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Drama - Gangland

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Duration3h 47m (yes, really)
RatingsUK: 18, USA: R, Denmark: 15 
Source of storyA novel “The Hoods” by former gangster Harry Grey
DirectorSergio Leone
Writers/ScriptLeonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arrcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone, Stuart Kaminsky, Ernesto Gastaldi, 
StarringRobert De Nero, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Treat Williams, Tuesday Weld, Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello, William Forsythe, James Hayden, Larry Rapp, Jennifer Connelly,
RatingsIMDb: 8.3/10 by 332k people.  Rotten Tomatoes: 87% by 54 reviewers. Review2view: 7.5/10

Elevator Pitch: A bunch of young friends in the Jewish area of New York grow up as gangsters, although one of them, Noodles Aaronson, is jailed for about 12 years for killing a rival boss. In 1932 the friends are on a roll making a fortune during prohibition but in the following year they are hunted down by rivals, apparently the only survivor being Noodles, who has taken refuge in an opium den, and who then runs away. 35 years later he returns to his old stamping ground, and meets his only surviving friend who is still running the bar, on which their success was based, and the woman who he thought was the love of his life, who has become a successful actress, and more.

Content: It is important to say that this outing is presented in flashback, and you should pay close attention to the opening scenes which take place in 1933. There is quite a bit of nudity, including two rapes which were quite controversial, and possibly most disturbingly, a villain stroking a girl’s nipple with a gun barrel. The young men gad about in the street committing minor crimes. During prohibition there is a lot of nightclub fun, with drinking and dancing. There is quite an extended scene in the opium den, where some of the décor is pornographic. Noodles spends time in his old stamping ground when he returns from self-exile.

A View: There was a shortened version which was disliked, and may be the cause of the film’s underperformance financially, but the long version is No 74 on the IMDb list. You could say that this is a pretty well worn path, a young man making his way from being a boy criminal to being a gang leader, even throwing in the love interest, but it is all well played and there is a twist. If there is a downside you really have to pay attention for the whole almost four hours. So definitely a watch for gangland aficionados.

Big Mafia films reviewed on this site, which starred Robert De Nero: Mean Streets, The Irishman, Goodfellas, Casino .

About Victor R Gibson

Author of this site three technical books and two novels



  1. Pingback: The Godfather (1972) | A MOTION PICTURE LIST - March 15, 2022

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