up my lungs.

Bugsy: [Bugsy and his gang have beaten Noodles and Max] You don’t work for me, you don’t work for no-one!
Young Max: I don’t like bosses.
Bugsy: You’d be better off you stayed in the Bronx.
Young Max: Woulda been better for *you*, too!
[Bugsy spits on him, and he and his gang walk off]


Max: This country’s still growing up. Certain diseases, you’re better off having when you’re still young.

Joe Minaldi: Life is… funnier than shit.



Joe Minaldi: [inspecting diamonds through a loupe] Any trouble?
Patrick ‘Patsy’ Goldberg: No trouble. Kid stuff. [Pulls out a gun and shoots Joe in the eye through the loupe]

Chicken Joe: [as he and another thug are torturing Jimmy O’Donnell] I don’t give a *shit* about you and your Socialist workers!


[last lines] Noodles: [checking his pocket watch] It’s 10:25. And I’ve got nothing left to lose. When you’ve been betrayed by a friend, you hit back. Do it.
[Noodles is still and silent for a long time]
Noodles: You see, Mr Secretary… I have a story also, a little simpler than yours. Many years ago, I had a friend, a dear friend. I turned him in to save his life, but he was killed. But he wanted it that way. It was a great friendship. But it went bad for him, and it went bad for me too. Good night, Mr Bailey.
[He looks at the man in front of him for the last time]
Noodles: I hope the investigation turns out to be nothing. It’d be a shame to see a lifetime of work go to waste.
[He leaves, with Max looking after him with remorse and sorrow]

Noodles: I haven’t had a gun in my hands for many, many years. My eyes aren’t what they used to be, even with the glasses. My hands shake. And I wouldn’t want to miss.



Max: Is this your idea of revenge?
Noodles: No. It’s just the way I see things.

Bercovicz & Co. hearse: Why go on living when we can bury you for $49.50?

Frankie Minaldi: [introducing the gang to Joe] Here they are, “The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse”! Did you happen to see that movie, Joe? It’s a good movie.

James Conway O’Donnell: [to Max] You boys ain’t a mild case of the measles – you’re the plague. And bastards like him – [motioning at Crowning]
James Conway O’Donnell: – are immune. That’s the difference between us and them.
Noodles: [puts a jacket on O’Donnell, who flinches] Take it easy. The difference is, they’re always gonna win. And you’re gonna keep gettin’ it up the ass.
Crowning: Sooner than you think.


Noodles: I’m not that type of guy, besides if I hit you, I’m afraid you’d like it.

Deborah Gelly: I read books, I want to learn everything, I want to know everything. Doesn’t it make sense to have plans?

Carol: Max made fools of us, Noodles! He wanted to die! Did you know his old man died in the nuthouse? Max didn’t want to end up the same way, so he put the idea in our heads to tip off the cops. And when they stopped the truck, Max started shooting first… just to get himself killed!


Deborah Gelly: [to Noodles] You are the only person I have ever cared about…

Max/Bailey’s betrayal in the future can be interpreted as a transference of guilt. Noodles subconsciously blames Max for his entry into organized crime and his failed relationship with Deborah, and, in a way, he feels betrayed by Max’s burgeoning ambition.


From → Film

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