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Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West opens with a nearly wordless fifteen-minute sequence in which three gunmen do nothing more than wait for the arrival of a train at a remote frontier station. Leone, Dario Argento, and Bernardo Bertolucci constructed the film's screenplay out of portions of their favorite classic westerns, and the opening is a homage to High Noon; however, Leone's three gunmen look nothing like the actors in High Noon. Jack Elam and Al Mulock look like they emerged directly from the desiccated landscape surrounding them, and Woody Strode emits a dusty elegance. Elam tracks a fly buzzing over his face, and Mulock cracks his knuckles with vengeance. Strode stands beneath a water tank dripping water on his hat. Each actor is captured in vivid close-ups. Strode, though, stands out. His face is chiseled to perfection, and when he is featured in a full-shot, his body bulges with athletic strength. While his partners look like ragged malcontents, Stode appears like a model from a Ralph Lauren photoshoot. Strode made more than fifty films, three made-for-television movies, and thirteen extended television productions. He acted in films directed by Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, Richard Brooks, Budd Boetticher, and Stanley Kubrick. In fact, Strode stayed at Ford's home at Ford's request while the director was recovering from a life-threatening illness. Strode starred opposite Kirk Douglas in Kubrick's Spartacus, earning a Golden Globe nomination in 1960 for his portrayal of Draba, a gladiator who chooses not to kill Spartacus after a magnificent fight; rather, Draba scales a twelve-foot-high wall and confronts the Roman emperor, played by Laurence Oliver. Peter Ustinov, who won an Academy Award for Spartacus, called Strode "frightfully athletic" because of his strength and physical grace (178). Strode was forty-five years old at the time, and he did not use a stunt double. [excerpt]

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