Sergio Leone Web Board

Films of Sergio Leone => Once Upon A Time In The West => Topic started by: McWatt on August 01, 2003, 03:21:33 PM



Title: Morton and the water picture
Post by: McWatt on August 01, 2003, 03:21:33 PM
Just watching West again, one thing reference not so clear to me is the extreme close-up of Morton after the opening of the auction.  He is looking at a portrait of the sea (I think with the sound effects of waves crashing).

What is the significance, other than his respect for water and its relevance to the steam engine.  ???


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: Groggy on August 01, 2003, 05:34:43 PM
Just watching West again, one thing reference not so clear to me is the extreme close-up of Morton after the opening of the auction.  He is looking at a portrait of the sea (I think with the sound effects of waves crashing).

What is the significance, other than his respect for water and its relevance to the steam engine.  ???

It is the fact that he wishes to reach the Pacific Ocean before he dies of consumption.


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: mono on August 05, 2003, 09:26:44 AM
Just watching West again, one thing reference not so clear to me is the extreme close-up of Morton after the opening of the auction.  He is looking at a portrait of the sea (I think with the sound effects of waves crashing).

What is the significance, other than his respect for water and its relevance to the steam engine.  ???
it's the film maker's explanation of Morton's motivation to arrange with Frank's bad attitudes in order to get the train going... closer to the ocean, Morton's great dream.


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: Frank on August 15, 2003, 11:40:02 AM
A good friend of mine says that Water is somesort of them in this picture.

The railroad man's seascape painting represents reaching the pacific -- almost all of the ambitious railroad companies of the west included that ocean in their name:  Union --, Southern --, Northern --, Chicago Rock Island &  --, Missouri ---, Chicago Milwaulkee, St. Paul & ---, etc.

However, water is part of many other key scenes:  Claudia's bath in town, the water tower in the beginning, and harmonica asks for some well water because he likes his water fresh.  In the final scene Claudia is bringin water to the railroad workers at Jason Robard's urging.


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: Cusser on February 24, 2004, 07:44:02 AM
Keep in mind that Morton would've been more mobile in water, that is, the buoyant effect of the water on his useless legs.  Not only does he want to accomplish completion of his goal to reach the ocean, he sees water as a partial equalizer.


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: shorty larsen on February 24, 2004, 12:37:46 PM
Yeah, excellent interpretation of the matter!

I think the ocean is like the music, according to the moment both can be equalisers or dangerously desequalisers vis-a-vis our mind.

If I have to commit suicide, I would choose the Ocean, definitely.


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: grandpa_chum on February 24, 2004, 12:51:09 PM
I mean you can go as far into detail as you want and read into it much more than needed, but simply it's his dream for his railroad to reach the pacific... why i don't know... on the dvd's commentary they comment on the "water motif" throughout the movie... the fact that the only reason sweetwater was of any value was because it had all the things a railroad station/town would need... the most important being water, which apparantly there is a large source of under sweetwater... so basically, in an extremely basic way, most of the intentions in the movie deal with or revolve around water. Water is the fuel that keeps the whole movie going... without it, a lot of the plot would'nt make a whole lot of sense.


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: Frank on April 16, 2004, 04:05:50 PM
I think Leone knew enough American History (possibly thru watching Westerns) that he knew of the obsession with the Easterners to reach the Pacific.

I would think that this knowledge was fairly widely shared through the 1950s to 60s, but with American History as taught in the schools, most of these themes have been jetisoned so we can teach the kids trivia about women and minority contributions to the building of the nation.


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: General Sibley on April 17, 2004, 04:34:46 AM
The PC remake of OUTIW would be kind of interesting.  Point of view of Wobbles and the Chinese laundrymen  instead of Harmonica and Frank.  "Well, looks like we're one laundry basket short"  :-X


Title: Re:Morton and the water picture
Post by: shorty larsen on April 17, 2004, 06:38:42 AM
I agree with Franck, the water is present everywhere in the movie as a symbol.

Why McBain is in Sweetwater?

Because Sweetwater has water to the trains....

The water is the meaning of lots of things in the movie. It explains Morton obsession to reach the Ocean Pacific and it is the reason why McBain and his family are killed.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Poggle on May 22, 2005, 06:53:21 PM
Water tower - Harmonica kills the three gunmen/gets shot
SweetWATER ranch - Family massacre
Bath tub mention in wagonstop - Cheyenne kills his "escort"
Fresh water from well - Frank's men killed.
Wobbles knocked up against water bucket - Wobbles shot by Frank shortly afterward
Cheyenne flushing toilet on train - Frank's men killed
Jill's bath in town - Killing of Frank's gunmen.
Morton in water - Dying
Cheyenne telling Jill to take water outside - Frank's death
Jill taking water outside - Cheyenne's death. The death of the old west :(

Hmm... There's something very surrealist about that kind of symbolism.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on May 23, 2005, 06:24:25 PM
And don't forget: Them coffee pots don't percolate without water!


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Tony Montana on May 24, 2005, 12:09:26 PM
I think that Morton just wants one thing: Join the Atlantic ocean with the Pacific ocean with his train... and his dream is watch the sea at the end of the way... because of this, when he is getting death, Frank watches him getting near of a little water... his dream is watch the ocean before die, and that little group of water represents his dream


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Half Soldier on June 02, 2005, 06:28:13 AM
There is a feminist theory of water being female but I can't remember the basics of it (I wasn't listening to who was telling me it) but I always think about this when I see the scene in question.  Any fems out there that can expand?? He hadn't had an accident at sea as mentioned earlier but says which disease he had (again doesn't spring to mind) was rotting hisbody, not his mind.  Frank also remembers him when he was 'barely limping'


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: redyred on June 02, 2005, 09:20:09 AM
Water tower - Harmonica kills the three gunmen/gets shot
SweetWATER ranch - Family massacre
Bath tub mention in wagonstop - Cheyenne kills his "escort"
Fresh water from well - Frank's men killed.
Wobbles knocked up against water bucket - Wobbles shot by Frank shortly afterward
Cheyenne flushing toilet on train - Frank's men killed
Jill's bath in town - Killing of Frank's gunmen.
Morton in water - Dying
Cheyenne telling Jill to take water outside - Frank's death
Jill taking water outside - Cheyenne's death. The death of the old west :(

Hmm... There's something very surrealist about that kind of symbolism.

Something to do with death, eh?

The water is also seen as facilitating or being necessary to the progress - Morton must reach the ocean (or the puddle) before he dies, the train must pass through sweetwater, Jill gives water to the workmen... so couple that with all the water references preceeding deaths and what you get is water as the driving force behind the whole film.

Half Soldier - well Leone did say about OUTW something along the lines of the old west being the last era when men had balls, and the death of it being the beginning of "the great matriarchy of America" (or words to that effect). Of course this is the significance of a woman from the urban east coming to the west. But you've also made me think how it's always Jill who is providing water (er... no not in that sense  ;)) - her arrival means the building of the sweetwater ranch can go ahead, she gives water to the workers, she makes coffee for cheyenne and of course there are her baths.

So in other words...

- The arrival of Jill symbolises the beginning of the matriarchy of America
- Water is the driving force behind the progress of the modern world
- Jill provides water

Christ, Leone's symbolism really runs deep doesn't it?


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: grandpa_chum on June 02, 2005, 02:24:10 PM
I love the mud puddle death, I love the way it's symbollic(to me anyway) of mortons unrealized dream, he would screw whoever he could to get to the pacific and all he got was a dirty mud puddle.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on June 03, 2005, 11:54:40 PM
There is a feminist theory of water being female but I can't remember the basics of it .
It's not a feminist theory, it goes back to ideas developed by Fraser, Frye, Graves, Eliade and others concerning archetypes in Western culture. Women are associated with water (for many reasons, one being that the womb is a "watery" place) and men are associated with dry land, deities with the sky, etc. These associations are not exclusive, however. In OUATITW Wobbles runs a laundry, and as has been mentioned, Morton is identified with the Pacific Ocean, but neither of these facts suggest that there is anything feminine about those men.

The fact that Jill is constantly linked with water in various forms seems to suggest a *particular* identification between her and it. Since water is necessary for life and civilization, Jill, by bearing drinks to the boys at film's end, represents a nurturing presence. She is, if you will, the Mother of the coming age, the matriarch of a culture about to be born (exit Harmonica and the West). This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius (aka Jill's America). The Greeks had Helen, Leone posits a Jill at the start of the American Century. The White Goddess, no doubt, can assume many guises........


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Huey on June 04, 2005, 09:34:41 AM
When Cheyenne said that "it's something to with death", a lot of people took him at his word and decided the film is all about revenge (i.e., the usual theme of a Bronson movie).

But it ain't about death.  The water motif shines all the way through it and that's what it's about.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Half Soldier on June 04, 2005, 04:07:53 PM
Dave Jenkins

Point taken about 'feminist' theory.  Told you I wasn't listening, but at least i was on the right track (unlike Morton who fell off when he was shot).  Don't know much about Wobbles part in the theory, unless he was a dry cleaner ;)

The point about Morton though is not his sexuality or his manliness, but his DESIRE for the ocean (which we agree is female as gurgitated by many pseudo-intellectuals of no note).  His longing at the picture and his death-crawl to the puddle show this desire.  I could go on and indeed started to but deleted it all because it made no sense written down, but the disease is very relevant to his sexual nature, since it is most likely that he is unable to sow his oats, even if a lady found him attractive enough - hence the substitute (female) ocean.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on June 05, 2005, 05:52:14 PM
Half Soldier, I think you're on to something there. I'd never really thought about the value of the ocean for Morton in symbolic terms before, but your reading is certainly plausible. An added irony is that in his quest for the Pacific, Morton is unable to notice Jill (and her "sweet water") right in front of his train. Thus he remains a sterile, impotent figure.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: grandpa_chum on June 05, 2005, 09:06:52 PM
btw, cheyenne never says IT's something to do with death, nor does what he say make a statement that the movie is all about revenge, cause it's not... he simply states that harmonica has something inside him, something to do with death, and bronson's character IS all about revenge, everything he does is to get at frank, and once he does he picks up and leaves no questions asked.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on June 06, 2005, 01:43:36 AM
Right, right, Harmonica is an avenger, so his story arc takes him to the final showdown with Frank. Harmonica's story, however, is not the only story we're witnessing, and Jill's is equally (or even more) important. And her story has *nothing* to do with death (it has something to do with water........)


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Beebs on June 06, 2005, 08:39:05 AM
I haven't seen the movie but once and my interretation went to the end when he struggles to finally reach the water before he dies. When Frank lets him live he sees what he is doing. So his dream is to find water.  This observation was after some thinging my first impresion during the movie was:

The place (forgive me for not knowing his name, the man and his family who were shot) the man chose to buy was the only place with water for miles arround. Morton finally realizes it. and has to see it for himself in the end with his struggle.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: grandpa_chum on June 06, 2005, 11:20:37 AM
you're right dave... i was just saying that cheyennes comment is only towards harmonica, and harmonica's story is only about revenge, more so than any other character in cinema history that I can think of.  He does absolutely nothing that isn't directly going to get him closer to frank. but you are right, that isn't the whole movie... I like to see the movie and the whole water, jill story, as the stage that finally allows harmonica, after years and years of searching, to finally get to frank, It's a wonderful story, and it may be better developed and more involved than harmonicas story, but I still believe the movie to center around harmonica's struggle and how the water backstory allowed it to come to be.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on June 06, 2005, 04:51:28 PM
I agree. We can even say that Harmonica is the catalyst that makes a successful resolution of Jill's story possible. Without Harmonica, Jill would have been on her way back to New Orleans at the first sign of trouble.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on October 12, 2006, 03:21:27 PM
It should be noted that water imagery is not always symbolic of life. According to The Anatomy of Criticism,“Water . . . traditionally belongs to a realm of existence below human life, the state of chaos or dissolution which follows ordinary death, or the reduction to the inorganic. Hence the soul frequently crosses water [e.g. the rivers Jordan or Styx] or sinks into it at death” (Frye 146). Morton’s goal (and we should heed the mort that is part of his name) is a vast, chaotic ocean; he is seeking limitless salt water, not Sweetwater. The water there does not represent a life-sustaining fluid, but rather the death that Morton (who has “tuberculosis of the bones”) is rushing toward. Although he never makes it to the Pacific, water is present at his demise: “he dies crawling like a snail towards a puddle in the middle of the desert—the urine of his own puffing and wheezing locomotive” (Frayling 260). The crashing waves on the soundtrack underscore the irony of the situation (Morton’s great ambition coming to so little), but also re-emphasizes the association of water and death.

So water imagery can have opposite associations, and in OUATITW, when connected to Morton, it signifies death. When water is linked to Jill, however, it represents life.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Juan Miranda on October 12, 2006, 05:26:13 PM
Don't forget that Cardinale had provided a similar muse and bringer of water/life in Fellin's OTTO E MEZZO.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on October 12, 2006, 05:43:51 PM
Frayling makes this point also, but I don't know what to do with it. An actor doesn't embody an archetype, she can play a water bearer in one film and a castrating harpie in another. If not, she wouldn't be much of an actor. So the fact that Claudia has a similar function in two different films by different directors seems no more than an interesting coincidence.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: The Peacemaker on October 12, 2006, 07:16:54 PM
It should be noted that water imagery is not always symbolic of life. According to The Anatomy of Criticism,“Water . . . traditionally belongs to a realm of existence below human life, the state of chaos or dissolution which follows ordinary death, or the reduction to the inorganic. Hence the soul frequently crosses water [e.g. the rivers Jordan or Styx] or sinks into it at death” (Frye 146). Morton’s goal (and we should heed the mort that is part of his name) is a vast, chaotic ocean; he is seeking limitless salt water, not Sweetwater. The water there does not represent a life-sustaining fluid, but rather the death that Morton (who has “tuberculosis of the bones”) is rushing toward. Although he never makes it to the Pacific, water is present at his demise: “he dies crawling like a snail towards a puddle in the middle of the desert—the urine of his own puffing and wheezing locomotive” (Frayling 260). The crashing waves on the soundtrack underscore the irony of the situation (Morton’s great ambition coming to so little), but also re-emphasizes the association of water and death.

So water imagery can have opposite associations, and in OUATITW, when connected to Morton, it signifies death. When water is linked to Jill, however, it represents life.


Fantastic analysis Jenkins. I'm being quite serious, that's a brilliant theory.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on October 13, 2006, 08:11:51 AM
Well, thank you. A kind word is always appreciated.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Juan Miranda on October 15, 2006, 07:01:39 PM
fact that Claudia has a similar function in two different films by different directors seems no more than an interesting coincidence.

I guess what I'm trying to say, given the enormous success and critical reputation of OTTO E MEZZO at that time, is that they used the imigary as an hommage. Or just plain stole it...


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on October 16, 2006, 09:58:17 AM
Or rather, SL, needing an female aquarian figure, turned over in his mind possible actresses, and, remembering 8 1/2, thought, Claudia! Of course! She's already played such a role!


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Cusser on October 17, 2006, 12:58:08 PM
Likely Sergio thought she had nice rack.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: cigar joe on October 17, 2006, 04:16:18 PM
 :o,  ;D


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Stern on October 11, 2011, 02:01:49 PM
Quote from Dave Jenkins, from GBU forum:

Re-reading it, I see I talked myself around to the belief that Leone established a simple opposition between Salt Water (death) and Sweetwater (life). It's an idea that to me still seems to have merit.


Very interesting idea, the opposition of Salt Water (death) and Sweetwater (life). I agree with you that the film is not only about death but also about life, and water is the symbol for life. Morton wants to reach the water of the Pacific, but he fails. Jill talks about it and reaches the bath and survives. But to me the opposite of the water in the film is the desert. I think the film plays not only in the wild west but also in a desert without water. The opening scene is station in a dessert, the McBain farm is in a half dessert and so on. The picture of Jill in the carriage in the Monument Valley is a big picture because only she manages to pass this dessert. One theme of the film is the fight for Sweetwater, you can see it from the commercial point of view, but also as the fight for the water of the life.



Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on October 11, 2011, 03:33:24 PM
Harmonica is the character least associated with water (one could even speak of his "arid" nature), and he of course has something to do with death. On those rare moments when he gets close to water (the well scene, the bath scene) he uses those occasions to shoot men dead. So there are three categories of people: the Good (Jill, sweetwater), the Bad (Morton and Wobbles, who have a perverse association with water), and The Dead (Harmonica, the man of the desert). I'm not sure where Frank fits. Cheyenne, with his constant references to coffee, is probably (at least partly) in category 1.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Stern on October 12, 2011, 01:51:19 PM

Very enlighting and lucid, your three categories. I agree absolute. Moreover: Wobbles in the scene with Harmonica is not beaten but WASHED, but without result. His only and final reaction is: I don't know. I swear. He is neither willing nor able to understand. And he is a traitor, because he has water, but he went to the other side. Frank is to me Category 2, I think for Leone he as a bad guy is out of discussion. For Cheyenne there is (as usual by Leon) a very small scene at the end. Just before the final showdown, Cheyenne goes to the McBain farm house, to “shave”, but he – by the way, and this is the trick of Leone – washes his face twice. And to make emphasis on this, he looks into the camera. This is the final statement of Leone of the relationship of Cheyenne to water. Jill gets her big bath, and even Cheyenne get his small face washing. They are both standing on the “right side” of the water.

And Harmonica is out of discussion a category of his own. Even the actor Charles Bronson is singular. Even after a long second line actor carrier it was Leone, who fought for him as a star of his film. And not be chance. Charles Bronson, naturally Charles Buchinsky, 11th child of 15 of a poor Lithuanian immigrant family (imagine his childhood) is Tatar descent. Another proof that Leones dislikes the western civilisation.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: dave jenkins on October 13, 2011, 10:53:27 AM
For Cheyenne there is (as usual by Leon) a very small scene at the end. Just before the final showdown, Cheyenne goes to the McBain farm house, to “shave”, but he – by the way, and this is the trick of Leone – washes his face twice. And to make emphasis on this, he looks into the camera. This is the final statement of Leone of the relationship of Cheyenne to water. Jill gets her big bath, and even Cheyenne get his small face washing. They are both standing on the “right side” of the water.
Excellent points.


Title: Re: Morton and the water picture
Post by: Usaviator on July 23, 2017, 01:17:54 AM
The acting really stood out in this scene for me.  I can really feel Morton's desperation to experience what he desires so much.

This may sound like an odd comparison, but I recently lost a friend in a car accident. I'd never lost someone like that before. I've had grandparent's die, but I saw my friend almost every day, and all of a sudden he was gone.  He was also my close work partner and manager.  When I'm at work, I often imagine hearing his voice when I'm reminded about him.  When I see pictures of him, I'm filled with such desperation to see him again.  It kind of reminded me of the way Morton looks at his painting and could hear the water.  It feels very similar to me to see that scene and also deal with this loss. 

SL truly knew how to make you feel the full extent of the emotion of his characters.