ONCE UPON IN AMERICA (1984) is my favorite Sergio Leone film and, to go even further, is one of the finest films I have ever seen. It is a film that has become more and more rewarding with each passing year and I can't imagine ever getting tired of its complex nature and narrative.
I love every aspect of the film but I think might my favorite scenes might be the remarkable moments where we are transported back in time to see Noodles and his gang as children. Cinematically these moments are handled in such an exquisite way, and they remain some of the only scenes in any film that actually feels like memory. For whatever reason, whether it is the way Leone and Tonino Delli Colli shot these moments or the way that Ennio Morricone's unmatchable and beautiful score is aligned with them, these shots remain some of the most profound and personal that I have ever seen.
Of course this section of the film also introduced us to the wonder that is Jennifer Connelly. Discovered by Leone just after her 13th birthday (she only had one small television credit at that point) and hired on to play the key role of the young Deborah after successfully auditioning with Robert De Niro himself, Connelly is unforgettable in the handful of scenes she appears in. I would argue that it is these moments between her and the young Noodles that more than anything else gives the film the devastating emotional impact it has.
The film, Leone's last and Jennifer's first, is every bit as good to me as THE GODFATHER or any other great epic gangster film you'd care to name. Jennifer would follow up the film working for another great Italian legend, but more on that later this week.
Here is a clip of Jennifer talking about Leone. Unfortunately James Lipton cuts her off before she is able to say a lot, but the experience obviously remains a special one to her. I have a feeling she wanted to speak a lot more on it.