MY NAME IS SHANGHAI JOE.

Notes intended for the Hillside release of SHANGHAI JOE (march 2014). Unused due to scheduling.

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MY NAME IS SHANGHAI JOE or THE FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE was released in the latter part of 1972, the movie which is sadly an easily forgettable addition to the genre of the Italian Western, has two saving graces which are firstly the performance of Klaus Kinski in the role of the villain of the piece and secondly the musical score by Maestro Bruno Nicolai. The central character JOE portrayed by Chen Lee, is somewhat a non descript character and the actors performance is less than convincing, combine this with even more lack lustre direction by Mario Caiano and we have the recipe for a movie that is attempting to cash in on the success of past Spaghetti westerns and also combine this with another successful genre (kung fu movies) but loosing its way a little and eventually one finds it difficult to put the film into any category. Released under a number of titles in the United States which included THE DRAGON STRIKES BACK and TO KILL OR DIE. The film also attempted to convey a message about racism, one line from the script being “We finally got rid of the Indians, now we’re up to our ears in Chinks” The music by Nicolai, is too not that original most of it being recycled from previous scores LANDRAIDERS and also HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND….SARTANA WILL PAY, being the most prominent, but saying this the composer did produce a handful of original and infectious sounding themes for the picture, which contained many of the stock sounds and features that we associate with the genre of the spaghetti western but these were enhanced and embellished with interesting and quirky nuances that had an oriental flavour to them creating a score that not only served the movie well but also stood on their own as entertaining pieces of music. Re-using music in scores from other soundtracks was something that we can see in Nicolai’s work for the cinema and Television, the guitar rift in SHANGHAI JOE being one example, the composer utilized this in INDIO BLACK and also LANDRAIDERS to great effect, on each outing varying it in its arrangement but when you are a busy composer writing scores for numerous movies as well as conducting soundtracks for Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Carlo Rustichelli and their like, plus performing on certain scores playing organ etc it is hardly surprising that Maestro Nicolai opted for the simple solution on certain occasions.  Bruno Nicolai was born in Rome in 1926, He studied with Aldo Manitia for piano and Antonio Fernandi and Godfreddo Petrassi for composition. It is important to note that Petrassi was also responsible for schooling Ennio Morricone in composition and this is probably why both Nicolai and Morricone at times sounded very similar when composing and orchestrating, Nicolai also studied organ with Ferruccio Viganelli. Nicolai entered the film music composer arena in 1963 when he scored HEAD OF THE FAMILY then in the early part of 1964 he collaborated on the score for MONDO CANE 2, this was as a conductor and arranger.

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His major break into film music came in 1965 when Ennio Morricone asked him to conduct the score to Sergio Leone’s second Dollar movie FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, after this milestone assignment Nicolai became Morricones regular conductor and also at times co-composed scores with him, which included OPERATION KID BROTHER and A PROFFESSIONAL GUN. In 1966 Nicolai conducted Morricones classic soundtrack to THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and after this began to conduct scores for numerous other Italian composers as well as writing his own film scores and working with Directors such as Jesus Franco which was a fruitful collaboration the composer creating memorable soundtracks for films such as IL CONTE DRACULA and THRONE OF FIRE. Nicolai also had a keen interest in classical music and continually studied the works of Beethoven and Mozart. When working on westerns in particular, the composer produced a sound that was a fusion of the quirky upbeat and at times experimental spaghetti sound and the grandiose thematic material of the Hollywood produced western thus creating an original sound that was all his own. He died on August 16th 1991, sadly his death was not widely reported and collectors did not find out about his passing until nearly two months later. His untimely death left a void within the Italian film music fraternity; a void that many still say has never been filled.

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2 thoughts on “MY NAME IS SHANGHAI JOE.”

  1. I always thought Nicolai was the guy who added all the action to Morricone’s westerns. I believe he was the one who added the whips, bells, etc. You can tell is Nicolai conducted a Morricone score or Ennio did. Once they partnership ended, their was a distinct difference in the scores of Morricone that followed.

  2. I agree 100% Tom Betts – I will go as far as to say that Bruno Nicolai is THE MAN behind the REAL Italo-Western-music-sound!! He also conducted Luis Bacalov’s DJANGO, quite another style when comparing to Morricone and Nicolai himself, but adding a lot of GUTS in the music!
    You really can hear the difference when listening to Morricone’s western-music conducted by other conducters after the split-up with Nicolai!

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