Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

dir. Sergio Leone

Leone's gangster saga spans four decades, runs for nearly four hours, and was filmed in four different countries. For the Lower East side scenes, the director had been offered the locations from The Godfather Part II but he wanted a deeper perspective – at least a few blocks and a view of one of those "great bridges." Leone had finally settled for South 6th and 8th Streets around Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Then the same section of South 8th Street was replicated by production designer Carlo Simi and his craftsmen on the Via delle Messi d'Oro in Rome. Other New York scenes were shot in Montreal because the crew couldn’t find enough period buildings in New York, buildings unspoiled by modern signs, TV antennas, etc. They also filmed on Lake Saint-Pierre near Louiseville, Quebec, in Spring Lake, New Jersey, and St. Pete Beach, Florida. The Italian locations included Venice, Bellagio, and Castel Porziano on the outskirts of Rome.

Noodles (Robert De Niro) watching his friends bodies lying in the rain – Rue Le Moyne at Rue Sainte-Hélène, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. This was filmed on an empty lot on the corner of these two streets. Now a new building stands on the spot, and it’s no longer possible to get the same wide-angle shot of Rue Le Moyne as in the movie.
The reverse shot shows Rue Sainte-Hélène.

The Fat Moe's/Gelly’s site – 95 S 8th Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York. The bar/diner was constructed out of fiberglass on an empty lot between two buildings, and a matching set was also built in Rome. The film alternates between the street set and studio set. The bar interior was only Rome. A new apartment building has since been put up on the lot but the light-colored building on the right is easily recognizable.

Noodle’s cab ride – Broadway looking at Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, New York. Then the car turns into Dunham Place.

Noodles looking at an old cemetery being liquidated – 113 S 8th Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York. The little synagogue and cemetery were built for the film. A new building now stands on the site but the building on the right is still there (the one that had "Monuments" sign in the movie.)

The boys set fire to a newsstand – 449 Rue Saint-Pierre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The rundown corner building from which the boys watch the havoc they caused, has since been demolished and the lot stays vacant.

The boys watching the drunk being thrown out – 102 S 6th Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York.

The boys waiting for the drunk – S 6th Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York. Sergio Leone was particularly happy with this location because of the Williamsburg Bridge in the background. He commented: "That type of bridge can’t be found in Europe. It tells everybody 'this is New York, this is America, this is the Lower East Side'."

The drunk approaching – S 6th Street at Berry, Brooklyn, New York, New York.

'Fatface' comes out of the public baths – S 6th Street at Berry, Brooklyn, New York, New York. The baths were a false front put up for the filming.

Noodles’ apartment building – 105 S 8th Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York.

Max’s apartment building – 126 S 8th Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York.

The rooftop scene between ‘Fatface’ and Peggy – 455 Broome Street, Manhattan, New York, New York. It’s the building in the foreground. When Patsy climbs the fire escape, the buildings on the corner of Broome and Greene are seen in the background.

Deborah (Jennifer Connelly) walking home – Bedford Avenue looking at Broadway, Brooklyn, New York, New York.

Deborah talking with her father and Moe outside of Gelly’s – 95 S 8th Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York. See the comment about the Gelly’s site above.

Bugsy and his gang catch Noodles and Max in the alley – The actual alley next to the Gelly's site was too narrow so this was filmed on the studio set in Rome.

Capuano’s secret distillery – Adams Street at Plymouth, Brooklyn, New York, New York. The building actually houses Chambers Paper Fibres, a paper recycling company.

The boys rescue a bootleg shipment using salt – Porto Marghera, Venice, Italy.

The boys walking from the station – Washington Street at Water Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York. This street view of the Manhattan Bridge was used for the movie poster.

The boys approaching the Manhattan Bridge – Adams Street at Front Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York.

Dominic sees Bugsy – Manhattan Bridge between Adams Street and Anchorage Place, Brooklyn, New York, New York.

The death of Dominic – Adams Street at Front Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York.

Noodles is taken to the Boys Reformatory – 350 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, New York. Originally the Street Cleaning Department Depot, it’s now the Department of Sanitation / Department of Environmental Protection.

His friends watching from across the street – 2 Main Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York. It’s a 146-year-old coffee warehouse, now occupied by West Elm, a furniture and home decor retailer. This location is miles away from ‘the reformatory’ but sometimes Leone used two different places within the same scene.

The mausoleum – Woodlawn Cemetery, 517 E 233rd Street, Bronx, New York, New York. The mausoleum is on the west side of the cemetery, not far from the entrance on Jerome Avenue at Bainbridge Avenue.

Noodles is released from prison – Long Island City Courthouse, 25-10 Court Square West, Queens, New York, New York. It used to have two jails but they were replaced with a parking garage in 1988.

The reverse shot of Max (James Woods) meeting him outside – Court Square West, Queens, New York, New York. The Sternberger warehouse (now Citiwide Self Storage) is seen in the background.

The meeting with Joe (Burt Young) – near Louiseville, Quebec, Canada.

One of Joe’s men tries to hide in a feather factory – Still searching for this location. It was reportedly a real factory near South 8th Street in Brooklyn but it might have been demolished.

Noodles drives the car into the lake – Lake Saint Pierre near Louiseville, Quebec, Canada. The lake is a widening of the Saint Lawrence River between Sorel-Tracy and Trois-Rivières.

Police Chief Aiello (Danny Aiello) comes out of the police headquarters – 1430 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Pavillon Athanase-David (the Athanase David Pavilion) was designed by Joseph-Émile Vanier in 1903. It housed the École polytechnique de l'Université de Montréal (Polytechnic School of the University of Montreal) in 1905-1958. Since then it has accommodated many different institutions, and is currently the location of the Conseil d'administration de l'Université (University Administration Council.)

The reverse shot in this scene then shows an entirely different street – Rue Saint-Sacrement at Rue Saint-Alexis, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Then the chief's car drives away on Rue Saint-Sacrement towards Rue Saint-Nicolas.

Noodles picks up Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern) outside of the theater – Ritz-Carlton, 1228 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The beach restaurant where Noodles tries to impress Deborah – Hotel Excelsior, Lungomare Guglielmo Marconi 41, Lido, Venice, Italy. Designed like a Moorish palace and dating from 1908, this opulent beachfront hotel overlooks the Adriatic Sea. The beach is private, and is for hotel guests only. Leone explained his location choice: "There were no longer hotels of that kind on Long Island, but they were copies of Venetian palaces: so I filmed the sequence in Venice."

Noodles gets out of the limousine after having raped Deborah – Warren Avenue at Ocean Avenue, Spring Lake, New Jersey.

Deborah leaving for Hollywood – Gare du Nord, 18 Rue de Dunkerque, Paris, France. The sequence was supposed to take place at Grand Central Station in New York but the terminal had greatly changed since the 1930s. "It was a replica of the Gare du Nord in any case", Leone claimed, "These are the same windows, the same pillars of concrete and stone: the same materials."

Jimmy O'Donnell (Treat Williams) calling for help – the corner of Rue Marguerite d’Youville and Rue Normand, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Jimmy is standing near the side entrance to the Customs House which occupies an entire city block in Old Montreal. The factory building seen in the background is gone now.

He sees the hitmen's car approaching from Rue Marguerite d’Youville.

He takes cover at the side entrance of the building – the corner of Rue Marguerite d’Youville and Rue Normand.

The hitmen then drive away on Rue Normand.

The shooting of Crowning's hitmen – 300 Rue Le Moyne, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The beach hotel – Don CeSar Hotel, 3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, Florida. Opened at the height of the Jazz Age in 1928, the Pink Palace has been a popular retreat for the rich and famous ever since.

The Federal Reserve Bank – Bordeaux Prison, 800 Boulevard Gouin Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It's a minimum-security facility, now officially called the Établissement de détention Montréal, intended for those sentenced to less than two years of imprisonment. The complex has a hexagonal star shape with the domed Beaux-Arts building in the center. It was designed by Jean-Omer Marchand in 1906. At the time, the government was criticized for spending three million dollars on the construction of this modern fortress.

Senator Bailey’s mansion – Villa Trivulzio Gerli, Via Paolo Carcano 20, Bellagio, Italy.

The mansion’s entrance – Via Pontina 690, Castel Porziano, Rome, Italy. The entrance was extensively modified for the filming, and is not easily recognizable.

My keyboard cover of Ennio Morricone's main theme from the film:

See also...

The Untouchables

Lawrence of Arabia


  1. The theater is the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal, QC

  2. Addenda: For Police Chief Aeillo, you are right for the 'front' filming (rue St-Denis) but when the camera is on the other side, and especially when Police Chief goes by car, the set is now at St-Jean and St-Sacrement. So the champs/contre-champs are at 2 differents locations. Easily seen from Googlemaps.

  3. I work in the beige building on the left in the pic at Adams and Front in Brooklyn (The boys approaching the Manhattan Bridge – Adams Street at Front Street, Brooklyn, New York, New York). Every day I walk into work with the little piccolo song from this amazing film playing in my head. Great post, thanks for taking the time to post it all!

  4. Thank you very much! great job

  5. I found the Mausoleum at Woodlawn about 22 years ago I cannot tell you how thrilled I was. My family, after disembarking from Ellis Island in 1918, moved to Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn.

  6. Nice work! You did A great job. I enjoyed it.

  7. There was a scene shot in the city of point st charles, montreal. This scene entailed a ganster-type limousine being shot at by guys with machine guns, in front a warehouse. I believe (but am not sure) that the street name where this took place was St Patrick. I saw both Robert Deniro and James Woods that day. This scene might have been not included in the final cut. Can you check?

  8. the bar where the boys have a choice between a dollar or rolling the drunk is the interior of McSorley's on E. 7th Street in Manhattan (the last city bar to allow women to drink there)

  9. the woman who modeled for that heavy, beautiful door on the Mausoleum (some fancy cemetery up in Riverdale though it's not there) was Audrey Munson, Miss Manhattan, and the model for a dozen statues around the city

  10. Really a good job hopefully all the movies had such good detail and explanation of scenarios and locations.��

  11. Very satisfying post. Thanks for your time and effort.

  12. This is amazing.
    As someone who lives in England, I'll never get a chance to see these nice to still be able to recognise those scenes.
    Just got to say that you have done a brilliant job.

  13. It is and will always be, my favourite film.

  14. Yo vivo en Brooklyn por ya mas de 27 anios y esta pelicula es una de mis favoritas y nunca me e tomado el tiempo de visitar las locasiones de Brooklyn es que la vida en usa es correr y correr todos los dias para trabajar al punto que uno se convierte en una maquina y no hase otra cosa que trabajar privandose de cosas en la vida que uno pueda disfrutar como pasear aunque mas no sea un dia otra cosa que jamas e echo es visitar la estatua de la livertad y eso que trabajo relativamente cerca tan asi que desde el lado que estoy yo casi que uno puede creer que la puede tocar

  15. where is the cemetery with the dangling keys located?

  16. Thank you from Scotland this is also my fave film music, actors, going to NYC in March 2022going to look for McSorleys bar in Manhattan. Stay safe

  17. The interior scene where the boys select which drunk to roll (in lieu of taking a dollar) is the bar at McSorley's Old Ale House on East 7th Street in Manhattan.

  18. Williamsburg in Brooklyn could still be used back then to represent an earlier era; it's probably too different now for that to be possible. Even so, the movie crew had to deal with modern light poles, so they removed the cross-arms but left the poles in place. Those were so dirty that they almost fit in, but it is possible to see them in one scene.