Alrighty, time to lock down my writing schedule for the next few months.  Yesterday, I delivered the series overview for that fantasy book adaptation.  This week, I finish off the pitch for the out-there hero.  I’m dedicating all of September to the pilot and overview for that far-future series that will combine my love of science fiction with my love of kpop.  And then October will be dedicated to the pilot and overview for that near-future sci-fi mystery-thriller.  I am always loathe to turn down work, but I’m not going to have a choice.  The next 70+ days promise to be very busy.

The Crime Club convenes to discuss Once Upon a Time in America.


Sergio Leone’s epic crime drama is a masterpiece of the genre, a magnificent film about friendship, loyalty, and betrayal.

The most compelling part of the movie, for me, were the early years that spotlight the formation of the gang in the 30’s, their struggle for survival, and the bonds formed in the face of that adversity.  The performances by the child actors were exceptional, with the possible single exception of the “Noodles, I slipped line” which was given so much import but, in my opinion, felt very similar in delivery to Ralphie from A Christmas Story’s dramatic reveal of “Soap poisoning!”.

The camaraderie at the heart of this movie is terrific; the supporting female characters less so.  Deborah had flashes of promise only to end up little more than a double victim when all was said and done.

Overall, however, it’s a classic that holds up pretty well up – until the final twist that is not so much shocking as it is bewildering. I mean, if you’re going to fake your own death, why would you then pursue a career in the public eye? And how fortuitous that, in the intervening years, Noodles never caught a glimpse of Senator Bailey. Was he living in a cave for three decades?

The movie’s final moments are much discussed and the subject of varied theories.  Was that Max we glimpsed stepping out of the gated entrance?  Does he commit suicide off-screen?  One of the things I haven’t seen discussed is the parallel between this final beat of the truck briefly obscuring Max/Bailey only to drive by and reveal him…no longer there (!), with Noodles’ first interaction with young Max, his plot to use the passing wagon to obscure his crime, only to have Max screw it up.  Is this a call back to that moment?  Is this Max effectively pulling off the same deception, demonstrating to Noodles that he is, and has always been, the superior hustler?

What do you think?

Tomorrow’s Crime Club selection is the South Korean thrilled Mother by the director of Parasite, Bong Joon-ho.

13 thoughts on “August 18, 2020: Locking down my writing schedule! The Crime Club convenes to discuss Once Upon a Time in America!

  1. Greetings from South Texas. 🔥

    I’ve seen ONCE…AMERICA fairly recently and would love to comment, but our AC has been running in the 80s F for the past seven hours. I might be able to think coherently once the repairman has finished.

    1. ONCE…AMERICA’s final scene: I recall thinking, after a stunned moment, that Max shot himself behind the truck and fell into the hopper, disappearing into the mechanical maw with the rest of the trash.

      1. I considered the metal maw, but didn’t see any blood to indicate this was the case.

  2. I was concerned about trying to watch a nearly 4 hour movie on a “school night” but I was keen to expand my movie viewing horizons so I gave it a go.

    My initial impression was, “Boy! Sergio really needed to edit this sucker down!” The slow and ponderous opening nearly had me reaching for the remote.

    I’m glad I didn’t. It’s shot beautifully! I suspect this was a very expensive movie to make and you can see it on screen.

    I agree with you, Joe, the kids were great.

    I was 2 hours into the movie when I guessed that Max had faked his own death. It was too convenient that one of the bodies shown at the start of the film was burned beyond recognition. I, too, was confused by the fact that Max chose to become a public figure and that Noodles didn’t notice!

    Here’s my theory about the whole thing:

    I need to go back and check but in the final scene where we see Noodles come into the opium den I thought to myself, “He’s wearing the same clothes he was wearing when he got out of prison!”

    So I think the whole thing was just a drug induced hallucination. Noodles was sent to prison where he got addicted to opium. He gets out but isn’t picked up by Max. Max and the gang have moved on and forgotten about Noodles. Noodles goes to an opium den to drown his sorrows and has a hallucination where he imagines Max picking him up at the prison gates and his life of crime before the inevitable downfall and Max faking his death.

    My theory hinges on what he’s wearing in that final scene. I will check tonight.

    On the whole I enjoyed the movie but it was waaaaay too long and could have been trimmed (but not like the US theatrical release which I hear was terrible).

  3. Over a 70 day period how many hours would you spend writing a day?
    (Don’t know what’s happened to this site it doesn’t recognise Word press or Gravatar anymore.

  4. I have to catch up (again). More sadness. But it sounds like you have been busy! I can’t wait to go read what I’ve missed. I watched this movie with Jeff (who loves this genre) a very, very long time ago and I don’t remember enough to even comment. If it involves the mob, Jeff loves the movie. I’ve had to watch some with him in exchange for him watching something he normally wouldn’t watch with me (and not falling asleep while watching it–that is the deal-breaker for a reciprocal movie watching (and same with me but since I don’t sleep, I never break that rule, thus forcing Jeff to watch one of mine.

  5. Saw the film a few months ago and I read that “shock” mystery ending as Max finally accepting his fate at the hands of mafia, He desperately wants to end it all, he has to die either at the hands of his best friend or The Organisation. But it never happens, his friend walking into the night, only to see Max disappear behind the truck.

    The gang seizes him and throws him, alive, into the maw of the trasher. His ultimate fate to vanish into the trash, a brutal ending for a brutal life of betrayal.

    Overall I thought the film was in the “Okay” category, but lacks the sweeping operatic drama and scope of “Once Upon A Time In The West”.

    1. But where did the gang come from? And how could they sweep in so swiftly and silently kill Max, then disappear into the night?

  6. The best thing in this movie is the score by Ennio Morricone, who just passed and was so humble in his obit which said he didn’t want a fuss made at his passing. They did a good job matching what De Niro actually looked like when he got older.

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