IL CONTE DRACULA.

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Released in 1973, Jesus Franco’s version of COUNT DRACULA or IL CONTE DRACULA is in my opinion very underrated. I love the way in which the director stays with the original storyline as created by Bram Stoker, and although there are a number of mistakes or short fallings within the production, these in no way spoil the overall impact of the picture, this for me anyway outstrips any of the Hammer Dracula movies and to a degree is even more entertaining than Coppola’s high budget version of the story. Christopher Lee is excellent as the infamous Count and has to be congratulated for portraying the character in a completely different way to what he had done in previous productions from the Hammer studio. This version of the story not only adheres to the original novel but also has about it a greater atmospheric quality than any production before or after its release, in some scenes I was reminded of the Mario Bava approach to horror movies, dark, eerie and no dialogue, but affecting. Lee appears exactly how Dracula is described in the novel complete with moustache and as the movie or story progress’s and he preys on more victims he turns from an old man into a handsome younger version of himself (an idea explored in Hammers COUNTESS DRACULA). Klaus Kinsky is deserving of a special mention for his role as the manic and raving Reinfield, this is an accomplished performance that had me convinced. Herbert Lom also makes an appearance as Professor Van Helsing and there are a number of Franco’s usual cast members in the form of Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda and Jack Taylor, the director also appears as a servant of Van Helsing. The highly original sounding soundtrack by composer Bruno Nicolai too adds a greater atmosphere and impact to the movie, the composer utilising cimbalom and eerie sounding woodwind underlined with strings to create a sense of foreboding and a mood that is somewhat apprehensive and oppressive in a number of cues, but saying this Nicolai also utilises a grand lush sounding waltz motive which first makes a brief entrance in the opening credits music or PROCESSO on the compact disc release. Track two is in the first instance rather low key and gloomy but this is short lived as the composer introduces a secondary theme performed by strings that is strikingly lush and lavish, but this too melts away as the piece returns to the cimbalom led theme that opened the score. Track number three PENOMBRE is I have to say fairly typical of Nicolai, again strings take the lions share of the performance punctuated by jagged near frantic sounding trills from woods creating a sense of urgency and fear. He also makes effective use of brass for the scenes which are more action orientated and muted brass combined with woods and deliberately placed bass and piano are also highly effective.

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This is I think one of Nicolai’s most accomplished scores for film, it bares no resemblance to his western soundtracks whatsoever and more to the point there are no traces of any influences from Morricone, IL CONTE DRACULA is an inspired work that is Nicolai through and through, in fact thinking about it I can only recall one other score that might be slightly similar to this and that is THRONE OF FIRE by the composer which is another movie directed by Franco and starring Christopher Lee. If this is a soundtrack that you have for some reason missed then it is time to rectify your obvious mistake.

DAY OF ANGER.

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DAY OF ANGER was released in 1967, it starred the inimitable Lee Van Cleef and when watching the movie it becomes evident to all just why he was the main man when it came to the spaghetti westerns. Van Cleef portrays ageing gunfighter Frank Talby who decides that he must re-establish himself as a force to be reckoned with so guns down a local town Sheriff. The movie also stars another genre stalwart Giuliano Gemma as Scott Mary a downtrodden individual who was friends with the Sheriff, Talby takes Scott Mary under his wing and teaches him how to use a gun, after a while however the protégé becomes a threat and at the movies climax the teacher must face the pupil in a deadly showdown. Directed by Tonino Valerii who worked as an assistant to Sergio Leone and went on to direct THEY CALL ME NOBODY, DAY OF ANGER was certainly one of the genre s more high profile movies and contained a surprisingly savage sounding score by composer Riz Ortolani. The soundtrack was originally released back in the late 1960,s on an RCA long playing record.

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Ortolani is a composer that has written his fair share of western scores both for Italian and American productions, but when working within the genre of the spaghetti western the composer never seemed to quite get the chemistry right, many of his scores sounding as if they were just tracked with his music rather than it being specifically scored, but with DAY OF ANGER the composer created a sound that was not just melodic but was also suitably savage, brutal and powerful like many of the works fashioned by his peers such as Morricone, De Masi, Nicolai and Fidenco etc. The soundtrack was re-issued on the RCA label on compact disc in 1991 but this was just a straight recording of the LP release paired with selections from Ortolani’s score for BEYOND THE LAW (another Van Cleef movie). In 2006 Hillside CD productions and GDM released a compact disc that not only contained the Long Playing records content but also a further sixteen cues taken from the actual film score in full stereo. The result is a stunning release that is brimming with numerous themes and overflowing with Ortolani’s exhilarating and infectious soundtrack. The CD sold so well that Hillside had to re-press the soundtrack and re-issued it with the same art work but a different background colour. Certainly a score worth having and one that will keep any fan of Italian western scores entertained for hours on end. I live in hope that Ortolani’s excellent score for THE HUNTING PARTY will one day see the light of day. Now that’s a savage soundtrack.

LOS AMIGOS-DEAF SMITH AND JOHNNY EARS.

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LOS AMIGOS or DEAF SMITH AND JOHNNY EARS as it was re-titled in the UK, is an Italian western which starred Anthony Quinn and Franco Nero. Two friends have a strong bond Quinn’s character being a deaf mute Erastus Deaf Smith who has lots of experience and Nero’s character Johnny Ears being something of a amateur and a hot head full of ambition. The movie directed by Paolo Cavara also featured Pamela Tiffin as the storylines love interest and the object of Nero’s characters affections. Set in the early nineteenth century we see the two comrades heading for Austin in Texas just after the republic won independence from its Mexican occupiers. The future of the republic however is in jeopardy because Foreign powers are attempting to cause unrest and ultimately intervene and gain a foothold in the area. The President Sam Houston sends the two friends as agents to try and infiltrate the ranks of one of these factions headed by a general Morton, but news of their coming reaches the rebels who are then on the look out for a deaf mute, it then becomes Nero’s job to conceal his friends handicap and at the same time act as his ears and voice. They arrive at their destination to find that their contact Colonel McDonald and his family have been brutally murdered, wiped out and silenced for good by Morton’s men. The movie was entertaining and a solid addition to the genre of the Spaghetti western, although it did have within it a number of influences from the Hollywood western. The score was by Danielle Patucchi who produced a soundtrack that was itself leaned a little more towards Hollywood than Cinecitta, the composer not really utilising any of the established stock sounds of the Italian produced western within his score (ie whistles, rifle butts cracking, shouts, screams or solo trumpet performances), he did however include two vocals both of which are memorable and catchy. THE BALLAD OF DEAF AND EARS opens the film with a jaws harp pinging that ushers in vocals courtesy of Ann Collin backed by IL CANTORI MODERNI, Collin also provided the lyrics to this and the second song on the score track number five, EVEN IF YOUR NOT THE FIRST ONE, which is a love song of sorts easy on the ear and delightfully haunting again performed by Collin and is heard over a scene with Nero and Tiffin. The second vocal is given a fully orchestral work out on track number two of the compact disc, PRIMO INCONTRO is for me one of the highlights of Patucchi’s score it being one of the tracks that is closest to the style of the spaghetti western that is present having elements of Morricone’s THEY CALL ME NOBODY or to a degree WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS within its framework. Track number three is a dramatic and fast paced version of the opening song, fully orchestral with the emphasise on brass, fast strumming guitars and racing percussion all of which create an exhilarating and action packed composition.

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Track four is a straight orchestral version of the opening song, guitar taking the lead as easy going percussion creates a suitable backing track the composer then introducing underlying strings that plays a counter melody to the central theme augmenting and complimenting it, the cue I feel has a kind of folk sound to it, and at times is reminiscent of the style employed by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis. Track number six, NEL BUIO is an excellent piece that is filled with tension and apprehension, no real thematic properties are present here but the composer fashions a highly effective piece of tense nervous and slightly atonal music to accompany this section of the storyline.

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Track number seven, IL PUNTO PIU ALTO is another arrangement of THE BALLAD OF DEAF AND EARS, this time given a slightly harder edge via its leaning towards a martial sound created by snare drums that provide quite a rigid backing for the composition. Track number eight, is a wonderfully laid back arrangement of EVEN IF YOUR NOT THE FIRST ONE, complete with tantalising strings and luscious woods that are enhanced by subdued percussion and laced with harpsichord flourishes and further supported by emotive piano. The final cue on the compact disc is ADDIO A DEAF, a plaintive and emotional sounding version of the opening cue, performed on guitar and supported by woods and underlying strings, harmonica too is introduced giving the cue an even more melancholy sound, again I was reminded of the style of De Angelis whilst listening to this. Overall this is a very good soundtrack and a great listening experience, one complaint, Not long enough, but this was the problem with the original CAM SOUNDTRACK ENCYCLOPEDIA series, most releases were under forty minutes and this is no exception with a duration of just 27 mins. However it still has my recommendation, your collection will be lacking without it.

IL DIAVALO DELLA GUERRA / THE WAR DEVILS

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Released in the December of 1969, IL DIAVALO DELLA GUERRA or THE WAR DEVILS is one of the better movies produced by Italy during the 1960,s that has its storyline set during WWll. It has a strong cast in the form of leading actors Guy Madison, Anthony Steel and Venantino Venantini and support from a whole load of familiar Italian movie stalwarts, with a short appearance at the films outset by John Ireland as an American officer, but don’t blink or you will most definitely miss him, but for me personally it is Venantini that steals the show as he portrays so convincingly a German officer, but saying this Madison too puts in a very good performance. The movie begins in 1943 in the desert campaign of North Africa, with a German security unit in pursuit of an American commando outfit under the command of Guy Madison. After a long pursuit the two units end up joining forces in an uneasy alliance in order to survive the crossing of the blistering desert. Because the German unit is better equipped and larger they in effect are holding the Americans prisoner but as they exit the desert the German commander decides to release his captives, but tells them in no uncertain terms that if he meets them again in combat he will kill them. A year later the American Captain is sent on a mission to rescue a British intelligence officer (Anthony Steel) who has been captured by the Germans and is being held captive by them in a fortified base and guess who is in command of this base? Yes you guessed it the same German commander who released Madison but vowed to kill him the next time he set eyes on him. An interesting plot and one that contains a few surprises and twists along the way, in essence we have here a movie that contains not one but two war stories, filled with action and also having a little romance on the side. Directed by Bitto Albertini WAR DEVILS is an entertaining movie that contains some convincing battle scenes especially the final shootout which is very much akin to the final battle from THE DIRTY DOZEN and also has certain affiliations to FIVE FROM HELL. The music for the picture is the work of Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani who came to prominence in film scoring via his Spaghetti western scores such as THE BOUNTY KILLER, A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN and music for the ALLELUJAH series of westerns. For this movie however the composer employs a sound and style that is very different from his forays into the western genre and includes striking use of brass to purvey an atmosphere of drama and martial sounding timpani that has to it a machine gun like sound in certain passages. I at first thought the style achieved here was very much like the music of fellow Italian Maestro Francesco De Masi, when he worked on films such as LA BATTAGLIA D’INGHILTERRA and the original INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (1978).

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Cipriani utilises a grand sound that is perfectly suited to the battle scenes and the wonderful cinematography of the movie, it is expansive and highly expressive in its make up and underlines not only the action but is also extremely supportive during the films quieter and more suspenseful moments, plus the composer also provides the film with a romantic sound that is reminiscent of the golden days of Hollywood with surging strings and highly emotive melodies in fact I suppose the composer has created a score that in the main hails from the Italian school of film music through and through, but at the same times contains attributes that are uninfluenced by the more traditional war movie scoring styles as employed by Hollywood. This is yet another musical gem from Italian cinema and also an interesting and alluring addition to Kronos records growing Gold Series that has preserved some of Italian film music’s lesser known but fine works, which I am sure would have been lost forever or left to languish in dusty vaults forever. Presented well with striking art work and informative notes. Another for your collection, available for pre order now.