"So let's begin this meeting of Claustrophobics Anonymous..."

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

The Abridged Script

FADE IN:

EXT. TRAIN STATION

ONCE UPON A TIME, in THE WEST, gunslingers WOODY STRODE, JACK ELAM, and AL MULOCK gather at a TRAIN STATION.

WOODY STRODE

(to the station manager, slowly)

What time’s the next train come in?

STATION MANAGER

(thinks, slowly)

About ten minutes.

JACK ELAM

(nods, slowly)

I guess we’ll take our positions, then the scene can cut to right before the train gets here.

AL MULOCK

(shakes head, slowly)

Now, Jack, you know this is a Sergio Leone movie. Obviously every single second of that ten minutes is going to happen right here on screen.

JACK ELAM

(sighs, slowly)

I guess you have a point. Fine, let’s wait in silence for ten minutes. Maybe we can fill in the time by having our own little mini-adventures happen in the meanwhile. Mine will literally be about a fly landing on me.

(sits, slowly)

WOODY STRODE

And I will remain perfectly motionless for the majority of mine.

(does nothing, slowly)

Time TRANSPIRES. Eventually this has happened sufficiently for the TRAIN to arrive. CHARLES BRONSON disembarks.

CHARLES BRONSON

Hi folks. So after all that buildup, it’s time for your standard Leone shootout.

JACK ELAM

Ah, you mean the kind where everybody stands around staring at each other for an extended period of time until suddenly-

EVERYBODY SHOOTS THEIR GUNS AT THE SAME TIME. JACK, WOODY, and AL all drop dead, while CHARLES is only GRAZED.

CHARLES BRONSON

Oof, my shooting arm now must be put in a sling! That sure is going to hamper my ability to naaah, you know what I’m just gonna take the sling back off in my next scene and be fine.

EXT. RANCH

Out at a RANCH in the ASS-END OF NOWHERE, FRANK WOLFF and his THREE INNOCENT CHILDREN are, for the moment, alive.

FRANK WOLFF

Now kids, I know we’ve done it tough these past few years. But not to worry! Soon all of our hard work will pay off and we’ll be rich!

ENZO SANTANIELLO

Oh no. You mean we’ve got some kind of investment that’s about to pay off? Tell me it’s not land.

FRANK WOLFF

It is land! We’re owners of a worthless-seeming but secretly extremely valuable piece of real estate!

(beams)

...In a Western.

(frowns)

Well, fuck.

Suddenly TEN THOUSAND BULLETS pass through everybody except ENZO. Then a gang of GUNMEN emerges, led by HENRY FONDA.

HENRY FONDA

That’s right, everybody, it’s me, except this time I’m EVIL! I’m even gonna do this:

(shoots Enzo)

Child-murdering Henry Fonda! Isn’t that nuts?

(pause)

Unless of course you’re watching this in a time when it’s become my single most iconic role, I guess. But trust me, in 1968 it was like WOOOOOAAAAHHHH

EXT. TRAIN STATION (NOT THE ONE FROM EARLIER, ONE THAT’S NOT CURRENTLY A CRIME SCENE)

FRANK’S NEW BRIDE CLAUDIA CARDINALE gets off the train and enters the town of FLAGSTONE. As the camera reveals the town, the LUSH ORCHESTRAL SCORE swells to a RICH, SWEEPING CLIMAX.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Wow, what a beautiful piece of music!

COMPOSER ENNIO MORRICONE

It is, isn’t it? Here, why don’t I play it again note-for-note in its entirety, less than five minutes after the first time.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Um, thanks, but that’s really not necessary...

COMPOSER ENNIO MORRICONE

It’s no problem. That exact piece is gonna make like eight appearances, might as well start working our way through them.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Ah, Morricone. What a peculiar blend of genius and laziness.

She hires a wagon to take her to FRANK’S HOUSE. On the way they stop off at a bar. Suddenly a GUNFIGHT is heard from outside, then in comes JASON ROBARDS in HANDCUFFS.

JASON ROBARDS

Howdy, y’all! Are you wondering how a middle-aged man in handcuffs was able to single-handedly escape police custody and win a gunfight against multiple lawmen? Well MIND YOUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS, WE AIN’T TELLING YOU SHIT.

(spits)

Besides, that sounds like it would have been quite a fast-paced and action-packed set piece, and God knows we don’t do that kind of thing round here.

CHARLES BRONSON

(is here also)

Hey fella. That long, dusty coat you’re wearing. I’ve seen some of those before.

JASON ROBARDS

You mean on almost every character in almost every Western ever made?

CHARLES BRONSON

No I mean specifically on those would-be murderers at the train station.

JASON ROBARDS

WHAT? This nondescript beige duster is the official uniform for my outlaw gang! That other gang must be using that utterly unique and instantly recognizable getup to pose as us, the BASTARDS!

CHARLES BRONSON

Oh okay, if you say you weren’t behind my attempted assassination I guess I have no reason to disbelieve you. So carry on, I’ll just stay here blowing the same four notes over and over again on my harmonica.

(pause)

Slowly.

(plays harmonica)

EXT. RANCH

CLAUDIA makes the rest of her journey to FRANK’S RANCH. But when she gets there she is shocked to find DOZENS OF PEOPLE attending the FUNERAL of FRANK and his FAMILY.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Wait a minute, Frank’s son was just about to go meet me at the train when they all got shot. And I came almost directly here after getting off the train. So doesn’t that mean the murders only happened around an hour ago? This funeral got organized FAST.

MOURNER

Yeah well, in a Leone movie you have to keep the funerals on a tight schedule if you want to keep up with them all.

(checks watch)

In fact we better get back, another funeral starts in an hour.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Oh yeah? Whose?

MOURNER

(shrugs)

Mine, yours... who knows? It’s just a good idea to be prepared.

(leaves)

Once everybody has cleared out, JASON shows up.

JASON ROBARDS

Those murders got pinned on my gang because of the bootleg coats. I figure they must’ve been after something valuable to do all that child murdering, so gimme it.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

(rolls eyes)

Oh yes, the fact that I was tearing this place to pieces in a frantic search when you came in means OF COURSE I know exactly what the bandits were after. Just fuck off already you filthy asshat!

JASON ROBARDS

Yowza! The way you just screamed at me reminded me of my mother, the prostitute, and because of that I’m now more or less instantly in love with you!

(awkward pause)

...So on that piece of many-tiered Freudian creepiness, I think I’ll depart.

He LEAVES. But then before CLAUDIA can so much as breathe a sigh of relief, CHARLES shows up in his place.

CHARLES BRONSON

(tears the sleeves off of Claudia’s dress)

Now that Henry’s men know Frank still has a living heir, they’re after you!

(tears off her lace collar, exposing massive amounts of cleavage)

They’ll be here any minute! I will protect you!

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Um, okay. Question: WHAT THE FUCK HAS RIPPING MY CLOTHES OFF GOT TO DO WITH THAT?!

CHARLES BRONSON

(looks down at handful of shredded dress)

...Beats the fuck out of me. I think it's meant to be something about me making your mourning dress even mourning-er... but mostly I think Leone just wanted you to show some skin for the rest of the movie.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

REEEAAAL CLASSY, GUYS.

They go outside and find that HENRY has indeed sent some GUNMEN!

CHARLES BRONSON

Quickly! I better shoot them from like a mile away, before an actual action scene can start!

(kills them)

And obviously I was just using “quickly” as an expression.

INT. FANCY LITTLE TRAIN

On a PRIVATE TRAIN, HENRY visits with his wealthy employer, GABRIELE FERZETTI.

GABRIELE FERZETTI

Damnit Henry, I only wanted you to INTIMIDATE Frank!

HENRY FONDA

Then why didn’t you hire any random thugs, instead of a psychotic murderer?

GABRIELE FERZETTI

I don’t know. And I really don’t know why I don’t fire you right now, considering you’re a disobedient child-killing loony and it’s pretty clear I hate you.

HENRY FONDA

Well I hate you too and have zero morals or compunctions, so I don’t know why me and my gang don’t just kill you right now and take the giant piles of cash you keep throwing around. Anyway, just so you know:

(reaches out train window, grabs Charles)

We got ourselves a stowaway.

CHARLES BRONSON

Whoops! I guess that’s it then, you’re going to shoot me within seconds like you do with most people you meet.

HENRY FONDA

Hold your horses, first tell me who you are and what you want. I won’t kill you until I get some answers, damnit!

CHARLES BRONSON

Really. Because earlier I tried to call a meeting with you, but you just sent three goons to kill me.

HENRY FONDA

Well I guess my priorities have changed in the past day-and-a-half! Come on, spill.

CHARLES BRONSON

No. Who I am will have to remain a mystery... until the very end.

HENRY FONDA

I mean, I’m guessing you’re just some guy whose loved one I murdered. Right?

CHARLES BRONSON

Um...

HENRY FONDA

That’s just the most obvious thing. That I killed your parents or your kids or your sibling or your partner or your best friend or all of the above. Am I close?

CHARLES BRONSON

...Shouldn’t you be off shooting Claudia in the head?

HENRY FONDA

(checks watch)

Oh right, that, thanks for reminding me.

(leaves)

Once HENRY is gone, JASON bursts in the window and starts shooting bad guys! Then he leaps out again.

HENCHMAN

Aha, but I see his leg dangling in front of a window! Yeah, he leapt nimbly to the roof in retreat, then just plopped down right on the edge and sat there obliviously exposed, that sure sounds like something he'd do-

A BULLET is fired out of JASON’S BOOT, killing the HENCHMAN!

JASON ROBARDS

Ha, I put my gun hand into a boot to trick you! And then I aimed by, pffft, leprechaun magic or something.

He sets CHARLES free.

JASON ROBARDS

Now let’s go help Claudia!

CHARLES BRONSON

Wait, so we’re now saying you’re just a straight-up good guy? Weren’t you introduced murdering a bunch of innocent lawmen?

JASON ROBARDS

Yeah but they were offscreen, so who gives a shit about them.

CHARLES BRONSON

Fair enough.

(to Gabriele)

As for you... we’ll deal with you later.

GABRIELE FERZETTI

All right... why not deal with me now, though? Do you even have any reason to believe you’ll ever see me again? Shouldn’t you just take three seconds to shoot my helpless ass where I stand?

CHARLES BRONSON

Nah, there’s a little more plot stuff we need you to do first.

EXT. RANCH

Meanwhile back at FRANK’S RANCH, HENRY has come and kidnapped CLAUDIA.

HENRY FONDA

And I’ve decided, fuck Gabriele, and fuck you too! “Fuck Gabriele” as in I’m gonna betray him and take your valuable land for myself, and “fuck you too” as in I’m gonna rape you now.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

(sighs)

This really hasn’t been my week. At least tell me that’s gonna be over with quickly.

HENRY FONDA

You do remember what movie you’re in, right?

(rapes Claudia really, really slowly)

He then takes CLAUDIA to a rigged LAND AUCTION that he’s filled with his own GOONS.

AUCTIONEER

We’re here to auction off the entire estate of Claudia - hey come on, “auctioneer”? I know I wasn’t a big star or anything, but come on, I was a pretty notable character actor in my day.

OKAY, KEENAN WYNN THEN

That’s better! Who wants to start the bidding?

RANDOM BIDDER

I bid fifty dollARGH

(dogpiled by goons)

KEENAN WYNN

I have fifty dollargh, do I hear a hundred? No? What about seventy-five bucks for this huge piece of real estate? Sixty? Fifty dollars and twenty cents? Anybody?

(to Claudia)

You’re really willing to sell at this ridiculous a loss? I don’t understand.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

You DON’T? There are like thirty big angry armed men who keep physically assaulting people in front of your eyes, how the hell do you not see what’s happening here?

KEENAN WYNN

Well I would think that maybe this auction was rigged, except that none of the thugs have bid anything and they seem to actually be fine with that one random dude’s fifty-dollar bid winning.

GOON

Oh right, that. Er, I bid fifty dollars and one one thousandth of a cent.

But just as the auction seems to be OVER, CHARLES drags JASON in!

CHARLES BRONSON

I bid five thousand dollars! I’m turning Jason in for the reward, then using the money to-

(double-takes)

A FIVE THOUSAND DOLLAR REWARD IN OLDEN-DAYS MONEY?! What the fuck did Jason do, assassinate the president?

He turns JASON in and whisks CLAUDIA to safety.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Gee, thanks.

(drums fingers)

So... does this movie have anything for me to actually, you know, do? I’m the top-billed star and supposed protagonist of this thing, but I seem to spend the whole movie sitting around looking morose while plot happens to me.

CHARLES BRONSON

Quiet down, Henry’s coming after you, and Gabriele’s goons are coming after Henry! Just stand aside while I resolve the situation by myself.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

(sighs)

I might go take a nap or something.

(leaves)

CHARLES looks out the window, looks out another window, looks at a GOON on a ROOFTOP, looks at a GUN BARREL pointing through a SIGN, looks at the GOON on the ROOFTOP again, looks at the SKY, examines his NAILS, counts to a THOUSAND, and finally figures that he’s filled enough time with TOTAL INACTIVITY to make the DIRECTOR happy. At last he SHOOTS the GOONS and SAVES HENRY!

HENRY FONDA

Oh nice! I guess you’ve had a random change of heart and now we’re best pals?

(pause)

Or were you just doing that thing where you killed the guys who were trying to kill me so you could be the one who killed me.

CHARLES BRONSON

The second one.

HENRY FONDA

Okay fine. I’m gonna go deal with Gabriele real quick, but don’t worry, I’ll be back to have my brains blown out.

(leaves)

EXT. GABRIELE’S TRAIN

HENRY heads over to face down GABRIELE and his GOONS.

HENRY FONDA

That sonofabitch Gabriele thinks he can backstab me just because I backstabbed him first, well I’m gonna show him what’s what! And with it being heartless old mass-murdering me against his entire trainload of bandits, this should finally be a pretty intense and fast-paced action sequence-

He arrives to find EVERYBODY HAS ALREADY BEEN SHOT.

HENRY FONDA

DAMNIT. Gabriele, what the fuck happened here?

GABRIELE FERZETTI

(bleeding out)

Jason broke free and killed us all... seems that guy sure can put together an awesome rooty-shooty escape scene as long as it happens completely offscreen...

HENRY FONDA

Wait, when Jason was arrested and put on a train, I assumed it was a proper train with a proper locking cell inside it. Instead they put him aboard a fancy-shmancy millionaire’s private miniature luxury train? What the hell were they thinking?

GABRIELE FERZETTI

I dunno, now if you excuse me I want to make it to this muddy puddle before I die, because my tragic motivation was about going to the beach or something...

(hacks, coughs)

I guess as a millionaire I could always have just done that instead of getting involved in this whole clusterfuck. Oh well, live and learn.

(dies)

HENRY FONDA

Well then, I guess there’s nothing left but for me to go and get murdered by Charles.

(leaves)

EXT. RANCH

HENRY comes and finds CHARLES.

HENRY FONDA

So how are we gonna do this? Standard Leone shootout, like in the first scene?

CHARLES BRONSON

But with the odds three times better in my favor, why not. That ought to make for a tense climax.

They go and stand opposite one another, and then they STAND THERE and STARE at each other. Their HANDS hover near their GUNS while they remain PERFECTLY MOTIONLESS.

CHARLES BRONSON

(stares)

HENRY FONDA

(stares)

CHARLES BRONSON

(extreme closeup)

HENRY FONDA

(shrewd squint)

CHARLES BRONSON

(music swells aggressively)

HENRY FONDA

(ignores single bead of sweat running down temple)

Okay folks, looks like they’re gonna be at it for a while. Let’s check in with what’s happening in the next theater. Wait a minute, multiplexes aren’t really a thing yet; we’ll have to take a cab to the next theater ten minutes up the road. That’s okay, we have time.

Looks like they’re screening the JOHN WAYNE western adventure TRUE GRIT.

KIM DARBY

I insist on coming with you to avenge my pa, John!

JOHN WAYNE

Oh sure, that murder gang won’t stand a chance against the combined forces of an aging drunk and a naive twelve-year-old. If only we had a gormless country and western singer who played songs about phone line repairmen, our team would be unstoppable.

GLEN CAMPBELL

(appearing)

You rang?

Good stuff! All right let’s head on back and see how Charles and Henry are doing.

Seems like they’re still standing still and staring at each - oh they both just fired and CHARLES won the fight in about one fifth of a second.

HENRY FONDA

Dang. Well, at least now you have to tell me who you are.

CHARLES BRONSON

Fine. I’m from the future. I come from a bleak dystopia where America is ruled over by the mad warmonger King Henry the First. Your rise to power began when you stole Frank’s fledgling town and became mayor; I’m here to stop you from ever becoming the insane tyrant all would come to hate and fear.

HENRY FONDA

No seriously.

CHARLES BRONSON

All right FINE you killed my brother and I wanted revenge, it is indeed the most basic and obvious answer, are you happy?

HENRY FONDA

Not especially.

(dies)

CHARLES heads back in to see CLAUDIA. JASON has come back as well.

CHARLES BRONSON

I must leave now. I don’t really have anything I need to go and do now that my lifelong quest for vengeance is over, but wandering off into the sunset is just a thing you’re supposed to do at the end of a western. So, bye.

(leaves)

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Wait, come back! This whole town I’m building is still legally your property! How am I even supposed to get any revenue from it?

JASON ROBARDS

I must go as well. Partly because I too am a natural wanderer who belongs nowhere. Partly because of that whole “wanted” thing which, you know, didn’t just go away or anything. And partly because secretly I got shot during my escape and I’m going to drop dead any moment now. But there’s one thing I want to say before I go...

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

Yes?

JASON ROBARDS

Those men building your town for you... you should let them molest you.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

...

JASON ROBARDS

Like, if they feel like groping your body whenever you’re nearby, just roll with it.

(actual line)

They’ve earned it.

CLAUDIA CARDINALE

...Okay, you know what, you’re right. Maybe it IS time for you to fuck off and die.

JASON follows after CHARLES and then DIES, SLOWLY. CHARLES heads off into the SUNSET, SLOWLY. Then finally the CREDITS ROLL and the whole audience makes a beeline for the BATHROOMS, VERY, VERY QUICKLY.

END.

This script was made possible thanks to the support of Patrons like s2artjm.

If you'd like to support the site, please check out our Patreon page where pledging can earn you access to an ad-free version of the site, early access to scripts, exclusive scripts, and other cool shit.


Discussion