Home > Reviews > ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part V

ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part V

In this fifth installment of my series looking at the early careers of iconic composers, we take a look at nine of the scores written by the legendary Ennio Morricone in 1968, one of the most prolific years of any composer in cinema history. This group of reviews looks at the music for a couple of great spaghetti westerns, several influential pop-psychedelia scores, and a dark science fiction drama score which allowed Morricone to channel his more serious avant-garde side, and his first collaboration with the great Italian director Dario Argento.

 

DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968)

Danger: Diabolik is an action film directed by Mario Bava, based on a series of popular Italian comic books. The film stars John Philip Law as Diabolik, a masked master criminal who pulls off large-scale robberies and other heists on behalf of his seductive girlfriend (Marisa Meli). In order to stop the crime wave, intrepid inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) teams up with a rival gangster (Adolfo Celi), who attempts to intervene in Diabolik’s next scam: the theft of a priceless emerald necklace. The film was one of the most popular and highly anticipated releases of the year in Europe, and was hugely influential, with filmmakers such as Edgar Wright citing it as a major inspiration for their career.

Morricone’s score for Danger: Diabolik is one of his most popular of the period. It is based mostly around two recurring themes: the ‘Diabolik’ theme, which is an unusual combination of light strings and breathy vocals, and variations on the melody from the song “Deep Down,” which is performed by Italian vocalist and frequent Morricone collaborator Maria Cristina ‘Christy’ Brancucci. The song itself is a slow, sultry, jazzy ballad with a languid string motif and a slightly exotic, enigmatic sound.

Variations on the Diabolik theme include a fast-paced version for psychedelic disco beats and operatic vocals in “Filatura,” an experimental electronic version for freaked-out sounding organs in “Ritagli,” a piece of harpsichord renaissance fluff in the charming and whimsical “La Collana di Lady Clarke,” a beautiful vocal version in “Bollicine,” and a second dance version in “Subaquei” which revisits the wa-wa-wa vocals from The Good the Bad and the Ugly, courtesy of Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni.

Meanwhile, variations in the Deep Down melody include a chipper, upbeat classical version for strings and clarinet in “Conducenti in Attesa,” a version with a hint of the kasbah in “Nella Grotta,” a version underpinned with an Indian raga in “Nascondiglio” and more straightforward recapitulations in “Baci,” “La Piscina,” and others. Perhaps the most unique cue is the 6-minute “Commando di Notte,” an extended piece of orchestral dissonance in which banks of agitated strings play off worried-sounding woodwinds, tinkling harpsichords, and dramatic percussion, to create a sense of unease and mystery.

I like the score for Danger: Diabolik a great deal, but to be honest I’m not quite sure how it has managed to attain such an enormous and influential reputation over the years; the film itself likely deserves it, but the music just seems very ‘middle of the road’ for Morricone, an hour’s worth of extrapolations on two recurring themes that seem to contain many of his usual tics and techniques from the period. The score for Danger: Diabolik has been released several times over the years; the version I have reviewed here is 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. A longer version of the score, which has a slightly different order and includes dialogue tracks, was released by Sycodelic Records in 2001, and then again by the Italian indie label Pallotta Foro later that same year.

Track Listing: 1. Introduzione (:57), 2. Deep Down (English Version) (performed by Christy) (2:56), 3. Conducenti in Attesa (1:37), 4. Filatura (2:37), 5. Baci (1:08), 6. Nella Grotta (2:30), 7. Nascondiglio (3:10), 8. Coperti di Biglietti (1:37), 9. Ritagli (:41), 10. Night Club (2:22), 11. La Collana di Lady Clarke (:48), 12. Commando di Notte (6:49), 13. La Mitragliatrice (1:26), 14. La Piscina (1:58), 15. Bollicine (1:29), 16. Subaquei (2:06), 17. Allarme – Esplosione (1:42), 18. Lacrime (1:22), 19. Deep Down (Italian Version) (performed by Christy) (3:11). Recording Arts RETRO-2X902, 40 minutes 50 seconds.

 

TEPEPA (1968)

Tepepa is an Italian-produced epic Western, set during the Mexican Revolution, directed by Giulio Petroni. It tells the story of the eponymous revolutionary Jesus Maria ‘Tepepa’ Moran (Tomas Milian), who is due to be executed by the corrupt police chief Cascorro (played, incredibly, by Orson Welles). Tepepa is unexpectedly saved by Price (John Steiner), an English doctor, but before long it becomes clear that Price only saved him so that he could kill him himself, as he believes Tepepa was responsible for the death of his fiancée. Added into this mix of death and retribution is a political undertone involving the revolution, and the plight of local landowners, and the unscrupulous businessmen who are attempting to exploit them.

The main theme, “Viva La Revolucion,” is a wonderful piece of traditional Mexicana, but is actually quite conventional compared to some of the other western themes in the Morricone canon. It builds from a slow, pastoral, almost lullabyish melody for woodwinds and guitars, but becomes increasingly grand and expansive as it develops, making excellent use of larger orchestral forces and a more prominent piano as it grows. The theme for “Tepepa e Price” comments on the initially positive and fraternal relationship between the pair with a pretty, intimate flute melody, but also has a slight sense of uncertainty underneath it from the banks of accompanying guitars, which cleverly alerts listeners to Price’s duplicity before the movie does. Incredibly, the guitar part of this theme reminds me very much of the one in “Ancora Qui,’ the original song that Morricone wrote for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained in 2012 – 44 years later!

As the score develops several other pieces stand out for their extensive use of Spanish guitars. Both “Tradimento Primo” and “A Meta Strada” have a wonderful nostalgic air, guitars backed with quiet orchestrations for warm strings that help convey Tepepa’s quiet resilience and deep affection for his nation. This continues on into “Al Messico Che Vorrei,” is a folk song performed by Maria Cristina ‘Christy’ Brancucci, which layers her vocals against a bright, quintessential Morricone trumpet solo. “Consegna Delle Armi” and “Una Povera Casa” are suspense cues for tight, nervous orchestrations, which convey the urgency and determination of Tepepa as he continues to fight for justice. The rest of the album comprises a series of extended variations on these core thematic ideas, as is often the case with Morricone scores of this type.

I like the score for Tepepa a lot; it doesn’t have the anarchic or bizarre qualities of some of Morricone’s other western scores from the period, and is instead a much more respectful and straightforward work that pays homage to this enduring Mexican folk hero. The excellent main theme is usually included on Morricone Western soundtrack compilations, while the score itself has been released numerous times on vinyl LP and CD over the years, often paired with another score, usually either La Resa dei Conti or Vamos a Matar Compañeros. This release reviewed here is the limited edition from GDM/Legend that came out in 2012.

Track Listing: 1. Viva la Revolucion (4:18), 2. Tepepa e Price (0:55), 3. Tradimento Primo (2:15), 4. A Metà Strada (1:51), 5. Al Messico Che Vorrei (4:50), 6. Una Rosa (1:44), 7. Consegna Delle Armi (1:17), 8. Una Povera Casa (1:02), 9. Tradimento Secondo (2:52), 10. Viva la Revolucion (5:29), 11. Tepepa e Price #2 (0:44), 12. Tradimento Primo #2 (1:11), 13. Viva la Revolucion #2 (2:29), 14. Tepepa (Marcetta) (1:58), 15. Viva la Revolucion #3 (3:09), 16. Tepepa (Tema d’Amore) (2:21), 17. Ondas de Amor – Serenade (3:06), 18. Una Rosa #2 (1:31), 19. Viva la Revolucion #4 (5:37), 20. A Metà Strada #2 (1:37), 21. Tepepa (Fragrante Melodia) (1:26), 22. Viva la Revolucion #5 (1:27), 23. Tradimento Primo #3 (3:43), 24. Viva la Revolucion #6 (3:13), 25. Una Rosa #3 (1:24), 26. Tepepa (Banda) (1:54), 27. Viva la Revolucion #7 (3:14), 28. Al Messico Che Vorrei (Karaoke Version) (4:43). GDM/Legend 4220DLX, 71 minutes 20 seconds.

 

IL MERCENARIO (1968)

Il Mercenario, also known as The Mercenary or A Professional Gun, is a spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci, starring Franco Nero, Jack Palance, and Tony Musante. The plot involves a Polish mercenary who travels to Mexico during the Revolutionary War, and finds himself coming to the aid of a peasant girl and a community of mine workers who are trying to instigate a revolution against the oppressive local Mexican government, only for him to be double-crossed by a rival American hired gun.

Il Mercenario is one of the most acclaimed of Morricone’s non-Leone western scores, and has been rightly lauded over the years as one of his most vivacious, authentic, and enjoyable. As is always the case, the score is extrapolated from a series of recurring themes, the most prominent of which is the main title, “Bamba Vivace,” often labeled as “Titoli di Testa”. It begins a scintillating passage for call-and-response brasses and yelping voices, before eventually emerging into a galloping Mexican-flavored march anchored by flashing mariachi-style strings, bright trumpets, and vocals singing in Spanish.

Other cues of note include the evocative combination of church organ, guitar, and whistles in “Estasi,” which introduced the whistling theme that acts as a recurring motif for Tony Musante’s character Paco; Paco’s theme features strongly as the score develops, amid lush and evocative writing for strings and guitar in “Il Mercenario (Ripresa),” and electric guitars and dramatic percussion in “Il Mercenario,” among others. Later, “Suspense” reprises the brass flamboyance of the opening cue as part of an action sequence, while “Paco” offers another statement of the main title’s second half. Not only this, there are several Spanish-language songs, some of which are accented by pseudo-comedy sound effects from vocalists, a couple more authentic pieces of festive Mexican celebration music

However, even with all this, the most famous piece of the score is theme that first appears in “Liberta”. This is one of Morricone’s most iconic melodies, a slow, stately, noble piece for strings, trumpets, and guitars, which becomes grander and more emotional as it develops, especially once the voices are added. It reaches its zenith the finale, ‘L’Arena,” which takes the theme heard earlier in “Liberta” and turns it into a masterpiece by blending it with Paco’s whistle motif, re-orchestrating parts of it for electric guitars and rapped snare drums, and increasing the choral element significantly; it’s just superb. Contemporary soundtrack fans might know this theme from its prominent inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol.2 from 2004, but this is where it comes from.

As one of the most popular early Morricone scores the score for Il Mercenario has been released multiple times over the years, on LP and CD, with multiple different permutations of different cues, and paired with other scores. This release is the one released by GDM Music in 2002 as a standalone; it was also re-released again in 2014 as a limited edition of 300 copies with enhanced sound quality.

Track Listing: 1. Bamba Vivace (Titoli di Testa) (2:13),2. Estasi (2:01),3. Il Mercenario (Sueno Mejicano) (2:28),4. Fiesta (Mariachi) (:55),5. Il Mercenario (Ripresa) (2:06),6. Canto a Mia Terra (3:12),7. Il Mercenario (1:33),8. Liberta (4:13),9. Il Mercenario (Sueno Mejicano 2) (1:46),10. Fiesta (Valzer) (1:44),11. Notte di Nozze (1:19),12. Il Mercenario (Ripresa Terza) (2:09),13. Il Mercenario (Suspense) (2:15),14. Paco (2:29),15. Ricciolo (2:25),16. Il Mercenario (L’Arena) (4:44). GDM/Intermezzo Media GDM-4335, 37 minutes 32 seconds.

 

MANGIALA [EAT IT] (1968)

Mangiala, or Eat It, is an Italian comedy film directed by Francesco Casaretti, starring Frank Wolff, Paolo Villaggio, and Giampiero Albertini. It’s one of the most obscure and little known films in Morricone’s history; one of the few pieces of information I could find about the film describes it as ‘a grotesque satire on advertising in a consumer society, wherein whoever eats too much tinned wheat turns into a cow’. I’m not sure whether that makes me want to see it more or see it less but it’s certainly unique.

Morricone’s score is equally quirky, jumping around from style to style and incorporating everything from classical motifs and pretty romantic themes, to musical nursery rhymes, vibrant bossa nova rhythms, disturbing moments of abstract experimentalism, and more, all of which are intended to – as the CD liner notes state – ‘embrace all the psychological and environmental nuances of alienation and paradox that mark the plot of the film.’

The main theme, “Eat It,” jumps around from style to style, beginning with an oddly calming and pleasant piece for orchestra and chimes, but which then quickly becomes a poppy and pretty arrangement for a guitar-harpsichord-percussion combo, and a keyboard which seem to be playing the melody from Frere Jacques. Much of the rest of the score is based on variations on these core ideas, with added jazz textures and tropical grooves that are great to listen to, but seem to be completely at odds with the film itself.

I especially like the way the quirky harpsichords and keyboards are underpinned by lush strings in “Notti di Pace,” the dream-like textures of “Amami,” the strident tango rhythms of “Ballami,” the hypnotic tribal beats and fuzzy electric guitars in “Africami,” the honkytonk piano jazz in “Pianofortecciami,” and the wonderful combination of contemporary church music stylings and prog rock in “Falsa Sacrilita,” especially when the unmistakable choir I Cantori Moderni di Alessandro Alessandroni comes in at the end.

Eat It is an odd score, to be sure, and when you first listen to it you’re never sure exactly where Morricone is going or what he’s doing from one cue to the next. However, the fact that it contains so many of Morricone’s great 1960s stylistics and little idiosyncratic hallmarks means that fans of his will love it, especially the ones who are more attuned to his experimentations with psychedelia and Euro-pop. The version of the score reviewed here is the one released as a standalone album by Digitmovies in 2010, and contains 45 minutes of music. Shorter releases are also available in 2-for-1 releases; usually on the CAM label paired with the score for the 1975 score Macchie Solari.

Track Listing: 1. Eat It (Tema) (2:58), 2. Prima Variazione: Mangiami (2:00), 3. Notte di Pace (II Variazione) (2:26), 4. Terza Variazione Amami (1:48), 5. Quarta Variazione: Ballami (1:39), 6. Quinta Variazione: Africami (2:01), 7. Sesta Variazione: Pianofortecciami (1:10), 8. Settima Variazione: Temimi (3:34), 9. Settima Variazione: Temimi (2a Versione) (1:12), 10. Ottava Variazione: Pizzicami (1:45), 11. Eat It (1:57), 12. Falsa Sacralità (6:57), 13. Eat It (Ripresa 2) (1:42), 14. Notte Di Pace (1:46), 15. Prima Variazione: Mangiami (Ripresa 2) (2:58), 16. Settima Variazione: Temimi (3a Versione) (1:04), 17. Prima Variazione: Mangiami (Ripresa 3) (1:40), 18. Sesta Variazione: Pianofortecciami (Ripresa 2) (1:50), 19. Eat It (Ripresa 3) (1:29), 20. Eat It (Versione Singolo) (3:47). Digitmovies CDDM-172, 45 minutes 43 seconds.

 

GRAZIE ZIA (1968)

Grazie Zia, known as Come Play With Me in English, is a dark drama film directed by Salvatore Samperi. The film stars Lou Castel as Alvise, a young man who may or may not be paralyzed, and is receiving treatment for psychological problems. When Alvise is left in the care his aunt Lea (Lisa Gastoni) for a few days, he quickly becomes infatuated with her; when Lea unexpectedly reciprocates his advances, the two begin a torrid affair based around the playing, winning and losing of games – the stakes for which ultimately involve literal life and death.

Morricone’s score is based around several recurring themes which are reprised numerous times over the course of the film and the soundtrack. The most famous of the five is “Guerra E Pace, Pollo E Brace,” a highly unusual rhythmic piece for a ferocious, rock-jazz drumbeat and oddly-pitched chanted choral vocals performed by the Boys’ Choir of Renata Cortiglioni; it’s got a groovy, hypnotic, exotic vibe that is difficult to describe but is quintessentially Morricone.

The title theme, “Grazie Zia,” is a dream-like piece for abstract harpsichord notes, plucked strings, tinkling metallic percussion, and more vocals from the Boys Choir that fade in and out of the piece to create a peculiar, disorienting atmosphere. As the cue progresses it emerges into a livelier melody for more strident guitars and folk-like augmentations, then regresses back to stark, dissonant writing for harpsichord and percussion that sounds quite disturbing, like a broken music box. Later, both “Amore Col Cuore” and “La Guerra, La Pace” extrapolate on the music box ideas with gentleness and fragility, but the former offsets this with a dour and imposing slow march for church organ and piano chords in what sounds like a dry run for his famous march “Rabbia e Tarantella” from the 1974 film Allonsanfàn.

The score for Grazie Zia has been released many times over the years, on CD and LP, and as a suite on numerous Morricone compilations. The most comprehensive version appears to be the CD release from Digitmovies released in 2013, which contains several versions of the main “Guerra e Pace, Pollo e Brace” track, plus a number of original songs written by Morricone in collaboration with lyricist Audrey Stainton Nohra.

Track Listing: 1. Guerra e Pace, Pollo e Brace (2:27), 2. Fratello Biondo (2:49), 3. Grazie Zia (4:29), 4. Guerra e Pace, Pollo e Brace (Marcetta) (1:43), 5. Amore Col Cuore (2:28), 6. Filastrocca Vietnamita (performed by Sergio Endrigo) (3:21), 7. La Guerra, La Pace (1:02), 8. Guerra e Pace, Pollo e Brace (Marcetta #2) (1:39), 9. Fratello Biondo #2 (2:17), 10. Amore Col Cuore #2 (3:00), 11. Guerra e Pace, Pollo e Brace (Marcetta #3) (3:43), 12. Grazie Zia #2 (4:38), 13. La Guerra, La Pace #2 (2:07), 14. Guerra e Pace, Pollo e Brace #2 (4:04). Digitmovies CDDM-227, 39 minutes 47 seconds.

 

E PER TETTO UN CIELO DI STELLE [A SKY FULL OF STARS FOR A ROOF] (1968)

E Per Tetto Un Cielo di Stelle – A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof – is an Italian comedy spaghetti western directed by Giulio Petroni, starring Giuliano Gemma, Mario Adorf, and Magda Konopka. The story follows two drifters, Tim and Harry, who become travelling companions across the Old West. However, problems arise when men from Tim’s past arrive with scores to settle – one of whom is a crazed gunman with an itchy trigger finger. Before long Tim and Harry are on the run, getting into adventures, and trying to stay alive long enough to make some money and escape for good.

The “Main Title” is a friendly, laid-back theme for acoustic guitar and Alessandro Alessandrini’s iconic whistling, and initially it has a lot in common tonally with things like Burt Bacharach’s Butch Cassidy score; eventually it transforms into another one of those wonderful galloping main title marches for multiple layered guitars, hoofbeat tapped snares, a flurry of vibrant horns, and a country-bluegrass fiddle which runs through the entire piece and allows it to stand out from others of its type. It is, as always quite outstanding.

“The Mermaid” is a light, jaunty piece for guitars and flute; cues like “Friends” and “Riding Together” reprise the whistled theme from the first half of the main title; “Bill & Harry” fight offers a chirpy honkytonk variation on the same theme featuring prominent banjos, a style which continues later in the upbeat and comical “Circus Tricks”. “Insegumento All’Alba” is the first of several scintillating reprises of the second half of the main theme, the others of which include the bombastic but brief “Military Escort” the exciting “Chased,” and the tremendous “Attack on the Ranch,” which impresses with its addition of screaming, agitated brass and more imposing, threating aura. And there are the usual saloon piano pieces, hoe-downs, and elements of source music that Morricone often writes for movies like this.

The longest piece on the score is “Harry’s Ranch,” a pastoral and occasionally poignant variation on the main theme for slower, more introspective strings and brasses that is at times quite lovely. The “Finale and End Titles” sums up most of the score’s most important thematic content, offering subdued and emotionally heightened statements of the whistled theme, and the Harry’s Ranch theme, before finishing on a high with a final statement of the march.

The best soundtrack release for E Per Tetto Un Cielo di Stelle is this one, released by Hexacord in 2002, although the vintage sound quality does leave a more than a little to be desired at times, and often comes close to being annoyingly poor. The Japanese label Avanz also has a CD release, combined with music for other scores, which is a digital re-pressing of the original 1978 vinyl LP, and also includes numerous outtakes.

Track Listing: 1. Main Title (4:24), 2. The Mermaid (1:21), 3. Saloon Piano (2:52), 4. Friends (0:34), 5. Bill & Harry Fight (3:15), 6. Riding Together (0:53), 7. Sandstone (1:57), 8. Insegumento All’Alba (2:14), 9. Banjo (0:56), 10. Street Dance (1:05), 11. Eating Turkey (1:02), 12. Flirting With the Widow MacDonald (0:31), 13. Circus Tricks (3:03), 14. My Friend the Banjo (1:29), 15. Before the Hanging (1:16), 16. Making Plans (0:44), 17. Arrival at the Cantina (0:35), 18. The Well’s Fargo Coach (1:35), 19. Miltary Escort (0:50), 20. Harry’s Ranch – Main Theme (5:17), 21. Chased! (3:09), 22. Samuel Pratt Arrives (1:38), 23. Around the Ranch Table (0:48), 24. Attack on the Ranch (1:02), 25. Finale & End Titles (4:51). Hexacord/Hillside HCD-16, 47 minutes 21 seconds.

 

ECCE HOMO (1968)

Ecce Homo is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama, written and directed by Bruno Gaburro. It is set in the aftermath of a terrible nuclear war that destroyed almost the entire human race, and follows the lives of three people – Jean (Philippe Leroy), his wife Anna (Irene Papas), and their son Patrick (Marco Stefanelli) – who live in a small trailer by an ocean, and are desperately trying to survive in a desolate wasteland.

The score for Ecce Homo is based around a single theme, called “Venuta del Mare,” and the soundtrack contains sixteen variations on it, plus various bonus cues, and a performance of a 14-minute suite. Ecce Home gave Morricone the first real chance for him to incorporate into his film music the concurrent work he was doing with Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, a composer collective dedicated to musical avant-gardeism. As such, the score is an eerie, dissonant, abstract musical soundscape that has drawn comparisons with Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes, which was released the same year.

The score contains lots of writing for solo voices, quivering flutes, offbeat rattling percussion, and oddly-phrased chromatic string textures which sound agitated, urgent, slightly insane. There’s one repetitive motif that runs through the score – a four note idea that staggers up and down scales – but none of the thematic brilliance or orchestral extravagance for which he is more commonly known and lauded. It’s perfect for creating an atmosphere of desolation, isolation, and desperation, as the film intends, but it’s a challenging listening experience, and will really only be of interest to those who gravitate towards Morricone’s more experimental and peculiar side.

The score for Ecce Homo has been released several times over the years, with the main theme cropping up on numerous compilations. The version reviewed here is the one released by Italian label GDM in 2009; a shorter version was released by Dagored in 2002, while a long suite was included as a bonus cue on the soundtrack for the similarly challenging Un Uomo a Metà in 2012. But be warned; this is an oddball, and anyone who follows Morricone for things like The Mission will likely find this score to be completely inaccessible.

Track Listing: 1. Venuta Dal Mare (Titoli – I) (2:06), 2. Venuta Dal Mare (II) (1:48), 3. Venuta Dal Mare (III) (2:20), 4. Venuta Dal Mare (IV) (1:13), 5. Venuta Dal Mare (V) (1:05), 6. Venuta Dal Mare (VI) (1:51), 7. Venuta Dal Mare (VII) (1:16), 8. Venuta Dal Mare (VIII) (1:08), 9. Venuta Dal Mare (IX) (2:00), 10. Venuta Dal Mare (X) (1:28), 11. Venuta Dal Mare (XI) (2:01), 12. Venuta Dal Mare (XII) (3:58), 13. Venuta Dal Mare (XIII) (2:08), 14. Venuta Dal Mare (XIV) (1:09), 15. Venuta Dal Mare (XV) (3:13), 16. Venuta Dal Mare (Finale – XVI) (4:19), 17. Venuta Dal Mare (XVII) (3:15) BONUS, 18. Venuta Dal Mare (XVIII) (5:19) BONUS, 19. Venuta Dal Mare (XIX) (3:05) BONUS, 20. Venuta Dal Mare (XX) (2:17) BONUS, 21. Venuta Dal Mare (XXI) (1:21) BONUS, 22. Venuta Dal Mare (Suite) – Versione Concerto in mono (14:33). GDM 7070, 62 minutes 53 seconds.

 

ESCALATION (1968)

Escalation is an Italian psychological drama-thriller film written and directed by Roberto Faenza. It stars Lino Capolicchio as Luca Lambertenghi, a young playboy in 1960s London. Luca’s reckless behavior angers his father Augusto (Gabriele Ferzetti), who wants him to be more responsible and eventually take over the family business; to this end, Augusto arranges for Luca to be kidnapped and taken to a sanitarium, where he underdoes numerous torturous treatments meant to ‘cure’ his behavior. When he is finally released he is married to the beautiful Carla (Claudine Auger), and for a while all seems well – until it becomes apparent that the time in the institution has done terrible things to Luca’s psyche.

Morricone’s score for the film ranges from highly classical to highly experimental and abstract, with a few killer Europop dance tracks thrown in for good measure. The main theme, “Escalation,” is a pretty and florid melody for harpsichord, strings, and woodwinds, enlivened by some unusual but effective variations on the wa-wa’s from The Good the Bad and the Ugly, performed by a high pitched solo male vocalist.

Other cues of note include a terrifically dirty, groovy, sweaty-sounding disco dance version of the famous Latin liturgical chant Dies Irae in “Dies Irae Psichedelico,” light and effervescent classical pastiche in “Collage No. 1,” dark and twisted choral music in “Matrimonio” which is made to sound quite desperate and deranged via the inclusion of ragged bursts of percussion and fiddle cacophony, and pretty glockenspiel music in the decidedly un-erotic “Carillon Erotico”. On the abstract side of things, “Luca’s Sound” is literally someone making popping noises with their mouth for 90 seconds, “Senza Respiro” and the subsequent “Luca, Casa Londra” is a bank of guitars making like sitars in an Indian raga, and “Collage No. 2” further takes the Dies Irae to the limits of madness with bursts of cha-cha-cha and ‘Happy Birthday.’

The score for Escalation has been released several times over the years, including several different LP releases. The best CD release for me is the one released by CAM Records in 1992, which contains around 30 minutes of the best music in the soundtrack, and ends before the whole thing drives the listener insane, and that’s the one I have reviewed here. An expanded CD was released by Italian label Digitmusic in 2008, increasing the running time to over 40 minutes, and presenting the music in stereo for the first time.

Track Listing: 1. Escalation (2:18), 2. Dies Irae Psichedelico (1:57), 3. Collage No. 1 (2:19), 4. Luca’s Sound (1:21), 5. Senza Respiro (:50), 6. Luca, Casa Londra (5:12), 7. Matrimonio (2:54), 8. Collage No. 2 (1:53), 9. Carillon Erotico (2:24), 10. Primo Rito (1:25), 11. Secondo Rito (3:58), 12. Funerale Nero (2:16). CAM Records CSE-053, 28 minutes 47 seconds.

 

COMANDAMENTI PER UN GANGSTER (1968)

Comandamenti Per Un Gangster is an Italian action-thriller directed by Alfio Caltabiano, and written by Dario Argento, in one of his earliest film productions. It stars Serbian actor Ljuba Tadic as Northon, a former gangster wants to avenge the murder of his sister and uncover the mystery surrounding her husband’s disappearance, which coincided with the simultaneous disappearance of a transport container full of gold. The movie allowed Morricone to explore some of his more subdued, experimental, and avant-garde tendencies, although I feel that only some of it will appeal to casual fans – quite a lot if it difficult to connect with, even though the highlights are worth exploring.

The main theme, “Comandamenti Per Un Gangster,” is a deliciously dark piece that starts with a powerful explosion of voices, brass, and swirling strings, that eventually emerges into a propulsive, turbulent sounding theme for an exotic-sounding woodwinds, ancient keyboards, tolling bells, and more vocals courtesy of Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni. Much of the rest of the score is dramatic and at times quite oppressive, built around little rhythmic motifs that jump around from electric guitars and muted horns to organs, all underpinned with a bold timpani motif that drives everything forward. Cues like “Primo Comandamento: Spara,”  “Terzo Comandamento: L’Oro,” and the shockingly abrasive and emotionally heightened finale “Ultimo Comandamento: Uccidi i Traditori,” are good examples of this.

The main love theme, as heard in “Uno Squarcio Tra Le Nuvole,” is a hesitantly romantic piece for strings and breathy vocals that picks up a mellow solo trumpet element in its second half, and is partially reprised with a more lyrical sweep in “E’ Soreno l’Orizzonte”. “Secondo Comandamento: Non Perdonare” is a very clever bait-and-switch cue which starts with a church organ motif and slowly add layers of glorious strings and vocals as though it is going to climax with something grand, but ends with a series of broken minor key chords that indicate something has gone terribly wrong.

The album also includes a lovely chill-out song, “Solo Nostalgia,” co-written by Morricone wity lyricist Audrey Stainton Nohra, performed by Jane Relly, and which gets a vocal-less instrumental reprise at the end of the score. The score for Comandamenti Per Un Gangster has been released a few times over the years, most notably by the Italian label CAM in 1992. This review is of the 2011 release by GDM Music, which added a couple of bonus tracks to CAM’s original programme; unfortunately, the vintage sound quality is quite poor by today’s standards, which may put some people off.

Track Listing: 1. Comandamenti Per Un Gangster (1:53), 2. Primo Comandamento: Spara (3:15), 3. Uno Squarcio Tra Le Nuvole (1:35), 4. Secondo Comandamento: Non Perdonare (1:31), 5. Pieta Per Un Giusto (1:10), 6. Terzo Comandamento: L’Oro (1:13), 7. E’ Sereno l’Orizzonte (1:12), 8. Quarto Comandamento: Dormi Sveglio (2:22), 9. Solo Nostalgia (3:18), 10. Quinto Comandamento: Tre Pistole E Un Mitra (1:01), 11. Sesto Comandamento: Non Fidarti (0:40), 12. Settimo Comandamento: Rubare (1:06), 13. Ottavo Comandamento: Corri Veloce (2:03), 14. Nono Comandamento: Taci (0:44), 15. Decimo Comandamento: Odio (3:30), 16. Ultimo Comandamento: Uccidi i Traditori (3:24), 17. Solo Nostalgia (Versione Strumentale) (3:17), 18. Comandamenti Per Un Gangster (Suite) (8:30). GDM Music 4145, 41 minutes 44 seconds.

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