Once Upon a Time in America

Dir: Sergio Leone
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern
251mins   1984   US   18   English   

Includes a talk on gangsters in film from Depot's Chair of Trustees Robert Senior

In 1968, the elderly David "Noodles" Aaronson returns to New York, where he had a career in the criminal underground in the '20s and '30s. Most of his old friends, like longtime partner Max, are long gone, yet he feels his past is unresolved.

Told in flashbacks, the film follows Noodles from a tough kid in a Jewish slum in New York's Lower East Side, through his rise to bootlegger and then Mafia boss - a journey marked by violence, betrayal and remorse.

'The first big American film genre was the western, celebrating the mythical pioneering spirit of American immigrants in the late 19th century. That propensity for rough justice – or lack of it – was the perfect grounding for the gangster movie genre that reached its zenith in the early Hollywood pre-code 1930s, films like The Public Enemy, Little Caesar (both 1931) and Scarface (1932), all influenced by the fame and notoriety of Al Capone. They focussed on fast talking dangerous misogynist anti heroes, perhaps the stuff of tragedy, perhaps heroes of some perverse American dream where individuals survive and prosper against a corrupt state. Gangster movies were not exclusively urban (there were rural outlaw movies ) but they certainly hit talking movies big time with the clatter of fast talk, machine gun fire and the brash sounds of New York City.

Stricter Hollywood guidelines reduced the impact of gangster movies through to the 1970s, when a new breed of young directors realised the high drama in the depiction of powerful corrupt men and more was known about the mafia and organised crime. Three names stand out : Francis Ford Coppola made his majestic Godfather trilogy (1972-1990), Martin Scorsese made the seminal Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) and Brian de Palma directed a superb remake of Scarface (1983) and The Untouchables (1987).

Depot has shown many of these movies but in a celebration of this significant genre we present one of the greatest gangster movies ever made, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America (1984) in a restored and extended four hour cut.'

- Robert Senior, Depot Chair of Trustees

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Sun 9 July