This spaghetti western from 1966, has always been something of a holy grail for collectors, it credit’s the score to be by Gianni Ferrio and Ennio Morricone, many have said it’s a Morricone score with themes by Ferrio others have remarked it’s the other way around, well it turns out it is a predominately Ferrio work with just one theme by Morricone, this is the PENSO A TE theme which is reprised within the score on four occasions, two guitar versions complete with racing snares and accompanying strings, the string section playing against the central theme and Ferrio using them to play out his theme for the movie the two themes complimenting and enhancing one another. Another arrangement of the theme is undertaken in track 11, this time it’s a more dramatic and almost martial sound that is achieved through the use of French horn percussion and guitar and lastly on track 19, bass guitar, horns, lead guitar, choir, solo trumpet and underlying strings combine to give this catchy motif an almost grandiose sound which is reminiscent of the Ferrio’s theme for FIND A PLACE TO DIE. You will probably sit and listen to these four tracks and think “I KNOW THIS TRACK, NOW WHERE HAVE I HEARD IT”. Well, originally this was the catchy guitar laced theme that Morricone utilised in the movie soundtrack for MALAMONDO, but here it takes on a new and fresh lease of life with some excellent arrangements carried out by Ferrio. If I remember correctly in the actual film SANTE FE EXPRESS from Morricone’s SEVEN GUNS FOR THE Mc Gregors was used, but this does not appear on the CD I think because it was owned by another company. The original score by Ferrio is probably one of the composers best contributions to the spaghetti western genre, his stirring and haunting DIAMOND theme opening proceedings and forming the musical backbone of the score. This appealing composition is heard throughout the score with the composer arranging and serving it up in various guises. Along the way we also have a couple of the obligatory saloon pieces, but these don’t seem as annoying as they usually are within other scores, Ferrio giving them a sort of comedy feel with the introduction of almost ragtime sounds and style. Dramatic cues are also in abundance with low strings, threatening percussion and menacing brass taking the lead within these.
Ferrio also makes effective use of banjo, timpani, strumming guitar, trumpet and a tolling bell on some of the cues, this is certainly a spaghetti western score to be reckoned with, powerful rhythmic and infectious and one that will be a welcomed addition to any collection. With 19 tracks previously unreleased I can only say that this is a score that comes highly recommended…
Composer Gianni Ferrio worked extensively within the Italian film industry from the early to mid 1960s through to the mid eighties scoring all types of genres of film. He worked on numerous thrillers and also scored his fair share of horror and Giallos, plus a fair few comedy capers to his name. The composer also wrote many scores for Italian made westerns and although he was part of the group of composers that many like to call the Italian western school of music he did not really conform to the stylistic norm which formed what we know today as the Italian or spaghetti western sound. He rarely utilised a whistler or employed the grand operatic sound that was used in nine out of ten instances when the ultimate gunfight took place. Instead, Ferrio created, I suppose, a spaghetti western sound all of his own and although it remains a part of the spaghetti western culture as a whole, it also has a life of its own and an originality to it. Continuing the ever surprising re-issue program of Italian soundtracks is Hillside CD Productions who, in conjunction with GDM and also at times Hexachord, released a number of what were thought to be rare or even lost western scores. Their latest batch of compact discs include , which was released in 1972. On first listening to the score I was a little perplexed as, to be honest, it did not sound anything like a western score at all, even the title song “That Man” performed by Ann Collin (vocalist on DEAF SMITH AND JOHNNY EARS) who also wrote the lyrics is offbeat and bares very little or no relation to what I had come to think of as a western soundtrack. This however does not mean that the score is not an agreeable one, at least parts of it anyway. The composer creates an almost lounge or easy listening atmosphere at times with a jazz infused sound – a style that he has employed before on westerns as in SENTENCE OF DEATH and also in parts of FIND A PLACE TO DIE, A MAN CALLED SLEDGE and AMICO STAMI LONTANO ALMENO UN PALMO. Ferrio fuses a jazz style with that of symphonic and normally it works quite well as in the aforementioned examples. This time however the mix just does not seem to gel and at times the music falls flat and becomes very repetitive to the point of being annoying.
OK, I know it’s a film score so the music is tailored for the action on screen and also is written with storyline and events in mind, but so were Ferrio’s other western contributions and I have always found the composer to have produced reliably melodic and exciting scores that not only were tailored to the needs of the movie but worked well away from the images. For me, however, this is lacking and although there are some nice cues where Ferrio combines subdued horn and harpsichord with jazz piano underpinned by smooth sounding strings, aided by the use of vibes. He also employs flugelhorn and percussion within the score which create an atmosphere that is far from a western. In fact on listening to the score for the first time I thought that Hillside had gotten the tapes mixed up and this was not actually the music from the spaghetti in question but music from a spy movie or another Giallo. It is unmistakably Ferrio, but it is not one of his best for this particular genre, uninspired, overlong and monotonous. Production values are very good though and the sound quality is stunning – also art work is attractive and eye catching. But as far as the actual content goes it’s a soundtrack that you would listen to once, if that, and never return it to the CD player again. I think record companies should really start to be more selective about what they are releasing in these less than affluent days and stick to the practise of quality not quantity and don’t take it as read that if they release a spaghetti western score it will be a crowd pleaser. It will be welcomed with open arms and wallets if it’s good but not if it’s a mediocre example.
The Hillside series courtesy of Lionel Woodman gains momentum with each release, the series has so far been solely dedicated to Italian western scores, save one release which was LOVE BIRDS by Bruno Nicolai. EL DESPERADO (aka-THE DIRTY OUTLAWS) must not be confused with the other Gianni Ferrio western soundtrack, LOS DESPERADOS which was issued on CD some years back on the CINEVOX label-CD MDF 317. they are totally different movies and scores. EL DESPERADO was released in 1967, and all that was issued from the soundtrack was two tracks on a 45 rpm single, one track being a vocal by john Balfour and also a short orchestral track on the B side of the record. The song to be honest is not a great example of a spaghetti song, but there again maybe it is, it’s over the top tongue in cheek and very brash and raw with predictable lyrics, so ok it is probably typical of a spaghetti vocal. Balfour has a distinct sounding voice, nearly as unique as that of fellow vocalist Raoul. Versions of the song are repeated throughout the soundtrack and make an appearance on 5 occasions during its duration. The score by Ferrio, is not a typical example of Italian western scoring, but saying this I personally think that Ferrio, was one of the odd men out within the Italian film music circle, his music not really fitting into the category of classic spaghetti western. At times his style was slightly jazz orientated in its overall sound and flavour, but surprisingly the style and sound that he realised worked extremely well with the movie and also stood up on its own away from the images on screen. EL DESPERADO is certainly not the greatest Italian western score to be composed, but there again it is by no means the worst and has many interesting and original moments along the way. Track 5 for example boasts a powerful electric guitar performance of the central theme, which is supported by swaggering sounding percussion that is effective and attention-grabbing, Ferrio,s skills as an orchestrator are exemplary and on this soundtrack he takes the central theme and arranges, orchestrates and alters it throughout making it sound fresh and vibrant upon each airing. The sound quality for a score this age is excellent, and the CD is packaged and presented with eye arresting art work on the front cover, plus numerous colour stills and posters within the liner. I have to say its not the best spaghetti score, but its one that I am sure will be of much interest to fans of the genre.
This intelligent and absorbing drama was released in 1978, and starred the ever popular American actor David Janssen. Of course, Mr Janssen had been so well thought of and extremely popular via his TV roles in such series as THE FUGITIVE, O’HARA UNITED STATES TREASURY and RICHARD DIAMOND, all of which were top shows on American TV and also did well when sold to other countries. Janssen began his acting career back in 1945 and did make a number of what can be deemed as good movies, but it was television that was to really bring the actor’s talents to the public at large and by the early to mid 1960s, Janssen was well established as an actor of much worth. Unfortunately the actor’s life was to be cut short by a heart attack which he suffered in 1980. I am certain if he had lived we would have seen many more superior performances from Janssen. As far as I know he only made one movie in Italy which was SONO STATO UN AGENTE CIA (or COVERT ACTION as it was re-titled for release outside of Italy) but he also starred in another European production entitled THE SWISS CONSPIRACY. SONO SATO UN AGENTE CIA was a totally engrossing drama and saw Janssen as a former CIA agent who had retired and decided to tell his story in the form of a book. The CIA as you can imagine are not too pleased about this and they send Arthur Kennedy to track Janssen down in Greece. The landscapes are stunning, the photography marvelous and the storyline and the performances by all actors are outstanding.
The musical score is by one of Italy’s foremost composers of film music Stelvio Cipriani. Cipriani was no stranger to this type of movie when he was commissioned to write the score and had also made a name for himself scoring a number of successful Italian westerns, THE BOUNTY HUNTER, A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN and BLINDMAN among them. Cipriani opens the score with a delightful easy going semi disco tempo composition entitled RELAX. The romantic strings laced with playful sounding harpsichord are just two of the trademark sounds of Cipriani which combine elegantly and melodically; intertwining and complimenting each other to create an almost leisurely piece that is not only entertaining but also serves the movie well – the composer establishing almost immediately a romantic ambience to the proceedings. Track number two, CIA AGENT is another example of the composer’s prowess and originality in creating haunting themes. This restrained and rather downbeat sounding cue is performed by solo flute which is backed by guitar and underlying strings with a restrained use of percussion. Track three, AGENT TALE seems on its commencement to be a pleasant enough sounding interlude, but one which accompanies the murder of one of the stories characters in an old theatre. Track four, JOURNEY IN ATHENS is a gentle nod in the direction of Greek composers Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hajidakis as it certainly has a number of similarities to both TOPKAPI and ZORBA THE GREEK. Cipriani creates a somewhat authentic sounding composition that is vibrant and full of life. This composition is reprised in track five but the composer arranges it in a slightly different fashion reducing the tempi. Track six, ‘Investigation Rhythm’ is a masterful piece as the composer returns to elements of the CIA AGENT theme but on this occasion interjects and infuses a sense of mystery by using a more brooding approach via different instrumentation and creating an atmosphere that is solitary and singular. Track seven is a reprise of the opening theme ‘Relax’; the composer on this outing commences with pensive piano that leads into harpsichord which picks out the rather lovely theme strings are to present in an arrangement of the theme that is reminiscent of the composer’s excellent theme for THE ANONYMOUS VENETIAN. Overall this is a great soundtrack and one that I am so glad has been released on CD thanks to Chris’s Soundtrack Corner for this gem of a score and I look forward to many more being issued on this particular label. Presented well, with many informative notes and scattering of stills from the movie.
After hearing the samples of this score on the Movie score Media web page, I just knew that it was a work to be reckoned with, and also a score that would cause a little bit of a ripple amongst soundtrack collectors world wide. This is like a breath of fresh air in 21st Century film scoring, and the composer James Peterson should be congratulated on re-kindling the flame of hope within the film music arena, at a time when most new works for film fail to inspire or even raise an eyebrow let alone a comment. The brief but hard hitting opening cue, ‘Out Of The Darkness’ is in itself enough to warrant buying this compact disc, it has in its first 40 seconds or so many references to the work of composers now sadly not with us, such as Rozsa, Waxman, Herrmann, Newman etc, it evokes for me the atmosphere the sound the dramatic and hard hitting thematic quality of the golden age of film music and also has a sound to it that could be almost avant-garde in an Alex North kind of way. Petersons almost rasping brass flourishes becoming fanfares of sorts that introduce a driving and commanding opening piece that any of the greats would have been proud of. Personally I am of the opinion that the composer has not copied any particular style or sound here, or at least he has not set out to. It was something that just happened as the scoring process progressed and the end result is a well crafted and potent score That gives more than a gentle nod to the music from film noir, and also does lean slightly towards the composing style of Miklos Rozsa, which I am sure you will agree is no bad thing. RED CANVAS is a fast paced score at times which is heavy on the use of brass and strings, these at times combine and also at other moments play against each other to create a score of epic proportions, and soundtrack that I am sure will go down in film music history as being a groundbreaking one and also a landmark work for its creator James Peterson. Given the films subject matter Peterson has scored the images on screen intelligently and thoughtfully, and by doing this has also fashioned a work that is an exhilarating, thrilling and enjoyable listen away from the film it was intended for. There are a number of stand out cues within the score, in fact probably too many to analyse individually, I will say however track 9, ‘Grease Monkey Brawl’ is a highly dramatic listen and the ‘Ballet For Brawlers’ (track 18) is superb. This is a full on no holds barred bare knuckle slog it out musical fight.
The strings taking on the brass and vice versa with some fancy footwork from the woods. This is a rewarding and enriching listen, that has for me in any case restored my faith in the future of film music, because in the hands of the likes of James Peterson, film music does in fact have a future. Also on the compact disc are 8 additional bonus tracks in the form of ‘The Moving Images Suite’ these range from a short introductory fanfare, to cues entitled ‘The Sorcerer’, ‘Americana A Quirky Machine’ and ‘Transylvania 1955’, these are pieces of music written by the composer and shaped and arranged into a suite, which are a real added bonus and delight for the listener, these also give us an idea of how versatile the composer can be, I look forward to hearing much more from James Peterson, and may his next assignment not be too far off. Recommended.