Staying with a subject I have been pondering during these days of isolation and of lockdowns because of the COVID 19 pandemic, I look again to the works of Ennio Morricone, who I have been a fan of from day one or at least A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The composer’s output is so great that at times it was hard to keep up with his prolific creativity, and it was difficult to take on board that one man had been responsible for so many memorable film scores. Films such as THE SICILIAN CLAN for example which although was not what I would call a huge success at the box office still managed to inspire the Maestro to fashion a score that in my opinion stands as one of his best from the late 1960’s.
But THE SICILAN CLAN is a score that most ardent Morricone followers are aware of and hold it in high esteem. But what of scores for movies such as THE HILLS RUN RED and A SKYFUL OF STARS FOR A ROOF in the western department and also soundtracks for movies such as A MAN TO RESPECT, LA DONNA DELLA DOMENICA, HUNDRA, FEAR IN THE CITY, THE TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS and LA DAME AUX CAMELIAS.
All wonderfully melodic and atmospheric, but maybe not visited enough by collectors. Then there is a movie made in Japan entitled MUSASHI which had a score written by Morricone, although this is a good score it is a film that very rarely is mentioned when discussing Ennio Morricone’s work for the cinema. So, I think what Iam saying is even if you are like me an avid Morricone collector, there are always some scores that you probably have in your collection that do not or very rarely get aired.
But I suppose one can apply this to any composer who has written extensively for film, when I look at my morricone collection I often think “Not heard this in a while” and because of this lockdown I have to admit looking through and not just thinking about listening to these but actually sitting and appreciating them. One of the scores I always used to listen to was TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, (AKA-GLI AVVOLTOI HANNO FAME in Italy. Which translates as THE VULTRES ARE HUNGRY) and when I heard that an official CD was to be released I was so pleased, but its been a long time coming and there does not seem to be any sign of it on the horizon as yet, and probably because of the strange times we are living in right now I would think it won’t surface any time soon.
So I will have to be content with the edition I have on the Italian Legend label which is paired with DAYS OF HEAVEN, two very good scores, of course the latter has been issued in full on FSM records which is a wonderful release. The version of TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA that is on the disc is taken from the LP tracks and it is rather dubious as to if it is an official release or a very good bootleg, the original release was on vinyl and was issued by MCA records. To be fair the sound quality on the Italian LEGEND CD is exceptionally good although it does distort at times on the DAYS OF HEAVEN tracks. I am sure an official recording of TWO MULES would be much better.
The movie was directed by Don Siegal and produced by Martin Rackin, it starred CLINT EASTWOOD and SHIRLEY Mc CLAINE, and was filmed in Mexico. Released by Universal Pictures in the June of 1970, it was a movie basically that was cashing in on the success of the spaghetti western, and also the high profile of Eastwood, who had become an icon within westerns such as the DOLLAR TRILOGY and later in the rather tepid Ted Post Directed HANG EM HIGH.
There had also been a movie released in the same year entitled MADRON which involved a storyline with an ageing gunman and a nun who had survived a massacre by Indians. The movie was scored by another Italian Maestro Riz Ortolani who was nominated for an Oscar for the song from the movie, TILL LOVE TOUCHES YOUR HEART. Released in December 1970, the movie which was filmed in Israel starred Richard Boone and Leslie Caron and sadly was not as popular as the Eastwood movie although in many ways was slightly superior.
Morricone’s score for TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA was a fusion of the style he had employed in Italian made westerns and also a more dramatic and symphonic style, but also present were hints of music that was linked with Mexico, with the composer employing soft and soothing guitar at certain points within the score, Morricone also utilised a mule sound which instantly caught the attention of the audience and for the SISTER SARA character the composer provided a nuns chorus which was angelic yet slightly irreverent.
It is a score that I think is one of the composers more interesting ones for a western, not that any of his western scores are un-interesting, its just that TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA explored other musical avenues and has to it an intimacy and a less grandiose or operatic style, the composer fashioning various themes throughout which all originate from elements and sounds introduced within the opening or core theme of the soundtrack that accompanies the opening credits, the Maestro arranges and presents them in a different way each time. Thus, the sound and the style of the score remains not only consistent, but fresh, energetic and vibrant. The music entitled the BATTLE is however somewhat out of pace with the remainder of the score, running for three mins or just over it is a fast paced and highly aggressive sounding piece, that for me personally is more akin to Morricones pulsating opening for THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS or even one of the highly dramatic cues from a later score of his THE UNTOUCHABLES rather than for a western movie, however it works within the context of the films storyline and also makes for great listening away from the picture too.
It is a percussive piece which also includes brass performances that are relentless and strings that hit new heights in the way they are manipulated and utilised at times creating a searing and sharp sound. It is a commanding and pulsating musical affair and one of the scores highlights. On watching the movie again in recent years there are a number of cues within the film that are not represented on the soundtrack release, which during this period was the norm, at times many of the scores being re-recorded for the soundtrack album release. My hope is that when the score is eventually given an official release onto CD there will be extra cues because this is a Morricone score that so deserves a definitive release.
TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS, is an odd movie, an attempt I think to maybe create a kind of Indiana Jones character, but an attempt that I fear was less than successful. The star of the movie Tony Anthony, was an actor who was also a director and producer, he was the star of the STRANGER westerns from the early part of the 1960’s making an appearance in for example A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN (SHOOT FIRST LAUGH LAST) and also took the central character role in the unusual spaghetti western BLINDMAN, I also seem to remember him being in the movie COME TOGETHER which was a kind of hippy, flower power road trip. In THE TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS Anthony took the part of J.T. STRIKER who is described as a Soldier of Fortune. He is employed to retrieve a cache of precious gems which are hidden inside two mystical crowns, after enlisting the assistance of a group of professional thieves Striker encounters all sorts of obstacles which include, spear bearing skeletons (shades of JASON AND THE ARGONAUGHTS and Ray Harryhausen, but maybe not as effective), and a magical cave in which he discovers a scroll that tells him of the fourth crown which had not been seen for many years, Striker and his team embark on a quest to find the remaining crowns which are kept in a heavily fortified which is under the protection of a cult headed by the evil Brother Jonas, so involved yes, but entertaining that’s debatable, it was also filmed in 3d so the storyline was at times stretched a little to accommodate the use of the 3D effect. It is a movie where there is a lot going on and at certain points it is hard to separate many of the scenarios that are being acted out.
The score by Morricone, was an interesting one, the composer employing choir and a rich sounding string section, which evoke memories of his music for both DESERT OF THE TARTARS and NOVECENTO, it has to it a lush and eloquent sound, and the central theme when given time to develop is anthem-like. A case once again of the score being far superior to the movie it was intended to enhance, and this is again probably the reason why this is not a score that is discussed that much by Morricone fans. The movie was released in 1982, and helmed by veteran film maker Ferdinando Baldi, who’s most notable movies include DAVID AND GOLIATH and THE TARTARS which were both movies that starred Orson Welles. There was talk of a sequel to the film, but I think based upon audience reaction and poor box office returns, this was cancelled. The soundtrack was first issued on CD by Hillside CD productions and later the expanded edition was released by Intrada.
Cast your mind back to 1990, and to a movie entitled STATE OF GRACE (THE IRISH MOB IN HELLS KITCHEN). This was in my opinion that rivalled THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS and came remarkably close to being level with ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and THE UNTOUCHABLES. But sadly, it was a movie that was not to be a favourite with cinema audiences, maybe by this time cinema goers were beginning to tire of Mafia type films, who knows? This American made neo-noir crime movie, was directed by Phil Joanou and had an impressive cast which included Sean Penn, Gary Oldman and Ed Harris. Written by Dennis McIntyre it is based upon true life events that took place concerning the Hells Kitchen gang called The Westies. The film was however received with positive reviews from the critics, but because of the high profile and the success of GOODFELLAS it became overshadowed and was ignored by the public. The score by Ennio Morricone is an accomplished one and in many ways does outclass his THE UNTOUCHABLES, the composer employing a rich and melodic score for most of the film, scoring it in a subtle and delicate fashion.
There are however a number of more tense and dramatic interludes as in THE SHOOTOUT which from the start is recognised as classic Morricone, the composer building tension and creating a taught dramatic atmosphere via, percussion, organ, and strings, this slow paced but apprehensive and dramatic cue is typical of the Maestro’s trademark sound and a style that would re-emerge later in his career including in the Oscar winning HATEFUL EIGHT. There is that almost guttural and dark sound within it, which the composer achieves through low woods and a foreboding oboe performance. I think the reason that I like this score so much is because it a varied one, there are a number of styles employed within it, and although all are fundamentally Morricone, with the Maestro, purveying a whole plethora of emotions and senses. This time it is a case of because the film was ignored that the score too is not that often mentioned. Which is a great pity, because the movie was excellent, and the score is pure class. With the newly expanded compact disc now available on Quartet records, it is top notch Morricone. And listening to it again in recent days I can hear where Andrea Morricone found his inspiration for LIBERTY HEIGHTS which he scored nine years after his Father worked on STATE OF GRACE.
Back to the 1970.s for the next score or two scores as both were issued onto CD by BEAT records back in 1994, SEPOLTA VIVA (1973) and THE ANTICHRIST (1974) are scores that are essential to have in one’s collection. Although written close together they are totally different stylistically and they perfectly display the versatility and the originality of Morricone.
THE ANTICHRIST was not issued onto LP at the time of the films release, probably because the music in the film was sparse and only two cues have ever been issued to represent this score that is credited to both Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, however I am not certain that Nicolai did have a hand in the composition of the music, he certainly conducted the orchestra and possibly performed the organ on the soundtrack, but as for composing there is no real evidence to back this up The two themes were however issued on a 45rpm single in 1974. The movie was a low budget affair and one of the many movies around during this period that attempted to cash in on the success of THE EXORCIST, others including the awful DEVIL WITHIN HER (AKA CHI SEI ?-BEYOND THE DOOR).
THE ANTICHRIST starred Carla Gravina, Arthur Kennedy and Mel Ferrer and was directed by Alberto de Martino, to give it a fair review the movie was not actually that awful, and the score was well suited to the spooky and virulent acts that were being acted out on screen. The plot focuses upon a young woman who is confined to her wheelchair due to paralyses who becomes possessed by the Devil himself when a hypnosis session goes wrong, and instead of curing her illness it triggers memories of her past life when she was a witch practising the dark arts. The music by Morricone is a tormented work, the composer relying primarily upon the use of solo violin and sombre sounding church organ. The only two cues released were. IL BUIPI and LA LUCE which have a combined running duration of just over nine minutes. The organ solo is probably Bruno Nicolai as I have already stated and the violin performance could be Dino Asciolla who performed on many of Morricone’s film scores, THE RED TENT, L’UMANOIDE and MOSES THE LAWGIVER to name but a trio. Although the music represented from the score is brief, it is still affecting, the tortured sound that the composer purveys has an urgency and spitefulness to it, creating an uneasy and sinister atmosphere.
The main score on the BEAT CD (CD CR 17) is the totally beguiling and romantically infused SEPOLTA VIVA, a soundtrack that I have had in my collection for years, firstly on a BEAT LP record, and then with this CD release. This is Ennio Morricone at his melodic best, filled with melancholy and overflowing with a rich and tender abundance of themes. This fully symphonic and classical sounding work is a must have purchase and even now stands as one of the Maestro’s finer works from the 1970’s. There are so many themes within the score, each containing their own unique sound and musical persona, but at the same time all having the unmistakable musical stamp of Morricone. We are treated to lush and rich love themes, chamber slanted works, and a scattering of dramatic and mysterious sounding pieces. The composers utilises solo piano, melodic and romantic sounding woods which are underpinned by light use of organ and sliding strings in the opening of the first cue ROMANZA A CHRISTINA, this slight but affecting introduction soon builds and the swelling string section begin to become even more protuberant. The strings then take on fully the central theme and enhanced by piano start to develop it to a greater level, the strings rising and bringing to life the haunting and eloquent theme. There is an intimacy and a fragility to the work which makes it even more endearing and affecting.
The subtle nuances and delicate tone poems being perfect for the storyline and various scenarios and again as with most of the composers romantically laced works highly listenable and entertaining away from the images on screen. Within the work we can hear that this is undeniably Morricone, a sound that has been utilised in numerous other scores, a sound that is instantly recognisable and one that is also totally absorbing. There is no choral work within the score, but beautiful piano work and heartrending violin solos, are featured throughout. It is another one of Morricone’s evergreen scores.