THE BAD, THE GOOD AND THE BRILLIANT.
As part of the soundtrack supplement feature, I thought I would look at scores that maybe should not have been released and also scores that are worthy of the release they have had and are crying out for a remastered or a expanded edition release. Ok we maybe in lockdown we may be bored and scratching around for things to do, things to watch and also things to listen to, BUT, this is no excuse for releasing soundtracks that in my opinion (other opinions are of course available) should have really stayed in the depths of a dusty archive hopefully never to be seen or heard again. The re-issue programme of soundtracks in Italy for example never seems to slow, and especially now that labels outside of Italy have begun to acquire soundtracks that have been licensed from the likes of Sugar music, so labels in Spain, Japan, Canada and Italy continue to release normally interesting items, but of course amongst the quality there are a fair number of items that can be referred to as being the quantity as in inferior, uninteresting and often prompt collectors to ask WHY did they even bother to commit this to a CD or digital download. So, I thought I would look at releases that maybe should have remained in the vaults and also some that are long overdue getting a release or re-issue because they were so good. This includes mainly past releases that you may already have, but there are a handful of new releases scattered throughout.
In 2013 BEAT records released two scores on one CD, both composed by Nico Fidenco. They turned out to be rather lack lustre musical affairs, which were attempting to pass as comedies, all I can say is the filmmakers and the Maestro must have been having a bad day at the office. When Fidenco penned the music for CHE CASINO…CON PIERINO!(1982) And 3 SUPERMEN CONTRO IL PADRINO (1980), I do not think he was really thinking straight. To say they are unlistenable is a compliment, I kid you not, it was embarrassing to sit through them. Even the author of the sleeve notes hints at them being somewhat uninspiring. The opening lines of the text being, “OK, LETS START WITH A FACT, A COMPOSER CAN’T MAKE A LIVING ON MASTERPIECES ALONE”. So that’s good opening up the booklet to be greeted by that sentence. Well these are far from masterpieces; in fact, I think they are scores that should have been screwed up and binned as soon as they saw the light of day.
I am not criticising Fidenco here as many composers write scores for films that later in their career they regret and try and forget about, we all do things we later in life think WHY?, just look at Michael Caine’s filmography. But why, why, why release them? The record company BEAT in Rome have issued some iconic Italian soundtracks many of which I have in my collection, but since 2012 I think the pickings have become a little few and far between, and that is why we are seeing material coming out that really should not, as a record company dedicated to releasing quality scores they should know this.
As I have said this double abomination was released back in 2013, but I thought that I would give it another chance, something I regret to be honest. I was told once by Maurice Jarre that a film has to be good for the music to be good, so I guess that is right in this case because the films were both a waste of celluloid and the music did not help in any way in fact it only made matters worse and probably highlighted the fact that the movies were just awful, because even a seasoned composer could not help in any way to save them. Fidenco is a professional no doubt about that, so why did he take the assignments, your guess is as good as mine, but I am sure it had nothing to do with artistic reasons. The music is a nothing, it is instantly forgettable (thank God) and bares no resemblance to the great works that Fidenco produced during the 1960.s and 1970.s. The two scores which were both owned by CAM originally which is now effectively Sugar music, did not get a release when they were originally in the cinema, Probably because they were not around long enough for soundtracks to be issued because of their painful plots, direction and acting. So, avoid even if its on markdown or in the bargain bin because it should be in the rubbish bin, enough said.
The next release which in my opinion should not have even reached the consideration level is another Italian score, and sadly again released by BEAT, (no I am not picking on them before I get the threatening e mail from Rome, as other labels will be included later in this article). BEAT have or had a wonderful catalogue of film soundtracks, and it is a testament to the label that their releases have been consistently very good, this goes back to the days of the LP when the company often used colourful art work for their covers or exciting scenes from the movies that the soundtracks were taken from. However, in recent years, there have been a few shall we say blips along the way where quality control may have been sleeping on the job. Its true to say that collectors of Italian film would at one time buy anything by certain composers.
I know I have been caught in that trap a number of times, its like you buy say THE ANONYMOUS VENITIAN or A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN by Cipriani and then along comes, IL ROLLERBOY, circa 1980, this low budget Italian production (very low budget) has a curious and really uninspiring plot, by uninspiring I mean it was a waste of time actually writing this rubbish and then turning into a movie. So, the less said about the boring and uninteresting film the better. The score by Cipriani is certainly not up to his normal standard in any way, shape or form and although I have to say I am normally a fan of Cipriani and he was a very genuine person and in 99.9 percent of scenarios delivers great film music that is original and memorable he certainly must have been having a sort of artistic block when he got involved with this little classic.
It is basically a collection of upbeat instantly forgettable tunes with a few vocals thrown in (literally) along the way. It is a mystery to me that BEAT records who have like many other labels begun to release a lot of soundtracks that were originally issued on the illustrious CAM label decided that this was a good example to issue, so why pick material such as this? It is not exactly interesting or original in fact its mind numbing in the worst sense of that word. The scores only saving grace is one particularly attractive cue entitled THE ROAD TO CALIFORNIA, which has harmonica lead and is a pleasant easy-going theme. The remainder of the score is a serious film music collector’s nightmare and includes sub- standard disco hits; you know the ones that you find on the compilations as fillers alongside the real hits, or the ones that have been re-recorded by the fifteenth incarnation of the original band.
The songs include that evergreen disco stomper by Dwayne Ford YOU, VE GOT TO BE MEANT or is that MEAN (I think so). Track number seven is DISCO MEN, yes; surely you know that contagious classic? (Nope, neither do I) but it goes down a storm in roller discos and sounds very similar to DANNY BOY by the way. Enough said I think, IL ROLLERBOY, is certainly a case of the music being better than the movie it was written for, but saying that the music is nothing special in fact it’s really forgettable and nothing at all, certainly a miss in my book.
Again it’s a case of record companies issuing scores for the sake of doing so, why release this when there are so many other good soundtracks in the ex CAM catalogue that deserve a release on compact disc for the first time, it’s a waste of time and effort not to mention money for record companies, a pointless exercise that will I know end up stuck on a shelf in an archive or languish for weeks in the bargain bin until finally some poor unsuspecting member of the public decides to shell out 50 pence on it and even then they would have paid over the odds. It is also an insult to the memory of a superb composer.
So onto another classic of bad taste, let’s go back a few years now, LA MORTE HA FATTO L’UOVO or DEATH LAID AN EGG has music by Bruno Mederna, this in my opinion is one of the most uncomfortable listening experiences I have ever had, and I am not sure whether its because the music is not good or whether it is strangely attractive, it is not melodic in any great way but taking into account that the movie was an Italian Giallo, one does not expect that much in the way of melodious content. But saying this Morricone always managed to write something that was not just disturbing but blissfully and sensually haunting, as in THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE.
Maderna was not a composer I actually followed, I could never get onto the same musical wave length as him, and with this score in particular I did have difficulties, the soundtrack was issued onto compact disc by Finn de Siecle records a label that is sadly no longer in operation. The soundtrack did get a release on Cinevox on vinyl back in 1968, an album I did not buy then and one I should have not wasted my money on in 2009 when it was re-issued onto CD. It maybe what many call an experimental sound that the composer achieves here, but its not in anyway a pleasant one at all, it grates on the senses and makes one reach every time for the fast forward button on the CD Player, there is no real rhyme or reason for this collection of harsh sounding disjointed pieces of what is referred to as music. The notes author obviously is a fan of the movie and the entire genre of the Giallo because he writes with an informed passion on the subject (the notes are more interesting than the score) but I have to disagree with him when he recommends the score, because what is there to recommend. Yes within the film it probably does work, but let it stay in the movie, why inflict it upon the soundtrack collecting community, again not the fault of the composer or the filmmaker, but the record company, why would they think this is something that collectors or music lovers would want, did it sell do you think, well not sure as the record label is no longer around to ask them. Ummm, I think I just answered that question. So another to steer clear of.
Fin de siecle released a few good Italian soundtracks, and also a few that were border line items such as UN OMICIDIO PERFETTO A TERMINE DI LEGGE, by Giorgio Gaslini for example, now this was off the wall and certainly quirky, but at least it had a modicum of thematic material as did the composers score for REVELAZIONI DI UN MANICO SESSUALE AL CAPO SQUADRA MOBILE, another Giallo and another soundtrack that Fin de Siècle issued under license from Cinevox in 2008 which contained some atonal cues that one would gladly skip over, but made up for these with glimpses of themes and female solo voice performances that can be likened to the work of Nicolai and at times Morricone. It displayed to us the true innovative brilliance of a composer who I think is still today underatted. So, two scores that I will recommend then, if it is still possible to get them, as they were deleted many years ago on the Fin De Siecle label.
Armando Trovajoli is a composer who I have always admired, his use of jazz in his film scores is at times subtle and slight but also there are a number of his works for the cinema and TV that are near full on jazz orientated, Trovajoli was undeniably one of Italy’s best composers of film music, I certainly think of him in the same class as Morricone and his like, his output being vast and verging or even surpassing the brilliant. It is surprising that the composer being active in the same period as the likes of Morricone, Rustichelli, Ferrio, Piccioni etc only scored one western, but what a score it was THE LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE is filled to overflowing with text book spaghetti themes, and I have to say it is probably in my top five Italian western scores. It has been released on numerous editions on compact disc, with a Japanese compact disc being my own personal favourite, but there have also been expanded versions of the score made available in recent years, with more cues being made available, but there is an old saying that LESS IS MORE and I still prefer my Japanese release because of the sound quality and also for the great art work that it has.
If you have not experienced Trovajoli in Spaghetti western mode then you have to rectify this, the soundtrack is on a number of digital platforms, so why not try before you buy, I guarantee after hearing the opening cue with its racing timpani and soaring trumpet solo you will be clicking the add to basket and buy now buttons.
Onto another Italian composer who I have followed for many years, my first album by him was the soundtrack to the Italian western QUELLA SPORCA STORIA NEL WEST or THE DIRTIEST STORY IN THE WEST, this was issued on CAM records, back in the 1960’s and I remember getting mine from SOUNDTRACK in the Arts theatre club foyer in London, where Michael Jones told me I had to have it (thanks Michael). The music of Francesco De Masi has taken over a big chunk of my collection over the years, and I did eventually get to interview him, he was a gracious and generous man. The score I have to recommend here and was so glad that BEAT records released the expanded version of the soundtrack, is ARIZONA COLT, this is possibly one of the greatest scores from the Italian western genre, ok, it maybe not as powerful or grandiose as Morricone, but there is just something about the theme in particular that is endearing and irresistible, after all De Masi conducting, Alessandroni on guitar and whistle, De Gemini on the harmonica and Il Cantori Moderni producing some wonderful choral work, that’s a force to be reckoned with.
“HE CAME OUT OF NOWHERE, WITH NO ONE BESIDE HIM, HE RODE OUT OF THE SUNRISE ALL ALONE, A MAN OUT OF NOWHERE WITH NO ONE TO LOVE HIM, HIS ONE FAITHFUL COMPANION WAS HIS GUN”.
Classic lyrics performed by Raoul on the soundtrack. This is BEAT records at their best. It was a labour of love for both BEAT and the composer’s son, who worked together and tirelessly bringing us the definitive edition of this iconic score. Again. if you have not heard this, then I urge you to take a listen as soon as possible. There is a version of the score on Spotify which has thirty-one cues, that is the one you need to go listen to.
Staying with westerns for the next two soundtracks, and both are excellent as are the movies that they are taken from. Both however need to have better sound quality editions released, but we are told on one of them THE REVENGERS (1972) that the tapes are lost and the recording for the CD release on Screen Trax was taken from the original LP release. The movie starred William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Woody Strode and had a special appearance from Susan Hayward. Directed by Daniel Mann with Martin Rackin acting as producer THE REVENGERS is a surprisingly violent movie and one that possess the styles of both the Hollywood and the European western. An entertaining sagebrush saga, with an atmospheric and upbeat score by Italian pianist, arranger and composer Pino Calvi.
The movie is at times comparable with THE WILD BUNCH, which also starred Holden and Borgnine, but this comparison only goes as far as the use of violence, because the storyline and direction is certainly not in the same class as the Peckinpah western. It is a revenge western hence the title, with Holden portraying an ex Union army officer turned rancher who’s family is massacred brutally by bandits, Holden’s character then sets out to track down the murderers and enlists the help of six convicts who he recruits from a labour camp in Mexico in his quest for vengeance. The music is fast paced and haunting, and contains elements of the Bernstein silver age style as in SCALPHUNTERS and to a degree DURANGO which is fused with a more jazz oriented persona and a distinct Spaghetti sound, the composer creating a balanced and vibrant soundtrack, it is a score that works well on screen and supports and enhances the films action sequences superbly. The music also stands on its own away from the images and the storyline of the movie as an entertaining collection of themes. This soundtrack is way overdue for a re-issue and also a remastering, maybe someone will find the tapes?
Another western that was doing the rounds in the early 1970’s was THE DESERTER (1973). Again, not a thoroughbred Italian made western, but an Italian/American co production directed by Burt Kennedy, that was heavily influenced by the style of the Italian western in places.
Produced by Dino De Laurentis, the film was another violent entry into the western genre, with scenes that many thought was gratuitous and utilised as a sensationalism to get the film noticed which had been the trend during this period as displayed in films such as VALDEZ IS COMING (1971), this I think was not gratuitous but maybe a more realistic way of purveying a savage storyline to audiences. It tells the story of a cavalry officer who’s, wife is butchered by Apaches and of his search for her murderers and any Apache that just happened to be within spitting distance of him. The film had a strong cast, which included Bekim Fehmiu, John Huston, Richard Crenna, Chuck Connors, Ricardo Montalbán, Ian Bannen, Brandon de Wilde and Woody Strode, filmed in Spain and Yugoslavia, the movie utilised the same locations as films such as THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, BLINDMAN and A REASON TO LIVE A REASON TO DIE.
The musical score was by Piero Piccioni, who had like other Italian composers been involved in writing scores for numerous Spaghetti westerns, Piccioni however, did not conform to the sound as created by Morricone for the western and as imitated by the likes of Fidenco, Nicolai etc, instead the Maestro effectively fashioned his own western sound, which was a fusion of dramatic and strong symphonic colours that were enhanced and given a more contemporary style via the composer’s use of jazz styles. He worked on several key movies within the Spaghetti western genre including, SARTANA, MINNESOTA CLAY, COLT IN THE HAND OF THE DEVIL, I DO NOT FORGIVE I KILL and IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER THE SON AND THE COLT.
THE DESERTER or LA SPINA DORSALE DEL DIAVOLO as it was titled in Italy, is an outstanding score, and probably one of Piccioni’s best soundtracks for a western. And although there were numerous themes within the work, these were at times somewhat subdued and brooding rather than grandiose or operatic like in the scores produced by other Italian Maestro’s in the period leading up to and including the 1970’s.
The downbeat and somewhat apprehensive style that Piccioni employed on the movie was effective and in-keeping with the mood of the film, the soundtrack was issued onto compact disc on the LEGEND label in 1997 and is now long out of print. Again, this is a candidate for a re-issue I think.
Now to two new releases of Italian horror scores from a Canadian based label. The first THE MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN was released in 1960, the music is by Italian composer Carlo Innocenzi and is just one of hundreds of soundtracks that he wrote from the mid-1940.s through to late 1950.s and early 1960.s. Composer conductor Carlo Innocenzi was born in the final year of the nineteenth Century, May 29th, 1899 in Monteleone di Spoleto Italy. Originally Innocenzi worked as a draughtsman designing plans for the Ministry of Transport. He began to take more interest in music and decided to study the subject focusing upon composition with tutors Fattorini and Principe. For which he obtained a diploma in the 1930’s. He met his wife Sonia Pearlswig via their common interest in music and also their love of the arts. In a career that spanned some five decades the composer became known as a talented conductor and also the composer of numerous soundtracks for Italian cinema, Incocenzi put his musical stamp on approximately three hundred movies which included feature films and documentaries.
Many of the motion pictures were great box office success’s and starred well known Italian actors of the period, including Aldo Fabrizi, Giovanni Ralli, Peppino de Filippo, Alberto Sordi and Ugo Tognazzi. He was responsible for composing over seven hundred works for both Cinema and concert hall, leaving a rich and varied collection of works. He died in Rome on March 24th, 1962. As a film music composer he was responsible for the music to films such as, Cavalcata selvaggia ,Un canto nel deserto, Il terrore del’Oklahoma, Il terrore dei barbari, Giulio Cesare contro i pirati ,Sansone , La vendetta di Ursus , Tropico di notte , Maciste alla corte del Gran Khan ,Il conquistatore di Corinto , Trionfo di Maciste , La rivolta dei mercenari , I Reali di Francia , and many more. Primarily I think the composer will be remembered for his PEPLUM scores, but there was far more to this talented Maestro, he like Les Baxter would re-score movies, but in his case he wrote alternate music for American movies that were going to be shown in Italy. Disques Cinemusique has released his score for THE MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, which is good news, but the only negative is that the recording contain some dialogue and also sound effects, this is because the tapes of the music re lost so this was the only way that the soundtrack could be released. Is this a good or bad thing, well at least we do get to hear the score, but the effects and the dialogue in Italian are for me personally distracting, I suppose it depends on the individual taste or if a collector is that much of a completist, for me however I think I would rather watch the movie and experience both the visual and the musical sides of things. In many ways the music for this movie has a sound and style that can also be heard within the soundtracks of both Lavagnino and Rustichelli. It has a classical sound and style as in symphonic, but the composer also adds nuances of organ and at times there is a slightly more up tempo and contemporary sound present. For me the music is something I would recommend, but I would be happier to hear it with no FX.
The same can be said for the second release recently from the same label, THE HORRIBLE DOCTOR HICHCOCK contains an atmospheric score by composer Roman Vlad, but again the impact and also in my opinion the enjoyment of the music is spoilt by the inclusion of sound effects, I realise that this is the only way the soundtrack could be presented, but it is like going back to the days of recording music from films being shown on the TV when collectors were desperate to hear the music.
This recording does however fare a little better than the previous one as the music is at least allowed to develop a little before any FX intrude upon it plus the sound quality is far better but that is probably due to the film not being as old as the previous release. But I must be honest and say, love the music again but the FX I could do without, again a personal preference.
For the final selection in this article I have gone for another release from a few years ago which was put out onto compact disc by the UK based Italian film music specialist label Hillside who released a number of classic scores from Italian movies in conjunction with either GDM as on this occasion or with Hexachord. LA BELLISSIMA ESTATE has an eloquent soundtrack by composer Alberto Pomeranz. The LP was originally released in 1974 on RCA records, this is a soundtrack that will delight and please any collector who subscribes to the romantic sounding film score. It will also be of interest to collectors who have a preference for the works of composers Franco Micalizzi, Ennio Morricone, Armando Trovajoli and Roberto Pregadio. I say this because the style and sound achieved is somewhat like Micalizzi’s scores for THE LAST SNOWS OF SPRING, TREE WITH PINK LEAVES and also ALLA CARA MIA MAMMA and affiliations with the sixties works of Morricone as in LOVE CIRCLE and HE AND SHE. Alberto Pomeranz utilizes to great effect the beautiful wordless vocals of Edda Dell Orso, and combines her unique aural talents with soaring strings and piano, which are at times combined and performed in unison creating some of those spine-shivering moments that we associate with scores such as SEASON OF SENSES.
Light and romantically laced compositions are the foundation of this work, along with choir and slight jazz influenced passages that create a magical and hauntingly mesmerising work. The movie itself is a tearjerker, one of many that was produced in Italy during the mid to late 1970s, I don’t think this particular example was that successful outside of Italy’s borders, but it starred the attractive screen siren Senta Berger which for me has to be a plus. The score is breath taking and the composer seems to squeeze every drop of emotion out of the orchestra as they treat the listener to some wonderfully emotive tone poems that are filled with poignancy.
Every track on this compact disc is a joy to hear, the haunting melodies are richly elegant and affecting. The disc contains fourteen cues which originally appeared on the RCA long player, and a further eleven cues which are listed as bonus tracks, all twenty-five tracks on the CD are in full and crystal-clear stereo sound. I just love the sound that Pomeranz has created, he utilises piano to maximum effect and enhances and embellishes this with a light and delicate dusting of harpsichord, plus strings and equally delicate and touching woodwind. There are a number of slightly upbeat cues within the work, samba type compositions with Edda taking the lead in her own unique and stunning way in which she is supported by jazz infused rhythms, airy sounding strings and the light and lounge inspired sounds of laid back percussion and rich luxurious strings that are punctuated by woods and delightful but subdued choral support all of which are embellished by the use of sliding strings adding texture and substance to the compositions. Packaged attractively, but once again no notes, which I think would have been of great benefit to the release, as the film is virtually unknown, and the composer too is not that well recognised by collectors. But hey, we can’t have it all, and when the music is as good as this well, we can I suppose forgive Hillside/GDM.
There are a few additional compositions on the score which are the work of composer Luciano Michelini, but the track listing credits do not indicate which they are. But, Michelini performed piano on several soundtracks so maybe that is why he is credited here in a similar way to Luis Bacalov being given a credit as co-composer on Morricone’s PER AMORE when in fact Bacalov was performing the piano solos. The CD I am certain is still available on some online shopping sites but was a limited edition and is again a real contender for being re-issued.