Sergio Leono is every bit the master of suspense as Hitchcock.  He’s one of my all-time favorite directors (possibly my very favorite dead director), because of his boldness, funk, imagination and the cinematic weight his work always displays. In today’s shot from what I think is his masterpiece, he draws out suspense in the form of a simple shot of long duration, and I’d even sit through more of it, I find it so compelling.

Leone always did more with less – less sound, less cutting, less dialogue – unless, of course, it was time for the shit to hit the fan and then he could cut as fast as the likes of a Guy Ritchie.

This scene, at the top of the picture, is part of the sequences that introduce each of the titular characters. In this, we are given “The Bad,” though we’re not sure of that yet. But any stranger on the horizon in the world of Leone is enough to cause unease and suspicion. So when the man on the horse appears, causing the kid on the donkey to run inside, we sense no good can come of this.  And Leone of course knows this and takes full advantage.

David Lean via Sergio Leone

Like David Lean did with Omar Sharif‘s entrance in Lawrence, we get the full treatment here. Lee Van Cleef takes his sweet time as he approaches the house, and the audience feels the tension building with every hoof plop.

This is what I love about Leone – he knows what to milk, and just how to milk it, and does so with brazen boldness. The sequence is at 5:31 (start there) and the shot’s at 6:06. I mean, who holds a shot that long?  No one anymore, sadly.  Check out the youtube – sorry for the crappy resolution!