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Author Topic: Why Are Harmonica and Cheyenne Suddenly So Passive About Jill's Disappearance?  (Read 2488 times)
Herry Grail
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« on: June 21, 2016, 10:33:01 AM »

Hi everyone...I'm new to the board and just watched the three Eastwood films and OUATITW for the first time, believe it or not (I'm too old to admit it without shame). I really loved them all, but as always with great films that I "discover," it's frustrating to feel lost on certain plot points that don't come together. It seems to be happening more, which is probably an age thing.

I know there is not a continuity problem with the "hideout" scenes in OUATITW, but I admit I was confused the first time by the storytelling at that point. An extra line or two of dialogue (like, "[Looking for this?] Pack up, we're goin' for a ride," LOL) would have helped somebody like me.

The part I'm struggling with is what's going on in Harmonica's and Cheyenne's heads when they're starting to build the station at Jill's place. They've just hurried away from Morton to save her, as they know Frank is after her, yet when they get to her place they're not in any hurry to find and save her. They're very passive about "when she comes back" and "if she comes back," yet at this point they have personal feelings for her, know Frank is a killer, yet do not seem worried about her well-being in the least.

You could say, well, they knew Frank's hideout was impossible to find, but even then they'd be concerned about her honor and her life. It's almost as though there's a missing scene where they get to Sweetwater and find a note that says "Do not look for me, there's been enough killing. I can handle myself." That's absurd, of course, but they act as if she communicated to them that she had gone to work things out on her own terms.

Why do they hurry to protect her from Frank and then seem completely unmotivated to do so? I've searched this board and the rest of the internet to see this issue addressed, but I can't find anyplace where it's dealt with directly.

(I also wonder why someone like Harmonica would "make an appointment" to see Frank rather than just go find him, not to mention why he and Mortimer wait so long to avenge their siblings, but I can roll with those.)

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dave jenkins
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« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2016, 10:58:18 AM »

The part I'm struggling with is what's going on in Harmonica's and Cheyenne's heads when they're starting to build the station at Jill's place. They've just hurried away from Morton to save her, as they know Frank is after her, yet when they get to her place they're not in any hurry to find and save her. They're very passive about "when she comes back" and "if she comes back," yet at this point they have personal feelings for her, know Frank is a killer, yet do not seem worried about her well-being in the least.
Obviously they got a look at the script and understood how things would come out.

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« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2016, 01:24:39 PM »

(I also wonder why someone like Harmonica would "make an appointment" to see Frank rather than just go find him, not to mention why he and Mortimer wait so long to avenge their siblings, but I can roll with those.)

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« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2016, 08:12:49 PM »

He can type, but can he think?

LOL...thanks! Looking forward to spending time here.

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« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2016, 08:51:31 AM »

I rewatched several scenes last night, and remembered that Jill told Wobbles she wanted to deal with Frank directly, which at the time I assumed was something Harmonica told her to say to lure Frank out for him to take care of. Now I'm thinking she really meant it, that it was a real reaction, and that's supported by Harmonica telling her later at the saloon that she's a remarkable woman.

Wobbles also would have conveyed that message to Frank on the train before we join the conversation, yet he later asks a henchman if the two gunmen killed her at the ranch, which took place before Jill sees Wobbles. Of course, Frank wouldn't know the sequence of events that had transpired, but the fact that he only refers to her as someone who he ordered killed and that he now has to "take care of her personally," along with Harmonica's admonishment to Cheyenne that Frank was getting further away, shifts the narrative from Jill "dealing with" Frank to Jill being in danger. And again, they don't seem to be in a hurry to find him or them when they're starting to build the station.

Had Frank left the train saying "I have a woman to see" or "I have an appointment I think I'll keep" or even "I'll take care of this personally" it would have made more sense, at least to me.

I don't normally pick apart movie narratives, and I only do it with movies that I care about and am truly trying to understand. Finding fault could not be further from my mind; forums like this one are awesome to discover and I look forward to analyses of this angle. It's interesting to me that the controversy about the storytelling confusion in these scenes has centered on where everybody is location-wise rather than motivation-wise.

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Herry Grail
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« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2016, 01:19:41 PM »

Well I'm reading several threads more in depth to solve my conundrum, and found this one very helpful:
http://www.fistful-of-leone.com/forums/index.php?topic=1138.30

This is like my own personal thread...LOL, I'm grateful for the chance to work out some thoughts, and really hope some of you weigh in. Anyway, here's where I am today:

If I look at OUATITW more as a post-modern western and less as a traditional one, I start to see Jill as a more nuanced and "human" character. I also see Harmonica and Cheyenne less as protectors of her honor than egalitarians who may admire or desire her, but are content to respect her right to live or die on her own terms. Cheyenne already knows she's a spitfire who's ransacked the house looking for the spoils of her marriage, and Harmonica has witnessed her bold behavior in demanding a meeting with Frank.

I think I misread her request of Wobbles as a set-up by the two of them to give Harmonica a chance to confront Frank. That's a bad mistake to have made in determining Jill's motivations and her relationship with Harmonica. I read it conventionally, but in fact it's meant to be read literally. Cutting quickly from Harmonica and Jill in the barn to the scene of Jill confronting Wobbles, along with Harmonica's observation of the scene, lends itself to suggesting a conspiracy between the two of them, with Harmonica as Jill's ultimate defender. (Plus, he follows Wobbles, so it definitely looks like a set-up for Harmonica's sake, not Jill's.) What would have helped me understand Jill's motivation better when she confronts Wobbles (again, helped me, not made a better film) would have been dialogue with Jill telling Harmonica she could take care of Frank herself, and Harmonica warning her that he was a tough customer but resigning himself to her need to do it herself.

Also, both Cheyenne and Harmonica seem to see Jill as a more "worldly" than we do at first, a fact that's not truly revealed until Frank tells her he knows of her past. Cheyenne clearly sees the whore in her, comparing her to his mother, and Harmonica strips off her lacy facade, both literally and thematically, to reveal Jill's true persona as he perceives it.

Both of these factors (seeing Jill as fiercely independent and worldly-wise) make me accept the passivity of Harmonica and Cheyenne as they contemplate her status at the station site...she's not a captive, she's an equal working her future out on her own terms. They can accept whatever's going on at Frank's hideout, because they all live in a rough, cynical world. That's pretty remarkable, that two characters who love a film's leading lady can be so casual about her whoring herself for her survival, but that's the world we're presented in Leone's films.

The only missing link in this reading remains Harmonica telling Cheyenne that they needed to hurry off the train because it was taking them further and further from Frank, which sounds like they want to save her, not just hang around while she saves herself. However, if you simply interpret the remark as a need to get back to Frank because he's where the action is, I suppose it works. I'll definitely be watching again to see if it all makes more sense to me.

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« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2016, 08:16:43 PM »

If I look at OUATITW more as a post-modern western and less as a traditional one, I start to see Jill as a more nuanced and "human" character.
Whenever someone uses the P-word I reach for my . . . copy of the SL Encyclopedia. Let's go there now:
Quote
Postmodernism. A literary approach to texts (which includes films) that foregrounds artifice as a subject of study. Famously, Jean Baudrillard called SL "'the first post-modernist director'--the first to understand the hall of mirrors within the contemporary 'culture of quotations.'" (Frayling 492). OUATITW, with its many quotations from famous and not-so-famous Westerns, can be considered a particularly postmodern work.
I'll just add that part of the postmodern program is to deny the integrity of individual characters. Jill in never simply Jill: she is a character embodied in Cardinale with lines supplied by writers. Cheyenne is never merely Cheyenne: he is Cheyenne-Robards at the very least, perhaps Cheyenne-Robards-Leone in some estimations.

Character motivations then are something of a chimera. They are not strictly necessary for our understanding and enjoyment of the film. Human psychology itself does not have to operate as we would expect it to in Modern stories or films. Contradictions, rather than seen as failings, can be embraced as means whereby the text can be deconstructed.

Of course, a postmodern approach doesn't exclude the possibility of coherent human psychology or character motivations in OUATITW. It just makes it unnecessary. However, if you enjoy that sort of thing then by all means have at it. I have been enjoying the thread so far, and will be interested to see whatever else you may turn up.

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« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2016, 08:41:06 PM »

I also see Harmonica and Cheyenne less as protectors of her honor than egalitarians who may admire or desire her, but are content to respect her right to live or die on her own terms.
Again, the SL Encyclopedia can assist us here:
Quote
Jill is a stock character, "the tart with a heart."All the characters in OUATITW are well-known types: the implacable avenger, the black-hearted nemesis, the corrupt tycoon. The psychology of such characters is less important to an audience than the need for those characters to fulfill their respective roles. Tarts need to be tarty, avengers need to avenge. Motives are little more than stage properties. What is interesting about Leone's use of these different types is the unique way they interact. To take one example, Harmonica's "courtship" of Jill: his midnight "serenade" recieves gunshots in reply; next morning, Harmonica seems on the verge of ravishing Jill when in fact he is only altering her clothing to make her a fit decoy; later, he enters her bathing chamber, but instead of seducing her he fires out windows to kill Frank's men. In this way, Harmonica, even while appearing to fulfill his role as suitor, is disqualified as a potential mate. He has "something to do with death," as do all his encounters with Jill. There is, then, no basis on which the two can build a life together (as Cheyenne observes), so they must go their separate ways. Still, genre conventions have been satisfied: the avenger has exacted his revenge, the hooker has been redeemed by her love for the hero.
Leone and Donati have done something very interesting in combining a "knight-errant" figure with that of an avenger. Harmonica "courts" and protects his lady whilst pursuing his goal of killing Frank. The two movements work in parallel.

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« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2016, 02:53:34 PM »

Or here's another way to put it: Jill senses Harmonica's power and is drawn to the death essence. Harmonica does not avoid women, Mandrake, but he does deny them his essence.

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« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2016, 11:37:58 AM »

Wow, Dave...that's really fascinating. I admit my own use of the term "post-modern" wasn't as deep as your posts suggest. The idea that the characters in this (or any) film serve as archetypes first and storytelling devices second is interesting but frustrating; I guess I'm traditional/simple/boring enough to endlessly seek out narrative logic in movies I love.

Two movies I've spent a lot of time trying to "figure out" are "Kiss of the Vampire" and "Man on the Eiffel Tower." I don't know how great they are, but I love them, and to suffer endlessly to understand their stories rather than their deeper meanings probably says more about me than I should admit.

However, with those two films it has to do with missing scenes, careless or indiscriminate editing, snipped dialogue...that sort of thing. But now, with "Once Upon A Time in the West," there seems to be more to it, and it challenges my sense of logical movie-character motivation. One way I know I love OUATITW is that I've watched it three times all the way through in the last 10 days, and watched several scenes multiple times. (I'm also quoting it—the other day at my sister's, when she asked if I wanted water in a bottle or from her filtered fridge dispenser, I told her "I like my water fresh," a phrase which my 8-year-old nephew loved, and which we continued to annoy his mother with all night.)

When I let loose my presumptions that Cheyenne and Harmonica would be deeply and "archetypically" motivated to save Jill from Frank's clutches, it starts to make sense. Yes, it would have been nice if I wasn't fooled by a glance between Jill and Harmonica that she was a helpless decoy who confronted Wobbles solely on Harmonica's behalf, and if Harmonica could have been more explicit about why he cared that Frank was getting further away, but I do think the subsequent "helpless widow/remarkable woman" saloon dialogue between Harmonica and Jill does reveal that she'd convinced him she could take care of herself and that he was willing to let her try.

Meanwhile, Cheyenne had ID'd her as morally ambiguous but intrinsically strong, so both of her "protectors" acknowledged that she could handle herself personally with Frank (and had no honor to "save")—yet needed their help in the "business" aspect of Frank's challenge to her, which ultimately could be viewed as the most cynical chauvinism: she's a sex object who might be able to save her own life but needs their help to actually build it into something. In that context, when Harmonica says "there's another bastard who's getting further away," he's seeing Frank's threat as male-male, not male-female. They need to keep him from taking her property, not her life or honor.

I'll probably see it all differently tomorrow. What an incredible, mind-blowing film.

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« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2016, 12:22:59 PM »


When I let loose my presumptions that Cheyenne and Harmonica would be deeply and "archetypically" motivated to save Jill from Frank's clutches, it starts to make sense. Yes, it would have been nice if I wasn't fooled by a glance between Jill and Harmonica that she was a helpless decoy who confronted Wobbles solely on Harmonica's behalf, and if Harmonica could have been more explicit about why he cared that Frank was getting further away, but I do think the subsequent "helpless widow/remarkable woman" saloon dialogue between Harmonica and Jill does reveal that she'd convinced him she could take care of herself and that he was willing to let her try.

Meanwhile, Cheyenne had ID'd her as morally ambiguous but intrinsically strong, so both of her "protectors" acknowledged that she could handle herself personally with Frank (and had no honor to "save")—yet needed their help in the "business" aspect of Frank's challenge to her, which ultimately could be viewed as the most cynical chauvinism: she's a sex object who might be able to save her own life but needs their help to actually build it into something. In that context, when Harmonica says "there's another bastard who's getting further away," he's seeing Frank's threat as male-male, not male-female. They need to keep him from taking her property, not her life or honor.
With Harmonica, the revenge is preeminent. He helps Jill only insofar as that serves his central agenda. When the choice becomes going after her or getting the town built, he opts to build the town: that's what is going to bring Frank to him for the final showdown. However, he needs Jill too, so he must be calculating that she is crafty enough to survive on her own. He is taking a risk. But he can't take off to help her and leave Sweetwater unbuilt. He must make sure Sweetwater gets built by deadline and trust that Jill will be OK.

I'm not sure about Cheyenne's motivation. It seems he could leave the town building to Harmonica and his gang and go after Jill on his own, or, alternatively, agree to make sure his gang finishes the job and free Harmonica up to go after Jill. I don't think they both need to be on site to make sure Sweetwater gets built. Harmonica is a bit of a cold fish (in fact, dead below the waist, probably) and Cheyenne has expressed his admiration for Jill, so you'd think he's fulfill audience expectations and head out to save the girl. Almost as a reflexive act. On the other hand, he's kind of lazy too.

Interestingly, I've never really thought about this issue before. Thanks for bringing it up.

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« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2016, 01:50:11 PM »

And besides, what does Harmonica know about men's interest in woman? Right, nothing ...

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« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2016, 02:13:34 PM »

Wow, it's my pleasure...

I'm with you on Harmonica. Finishing Sweetwater's station in time will end Frank's and Morton's chance to legally deprive her of it.

As for Cheyenne, when he longingly says "it's the first thing she'll see when she gets back," he's continuing the mother-child relationship that's signaled by his likening of Jill to his mother. As a child, he trusts his mother will be well. However, like Harmonica, he sees the need to play a "male" role she can't play in building the city. Also, while Harmonica dispatches Frank, he and his gang ensure that the circle of protection is completed by destroying Morton and what used to be Frank's gang to end their effort to illegally seize Sweetwater. Noble and lawyer-like Harmonica ensures it remains hers by ending legal claims; bandit Cheyenne ensures it remains hers by ending illegal threats—remember that they're all Morton's gang now; Frank has been squeezed out, so the showdown between him and Harmonica truly becomes only about them.

In addition to Jill being a mother figure to Cheyenne, Harmonica becomes a sort-of father figure to him. Cheyenne needs Harmonica to explain the Sweetwater deal to him, and their bounty scheme at the auction puts Cheyenne in the subjugated position. (Note that outlaw Frank is also learning from Morton.) And ultimately, in the last scene, Harmonica takes final responsibility for Cheyenne.

Maybe looking too hard for that kind of symbolism can become overwrought, but I do think the film has an extraordinarily complex take on male-female relationships—as well as male-male ones, too. But my biggest takeaway from OUATITW is that women are more resilient and adaptable than men, who would rather retreat or die than change, with the contrasting presence of a character like Jill making it even more bleakly obvious than it is in "The Wild Bunch," another film that depresses me in middle age.

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« Reply #13 on: June 29, 2016, 07:29:26 AM »

But my biggest takeaway from OUATITW is that women are more resilient and adaptable than men, who would rather retreat or die than change, with the contrasting presence of a character like Jill making it even more bleakly obvious than it is in "The Wild Bunch," another film that depresses me in middle age.
Jill is the only complete female character in all of Leone, the only one to share a lead role with the men. I take it that SL's writing partners must get the credit.

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« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2016, 07:32:07 AM »

Leone wanted viewers to "have to" question and think about some things.....like did Blondie all along intend to leave half for Tuco?  Would Angel Eyes really not have been greedy, and settled for half?  What would each have done with their share, after re-burying most of it, as too heavy to transport far?  

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