Legendary Italian director Sergio Leone's last film is 1984's "Once Upon a Time in America" — the ultimate gangster movie starring Robert De Niro as David "Noodles" Aaronson and James Woods as his lifelong partner in crime, Max -- and it arrives in a spiffy new Blu-ray and 2-Disc Special Edition DVD this week.
The film covers 50 years of the duo's underworld history, from Noodles' early days with the gang in Brooklyn's Jewish ghetto during the '20s to big-gamble heists during the end of the Prohibition era to the final confrontation between Noodles and Max in 1968.
The 229-minute film received widespread critical acclaim but, prior to its release in America in June 1984, it was edited down to 134 minutes against Leone's wishes. Key sequences were dropped, the ending was drastically changed, and the events of the movie were arranged in chronological order. Leone was reportedly so heartbroken by the butchering of his movie that he never made another film before his death in 1989.
Leone did not live to see the invention of DVD, let alone Blu-ray, but we think he can rest easy knowing that "Once Upon a Time in America" has been restored to its original, unedited glory for its high-definition debut. Not only is the film presented uncut—complete with the controversial rape scenes and the scene with a nude woman pretending to be dead in the back of a hearse—the entire 229-minute feature is presented on a single side of one BD, which means you don't have to switch discs in the middle of a feature like you had to do for the previous DVD version released in 2003.
If you're a fan of "The Godfather," "Goodfellas," "Scarface," "The Departed" and other classic gangster movies, you'd rather swim with the fishes than miss this masterpiece that explores childhood bonds, insatiable greed, betrayal, loss and regret during the rise of mobsters in American society. In addition to top-notch performances by De Niro and Woods, look out for an appearance by gangster-movie veteran Joe Pesci, an early performance by a young Jennifer Connelly, and a powerful turn by Elizabeth McGovern as Noodles' one true love.
Filmmakers rarely make movies this heartfelt—or lengthy—anymore, so sit back, pop some popcorn and watch the curtain close on Leone's final act the way he always intended fellow movie lovers to see it.
Extras! Both versions include commentary by critic/historian Richard Schickel, an excerpt from the documentary "Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone" that chronicles the making of the movie, and a theatrical trailer.