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TO JUNE 6
“Picture this: The camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera pans up to the gunman’s face and…it’s Henry Fonda.” That’s how director Sergio Leone convinced Fonda, the man whom the American Film Institute called “America’s ideal hero…epitomiz[ing] the perfect president, commanding officer, or juror” to accept what would be the darkest role of his career—that of Frank, the sadistic gunman in Leone’s 1968 epic, Once Upon a Time in the West (pictured). Claudia Cardinale stars as a bride whose family is gunned down by outlaws working for a railroad baron, and Charles Bronson plays the mysterious, harmonica-playing stranger who decides to protect her. But Fonda’s performance is easily the most memorable of all the cast’s. Those striking sky-blue eyes, which American audiences had previously associated with Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath and Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine, take on a chillingly different personality above Frank’s snarling lip. (Luckily for Leone, Fonda agreed to go au naturel after showing up to the set wearing a pair of brown contact lenses.) Once Upon a Time in the West screens as part of the AFI’s “Henry Fonda: The Centennial” series, which also includes Ford’s military comedy Mister Roberts, featuring Fonda in the significantly less sinister title role as an officer aboard a World War II cargo ship who’s itching to get in on the action. See the other side of the man who said, “I’m not really Henry Fonda. Nobody could have that much integrity” when the series runs through Monday, June 6 (see Showtimes for a weekly schedule), at the AFI’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Matthew Borlik)