A scene from Once Upon a Time in the West, set at a remote train stop, has tension in it, but that tension is deeply enhanced by the sounds. If I close my eyes, I hear an animal, tired, hauling a heavy weight. There are whistles; the sound of a door opening and a big package hitting the ground. Then the train starts again, a breathing animal; then a harmonica; then the squeak of a windmill. Sounds. What’s happening?

As for the visuals, the tension is all in the eyes. The three men are tensely waiting for someone. He doesn’t show up. You can see their sense of relief. “We don’t have to deal with this guy!” The train starts to struggle out of the station with that sound. They turn to go. Watch their faces as they hear the sound of the harmonica. He’s here after all. Damn!

His question is a word problem, profoundly hilarious and ironic.

“Did you bring a horse for me?”

Charles Bronson’s character isn’t a math wizard. But he knows the right questions to ask. He sizes up the situation. Who ever he is, he is very dangerous and Frank wants him rubbed out.

It’s the right question. Not a statement, a question. He could have just opened fire. He didn’t. He asked a question. He did some math. They answered with a laugh. They might have well said, “Of course we didn’t bring you a horse, we’re here to kill you!” It is all in their eyes in their laughter.

“Looks like we’re shy one horse,” he says. Ha, ha, ha!

“Looks like you brought two too many,” Bronson says.

Do the math.

Bronson is done talking with words. His best weapon is listening and asking the right questions, not making bold statements.

Listening and Asking the Right Questions