Once Upon a Time in America – The Restoration


Follow-up post on Blu-ray release here 

About a year ago Sergio Leone’s children, Andrea and Raffaella, announced that they would be working with the renowned Bologna Cinematheque to digitally restore Once Upon a Time in America. Tonight, that restored version is being shown at the Cannes Film Festival, almost 28 years to the day after it was first shown there in 1984. It’s all very exciting for us Leone fans, but I remain as ambivalent now as I was a year ago about the decision to insert 26 minutes of previously unedited footage into Leone’s 229-minute masterpiece and re-release it as the so-called “director’s cut.” Make no mistake, I’ll shove little old ladies to the ground, kick puppy dogs through the air, and push the wheelchair-bound out of my way to be the first in line to see this, but unless Leone’s ghost instructed his children to reinstate that footage, I don’t see how this can legitimately be considered Leone’s “director’s cut.”

Once upon a time, in 1984 to be exact, Leone said he reluctantly excised between forty-five and fifty minutes worth of “significant footage” from Once Upon a Time in America. But sometime between then and 1988 he underwent a change a heart. Here’s what he said about the legendary longer version in a 1988 interview with Oreste De Fornari:

“Then there is the very long one that has never been edited and which lasts fifty minutes longer. Four and a half hours. But we rejected the idea of two parts on TV. It is so intricate that it has to be done in one evening. And besides, let’s be honest: this one is my version. The other perhaps explained things more clearly and it could have been done on TV in two or three parts. But the version that I prefer is this one, that bit of reclusiveness is just what I like about it.”

There you have it, straight from the lion’s mouth, so to speak. Leone preferred the 229-minute cut. He considered it his version. That should be the last word on the subject of the director’s cut.

Also note that the additional footage “has never been edited.” The common perception among fans that Leone assembled a 270-minute cut back in 1984 is a myth. He wanted to make a longer version in 1984, but didn’t; later, he could have, but no longer wanted to. This has serious implications concerning whether this restoration constitutes the director’s cut. After all, restoring the footage isn’t just a matter of reinserting previously edited material back into an already existing longer version; it means taking raw footage and making decisions about how best to use it. Who made these decisions? Not Leone. And if Leone ain’t making the decisions, it ain’t the director’s cut. It’s not the director’s cut because the director is no longer around to cut it. It doesn’t get more axiomatic than that, my friends.

Nor was Nino Baragli, the film’s original editor, involved in the decision-making process. In other words, the two men responsible for cutting Once Upon a Time in America as we know it today, Leone and Baragli, had absolutely nothing to do with this restoration project. Baragli, a world-class editor whose credits include The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, said this about editing with Leone:

“I call Sergio “the Pulveriser” because he reduces you to a pulp when the editing starts. But working with him is more exciting than with others. When I edit a film of his I don’t think about it only when I am in front of the Moviola, but also when I’m watching television at night. There is never a sequence that you can shoot in a couple of hours. You need at least a day, and then the next day when you take another look at it, three other solutions present themselves. With him “duplicates” do not exist. You may take one line from one take and one from another which you thought was going to be discarded. Sergio shoots a lot of footage because he has a taste for the shot, because he wants to get the maximum out of the actors, because he wants to cover himself. There are a thousand ways to edit a film of his; certain scenes can become dramatic or ironic according to the editing.”

Which of the thousand ways to edit these 26 minutes will we get? I guarantee one thing: it won’t be the way Leone and Baragli would have done it. Who was the Pulveriser? Not Leone. Who got pulverized? Not Baragli.

I’m glad Ennio Morricone scored the missing scenes, but let’s not forget that it was always Leone who ultimately decided how the music would be used. Who decided how to use the music this time? Whoever it was, it wasn’t Leone. Even though all the music for Once Upon a Time in America was scored before filming began, Morricone emphasized:

“Sergio and I always think through our work to the very end, without ever declaring ourselves satisfied. “

Who thought it through to the end with Morricone this time? Sadly, not Leone.

Unless I hear that Leone’s ghost took charge of the project, I will never consider this restoration the “director’s cut.” At best it’s an approximation of the director’s cut Leone envisioned once upon a time.

Nevertheless, little old ladies, puppy dogs, and the handicapped have been warned.

Here are the reinstated scenes:

1) At the mausoleum in 1968 Noodles talks to the director of the cemetery, played by Louise Fletcher. As they emerge from the mausoleum, Noodles notices a suspicious looking black limousine parked nearby, which according to the script “catches the funereal atmosphere to perfection.” (3 minutes and 49 seconds)


Note: According to Adrian Martin “this extended dialogue has the woman speak of tombs as ‘havens’ and explain the Egyptian ‘cult of death,’ references that resonate with many elements, including Noodles’ opium taking and Deborah’s on-stage role as Cleopatra.”

2a) The 1933 scene where Noodles drives a car into the water has been extended. We now see, per the script, “Cockeye, then Patsy, emerge, sputtering and spitting. Then Max, who looks around much the way Noodles looked for him some years ago. No sign of Noodles.” (1 minute and 17 seconds)

Note: This addition may not seem particularly “significant,” but it accomplishes two things. First, as alluded to above, it creates a parallel with the childhood salt weight scene in which Max fakes drowning. Second, it improves how the film transitions from 1933 to 1968 at this point in the story. In the 229-minute version, we cut from the car plunging into the water to Noodles watching a TV news story about a car bomb explosion at the Bailey estate, easily the film’s weakest transition. But now the film will cut to…

2b) …Noodles seeing that mysterious black limousine explode at the Bailey estate. (1 minutes and 56 seconds)

Then we’ll cut to Noodles watching the television newscast, which will make for a smoother and more resonant transition.

3) In 1933 Noodles talks to the chauffeur (producer Arnon Milchan) outside the theater before his fateful date with Deborah. (2 minutes and 6 seconds)


Note: According to Christopher Frayling, “Leone reluctantly had to sacrifice this scene” due to running time concerns.

Co-writer Stuart Kaminsky thought the scene was “crucial.”

On the other hand, Leone’s business advisor, Luca Morsella, claimed Leone cut this scene for reasons other than the running time: “Sergio had promised the part of the chauffeur to Arnon Milchan, but…he lost his nerve about this. He was worried that having taken so much trouble over casting everyone else, this might not work. So he said no. Milchan was offended and asked De Niro to intercede. There was a row with Sergio, who finally agreed to shoot it. He shot it and cut it, then told interviewers Milchan had made him cut it!”

4a) After raping Deborah, Noodles gets drunk at a speakeasy, where he meets Eve, a prostitute, and agrees to pay her on the condition that she call him Deborah during sex. (2 minutes and  25 seconds)

4b) Noodles and Eve get a hotel room, but Noodles passes out after reciting a few lines from the ‘Song of Songs.’ (2 minutes and 30 seconds)

4c)  The next day, he wakes up and finds a thank you note from Eve signed “Deborah.” (30 seconds)

Note: Eve’s appearance will no longer go unexplained.

Also, as Adrian Martin points out, “the scene contains several of the film’s key motifs and themes, such as Noodles’ ‘dead sleep’ and his willful, desperate forgetfulness.”

5) The night after the rape, Deborah, looking “elegant and pale,” is sitting at a table in the train station restaurant. A porter comes for her luggage and they “cross the great hall of the station towards the platform from which her train leaves. Noodles just catches sight of her as she leaves the hall and hurries after her.” (35 seconds)

Then, of course, she “draws the shade” on their relationship.

Note: Leone held this part of the sequence in high regard, even though it runs only 35 seconds.

*** One of my commenters provided a great reference: In issue 359 of Cahiers du Cinema dated May 1984, Leone said: “I cut a scene that I liked very much, at the railway station restaurant (it had been filmed at the Brasserie Julien in Paris)”

6) In 1968 Deborah performs the death scene of Cleopatra on stage as Noodles watches from the front row. (2 minutes and 18 seconds)

Note: Elizabeth McGovern said, “Sergio shot the scene but thankfully cut it out because it stopped all the action at a point where you couldn’t afford to take the time suddenly to get used to the Shakespearean language…it was very strange to have a death scene Kabuki-style at that point in the movie.”

McGovern makes a good point. I’ll reserve judgment until I see the scene, but it does seem like it would halt the film’s momentum. Still, I love the idea of Noodles watching her perform – just like he used to spy on her through the peephole when they were children. You can be sure there’s going to be a powerful close-up of Noodles as Morricone’s melancholy ‘Deborah’s Theme’ swells on the soundtrack.

7) As guests arrive to the party at the Bailey estate, Max/Bailey has a heated exchange with union leader Jimmy O’Donnell (Treat Williams). (5 minutes and 8 seconds)

Note: In 1922, after being pummeled by Bugsy, Max says he doesn’t like bosses. In 1933 he reconsiders his position when he meets syndicate bigwig Frankie Minaldi, prompting Noodles to say, “I thought you were the guy who didn’t like bosses.” The 1968 scene with O’Donnell shows that Max’s “bosses” prove to be his downfall after all.

As Adrian Martin writes, “the ironies of political history are spelt out by Jimmy: ‘I’ve avoided mistakes and you haven’t. You’re stupid, and, unfortunately, you’re also in the way.’ This leads to Jimmy’s unsubtle suggestion to Max that he kill himself – ‘I’d be very happy for you if tonight, during all the noise of the party, I heard a shot.’

Thanks to Forgotten Silver for the great set of photographs above, as well as for putting together a list of the deleted scenes.

Click here if you’re interested in reading how these scenes play in the shooting script.

Here’s what Davide Pozzi, Director of L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, says about the restoration:

The main challenge faced was represented by the desire to re-insert the scenes cut by Sergio Leone. A team of film scholars worked for months researching all available information and testimonies. Ever aware of the delicacy of the intervention, these scenes, previously considered lost, were inserted in an extended version in the most harmonious way possible.

Technically, the homogeneity of the unedited scenes was the biggest problem, as unfortunately the negatives for these scenes no longer exist. The only materials available were discarded strips of working positives which had been badly preserved.

Making this task even more difficult was the fact that the working positives had been printed without particular care, as originally they were part of the working copies which circulated between the assistant editors and sound editors as a work reference. The images in these sequences were ruined, not just by their poor state of preservation, but also through their use as working copies.

48 Responses to “Once Upon a Time in America – The Restoration”

  1. Hi Mat

    Certainly the movie being shown as Cannes today is not Sergio Leone’s preferred version.

    We’ll always have the 229 mins cut on DVD & Blu-ray.

    Leone’s conversation with Oreste de Fornari wasn’t in English. It would be preferable to know the exact words.

    Google Translate gives the meaning of inediti as unpublished.

    Many people thought the scenes were unedited and without sound.

    I think the additional scenes .pdf has been updated

    4c) & 5) Noodles wakes up after his night with Eve and looks at the time – it’s 6:00 pm (evening rather than morning)

    He then rushes to the railway station. This may fit better since, as the train leaves the station, it looks dark outside

    You’re probably aware the pics of flat chested Eve and Noodles with a gun are from a later scene after Max and Noodles have a heated discussion at the hospital.

    Some good points in this blog and hopefully all who are interested will get to see the extended and restored version in the not too distant future.

  2. Hey man,

    Thank you for your instructive response. I agree, it would be preferable to know Leone’s precise wording. Hopefully, at some point, we’ll learn more about just how much Leone had worked on these additional scenes back in 1984.

    I think you’re right about the timing of the scene with Deborah at the train station – it does appear to be nighttime.

    Yes, I’m aware that the scene showing Noodles and Eve comes later, but those were the only photos I could find of cut scenes between those two characters.

    Anyway, despite my reservations about the restoration, I am dying to see it. Damn, I wish I were in Cannes right now!


  3. Mat,

    Thanks for this post.

    1) Where did you get this info RE: the restored scenes?

    2) Just wanted to make the point that we really don’t know whether the 229 minute version is Leone’s preferred version. Sure, he later said it was, but by that time he knew he would never get a chance to have his 269 minute version, so perhaps he just wanted to have viewers believe that the version they were seeing was the REAL version. If he had actually been given the opportunity to have the movie as long as he wanted, I’d bet that he would have included much if not all of this footage.

    3) SLWB has been down all day for me; have you been able to get on?



  4. Hey d&d,

    I got the info from here:


    and here:


    You might be right about Leone, but that’s just speculation. I’m going to take him at his word. And, by the way, he did have the opportunity to assemble the longer version for Italian TV, but decided against it.

    I haven’t been able to get on SLWB either. What a day for it to go down!


  5. When will this be on this dvd and what extras

  6. Mat,

    Thanks for posting> I do not understand Italian, so I am glad you translated.

    the Cannes program you posted indeed says the new running time is 4:15, so that settles it: 25 new minutes.

    I will withhold judgment until I see it. My preliminary thoughts are that the scenes with Eve are very important; her unexplained appearance in the film is one of its most jarring elements. But i wish they had shown ALL the scenes with Eve; however, the scenes with the falsies are not important to the narrative.

    The scenes at the cemetery and with the limo definitely help the narrative. The scene with Deborah at the train station seems more for style. The scene with Arnon Milchan is important cuz Leone wanted to distinguish the Jewish gangsters (hated by their community) from the Italian gangsters (admired by their community). And IMO he probably was sensitive about comparisons with THE GODFATHER, and therefore wanted to emphasize this.

    The scene of Deborah acting seems unnecessary for the narrative, same with the scene with elderly Jimmy O’Donnell.

    There are so many more scenes that were NOT restored that make me scratch my head. Once they are doing this restoration, why not restore them all? (Perhaps it’s cuz the film is too damaged?) Otherwise, I hope that they at least put those scenes on the dvd, possibly as extras.

    I was searching around for news on the release since the SLWB was down, and upon Googling, came across your site on the top of page 2 of search results! Nice site you have. Hope to see you here more, and back on SLWB soon. I just hope their files are backed up in case anything happens.



  7. I really do not see how changing the way Leone edited this movie will make it any better. He did a marvelous job. Why would anyone mess with the master? You make some great points. Good Blog. We will all have to see what they do with the additions. How long do we have to wait for the new version?

  8. I’m wondering if there is a lot of fuss about the additional footage; My guess is that the additional footage changes some of the film, maybe just scenes, but I wonder if those additions change the beginning and more important, the end of the movie, If the end is changed and important scenes are altered than The Pulverisor would not like that. Guess you’ll have to wait to see what those changes do to the film.

  9. Thanks d&d. Martin Scorsese says, “At long last, materials for some of these missing sections have been found and re-inserted into the picture under the supervision of Leone’s family and surviving collaborators. The work has been completed by the magnificent team at Cineteca di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata, and it has been wonderful to witness this enlargement of Leone’s vision, step by precious step.”

    Notice he says materials for “some” of these missing sections have been found…

    So, presumably, either not all of the scenes were found or some of them were too degraded to restore.


  10. Arthur,

    I don’t know when this will be released on video. My guess is that it will first have a limited theatrical release, and then find its way to DVD/Blu-ray.


  11. Leone Fan,

    I can assure you that the beginning and the ending of the film have not been altered in any way.


  12. Check out some of the new footage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIuLFIm2mQQ

  13. Here’s the full scene between Noodles and the cemetery director:



  14. Here’s a video showing De Niro, Woods, Connelly, Morricone, McGovern, the Leone family, and others at Cannes before the showing of the film:



  15. After viewing the footage that was not used in the original movie, I find it will certainly add to what Leone intended.I will be anxiously waiting to see the revised version. You my friend should be proud of your blog. You do such a great job, that it makes me (and I am sure others who see your blog) want to see the movies you critique.

  16. Thanks Barbara.

    The first review (of sorts) is overwhelmingly positive:


  17. Thanks for a great article Mat, I too agree that if Leone himself approved the 229-minute cut widely available today, then THAT and that alone should be the so-called director’s cut, whilst the newly restored scenes may be interesting and possibly improve the overall narrative, if Leone had a chance to re-edit those scenes back in and didn’t, then who are we to take it upon ourselves and do it anyway?

    If it was up to me, these newly-discovered scenes should be presented as a separate ‘deleted scenes’ section for a new DVD and Blu ray release, with the current 229-minute cut getting the 4k digital restoration, just my opinion anyway…

  18. Re: 5) Deborah at the train station restaurant

    In issue 359 of Cahiers du Cinema dated May 1984, Sergio Leone said:

    “J’ai coupé … un passage que j’aimais bien, au restaurant de la Gare (il a été tourné à la Brasserie Julien à Paris)”

    I cut … a scene that I liked very much, at the railway station restaurant (it had been filmed at the Brasserie Julien in Paris)

  19. Thanks Stevo the Magnificent. Are you a magician or just a helluva guy? : )

    Anyway, I tend to agree that perhaps the best scenario would have been to release the footage as part of the Special Features section of a DVD/Blu-ray.

    In fact, when all this was first announced a few years ago, Raffaella Leone said, ““In collaboration with Sky we want to restore forty minutes of new scenes that we have found. Mind you, we will not reassemble the film; it will stay what my father did. We’d love to show, however, perhaps in a screening at a festival, this interesting footage.”

    So, originally the plan was not to reinsert the footage. It was going to “stay what my father did.”

    But then flash forward a couple of years and suddenly the plan was to reinsert the scenes into the existing version and declare it the “director’s cut.” Who knows why the Leone family ultimately decided to insert the scenes. Did they find a passage from Leone’s secret diary confirming that he really preferred the longer version after all? Did Leone’s ghost appear and encourage them to go forth with a full restoration? Or, perhaps, is there more, shall we say, financial considerations at work here?

    I’d like to hear more about this from the Leone family.


  20. Thanks guest! It’s great to have that reference. I will incorporate it into my post immediately.


  21. Hi Mat

    The comments by Raffaella Leone were made in Sep 2006. She was attending the screening of a restored version of For A Few Dollars More at a Venice Film Festival and her comments were just a small part of a much longer interview.

    She was asked questions about her father, what was he like, what was it like living with him and having stars like Clint Eastwood pop in and out of the house, of the films he made what was his favorite and least favorite, who, in the opinion of her father, was the most beautiful female role in his films etc?

    Whilst talking about her father’s favorite Leone movie, the interviewer prompted her about this project.

    It’s certainly not the original plan. Most of us will have seen Film 4’s documentary “Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone” from 2000.

    The original version of this documentary included teasing images of 6 film reels labelled “Cemetery – Louise Fletcher”, “McGovern – Shakespeare scene”, “Eve out takes” and Arnon Milchan saying: “There’s another half hour we’re planning to put back and come with a full director’s version. This time I know what to do.”

    The extended and restored version of the movie is being screened in Bologna next month, in Switzerland in August, and in France and Italy from September. Looks like I may be able to see this sooner than I first thought.

  22. Hi guest,

    Plans for a restoration go back even further than 2000. In Oreste De Fornari’s book, published in 1997, he says, “A new edition of Once Upon a Time in America is being prepared which restores thirty-one minutes of footage that were sacrificed in the final version. They will be included in a restored version prepared under the direction of Claver Salizzato, with the assistance of Sergio Leone Production, Telepiu, and the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia Cineteca Nazionale.”

    Obviously, that fell through, for whatever reason. And remember that the Leone children bought the Italian film rights from Milchan, so he had nothing to do with this restoration. The original plan of the Leone children was not to re-integrate those scenes into the existing version.


  23. Hello

    can you post a link to my page directly in the article. It took me a long time to write and assemble the photos of the deleted scenes. I think I deserve credit.

  24. Update:

    Here’s a French article with some interesting info:



    1) Scorsese claims he “knew” that Leone wanted the twenty-six minutes restored. Question: how did Marty “know” this? Did he “know” what Leone himself said about it in 1988? Can someone get Marty on the phone please?

    2) Scorsese mentions the possibility of adding another twenty minutes to the film in the near future. Does that mean the cut just shown at Cannes wasn’t the “complete” version? Why wasn’t this additional twenty minutes restored in time for the Cannes presentation? Is it more degraded than the other footage? Can someone get Marty on the phone please?

    3) Despite the best efforts of those involved in the restoration, the new footage remains of inferior quality. The question is, just how jarring is the contrast between the old and the new footage? Can someone get Marty on the phone please?


  25. From Andrea Leone’s comments I get the impression that he has been trying to progress the restoration for many years, much earlier than 2006.

    In any event we are where we are. The new version is a bit of a compromise but, like many other Leone fans, I’m eager to see it either in a theater or on disc.

  26. Thank you Forgotten Silver. I’m afraid I’m not as sensitive to online etiquette as I should be. I did credit your site in the comments section, but now I’ve also added a link to your page in the body of the post. Thanks for the great set of photos!


  27. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6Ss-jUGbl4&feature=player_embedded#

    In the above clip from Cannes, James Woods speculates that Leone died from a “broken heart” because of the cuts made to Once Upon a Time in America. Sorry, but that’s just sentimental nonsense. We know that Leone was happy with the 229-minute cut; it was ultimately his preferred cut and the one he considered his version.

    Leone had moved on from Once Upon a Time in America. He declined an opportunity to release the longer version to Italian TV. At the time of his death, he was working on an epic on the siege of Leningrad. Yet many want to cling to this romantic notion that Leone never got over the way Once Upon a Time in America was treated. Bullshit. He didn’t die from a broken heart. He died from dilated cardiomyopathy (which could, I suppose, be construed as a “broken” heart, but that’s not what Woods meant), which was diagnosed while he was shooting Once Upon a Time in America, well before the trouble with the Ladd Company started.


  28. An interview with Scorsese (in French) about Leone and the restoration of Once Upon a Time in America:



  29. Your opinion regarding the restoration not truly being “the director’s cut” makes sense. I wonder why Leone’s family would do this and call it the Director’s Cut knowing full well the eliminated scenes had never been edited and therefore not approved by the Director. The article written by
    Gian Luca Farinelli does explain that the scenes would be re-inserted where Leone had originally intended them and that “Leone often recalled many of these scenes with regret.” Perhaps that is what the family is going with.
    I haven’t seen this film in a very long time but this blog has me interested in viewing it again before seeing it with the restored scenes.
    Please give the little old ladies, et al, a break!

  30. I was interested in reading the interview with Leone but I don’t understand French!

  31. Hi Julie,

    I’d love to interview the Leone children. My first question: Do you know what your father said in a 1988 interview with Oreste De Fornari?


  32. One seldom quoted source is a book called Italian Filmmakers Self Portraits containing an interview between Gili and Sergio Leone.

    In this interview, Sergio Leone says he has an hour more to add for TV, an hour already edited but not dubbed, that would make the film four and a half hours long. When Leone says it is not dubbed, I think he means it has sound and English dialog but it has not been dubbed into Italian.


    Did the long period of waiting and the screenplay’s long development help the film?


    I don’t know. One thing is absolutely sure: the way it was conceived, the film was more than one film, it was two. Grimaldi, in fact, was hoping it would become two long episodes, a bit like 1900, and this, for better or for worse, was something that remained. Even after the cuts, it was constructed like that.

    This was so true that I still have an hour more to add for TV, an hour already edited but not dubbed, that would make the film four and a half hours long…


  33. IB2121,

    Thanks, but whether the footage was edited (in the later interview with De Fornari he said it never had been edited), seems almost unimportant next to the fact that he ultimately decided not to release the longer version to TV. We simply don’t know the extent to which the footage was edited; but we do know that, in the end, Leone passed up the opportunity to reassemble it – a decision consistent with his later claim that the 229-minute cut was his preferred version.


  34. Also:

    Davide Pozzi:

    “Technically, the homogeneity of the unedited scenes was the biggest problem, as unfortunately the negatives for these scenes no longer exist. The only materials available were discarded strips of working positives which had been badly preserved.”

    The fact that these (unedited?) scenes were lost/badly preserved is yet another indication that Leone lost interest in them.


  35. I see things a little differently to you, Mat.

    Filming started in June 1982, the deleted scenes are almost 30 years old and it’s not surprising that they have deteriorated over those 30 years. The three reviews from people who saw the new version of the movie at Cannes seem positive.

    It’s possible that the restorers ran out of time and if the additional 20 minutes talked about by Martin Scorcese can be successfully restored, we should get much nearer to Leone’s original 270 minute version. Blu-rays are capable of stitching together scenes seamlessly so it should be quite feasible for a viewer of the new Blu-ray to choose the 229, 253-255 or 270 minute version, whichever he or she prefers.

    Some of us have been discussing these deleted scenes for over 10 years. The way I see it Leone made a 270 minute version in the hope that he could persuade the Ladd group of companies to accept it. When he realized that it was completely unacceptable, he cut as much as he could (50 minutes) and made a 220 minute version. At some stage the Song of Songs scene with Scott Tiler and Jennifer Connelly (“une scène d’amour avec Deborah petite fille”) was put back in making a 229 minute version.

    The Ladd Company demanded that he cut a further 60 minutes which he refused. Leone retained the 50 minutes of deleted scenes in the hope that one day his 270 minute version would be seen by the public. He had legal battles with the Ladd Company which affected his health and you only have to hear James Coburn speak about Leone to understand how broken a man he was. The Ladd Company also had legal battles with Warner Bros.

    Leone seems to have fallen out with Milchan and did not want to work with him on a televised version (“c’est un amateur”). So we have legal battles, copyright issues and funding problems. It’s no wonder the televised version did not happen. During the 1990s Leone’s family found the deleted scenes and ever since have been trying to allow the public to see them. Initially they wanted to integrate them with the rest of the movie. Again disputes, copyright issues and funding problems prevented this from happening. They tried to come to a compromise and get the deleted scenes shown on Sky but again disputes, copyright issues and funding problems prevented this from happening.

    If a 270 minute version is made, we’ll never know how Sergio Leone feels about it. He certainly regretted cutting some of the scenes in 1984 but by 1988 he seemed quite happy about the 229 minute version. Andrea Leone and Martin Scorcese were close to Sergio Leone in the 1980s and seem confident that he would approve and, as a Leone fan, I will be ecstatic when I view the new version.

  36. Ib2121,

    You’re simply speculating that Leone initially assembled a complete, fully edited 270-minute version in 1984. Leone himself made conflicting claims as to whether or not the 50 minutes in question were edited. Davide Pozzi, Director of the L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory which headed the restoration, said,“technically, the homogeneity of the unedited scenes was the biggest problem…”

    So, considering that both Leone (in 1988) and the man who headed the restoration refer to “unedited” scenes, there’s good reason to believe that, at the very least, the scenes were never fully edited and integrated into a film ready for distribution. Again, we simply do not know the extent to which these scenes were edited.

    Leone chose not to release the longer version to Italian TV, as his quote from 1988 makes clear. I think it’s telling that he passed up the opportunity to assemble his 270-minute version and release it to Italian TV (and perhaps elsewhere after that).

    Sorry, but this sentimental notion that the Ladd cuts made Leone a “broken man” is sheer nonsense (I’ve seen the Coburn comments.) Of course, he wasn’t happy about what happened to the film in America, but the 229-minute cut, which he approved of in 1984 and which later became his preferred version, was successful outside the States. And he was gratified that the 229-minute version greatly outsold the shorter version on video (I’m out of town right now and so I can’t provide the exact quote from De Fornari’s interview).

    The fact is, Leone had moved on from Once Upon a Time in America. He was preparing a massive epic on the siege of Leningrad at the time of his death. He no longer seemed to have any interest in reintegrating those 50 minutes into the film (which could very well explain why the negatives were lost, leaving only badly preserved positives.)

    But I’m with you on at least one thing, IB2121: as a Leone fan, I too am looking forward to seeing this version. (Hell, I’ve been looking forward to seeing these scenes for fucking 23 years, ever since I first saw and became obsessed with the film). I just have serious doubts about it ever becoming my preferred version.


  37. Interesting to read all of this on my favourite film. Looking at it, I think the editor did a very good job, because I can’t see what many if any of these scenes add to what is already a great and long movie.

  38. Thanks Chris. I tend to agree, but I still can’t wait to see it.


  39. Will this restored version be in theaters across the world, or is this a one-time experience?

  40. Tofting,

    It’s going to be released to theaters in France in September:

    “Once Upon a Time in America back in theaters. Carlotta Films will release the new version, extended and restored, the masterpiece by Sergio Leone in French theaters in September.”


    It’s also going to be shown at a film festival in Bologna at the end of June:


    It’s only a matter of time before it reaches the States, and then DVD/Blu-ray. But exactly when I can’t say.


  41. Corriere TV has full videos of 3 of the restored scenes:

    1. Deborah as Cleopatra

    2. Louise Fletcher at the cemetery

    3. Bailey and Jimmy’s conversation in Bailey’s study


    Quality is fairly good but they are pre-restoration and do not represent how the deleted scenes will look in the fully restored movie.

    At the Cineteca di Bologna web site, there are 3 images which are described as captures from frames from the restored scenes. These should represent more accurately the look of the finished movie.

    Frame capture from scene 107 Noodles and the chauffeur:


  42. Thanks ib2121!

    I know it’s silly, but I’ve decided not to watch the new scenes until I see the actual film. I still haven’t watched the Louise Fletcher scene, which was the first one available in its entirety. But I’m glad you’ve provided the link so that others will have the chance to see them if they want to.

    The frame capture looks quite good, which is encouraging.


  43. Hey, I’ve been reading about this film for hours and hours, nights and nights. Does anyone know if it will have an international release? (On dvd or cinemas). Please let me know if you do! Cheers Mat.

  44. Bart,

    See my response to Tofting above. That’s all I know at this time.


  45. Hi Mat,

    Thanks for the great post, really informative.

    I noticed in the booklet that accompanied the Cannes screening that Gian Luca Farinelli, the Director of Cineteca di Bologna, states that ‘Several sequences had been eliminated, which … we have been able to find and re-insert where Leone had originally intended them. Beginning and end frames of the cut scenes allowed us to indentify the exact place they were deleted from.’ So this shows that there was indeed a longer version of the film which was cut down to the 229m version.

    With Scorcese’s and others’ comments about there being around 20m of more footage to be restored it really does sound like there was a version of the film about 4 and a half hours long that was cut down.

    Of course the ultimate question is not ‘what did Leone want?’ but rather ‘what is the best version of the film?’ It seems to me that the scenes all add to the overall quality. The scene with Deborah on stage fleshes out her character, showing us what she was passionate about and how professional she is (as well as the dialogue perhaps having some deeper meaning); the scene at the mausoleum gives further information about the mystery Noodles faces; the conversation between Max and Jimmy explains just how bad Max’s situation is; and the scene with Eve explains where she came from. They all improve the film, so this new version should be considered the definitive one.


  46. Hi Simon,

    Farinelli is doubtless referring to the “rough cut,” which merely established the basic sequence of the film. Editors routinely leave extra footage at the head and tail on rough cuts so that the shots can later be trimmed for content, rhythm, and running time; it’s not uncommon for a rough cut of, say, four hours to be whittled down to less than two hours by the time the film is released. So, yeah, we know where the missing scenes were cut from (we pretty much knew that from the script anyway), but so what? That doesn’t mean they were taken from a completely edited workprint – i.e., the “fine cut.”

    According to Frayling, “Leone had ten hours of usable footage in the can. With help from editor Nino Baragli, this was pruned to six hours. Then, finally accepting that there was unlikely to be a two-part version, Leone delivered a fine cut of three hours and forty-nine minutes.”

    So the “fine cut” – the one that results from trimming down the rough cut – was three hours and forty-nine minutes. That means the missing scenes never made it to the most crucial creative phase of the editing. They never made it past the rough cut stage.

    And don’t forget what Davide Pozzi says in the press kit to which you refer:

    “Technically, the homogeneity of the unedited scenes was the biggest problem, as unfortunately the negatives for these scenes no longer exist. The only materials available were discarded strips of working positives which had been badly preserved. Making this task even more difficult was the fact that the working positives had been printed without particular care, as originally they were part of the working copies which circulated between the assistant editors and sound editors as a work reference.”

    Obviously, he’s talking about a rough cut, not a completely edited fine cut.

    (By the way, we know these scenes weren’t completely edited if for no other reason than that Morricone was brought in to score them.)

    I’m not at all convinced that these scenes improve the film, but I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve actually seen it. You prefer the new version. Leone preferred the 229-minute version. Come back later and I’ll let you know which one I prefer.


  47. Hmmmm. This is interesting.

    According to Farinelli, “the first version had a running time of 4 hours and 20 minutes.” That’s 31 minutes longer than the 3 hours and 49 minutes version. And according to Oreste De Fornari’s 1997 book (the same one in which Leone says the additional footage was never edited), “a new edition of Once Upon a Time in America is being prepared which restores thirty-one minutes of footage…”

    So there’s agreement between these two sources on the running time of the “original” version: 4 hours and 20 minutes.

    But this raises more questions than it answers. Why is the newly restored version only 4 hours and 15 minutes? What happened to those other 5 minutes? I might have the answer to this one. De Fornari’s book provides a full synopsis of the film, including detailed descriptions of those 31 additional minutes. The scenes are exactly the same as the ones restored in the Cannes version, plus three more:

    * Before the opening titles: A Chinese shadow play that represents the eternal struggle between good and evil. At the side of the screen, drum, bell, and gamelan players. In the theater only a few sleepy spectators.

    * 1921: At dawn the four delinquents, joined by Max, attack a black trumpet player and rob him of his trumpet and wallet. Max decides that they are not going to work for others anymore.

    * 1968: Carol, living in a retirement home, tells Noodles that Max was about to go insane like his father.

    These scenes could very well be the missing 5 minutes.

    But if Farinelli and De Fornari are correct in saying that the original version was 31 minutes longer, then why did Leone say it was 50 minutes longer? Are these the 15-20 minutes Scorsese is talking about? If so, what are they? And why weren’t they included in the “original” version or in the current Cannes restoration?

    Anyone wanna take a stab at making sense of all this?


  48. The film has been removed from distribution pending additional restoration work: