THE WESTERN. 1963 TO 2015.
On July 6th 2020, the world lost one of the greatest musical talents of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Maestro Ennio Morricone passed-away peacefully at dawn in a clinic in his beloved city of Rome with his wife Maria at his bedside. Morricone who was 91 years of age had taken a fall at his home the week before and was hospitalised with a fractured femur. Although we as admirers of this great Maestro knew that this day had to come, as is does to us all, it was still an immense shock. And I think that is why I never wrote anything until today which is an entire week after his passing, but it is still incomprehensible that the Maestro is no longer with us.
Only two years ago I saw him in concert in London, and although he admittedly looked frail and tired by the end of the concert he was still there on the podium conducting and giving his adoring public what they wanted, which was sometimes referred to as music for the eyes. I for one have been listening to the music of Ennio Morricone since 1965, I was just ten years old when I first heard the whistling theme for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and then later the iconic music he composed for Leone’s second western, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and the Epic THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. I as a young boy could not have imagined the delights that lay ahead, the discoveries and the inventive and exquisite music that he would produce.
I could also not have imagined meeting the likes of Franco de Gemini and Alessandro Alessandroni the men behind the sounds of the Harmonica on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and the whistling, guitar and choir on so many of Morricone’s scores. It is without any doubt that it is his western themes that he will be remembered for amongst the wider cinema going public, but we as collectors and fans of IL MAESTRO, know too well westerns made up a very small part of his output and also that there is far more to this prolific composer of film scores and concert music. His music not only underlined and supported every movie and TV show he worked on, but it caressed them and elevated them to become seemingly better movies than many of them were. The composer’s inventiveness and innovative musical skills had the ability to make a poor movie good and a great movie outstanding. So where do you start with a composer such as Morricone, well I think that maybe he would even agree that we have to start with his western scores.
There were a few rules when you were given your golden ticket that allowed you to interview the Maestro, you never entered his study, which is where he worked and composed both his classical and cinema music for. You also never referred to him as Ennio, (why would you) he was and still will remain Il Maestro, The Master, The Genius. Also, when discussing his film score’s, you never ever called the westerns Spaghetti westerns, Spaghetti was a food stuff and had no relationship with music or westerns. Sadly, this rather cruel name or label for the Italian western genre is an expression I have heard a lot in the past seven days from some who frankly should know better.
Ennio Morricone’s first western soundtrack was for the 1963, Italian/Spanish co production GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS or DUELLO NEL TEXAS which was directed by Ricardo Blasco under the alias of Richard Blasco. The score was a very simple one and also one that really did not stand out as being particularly original, it contained a number of Americanised musical clichés, which even included a title song A GRINGO LIKE ME that itself was performed in a very Frankie Laine style, being more akin to the sound of the Hollywood western scores of the 1950’s. With lyrics that included KEEP YOUR HAND ON YOUR GUN, DON’T YOU TRUST ANYONE, THERE.S JUST ONE KIND OF MAN YOU CAN TRUST, THAT’S A DEAD MAN. However, it was a serviceable work, and one that is returned to many times by collectors, and when you listen to the work closely there are glimpses of the sound that he would achieve in later western scores.
From 1963 through till 1964 Morricone worked on approx.; fourteen more movies before being offered another western, BULLETS DON’T ARGUE-LE PISTOLE NON DISCUTONO, is one of my favourite Morricone western scores, and contained the haunting vocal LONESOME BILLY, I think I mark it as an important and entertaining work because it came just before A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but the sound that the Maestro created was totally different from the raw and quite sparse sounding soundtrack he would write for Leone’s first sagebrush saga.
1964 was a landmark year for Morricone, this was the period when he began to become noticed, mainly because of his music for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS but also because of the body of work that he was accumulating in the film music arena, it was also in 1964 that he scored movies and other projects such as the documentary by director Paola Cavara entitled IL MALAMONDO or FUNNY WORLD which is a score that displays the composer’s versatility and also his boundless inventive and slightly eccentric style.
Other movies he worked on in the same year included, FULL HEARTS AND EMPTY POCKETS for director Camillio Mastrocinque and TWO ESCAPE FROM SiNG SING and THE MANIACS which were both directed by Lucio Fulci. Originally Sergio Leone had not wanted Morricone to score A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, he had heard the composers music for DUELLO NEL TEXAS and thought it to be to ordinary and bland, he was looking for something different, new and fresh, Leone had already turned to another composer to provide the music for the movie, which was Franceso Angelo Lavagnino, who had worked on numerous movies in Italy. Leone, however, began to work on a number of ideas with Morricone. One of these was to utilise the song PASTURES OF PLENTY which the composer had already recorded with vocalist Peter Tevis and had arranged it for the artist when he was at RCA records. But Leone suggested that the composer provide an instrumental arrangement and replace the vocal with a whistler, the rest as we all know is history, the whistler being Alessandro Alessandroni and the choir on the soundtrack being IL CANTORI MODERNI, which at Morricone’s request had been expanded for the score.
Alessandroni touched upon this in an interview I did with him some years ago.
“I was in Rome doing a television show called CANZONISSIMA. Morricone telephoned me and told me that he had been asked to compose the score for a western film which was directed by Sergio Leone, this turned out to be A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Morricone asked me if I would play guitar on the soundtrack and also he needed me to whistle as well; of course I said yes. Morricone suggested that the choir be enlarged, so we added more vocalists making the choir 12 strong, and this is how IL CANTORI MODERNI was born. I am told that Nora Orlandi had been involved on the score, but I think that this might have been before Morricone was asked to compose the soundtrack. After this first collaboration with Morricone, I worked with him on many occasions and as you know on all types of movies, the choir was also expanded further after this and increased to sometimes 16 members, depending on the requirements of the score”.
In 1965 Morricone went back to the western genre scoring A PISTOL FOR RINGO and THE RETURN OF RINGO both directed by Duccio Tessari. These two movies contained wonderfully thematic soundtracks, and also two songs that have become favourites of Morricone connoisseurs, ANGEL FACE being the vocal version of the theme from A PISTOL FOR RINGO with the Vocalist on that song Maurizio Graf returning for its sequel performing the slightly harder edged title number from THE RETURN OF RINGO.
At the time of the film’s release the songs were issued as single 45rpm records, with a vibrantly colourful cover. Which was something that would become the norm in later years when the Italian western genre began to establish itself and the music from them became more and more popular, very often the covers depicting scenes or posters from the movies, or publicity photos of the vocalist dressed up in cowboy outfit. A PISTOL FOR RINGO and its sequel have since they were originally released become cult movies, and for many are in the same league as the first two Dollar movies. Morricone’s scores are too highly regarded, with the second film having a more grandiose sound and containing an epic feel within some sections of the music.
The songs from both of the Ringo movies contained elements of the pop music that Morricone was involved with before concentrating upon film music. Again when he was an arranger at RCA and worked with a handful of popular Italian artists of the period of the late 1950,s through to the early 1960.s, such as Gianni Morandi. Which he continued to do as well as scoring movies during the 1960.s providing memorable musical accompaniments for the likes of Mina and Jimmy Fontana.
It was also in 1965 that Morricone was re-united with Director Sergio Leone on FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The second film in Leone’s first trilogy was more ambitious than the first, and so too was Morricone’s score, conducted by Bruno Nicolai because by this time the composer had become so busy, it had to it a more developed and even more inventive musical persona. Morricone employing the unique soprano voice of Edda Dell Orso, as well as the distinct whistling of Alessandro Alessandroni on the title track and in other scenes that featured the Clint Eastwood character Manco and again IL CANTORI MODERNI were in attendance to create the extraordinary choral performances. The score too had that chiming watch theme, which was more than just a tune on the soundtrack but was an integral part of the movies story-line.
Morricone fashioned the simple chiming melody that would act as a connection between two of the central characters El Indio and Colonel Mortimer. The chimes also acted as a sign that there would be a gunfight or a settling of accounts the chiming watch opening the proceedings and then as it wound down would also be the sign to each protagonist to draw their pistols. The third outstanding piece on the score was THE VICE OF KILLING which featured Edda Dell Orso and Il Cantori Moderni.
In 1966, Morricone penned his iconic theme for THE GOOD THE BAD and THE UGLY, but this was not the only western that the Maestro scored in that year. It was a busy 12 months for the composer, and included SEVEN GUNS FOR THE Mc GREGORS, NAVAJO JOE, THE BIG GUNDOWN and THE HILLS RUN RED.
The latter I feel is such an underatted work and a score that is at times overlooked by many. Directed by Carlo Lizzani under the alias of Lee W Beaver, this was a great romp of a western tale which Morricone matched and underlined with a brass led theme that was bolstered and given greater atmospheric quality via the earthy and unique voice of Gianna Spagnulo.
THE HILLS RUN RED was essentially an Italian western but also contained several trademarks, themes and banalities that had become synonymous with American produced cowboy films from the time and also from the previous decade. This was also the first western produced by the ever-industrious filmmaker Dino De Laurentis. Lizanni is probably best known for directing Hollywood heavyweight actor Rod Steiger in THE LAST DAYS OF MUSSOLINI (1977-also scored by Morricone) and for helming a few lesser known Italian movies including the marginally successful western REQUIESCANT in 1967. Morricone’s score for THE HILLS RUN RED is outstanding and although not as epic sounding as THE GOOD THE BAD and THE UGLY is a triumph of film scoring which lends its considerable musical weight to the proceedings, and ensures that one will not forget this movie easily simply because of the score.
SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGregors was in essence a rip-roaring swashbuckler of a western, with fights and action galore but very little story-line, it did spawn a sequel which was released in 1967 entitled SEVEN BRIDES FOR THE MCGREGORS which was also scored by Morricone. Both movies were shall we say less than worthy of the Maestro, but still he fashioned scores that stood out, the first of the two containing a rousing march with vocals performed by IL Cantori Moderni and also containing a fast paced piece entitled SANTA FE EXPRESS.
Sadly, neither score has yet seen a complete edition release, but some cues have found their way on to various compilations. 1966 also saw the release of LA RESA DEI CONTI or as we know it THE BIG GUNDOWN, this is probably the most accomplished non-Leone western and in many opinions Morricone’s best western score. It is literally brimming with inventiveness and filled with vibrant and robust thematic material. Directed by Sergio Sollima who Morricone would collaborate with many times, it is part of what is looked upon as a trilogy of film’s, which includes THE BIG GUNDOWN, CORRI UOMO CORRI, and FACCIA A FACCIA. Morricone scoring two out of the three, the second title, CORRI UOMO CORRI being the work of Bruno Nicolai, but that is something that remains a mystery as in interview Sergio Sollima claimed that the score was composed by Morricone.
But it is a case of if you were not at the sessions then who knows who scored what. However, according to singer Peter Boom who performed the vocals on the CORRI UOMO CORRI soundtrack, Morricone did conduct the score, whilst Nicolai was next door at the forum studios conducting Morricone’s score for the film PARTNER on which Boom also performed vocals. So was it Nicolai or was it Morricone who wrote the score for CORRI UOMO CORRI, well I suppose we can take some comfort in knowing it was not Geoff Love. THE BIG GUNDOWN was released in cinemas outside of Italy as a B feature and was screened alongside the rather awful Dean Martin spy spoof, THE WRECKING CREW,(which ironically had a score by Hugo Montenegro) the version of the film that was screened was edited badly and also cut further by the British censors, it was not until years later that we could see the full version of the movie when it was finally released onto DVD. Morricone’s score positively shines throughout the movie, with the scene where Cucillo is being hunted being particularly memorable. Morricones use of choir, Edda del Orso’s flawless voice, thundering percussion, animal sounds and strident strings all build to a driving brass workout of the central theme, which in a word is brilliant. The score also contained a powerful title song performed by Christy entitled RUN MAN RUN (CORRI UOMO CORRI) which too has become a firm favourite amongst Morricone devotees.
Staying in 1966 and moving to NAVAJO JOE which was directed by Sergio Corbucci, and starred Burt Reynolds in the title role. The film was a particularly violent affair, and in the opening scene we witness Navajo women and children being massacred and scalped in plain view. Morricone matched the savagery of the film’s images every step of the way utilising a shrill scream or a succession of these to highlight the brutality of the movie’s story-line. The music was filled with some amazing vocal work by Il Cantori Modern, and featured the gravely and powerful voice of Gianna Spagnulo, with the theme containing thunderous percussion that underlined and punctuated the chanting voices which together acted as support for a striking electric guitar performance. The composer also made effective use of percussion and solo voice performances throughout the score, at times relaying a sense of sadness and mysticism in a handful of cues that purveyed a sound which paid homage to the Native American Indian. NAVAJO JOE is a score that I personally return to many times, simply to marvel at the inventive content of the work.
So 1966, was also the year of Leone’s final instalment of the Dollars trilogy, THE GOOD THE BAD and THE UGLY is as we are all aware a triumph of film making, and we see Leone as more of just a filmmaker here, he is a historian, ensuring that the attention to detail was precise. Set in the times of the American Civil war this is the most involved and arguably the best of the Dollar films. Leone turning to Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach to portray his unholy trio. As the tag line for the movie says, FOR THREE MEN THE CIVIL WAR WAS,NT HELL. IT WAS PRACTISE! There have been many theories as how Morricone came up with the now iconic theme for the film, Alessandro Alessandroni spoke of this.
“There were many stories circulating at the time about how the sound came about, some saying that the composer had based them on animal noises such as Coyotes and Wolves, others suggesting that Morricone had got the ideas by listening to native American indian chants, but I can honestly say I do not know how they were conceived. All I know is that the work was all from Morricone”.
But there was far more to this score than the central theme, Morricone provided Leone’s western with a plethora of thematic material, in fact so many themes that it is sometimes difficult to comprehend that they are all from one score. THE ECSTACY OF GOLD and THE TRIO being stand out grandiose sounding compositions which are heard at key moments within the movie, but then we hear the subdued and almost calming THE SUNDOWN, that too has apprehensive elements, and the cue entitled THE DESERT, which when listened too actually dries the throat and makes one crave water.
This is Morricone at his best when scoring a western, the music too like in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE transcended the element of being just a background score, it became integral to the film and vital to the development of the story-line of the movie, to the point where the music took on the persona of another character. The theme for the movie was covered by many recording artistes, these included Hugo Montenegro, who achieved a number one record in the UK with his pop orientated version, LeRoy Holmes too covered it as well as devoting an entire side to one of his LP records to the score from FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Henry Mancini also recorded a cover of this and other Morricone themes, and in later years Quincy Jones put his own distinctive stamp on the classic western theme, but although all contained various qualities, none of the mentioned artists did it like Morricone.
I met Ennio Morricone twice: the first time I was a student and he was already a legend; the second time that we met was at the press conference of a festival where we were both conducting: I was a young conductor and he was an even greater legend.
I do not think there is a soundtrack composer who can honestly say that they have not to be influenced in any way by Morricone. The quality and the quantity of his work will remain a target that my generation will never reach. Certainly, he has been the right man at the right time and his outstanding career will serve as a testimony as to what a strong will can do.
Thank you, Maestro.
Vito Lo Re. (composer, arranger, conductor) Italy: July 14th.2020.
1967, was just as busy for Morricone as the previous year, in fact it was probably even more so but not with the scoring of westerns so much. He scored just three in this year, DEATH RIDES A HORSE (DA UOMO DA UOMO) directed by Giulio Petroni, FACE TO FACE (FACCIA A FACCIA) directed by Sergio Sollima and THE HELLBENDERS (IL CRUDELI) which was the work of filmmaker Sergio Corbucci. All three being accomplished but uniquely different works. Out of the three I would say that IL CRUDELI, is probably the lesser known. Again, a case of it being overshadowed by the popularity and success of the Dollar films and of the more high-profile westerns that were released at the time. Morricone’s brooding and at times dark sounding work contains a certain amount of melancholy and is not a work that has a theme that I would say is as memorable as many of his other western soundtracks, nevertheless this is again a quality addition to the composers impressive musical cannon.
Remembering Morricone. Composer Richard Band recalls a meeting with Morricone during the sessions of HELLBENDERS which his Father Albert Band produced.
“It was 1967 when I was around fourteen years old that I was fortunate enough to be living in Rome, Italy when I walked onto a scoring stage at Fona Roma post production studios to witness the orchestral recording of a score for one of my father’s films. It didn’t mean much to me at the time, but I was introduced to the composer and his two assistants while I marvelled at the fantastic music being recorded for my father’s western. It would be a couple of years later that I was reminded that those three gentlemen were Ennio Morricone and his two writing associates.
While I was more of a young “Rock & Roll” musician at that time it wasn’t until returning to the US in 1971 that I began studying music formally and was lucky enough to get my first scoring assignment for a film in 1978. I was so excited to be recording it in London with an orchestra but It wasn’t until that flight to London that I FINALLY realized how much of a MAJOR influence that original recording session I had witnessed fifteen years earlier had had on me. It was life changing! So here I am now, 52 years and a composing career later to say, Grazie Maestro Morricone and ………thank you dad. May they both rest in peace”.
Composer Richard Band. U.S.A. July 7th 2020.
Although the western was not uppermost on the work schedule of the composer in 1967, he remained in demand for numerous other genres of film. DIRTY HEROES, GRAND SLAM, THE GIRL AND THE GENERAL and LISTEN LETS MAKE LOVE all being composed in this year, but these are titles we will look at in part two of this tribute.
To 1968 and the western score became a more prominent feature again in the composer’s workload. He would collaborate with director Sergio Corbucci twice in this year, plus he would score westerns for Petroni, Leone and French film maker Henri Verneuil. And it is the Verneuil movie I would like to begin with, GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN which although is nearly always classed as a Morricone western score and a film that is within the western genre, was in my opinion more of an adventure or historical period piece which just happened to be set in Mexico during the mid-sixteenth century.
Based upon the novel A WALL FOR SAN SEBASTEIN by William Barby Farherty, the making of the film was considered by many these included British born Ken Annakin who wanted French actor Alain Delon as the lead, but this was before Henri Verneuil finally took the directorial helm. The cast was an impressive one with Anthony Quinn, Charles Bronson, Anjanette Comer, Sam Jaffe and Jaime Fernandez. The musical score is in my opinion one of Morricones most accomplished and romantic sounding western or western influenced soundtracks from this period of his career, and dare I say it, was a more developed and inspired work than many of his earlier works within the genre, but it is also a very different film from say, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS or FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.
The exquisite LOVE THEME from the movie is the foundation of Morricones score, this central thematic piece acts as the foundation on which the composer builds the remainder of his work.
The gloriously melodic theme becoming a soaring and unique listening experience, with the distinct and flawless vocals of Edda Dell Orso making a powerful but at the same time emotional impact. Morricone’s score for GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN in my humble opinion rivals his work on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, it has the rawness and the savagery of the Italian western sound but also has to it a poignancy and heartfelt persona that oozes an emotive and affecting quality which at first stuns and then eventually mesmerizes. Obviously, the movie although being an entertaining one is not in the same class as ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but the music excels throughout adding depth atmosphere and emotion to the proceedings. The action cues from the score are more akin to the composers sound and style on NAVAJO JOE with dark and dramatic piano forming the foundation of many cues on which the composer constructs a jagged and commanding composition that is a collaboration of brass and strings, with urgent woodwinds adding much to the atmosphere. There are also similarities to the NAVAJO JOE score, in the tracks that underscore the YAQUI Indians within the film. As well as the unique voice of Edda Dell Orso, there are commanding performances from Gianna Spagnulo and excellent choral work performed by IL CANTORI MODERNI, this is classic Morricone.
The two movies that Morricone scored for Corbucci in this year were THE GREAT SILENCE-IL GRANDE SILENZIO and THE MERCENARY-IL MERCENARIO both are excellent examples of the Italian produced western, with THE MERCENARY belonging to the political western sub-genre or Zapata western within the Italian western collective of movies.
IL GRANDE SILENZIO, is for me personally one of the great Italian made westerns, everything about the movie is polished and it is in my humble opinion probably the best non-Leone made western that has been produced within this genre. Unlike so many Italian made westerns THE GRAND SILENCE a French-Italian co-production was filmed in Italy in the Dolomites and not in Spain, it is set in a snow-covered landscape rather than an arid and dusty one or the mud laden location as in Corbucci’s earlier movie DJANGO.
The cast is impressive with the lead being taken by French actor Jean Louise Trintignant who plays the part of mute gunfighter named Silence. The movie also starred Klaus Kinski who as always was excellent as the villain LOCO the leader of a band of bounty hunters. The love interest was provided by actress Vonetta McGee who made her debut in the movie. Plus, there were some familiar faces in the form of Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega. Trintignant’s character is pitted against Loco and his killers as he defends a group of outlaws who are hiding out in the hills and a vengeful widow played convincingly by McGee.
The musical score too is outstanding, Morricone applying a soft and highly themeatic approach at times, and again we have the scenario where a softer sounding soundtrack is instrumental (forgive the pun) in making the moments of violence and action even more shocking and affective. The composers opening credits theme in-particular is soothing and calming RESTLESS as it is entitled accompanies Trintignant’s character as we see him riding through the snow-covered landscape with the credits appearing on screen. Strings, Choir and percussion combine to create a haunting melody that is given various outings throughout the movie in differing arrangements. It is in some ways like GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and DUCK YOU SUCKER filled with haunting melodies, that are not only supportive of the images on screen but affecting and memorable. Alessandroni also performs Sitar within the score, which is an unusual instrument to utilise on a western soundtrack, but this is the inventive genius of Morricone we are dealing with, Sitar, harp and choir combine at times to create stunning fragments of themes that are a delight.
THE MERCENARY is a popular example of the Italian western, with Franco Nero Tony Mustante, Giovanna Ralli and Jack Palance, as I have said it is a politically slanted tale and in many ways works on the same levels as A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (which Morricone worked as a supervisor on to Luiss Enriquez Bacalov) and to a degree DUCK YOU SUCKER. The score which is a collaboration between Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, but is primarily the work of Morricone, opens with a pulsating and highly infectious samba infused composition that is introduced by slightly discordant sounding brass flourishes that are supported and enhanced by shouts and shrill whistles and punctuated by percussion and harshly strummed guitar, this introduction builds to a crescendo of sorts and gains momentum as it segues into full on, fast paced and aggressive samba beats which act as a background to flyaway strings that purvey a sound that is full of patriotic Ferber with Mexican sounding choir embellishing and carrying the composition along.
BAMBA VIAVACE is an energetic and highly charged piece that is a perfect opener for the score and sets the scene for what is to follow. The score for IL MERCENARIO is basically a collection of themes, which relate to the main characters within the movie, it is a clear and effective use of the leit-motif style of scoring which Morricone utilized within many of his soundtracks for Italian made westerns, the opening cue being the theme that accompanies PACO the poor peon who is elevated to a Simon Bolivar status with the help of a foreign Mercenary. Morricone and Nicolai taking it to a greater and more prominent degree within this assignment.
ESTASI is the first time that we are introduced to the theme that accompanies Franco Nero’s character the Polish mercenary the Polack, which is heard almost every time he is on screen or is about to enter the scene, Alessandroni’s distinct descending whistle is introduced by a single strum from a guitar and then is interrupted by an upbeat organ solo that is accompanied by guitar, this combination plays out a section of what will become the theme for Curly the villainous and sadistic character portrayed wonderfully by Jack Palance, this theme soon evaporates and we return to a whistling solo which on this occasion ascends the musical scale and then further establishes the Mercenary theme punctuated by echoing percussion and sporadic castanets with underlying strings adding depth and further substance to the composition. The first of the Mexican vocal tracks that appear on the soundtrack which are in effect source music IL MERCENARIO (Sueno Mejicano 1) is a very laid back almost lazy sounding vocal, there are two other vocals on the disc. IL CANTO A MIA TIERRA (song to my land) and IL MERCENARIO (sueno Mejicano 2).
The theme for Franco Nero is the foundation of the score and Morricone and Nicolai fashion the remainder of the work around this, creating what is now regarded as a veritable masterpiece from the genre of the Italian made western.
As well as the central thematic material for the main characters the score contains a sprinkling of fiesta or Mexican mariachi flavoured cues with a Vienesse style waltz making an appearance in FIESTA (Valzer) which was used for the wedding of Paco and Columba (Giovanna Ralli). The score ends with a crescendo of a composition IL MERCENARIO (L’ARENA) which is heard during the final showdown between Curly and Paco in a bull ring, with the Polack acting as a referee of sorts.
Alessandroni’s distinctive whistle, Soaring trumpet, strident and infectious sounding strings combine with choir and electric guitar to make this a classic piece and a powerful one that enhances the scene and creates tension and drama.
Another western that was produced in this year was SKYFUL OF STARS FOR A ROOF-E PER TETTO UN CIELO DI STELLE was directed by Giulio Petroni, and starred Giuliano Gemma and Mario Adorf. The films story-line focuses upon a chance meeting between two drifters, who soon become friends and travelling companions, however the character portrayed by Gemma is being pursued by a deranged killer and his band of cutthroats who feel the need to settle some outstanding scores.
Because of this the other drifter played by Adorf, is also hunted by the band of murderers, the movie is basically a chase western, with Gemma and Adorf’s characters being hunted throughout the west, and experiencing numerous trials and tribulations, until the band of outlaws finally track them down and the outstanding debt is settled once and for all in true Italian western style. Morricone’s score reflects the savagery and relentless pursuit of the band of killers, whilst also has to it elements of melancholy and comedic content that accompanies the two central characters. The work employs banjo and the whistling of Alessandroni alongside choral work and raw and strident strings that are punctuated by brass and percussion. It is a score that although known by Morricone followers is also one that at times does slip under the radar and is probably a work by the Maestro that is not referred to enough.
“Ennio Morricone was a revolutionary from the Cinema, a beacon for all subsequent generations of musicians who have approached the seventh art, indicating the path of solid preparation and rigor as the only possible way to make a significant contribution through the sounds to a film.
I would never have even imagined my profession if as a boy I had not discovered the revolution of Ennio Morricone who forever changed the grammar of the relationship between music and images in a film.
His music had been eternal for a long time, which rarely happens when alive. If not to those who compose absolute masterpieces, which are born immortal”
Remo Anzovino. Composer Italy July 10th 2020.
1968 was also the year that Sergio Leone unveiled his Masterpiece of a movie, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. This is probably the most ambitious film that Leone had up till that time been involved with, and Morricone too created a score that is of masterful and mesmeric proportions. Often referred to as Leone’s opera where the arias were stared and not sung. This is I suppose a more polished and classier type of Italian made western, the cast was top-notch, with Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards heading the bill.
It is true to say that Morricone played a massive part in helping to bring this project to the screen in the way that the director had intended with a score that was soaring, eloquent but also savage and dramatic. The music played an even greater integral role than the Morricone/Leone partnership had called for before and went way beyond the integration of the chiming watch theme in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.
The harmonica theme was vital to the movies story-line and accompanied the mysterious Harmonica character throughout the movie. The story included several flashbacks, which by the end of the film all became clear to the watching audience. There were four themes within Morricone’s work, The Harmonica theme as we have already said, Jill’s theme for the character portrayed by Cardinale, Cheyenne’s theme for Robards, which kind of parodied the music of the old Hollywood westerns, as in a clip clopping sound that was a background to a lazy sounding banjo and whistle and the theme for the villain which included the use of distorted and fuzzy sounding electric guitar, which is heard firstly as the Mc Bain family are massacred at the beginning of the movie, the gunshots ring out and we see three of the Mc Bain family fall to the ground fatally shot. The youngest member of the family a boy comes running out of the house to see what has happened as Morricone’s theme bursts into full flow, we then see a group of men approaching, the same me we know are the murderers of the family.
The music rises and becomes more strident and Anthemic with a wailing harmonica also joining the proceedings as the camera pans across and round to the face of the central figure of the group, which to horror of many is Henry Fonda sporting his piercing blue eyes. It is said by Fonda that Leone cast in in the role of the villain Frank because he was an actor who normally had portrayed the good guy more often than not in his movies, and the director knew that the sight of Fonda in a long duster coat and two days face stubble would completely throw the audience adding greater impact to the scene.
This is classic Morricone, and also a film and score that probably saw the Italian western come of age and start to be taken more seriously than before.
After the success of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Morricone became in even more demand from film makers, and in 1969 he scored twenty-three movies, however just two of these were westerns. TEPEPA, directed by Giulio Petroni and THE FIVE MAN ARMY which although an Italian production was directed by Don Taylor. The latter starred Peter Graves and Bud Spencer and is still looked upon as a fairly weak addition to the genre, many referring to it as a Western version of Mission Impossible, which was probably a reference to Graves appearance and his less than noteworthy portrayal of the character The Dutchman.
Morricone’s score certainly did not disappoint, the opening theme itself being text-book Italian western music if there is such a thing. Guitar, woodwind, shrieks, squeals and whistles fill the piece as it slowly builds and arrives at its martial sounding and vibrant thematic crescendo, that then takes on a different persona and becoming more upbeat and imposing. THE FIVE MAN ARMY was an adventure and a film that one did not really have to think about, it was a brisk paced romp set in the days of the Mexican revolution. The score contained a handful of key themes as in MUERTE DONDE VAS? Which accompanied the Mexican revolutionaries with its proud and patriotic sound. The core theme which accompanied the five heroes and also some gripping and tense cues that acted as a fraught and apprehensive background to the various situations that the five mercenaries became involved in. One of the most impressive cues on the score is THE RUNNING OF THE JAPANESE, which accompanies the running of the Samurai character in the movie as he attempts to catch up with the train that he has fallen from.
The composer employs frantic percussion and flyaway woodwind to depict and support the scene, which is impressive to say the least.
TEPEPA, or BLOOD AND GUNS as it was known in the United States, starred Tomas Milian in the title role and featured a very small contribution from actor Orson Welles, who apparently only took the job because he needed the fee to fund a new film he was intending to make. Set in the days after the Mexican revolution, the film is another of the so-called Zapata westerns.
As with all of his western projects the Maestro produced a score that not only supported the action on screen but also yielded an entertaining set of themes and a powerful song which was performed by Christy.
The 1970’s dawned and as a composer of film scores Morricone showed no sign of relenting, working on nearly twenty projects for both film and TV in 1970. It was in this year that the composer fashioned a new theme for the established American TV series THE VIRGINIAN, the series already had an established and popular theme which had been penned by Percy Faith, however in season nine of the series, producers engaged Morricone to provide a new theme, which was entitled THE MEN FROM SHILOH. It was also in 1970 that Morricone would score an American produced western, TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA starred Clint Eastwood and Shirley McClaine, and was directed by Don Siegal, as I write this tribute La La Land records in the United States have released both the score from the movie and also a re-mastered version of the LP record release, onto compact disc, which is the first time that the score has been officially issued onto compact disc, which is a fitting tribute to Morricone and a delight for his fans.
The soundtrack was released on LP record back in 1970, on the MCA label, but this was a re-recording and not taken from the actual film score, which was something that happened then. The movie, which was produced by Martin Rakin, was seen as an attempt to cash in on Clint Eastwood’s successes in the Leone westerns, which had previously been hinted at in the second rate HANG EM HIGH directed by Ted Post.
TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA however, was a better movie, and Morricone’s expressive and dramatic score worked well in the film and also added more character and atmosphere to the story-line.
The composer also wrote the score for COMPANEROS in this year, which was another collaboration with director Sergio Corbucci, and starred Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance and Fernando Rey, and was in many ways similar to Corbucci’s IL MERCENARIO. With Nero portraying a Swedish arms dealer, who teams up with a Mexican Peon to rescue one of the leaders of the Revolution and along the way getting mixed up in a variety of adventures. The score was based around two central themes for the central characters and at times Morricone parodied his own style, a style that was effective and also familiar with the watching audience. This was especially prominent within the theme VAMOS A MATAR COMPANEROS, with IL CANTORI MODERNI vocalising and Alessandroni whistling and adding a scream or shriek and performing guitar, the composer adding little nuances and quirks of orchestration that can only be the sound and style of Il Maestro.
This theme and also the cue IL PINGUINO were back in the 1970.s released on a single record, which had a striking cover depicting Franco Nero buried up to his neck in the sand. Although probably not one of Morricone’s better western soundtracks, it is still one that oozes that Morricone magic.
1971 was an incredibly industrious year for the composer, he scored twenty-three movies, but only one western, which was Sergio Leone’s DUCK YOU SUCKER or GIU LA TESTA aka-A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE/ONE UPON A TIME THE REVOLUTION. The film starred Rod Steiger, James Coburn and Romolo Valli. This was the second part of what was called Leone’s second trilogy which opened with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and later would be brought to completion with the excellent ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. DUCK YOU SUCKER was in a way Leone’s only Zapata western as it was set in the troubled and violent times of the Mexican revolution.
Originally Leone was not going to direct but act as producer on the project, he also wanted Jason Robards to play the Mexican bandit character Juan, and British actor Malcolm McDowall to take the part of the disillusioned ex-IRA character Sean. But Steiger and Coburn had already been signed to appear and both actors insisted that Leone direct or they would not appear.
So because the director was unusually unprepared to take on the project, the film did contain many flaws and was not as clear cut as maybe it would have been if the filmmaker had been given more time in his preparation. The film however does have a great entertainment value, plus it dispels the theory that revolution seemingly leads to change that is good.
With Leone pointing to revolution leading towards chaos and uncertainty. Morricone’s score is again a collection of themes for the films central characters, with the whistling of Alessandroni being utilised once again, and the flawless Edda Dell Orso again providing an exquisite aural experience.
By 1971 the production of the Italian western had begun to slow quite drastically, and in 1972 Morricone worked on just three out of a total of thirty scoring assignments in that year, WHAT AM I DOING IN THE MIDDLE OF A REVOLUTION, SONNY AND JED and LIFES TOUGH–THAT’S PROVIDENCE. The first two titles were directed by Sergio Corbucci, with the third being helmed by film maker Giulio Petroni.
The sound employed by Morricone on these three examples of the Italian western for me had slightly altered to what we were accustomed to as in they were not as raw or inventive, the genre was loosing favour outside of Italy probably because of the emergence of films such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION, SHAFT and ironically the Clint Eastwood movie DIRTY HARRY. Cinema and the tastes of cinema audiences were changing so the Italian made western began to take a decline in production, Italian filmmakers themselves turning to cop movies or tales of horror. The seventies was also the time of films having song scores that were simply tagged onto the soundtrack of the film in the hope that these would appeal to audiences who would in turn go out and buy the soundtrack album. From 1972 through to 1976 Morricone worked on a staggering seventy-four movies, but during this period would score just five westerns including the three titles I have already mentioned, the composer also scored THEY CALL ME NOBODY and THE GENIUS.
After which he did not return to the genre until 1981 with OCCHIO ALLA PENNA or BUDDY GOES WEST, which was a comedy western directed by Michele Lupo and starring Bud Spencer with boxer Joe Bugner in a minor role.
After this Morricone never wrote an original western score until 2015 when he scored THE HATEFUL 8 for Quentin Tarantino, for which he won the Oscar. Of course, his music from TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA and IL CRUDELI was utilised on DJANGO UNCHAINED another Tarantino western. The demise of the Italian western was a great shame as it had indeed raised awareness and also the public’s interest in the western genre.
But let us not forget that the style of the Italian western which was intended to parody or in effect improve on what Hollywood had previously produced, also ended up influencing the Hollywood produced westerns that followed in the wake of the genre from Italy and were being produced at the same time as the Italian Western was at its height of popularity, films such as 100 RIFLES, BANDOLERO, TAKE A HARD RIDE, EL CONDOR, BIG JAKE, VILLA RIDES, BLUE, THE WILD BUNCH and many more bore signs of influences that could only be taken from the Italian produced westerns, Morricone’s music too played a massive part in the influence of composers that would work on westerns and even in non-western movies the sounds and style of Il Maestro can be heard, if the situation calls for a western sound in say a showdown scenario which proves that the Italian western as a whole was instrumental in inspiring not only filmmakers but composers as well.
Ennio Morricone has scored over 500 movies, with this look at his western scores we have literally just scratched the surface. In part two of this tribute, I hope to discuss the composer’s music for the 1960’s and 1970’s Giallo’s, war and horror pictures plus tales of soft porn, sex and romance, with excursions into historical dramas and adventures. Each score being distinctive, original, and entertaining. Soundtracks such as LOVE CIRCLE, IL MALAMONDO, INCONTRO, ESCALATION, CITTA VIOLENTA, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, THE SICILIAN CLAN, BATTLE OF ALGIERS, ROME COME CHICAGO, HE AND SHE plus so many more.
© 2020 J.mansell/mmi.