Home > Reviews > ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part IV

ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part IV

In this fourth installment of my series looking at the early career of some iconic composers, we take a look at ten more scores written by the legendary Ennio Morricone between 1962 and 1967, most of which are among the most obscure of his early years. This group of reviews includes a couple of great spaghetti westerns, several influential pop-psychedelia scores, several lounge music scores accompanying movies bolstering the acting careers of singers, his final score for director Marco Bellocchio, and his first score for horror director Lucio Fulce!

 

LA CUCCAGNA [A GIRL AND A MILLION] (1962)

La Cuccagna, also known as A Girl And A Million, is a comedy-drama written and directed by Luciano Salce, one of Morricone’s earliest filmmaking friends and collaborators. The film stars Donatella Turri as Rossella, a beautiful young girl from a working class family, who finds out that – despite her good looks and charm – searching for a job is a difficult business. It’s a film which uses 1960s Italian ‘dolce vita’ sensibilities to tell a harsh story about the social and economic issues that plagued Italy in the 1960s, but it’s almost forgotten today. La Cuccagna was the fifth or sixth score in Morricone’s career, written when he was just 33.

The only two pieces of music ever released from La Cuccagna are “Il Cortile” and “Il Ritorno a Casa,” both of which could be found on a now long-out-of-print 45RPM vinyl EP released by RCA Records Europe. The first, “Il Cortile,” is a sprightly, childish little piece for stand-up piano, shrill woodwinds, and lithe strings, that captures a sense of innocent urban idyll. The second, “Il Ritorno a Casa,” is initially a little more introspective, with darkly-hued strings and an occasional harmonica creating a sense of tension. Eventually an acoustic guitar joins the mix, and it slowly becomes a more traditionally orchestral, a warm but bittersweet melody that has an underlying sense of tragedy. Some of the orchestral phrasings remind me of Nino Rota’s writing for traditional writing for Fellini, and by the end it is quite lovely.

In the absence of any sort of fuller score release, the only place these cues are available to listen to is on YouTube, but unfortunately the first piece is disrupted by dialogue tracks and sound effects from the film, including women singing, assorted kitchen noises, children laughing, and an amateur vocal choir. However the second piece is well worth listening to; it’s a trivial, unimportant work by Morricone standards, but it’s still fascinating from a historical perspective to see where it all began.

Track Listing: 1. Il Cortile (3:04), 2. Il Ritorno a Casa (2:23). RCA Records PM45 3129, 05 minutes 27 seconds.

 

I MARZIANI HANNO DODICI MANI (1964)

I Marziani Hanno Dodici Mani is an Italian science fiction comedy directed by Franco Castellano and Giuseppe ‘Pipolo’ Moccia. It tells the story of three aliens from a faraway planet, who arrive on Earth in Italy the early sixties. They have the ability to shape shift into any form, and once they arrive they decide to take on human identities so that they can study the species incognito. However, the more time they spend on Earth, and in Rome in particular, the more they fall in love with “la dolce vita” – and so they decide to hatch a plot which will allow them to stay on Earth forever.

The only available piece of Ennio Morricone’s music from this score is called “Marcia dei Marziani,” and is a short 82-second piece that begins with a snare drum tattoo, but eventually picks up a circus-like orchestral accompaniment with oompah brasses, trilling flutes, and a quirky percussive beat that sounds like a variation on traditional big top music. Beyond that, in terms of what the rest of the score sounds like, your guess is as good as mine – but you can listen to the March on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KKxVLTUFjc.

 

IN GINOCCHIO DA TE (1964)

In Ginocchio Da Te is an Italian romantic comedy directed by Ettore Fizzarotti. The film stars Italian pop star crooner Gianni Morandi as Traimonti, a young singer who is drafted into the Italian Army. He quickly falls in love with Carla (Laura Efikain), the daughter of his colonel, but while on leave in Naples, he meets a new girl in the shape of a beautiful and rich young socialite, who falls in love with his voice. With two women to choose from, what is a young, handsome Italian man to do? Hilarity (and lots of 1960s romance) ensues.

The only two pieces of score music ever released from Ennio Morricone’s score for In Ginocchio Da Te are the title track “In Ginocchio Da Te” and “Se Puoi Uscire Una Domenica Sola Con Me”. The title track is a sultry piece for solo saxophone and orchestra, with a light pop beat and a sweeping, lounge music sound that is appealing and very much typical of the time. “Se Puoi Uscire Una Domenica Sola Con Me,” translated as ‘If You Can Go Out One Sunday With Me’ and also known as ‘Blondes On Parade,’ is a cheerful throwback big-band jazz piece full of lively beats, swooning strings, muted brasses, and brushed snares , enlivened by what sound like playful variations on military cavalry charges. In the film the title track had lyrics by Bruno Zambrini and was performed as a song by lead actor Morandi with backing by Cantori Moderni di Alessandrini, and became a hit in its native country.

Both score cues could be found on a now long-out-of-print 45RPM vinyl EP released by RCA Records Europe but, in the absence of any sort of fuller score release, the only place these cues are available to listen to now is on YouTube. Anyone who has an affinity for Morricone’s light pop song ballads and lush string arrangements for them will find them to be very appealing; I certainly like them a lot.

Track Listing: 1. In Ginocchio Da Te (3:04), 2. Se Puoi Uscire Una Domenica Sola Con Me (2:11). RCA Records PM45 3263, 05 minutes 15 seconds.

 

I DUE EVASI DI SING SING (1964)

I Due Evasi di Sing Sing is an Italian comedy directed by Lucio Fulci, who would later go on to direct numerous influential giallo horror films including Una Lucertola Con la Pelle di Donna, Zombi 2, The Beyond, and City of the Living Dead. Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia star as the Bacalones, two Sicilian cousins who are imprisoned in New York state’s notorious Sing Sing prison and are due to be executed in the gas chamber. As the date of their execution draws near, Franco starts the process of writing his memoirs – and so unfolds the tragi-comic tale of how they ended up in the slammer, which all began when the two of them unwittingly saved the life of a Mafia boss (Arturo Dominici) during an assassination attempt at a Turkish bath house, several years previously.

The only available piece of Ennio Morricone’s music from I Due Evasi di Sing Sing is the main title track, a 3-minute piece which alternates off-kilter arrangements of American patriotic standards like The Star Spangled Banner and Anchors Aweigh, with Italianate caper music, snare drum riffs, and bustling jazz licks for xylophones, muted brass, plucked bass, and a percussion combo. You can listen to it on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqGkhBSXQcY.

 

NON SON DEGNO DI TE (1965)

Non Son Degno Di Te is an Italian romantic comedy directed by Ettore Maria Fizzarotti, and was the third star vehicle for the popular singer/crooner Gianni Morandi. It’s a sequel to the 1964 film Ginocchio Da Te, and its follow-up Se Non Avessi Più Te, and continues the story of the singer/soldier Traimonti. After the exploits of the first two films he has finally settled down with Carla (Laura Efikain), the daughter of his commanding officer. However, while Traimonti’s music career starts take off and he signs a new recording contract, Carla starts to feel neglected – until the suave and sophisticated Giorgio (Stelvio Rosi), a wealthy businessmen, comes in and threatens to sweep her off her feet and away from her husband. What will Carla do? Hilarity (and lots more 1960s romance) ensues.

The only piece of score music ever released from Ennio Morricone’s score for Non Son Degno Di Te is an instrumental arrangement of the title song, a lush and romantic piece of lounge music Euro-Pop that has a vivacious piano line backed by swooning strings, and wordless vocals courtesy of Cantori Moderni di Alessandrini. The song itself, which had lyrics by Bruno Zambrini, was performed by the film’s star, and was released as a 45RPM LP Single by RCA Italiana in combination with another song, “Per Una Notte No,” from the film La Mia Signorina which was scored by Armando Trovajoli. You can listen to the instrumental on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLr2YZBlc8c, and I recommend you do so because it’s quite lovely.

 

THRILLING (1965)

Thrilling is an Italian dark comedy anthology film featuring three distinct segments: L’Autostrada del Solo directed by Carlo Lizzani, Il Vittimista directed by Ettore Scola, and Sadik directed by Gian Luigi Polidoro. It tells the loosely inter-linked stories of three men (Alfredo Sordi, Nino Manfredi, and Walter Chari) who unwittingly become involved in violent crimes.

Two tracks from Ennio Morricone’s score for Thrilling were released as bonus tracks on the soundtrack for the 1968 film Danger: Diabolik, specifically the one released by Recording Arts Records in 2014 as part of a 2-CD set with the score for For a Few Dollars More. The two tracks are two versions of the same theme, “La Regola del Gioco,” with one being an instrumental and the other one a song. The instrumental is actually pretty cool, a laid back electric guitar riff with a smooth solo trumpet melody, soft rock percussion, strings, and a small group of vocalists intoning the word ‘thrilling’ and cooing wordlessly. The whole thing gives of an air of dispassionate moodiness, one part slightly seedy, one part slightly intoxicating. The song version is performed by vocalist Rita Monico, singing in Italian, who gives the whole thing a smoky-voiced sultriness, breathy and enticing.

Track Listing: 1. La Regola del Gioco Instrumental (2:58), 2. La Regola del Gioco Vocal (2:58). Recording Arts RETRO-2X902, 05 minutes 56 seconds.

 

SETTE PISTOLE PER I MACGREGOR [SEVEN GUNS FOR THE MACGREGORS] (1966)

Seven Guns for the MacGregors is an Italian spaghetti western directed by Franco Giraldi, who was Sergio Leone’s assistant director on A Fistful of Dollars. The film stars Robert Woods as Gregor MacGregor, the patriarch of a family of horse ranchers who have emigrated from Scotland to Texas to start a new life in the wild west. However, when they are robbed of their horses by a gang under the control of a corrupt local sheriff, the MacGregors hatch a plan to get them back and dole out some revenge – which they begin by trying to infiltrate the gang via the eldest son Peter (Nazzareno Zamperla).

The complete score for Seven Guns for the MacGregors has never been released but the main title piece, “Marcia dei MacGregor,” has been included in numerous Morricone spaghetti western compilations over the years, including the 1995 album Spaghetti Western from BMG Ariola, volume 2 of the 1992 French compilation album ‘Il Etait Une Fois Morricone’ from BMG, the 1999 album ‘Spaghetti Westerns Vol.3’ from DRG Records, and the 1988 2-CD set ‘I Western – The Italian Western’ from RCA Records.

I for one would be ecstatic if a longer release were ever to materialize, because the “Marcia dei MacGregor” is superb – it begins with a raucous drinking song in English which somehow blends traditional Scottish reels with marching, insistent percussion and electronic whooshes; after 30 seconds or so the brass section picks up the vocal line to terrific effect. Then the music transitions into a brief highland jig, before a whistled version of the main march theme, a bagpipe skirl transposed to flutes, and then a second reprise of the song to finish with a flourish. What an insane, brilliant piece! You can listen to “Marcia dei MacGregor,” on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5aUuE6Bdgs.

 

OK CONNERY (1967)

OK Connery (also known as Operation Kid Brother and Operation Double 007) is an Italian comedy spy thriller directed by Alberto de Martini that spoofs the James Bond series – quite literally. It stars Neil Connery, the real-life younger of Sean Connery, as a cosmetic surgeon and hypnotist who is blackmailed and double-crossed into helping the British intelligence agency into uncover a labyrinthine plot involving undercover spies, weaponized electromagnets, uranium bombs, and a terrorist organization called Thanatos. The film co-stars many Bond series alumni – Daniela Bianchi from From Russia With Love, Adolfo Celi from Thunderball, Anthony Dawson from Dr. No, even Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell, the original ‘M’ and Moneypenny! Unfortunately the film received terrible reviews, and ended Neil’s career as an actor almost immediately (he went on to work as a plasterer for most of the rest of his life).

The score is bookended by two versions of a song, “Man for Me,” performed by vocalist Maria Cristina Brancucci – better known as Christy – a frequent Morricone collaborator who here is clearly trying to be Shirley Bassey but has neither the vocal pipes nor the charisma. Morricone’s score is a thinly-veiled parody of John Barry’s spy scores of the period, from the muted brasses and brushed snares of the title cue “Connery,” and subsequent pieces like “Missione Segreta,” “La Preda,” and the actually quite terrific pair “Contrabbando” and “Turbinosamente,” which reprise the main theme as a rollicking action motif.

There are several pieces of fun and upbeat period dance and Europop music (“Allegri Ragazzi”), a lovely lush love theme for acoustic guitar and a sultry string section (“Primo Amore,” and its playful pizzicato variation in “Fiori Galli”), a couple of frantic and aggressive jazz Latin-flavored action sequences (“Varco Nel Muro,” “Verso Il Mare,” “Connery Congiura”) and extended sequences of authentic sounding jazz which makes frequent use of plucked basses, hi-hat cymbals, and more Bond-esque brass to add to the sense of mystery and intrigue. Perhaps the weirdest tracks are the florid bits of French burlesque that play under a comedy action sequence in “Can Can Delle Amazzoni,” and the completely bonkers “Gatto Partante,” which begins with comedy French farce music, ends with a flourish of Dixieland jazz, and has a seductive female vocalist meowing in the middle. Yes, I said meowing.

Overall, though, this is a lesser work from Morricone compared to some of his more ambitious efforts of the period, especially in terms of how much it draws from John Barry’s signature sound. Fans of his more psychedelic bongo-tropicana scores may get a kick out of the more flamboyant sequences, but others will likely want to look to his other better scores in the genre before heading here. The score for OK Connery was fairly obscure until fairly recently; it not was released on CD until 2004, when it finally came out from the Italian label Digitmovies, and then released again as a collectors edition vinyl LP in 2011. Fellow composer Bruno Nicolai is credited as a co-composer on the CD cover, but its not clear which cues he contributed to.

Track Listing: 1. Man For Me (performed by Christy) (3:16), 2. Connery (1:55), 3. Allegri Ragazzi (1:41), 4. Primo Amore (4:34), 5. A Passo d’Uomo (2:36), 6. Varco Nel Muro (1:33), 7. Connery (2:16), 8. Missione Segreta (1:04), 9. Verso Il Mare (1:45), 10. Fiori Gialli (1:14), 11. Gli Enigmi (1:08), 12. Diapositive (1:21), 13. Can Can Delle Amazzoni (1:43), 14. Connery: Congiura (2:39), 15. Contrabbando (1:12), 16. Turbinosamente (1:22), 17. Gatto Parlante (1:11), 18. Missione Segreta (1:41), 19. La Preda (:47), 20. Man For Me (Italian Version) (performed by Christy) (3:01), 21. OK Connery – Seq.1 (1:41) BONUS, 22. OK Connery – Seq.2 (2:00) BONUS, 23. OK Connery – Seq.3 (1:55) BONUS, 24. OK Connery – Seq.4 (1:10) BONUS, 25. OK Connery – Seq.5 (1:23) BONUS, 26. OK Connery – Seq.6 (3:02) BONUS, 27. Man For Me (Instrumental) (3:08) BONUS , 28. Man For Me (Alternative Version) (3:10) BONUS. Digitmovies CDDM-025, 55 minutes 28 seconds.

 

LA CINA È VICINA (1967)

La Cina è Vicina is a drama film, and is the second and final film Morricone scored for director Marco Bellocchio after I Pugni in Tasca in 1965. It is a satirical movie about the struggle for political and social power, and stars Glauco Mauri, Elda Tattoli, and Pierluigi Aprà as as three siblings of the Gordini-Malvezzi family, wealthy aristocrats from northern Italy. Vittorio, a university professor, wants to launch a political career, but is constantly undermined by those around him, who take advantage of his meek personality. Elena is dissatisfied with her life, and embarks on numerous sexual escapades with working class men, but never gets close because she fears they only love her for her money. Camillo, the youngest, is training to be a priest, but is being swayed from his calling by socialist politics. Things come to a head via a young and ambitious Carlo, a local man who manipulated all three siblings for his own personal and professional needs.

Morricone’s score for La Cina è Vicina is ironic and sardonic, using unusually phrased marches and variations on a pompous main theme to comment on the social and political machinations inflicted on the family by the duplicitous Carlo. The main theme, “La Cina è Vicina,” is a bulbous piece for throbbing drums, pseudo-militaristic muted brass, and an oddly-timed tinkling harpsichord, which occasionally switches places with a, comedic dance that ripples around the orchestra almost like mickey mouse music, and little interludes of soft and gentle classical music that illustrate the genteel surroundings of the Gordini-Malvezzi family villa. Several variations of the theme offer interesting commentary; “#2” is aggressive and shrill, with more prominent metallic percussion and laughing bassoons; “#5” focuses on dainty and flighty flutes, little pizzicato textures, and frothy classical dance rhythms; “#6” features a more wholesome-sounding accordion “#13” arranges the piece for a funereal church organ; and so on.

There are also several performances of the theme “Ninna Nanna 1968,” which uses honking woodwinds to cut through a delicate, enigmatic string and harp the theme, like a stain on silk, and later arranges the same melody like a music box. The unusual juxtaposition of these lovely, pretty themes against a series of broken, agitated strings, harsh pianos, and irritating woodwinds, clearly represents the notion of the family’s idyllic life being constantly undermined by the toxic presence of Carlo, and is very clever.

The score for La Cina è Vicina has been released a couple of times over the years, but the best release is probably the one by GDM Music from 2012, a limited edition CD which pairs just under 30 minutes of music from the film with three cues from the 1968 film Partner.

Track Listing: 1. La Cina è Vicina (2:41), 2. Ninna Nanna 1968 (1:42), 3. La Cina è Vicina #2 (1:28), 4. La Cina è Vicina #3 (1:10), 5. La Cina è Vicina #4 (1:44), 6. La Cina è Vicina #5 (1:52), 7. La Cina è Vicina #6 (1:29), 8. La Cina è Vicina #7 (1:26), 9. La Cina è Vicina #8 (2:11), 10. La Cina è Vicina #9 (1:13), 11. La Cina è Vicina #10 (1:36), 12. La Cina è Vicina #11 (0:49), 13. Ninna Nanna 1968 #2 (1:40), 14. La Cina è Vicina #12 (3:00), 15. La Cina è Vicina #13 (1:33), 16. La Cina è Vicina #14 (1:02), 17. Ninna Nanna 1968 #3 (1:53). GDM Music 4160, 28 minutes 29 seconds.

 

LA RAGAZZA E IL GENERALE [THE GIRL AND THE GENERAL] (1967)

La Ragazza e il Generale – The Girl and the General – is an Italian comedy war film directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile. It stars Virna Lisi as Ada, a beautiful young woman who teams up with a young soldier named Tarasconi (Umberto Orsini) to deliver an Austrian General (played by Rod Steiger) to Italian forces during World War I, and in doing so collect a 1,000 lire reward. However, as the three unlikely travelling companions make their way to the rendezvous, circumstances conspire to make them all question their opinions about each other, as well as their views on the conflict as a whole.

The complete score for La Ragazza e il Generale has never been released but the main title piece has been included on several Morricone compilations over the years, most notably the 3-CD set Ennio Morricone Gold released by GDM/Edel Italy in 2005. The theme is a peculiar, pompous little march for brass and rapped snares that is bright and militaristic and oddly cheerful. Of course it wouldn’t be a Morricone score if he didn’t do something completely bizarre to the theme, and on this score that thing is to include a chirpy, high pitched little recorder motif, and an equally high-pitched male vocalist intoning an unintelligible word that sounds like ‘lasso’ over and over again. You can listen to the piece on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVxztiaJYuo.

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