Composer Riz Ortolani literally burst onto the world music stage when he co wrote the song MORE which was originally utilised in the movie MONDO CANE. Since this early composition and a composition that was a renowned world wide hit that was recorded by literally hundreds of artists the composer has written the scores to hundreds of movies both in his native Italy and the United States, England and Europe. The composer sadly passed away in Rome in 2014, but the musical legacy he left is immense. He worked on so many differing genres of film and with each assignment the composer gave to us the film music fans tuneful scores and haunting melodies as well as so many memorable songs. He like so many other Italian composers from the 1960.s and 1970.s worked on his fair share of Italian westerns, but Ortolani very rarely generated the same raw and savage sound as his peers with the composer often opting for providing a more romantic sound for his westerns, DAY OF ANGER I suppose is the exception with its harsh sounding brass and percussion that acts as a background to a catchy guitar lead theme that rivals anything composed by the likes of Nicolai. De Masi and to a degree Morricone.
What was different about Ortolani and made him stand out from other Italian composers was that he worked on numerous non-Italian productions which were box office successes, thus gaining the composer recognition with a wider cinema audience. Movies he scored that were a success at the box office outside of Italy included, THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE, THE 7TH DAWN, THE GLORY GUYS, ANZIO and THE MCKENZIE BREAK. I was prompted to write this piece and the reviews after re-visiting THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE and realising just how many themes the score included. Ortolani was big on the use of themes, and introduced themes for certain characters and also situations that he repeated throughout the film and built up a musical character for the movie that not only complimented and supported but had a life away from the images and on screen scenarios.
For example his score for MADRON which was a western shot in Israel and starred Richard Boone and Leslie Carron, not only contained the award winning song TILL LOVE TOUCHES YOUR HEART but also had to it at least three other major thematic properties, each one individual and attached to a character or a scene. At times I felt that Ortolanis music did not really suit some of the movies he worked on, GLORY GUYS for example was a little overblown and over the top, and it is rumoured that Ortolani never saw the movie before writing the score, but instead took his cue from the script and also discussion with the films director. Whether this is correct or not I cannot say, but there were many rumours surrounding Italian film music composers during this period, like the one that said Morricone had a library of scores at his home and would simply select one he thought would suit the film, not true ? We shall never know. I am sure there were occasions when Ortolani did not see the movie and gauged it from a script or even a cue sheet with timings, but either way the music was good and always filled with melody. So lets begin with a western, MADRON, in many ways it was a more serious version of TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, with Boone playing the Eastwood character and Crron taking the role of the Nun which was played by Shirley Mc Claine. But its hard to say which film influenced which as they were both released in 1970, certainly TWO MULES was more of an audience draw simply because of the stars that headlined, but maybe MADRON was a better made movie in some ways.
Ortolani’s score was quite unassuming and at times whilst watching the movie there is very little music at all or at least it seems that way, but I was always told if you notice the music too much then the movie cannot be that good, which when you think about it is very true. The song attracted much attention and the composers pleasant but understated scored is sometimes forgotten and overlooked by critics and fans alike. The LP on Quad records was issued in the latter part of 1970 and I think I am correct in saying no CD has ever been issued. Ortolani makes effective use of harmonica which could be performed by De Gemini on the soundtrack and enhances this with light and romantic sounding strings giving the work a pleasant and emotive sound. The song which opens and also closes the album is performed firstly by Richard Williams and then again at the end of the recording by Jan Daley, its a funny thing because the songs are the same as in lyrics and musical arrangements they both seem to have their own unique persona.
From a western we head to England, for THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE a movie that was successful both in England, the USA and Europe, for this Ortolani penned a rather regal sounding work, which was filled with a richness that oozed pomp and ceremony right from the offset, it also contained the catchy and infectious song FORGET DOMANI which was given a vocal and instrumental outing within the movie. The score also featured the artistry of trumpet player Kenny Baker on the track entitled MAE, Ortolani created easy going themes that were laced with a Neapolitan sound and also fashioned beautifully romantic musical passages that were filled with a lush and lavish atmosphere. THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE is a score that should be in every film music collection, it is one of the composers best in my opinion as it combines the jaunty and the eloquent. Released originally on LP on MGM records the score has not received a CD release as a full score, but has been included on at least three compilations of Ortolani’s music.
THE 7TH DAWN is an interesting score as the composer fuses both martial sounding music with romantic and Oriental flavoured themes, again the composer utilising brass and strings to great effect and underlining these elements with booming percussion and racing timpani especially in the action scenes, the harsh sounding brass is particularly effective and creates a hard hitting sound. There is also a lighter side to the work, again the composer provides a song, which is used as the love theme for the movie and performed by a chorus that would not be out of place in any of Mancini’s soundtracks. But then as now film companies looked at the soundtracks and encouraged the composer to include a song so that they could earn even more out of the movie after audiences had left the cinema. Ortolani’s surging and tragic sounding strings are stunning and work well within the movie as well as away from it. Dare I say that all the soundtracks I have mentioned so far are now on SPOTIFY, I know its not an ideal way to listen to them but at least one can get an idea what they are like at least.
THE GLORY GUYS is another Ortolani soundtrack I remember buying on a United Artists LP many years ago, although it is a serviceable western score it does at times become quite abrasive and jagged because of the use of the brass, there is also an American sounding song, I say American sounding as in THE HORSE SOLDIERS type of style and sound. The song THE GLORY GUYS and the instrumental version entitled WARPAINT AND FEATHERS being the two stand out cues on the recording, both GLORY GUYS and 7TH DAWN were released as part of the Film Score Monthly FSM BOX 03 and are on disc number 11 of that set. Maybe in the very near future record companies will strat to release these gems onto CD and also I hope that one day Ortolani’s score for THE VALACHI PAPERS will make its way onto a compact disc./ Check out Ortolani, on LP on CD and on SPOTIFY/I TUNES. Enjoy.