Home > Reviews > ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part VI

ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part VI

September 19, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

In this sixth installment of my series looking at the early careers of iconic composers, we take a look at the remaining twelve 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 one of the greatest westerns of all time – Once Upon a Time in the West – and a variety of other scores across a multitude of genres, including pop-psychedelia scores for romances, ‘nunsploitation,’ avant garde atonalism for giallo horror, hard-boiled crime thrillers, social realist dramas, and so much more!

 

GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN (1968)

Guns for San Sebastian is an action adventure from French director Henri Verneuil. It stars Anthony Quinn as Alastray, a deserter during the Mexican civil war, who is given sanctuary from the Spanish army by a kindly priest (Sam Jaffe). When the priest is murdered by bandits en-route to the nearby town of San Sebastian, Alastray pretends to be him, intending to swindle the villagers. However, when they welcome him warmly, he begins to realize the error of his ways. Eventually, the Spanish arrive in San Sebastian to arrest Alastray; they are aided by Teclo (Charles Bronson), the leader of the gang who murdered the real priest, and who has been terrorizing the village for years. Feeling a responsibility to his new community, Alastray arranges for a shipment of weapons to be delivered to San Sebastian, and pledges to help the villagers free themselves from Teclo’s tyrrany.

Morricone’s score for Guns for San Sebastian is yet another entry in his terrific series of Spaghetti westerns, although this one acts as something of a bridge between the more anarchic tones of his earlier work, and more operatic style he would later adopt in Once Upon A Time in the West. The whole thing is anchored by a sweeping main theme, which is introduced in the opening “Overture,” a mass of soaring voices, strings and pianos, and rousing percussion, accented with Spanish guitars, lilting oboes and one of Edda dell’Orso’s legendary haunting wordless vocal performances. There are several restatements of the main theme throughout the score, with notable performances coming in the brilliant “Building the Dam,” and in a more introspective and downbeat arrangement for male voices and stark orchestrations in “The Villagers Prepare to Blow Up the Dam.”

Considering the nature of the film there is a lot of action music too. “The Chase” is a blistering piece, blending harsh fluttering recorders, pounding percussion, powerful triumphant brass, and the choir as only Morricone could. Later cues like “The Assault,” the uncompromisingly dissonant “Leon Fights Teclo,” “The Burning Village,” and the sensational “The White Stallion,” are equally excellent; Edda dell’Orso extremely powerful vocals in “The Assault” have to be heard to be believed.

The score’s recurring Love Theme is a truly stunning piece of romance scoring for strings, guitar, and choir, and may be closest Morricone ever got to the religioso sound of Miklós Rósza; it’s statements in “Kinita’s Plea,” “Leon Tells His Love,” “Leon Leaves Kinita,” and finally in the ecclesiastically-flavored and occasionally quite stark “End Titles,” are all equally sublime; the merest hints of a tolling bell really adds to the epic scope of it all. Also of note is “The Long Trek,” an abstract piece of suspense and tension that uses layered strings interesting ways to convey the sensation of a harsh burning sun on a desert landscape, while also containing a sense of stark beauty, mostly from the woodwinds.

Guns for San Sebastian is yet another terrific Morricone western, featuring a superb sweeping main theme, one of his most lush love themes, and some terrific violent action. The version I have reviewed here is the hour-long version released by Film Score Monthly, but there are shorter versions that focus on the highlights that may provide listeners with a more concise listening experience.

Track Listing: 1. The Overture (3:45), 2. Prologue/The Chase (2:47), 3. Church Music/Sneaking Away (1:46), 4. The Long Trek (5:11), 5. The Assault (1:29), 6. The Bandits/Leon Tied/Bleeding Statue (2:46), 7. Kinita’s Plea (2:01), 8. Restoring the Village (1:08), 9. Teclo Shamed/Surveying the Fields (2:04), 10. Building The Dam/Hymn For San Sebastian (1:26), 11. Leon Fights Teclo (1:56), 12. The Burning Village (2:36), 13. Leon Tells His Love (2:52), 14. Leon Leaves Kinita (2:53), 15. Music At The Governor’s Dinner (1:51), 16. Army March/Yaqui Camp (1:41), 17. The White Stallion (1:33), 18. The Gift (3:23), 19. Gift Returned/Leon’s Mass/The Attack (3:34), 20. The Villagers Prepare To Blow Up The Dam (1:27), 21. Teclo’s Death/Victory (1:56), 22. End Title (4:01), 23. The Chase – Alternate (1:54), 24. Love Theme from Guns for San Sebastian (Leon Tells His Love) – Album Version (2:51). Film Score Monthly FSM-9-14, 59 minutes 56 seconds.

 

THEOREM (1968)

Theorem is an unusual Italian psychological drama written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, starring Terence Stamp, Laura Betti, and Silvana Mangano. Stamp plays a mysterious figure known only as “The Visitor” who appears in the lives of a typical upper-class Italian family, and one by one strips them of all their doubts, fears, and inhibitions through a combination of compassion, comfort, and sexual expression; eventually, the Visitor disappears as quickly as he arrived, leaving the family to come to terms with their new-found freedom and liberation on their own. The film has been studied extensively by film scholars over the years, many of whom have come to vastly different conclusions about Pasolini’s intent and meaning, the nature of the Visitor, and the film’s overall themes of divinity, sexuality, and consumerism.

Large parts of the score sees Morricone engaging in some of his most challenging classical scoring, writing music for layers of strings, woodwinds, the unique voices of I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni, harpsichords, and numerous different percussion sounds in complicated, atonal, disorienting ways. Both the opening “Teorema” and the subsequent “Frammenti” are really challenging, and usually this sort of thing would turn me off, but the alienating soundscape Morricone creates is actually quite fascinating, especially considering how much is stands in tonal opposition to the rest of the score.

Both “Fruscio de Foglie Verdi (Cantato)” and “Beat N. 3” have an infectiously upbeat Europop aesthetic, John Barry-esque sultry strings, rock guitars, and lively percussion. The vocals in “Fruscio de Foglie Verdi” are performed with silky smoothness by Trio Junior and, really, they couldn’t be more different from the first two cues. They are almost from another world. It’s also fun hearing the whooshing wind effects in the background of “Fruscio de Foglie Verdi,” further illustrating how Morricone often worked with musique concrete-style real world sounds to add different dimensions to his scores. Similarly, the Spanish-inflected “L’Ultima Corrida” blends more Euro-pop beats with mariachi trumpets, electric guitars, and castanets, creating a fascinating and entertaining blend of styles.

The score for Theorem is completely schizophrenic, but superbly entertaining, and if you can get your head around a score which is a combination of super-challenging 20th century classical scoring with light pop beats and songs, then this might beone worth checking out. The score has been released many times over the years; due to its short running time it is usually combined with other scores as a 2-or-3-for-1 compilation. Other albums include it as part of a longer standalone release that also usually includes several classical pieces by Mozart. The version I have reviewed here is the one released by Japanese label King Records in 1994, which includes the Mozart excerpts. There is also a release from Swedish label Fin de Siècle Media from 2008, which combines the same tracks from Theoreom with music from the scores for the 1969 films La Stagione dei Sensi and Vergogna Schifosi.

Track Listing: 1. Teorema (4:15), 2. Frammenti (2:30), 3. Fruscio de Foglie Verdi (Cantato) (2:25), 4. L’Ultima Corrida (2:40), 5. Beat N. 3 (2:47), 6. Requiem (Mozart) (7:00), 7. Kyrie Eleison (Mozart) (2:40), 8. Rex Tremendae Majestatis (Mozart) (2:56), 9. Confutatis Maledictis (Mozart) (2:45), 10. La Rimosa Quies Ill (Mozart) (3:50), 11. Agnus Dei (Mozart) (3:40). King Records KICP-39, 37 minutes 28 seconds.

 

PARTNER (1968)

Partner is a political drama film written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, 1846 novella The Double: A Petersburg Poem, transposed to Italy and updated to relate to the pro-Vietcong student protests that took place all over Italy at that time. The film stars Pierre Clémenti, Tina Aumont, and Sergio Tofano, and follows a college student named Giaccobe who has a routine life – until he encounters a twin, a dopplegänger, he is not related to. As the two get to know each other Giaccobe discovers that his twin-friend has many appealing qualities he doesn’t have, which inspire him to change his life… but not necessarily for the better.

There have only ever been a handful of tracks from Ennio Morricone’s score for Partner ever released; the most being four, which were included as bonus tracks at the end of the GDM release of the score for La Cina è Vicina in 2004. The first cue on the album, “Splash” is actually a song, written by Morricone with lyricist Audrey Nohra, performed by Peter Boom; the vocals are dreamy and a touch loopy, while the orchestral backing includes a dancing harpsichord, a modern drum kit, and a choir making pigeon noises whispering ‘splash, dash, flash’ in an unexpectedly creepy way. The whole thing seems to be a love letter to soap and bathing, and was clearly written while under the influence of a hallucinogen (actually, one of the characters in the film was a detergent salesmen, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t his jingle)

The score proper begins with “Povero Claudio,” a gentle theme for pianos which is a little wistful and old-fashioned, but ends on a shockingly violent note. The subsequent “Vecchia Hollywood” is a surprisingly lush and romantic piece with an old Hollywood sheen, a touch of Alfred Newman in the languid strings, and brushed snares in the background. The final cue, “Roma Sospesa” is a rhythmic, insistent pulse for choppy strings and hooting woodwinds, that actually reminds me of some of the percussive cello music he would later write for The Untouchables.

Despite being an early film directed by one of Italy’s most famous and acclaimed directors, Partners is almost forgotten today, and much can be said of Morricone’s score. It’s a complete obscurity in a filmography of almost 500 scores, and is pleasant but unremarkable. The song “Splash,” however, is an unintentionally hilarious hoot.

Track Listing: 1. Splash (2:51), 2. Povero Claudio (2:08), 3. Vecchia Hollywood (1:05), 4. Roma Sospesa (3:38). GDM Music 4160, 9 minutes 42 seconds.

 

ROMA COMME CHICAGO (1968)

Roma Comme Chicago is a gritty and hard-boiled crime drama directed by Alberto de Martino. It stars John Cassavetes as Mario, a professional hitman who takes a young, ambitious partner named Enrico (Nikos Kourkoulos). Before long it becomes apparent that Enrico doesn’t have the same code of ethics that Mario does; he makes advances towards Mario’s wife, and then takes over his life by framing Mario for, irocnically, a crime he genuinely didn’t commit. With Mario out of the picture Enrico is unleashed on the city, leaving a trail of deaths behind him. To stop him, Mario teams up with a prison commissioner (Gabriele Ferzetti) to stop him.

Morricone’s score for Roma Comme Chicago has never been released in any format but two cues – “Titoli Movente” and “Una Storia Finita” – have been floating around the secondary market for some time, and can be heard on Youtube. “Titoli Movente” is a masculine driving piece for orchestra and electric guitar, underpinned by a driving percussive groove full of menace and strength; when the harpsichord comes in during the piece’s second half, the effect is superb. On the other hand, “Una Storia Finita” is actually quite lovely, a light, wistful, pseudo-romantic melody for solo trumpet, orchestra, and harpsichord that has a sense of finality and warmth to it, especially when the melody switches to sweeping strings.

I’d be delighted if Roma Comme Chicago was rescued from obscurity by one of the specialist soundtrack labels because, based on the few snippets of score that are available, it sounds like it might be something of a hidden gem, an early mafioso potboiler full of fight, fury, and musical excellence.

 

GLI INTOCCABILI [MACHINE GUN MCCAIN] (1968)

Gli Intoccabili is an Italian crime film directed by Giuliano Montaldo, with whom Morricone previously worked on Ad Ogni Costo in 1967. It stars John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, and Gabriele Ferzetti and tells the story of the titular McCain, a paroled gangster who plans to rob a Las Vegas casino with the help of his son, but soon finds himself caught in the middle of a bitter and violent turf war between members of the West Coast and East Coast mafiosi.

The main thematic idea in the score is an original song, “La Ballata di Hank McCain,” written by Morricone and Audrey Nohra, and sung in English by Jackie Lynton. It’s a dramatic, punchy, hilariously serious song sung with impressive an earnestness that verges on the ludicrous. Morricone had a wonderful knack for writing great music that ultimately gets turned into something ridiculously over-the-top in song form, and this is another one of those – it’s very much in the same vein as “A Gringo Like Me” and others. I love it, but others may find it profoundly ridiculous, and the three different versions of it on the soundtrack may be a little too much

The rest of the score is surprisingly low-key, often comprising smooth jazz instrumentals arranged in a lush orchestral style that occasionally reminds me of 1960s John Barry or Henry Mancini. Cues like “Irene,” “Defilée,” and “Come Quando Fuori Piove” are really quite lovely, blending strings with harpsichords, muted brasses, and shuffling percussion in the former, and featuring semi-tropical rhythms for a prominent marimba in the latter. Later, “Come Lei,” “Sogno Dopo Sogno,” “Senza Parole,” and “Rosemary” all continue with the softly enchanting jazz, each featuring a different lead instrument playing the main melodic line – a bluesy electric guitar in the first track, muted trumpets in the second, piano in the third, and so on.

The one piece that stands out as being very different is the title track, “Gli Intoccabili – Titoli,” a vicious and volatile piece of action-oriented orchestral writing for jazzy cymbals, frantic electric guitars, stabbed piano clusters, and shrill strings, all performed at a rapid, often disorienting pace. It’s a shame that there isn’t more of this in the rest of the score, because it really is quite excellent.

The soundtrack for Gli Intoccabili has been released several times over the years; this review is of the 2010 limited edition release from GDM Records, which takes the a re-mastered version of the original LP soundtrack and adds another 40+ minutes of bonus material, source cues, and alternate takes. The 2001 release by Dagored is a little more concise and digestible, and there is also a 2015 double-CD by Intermezzo Media which combines this score with music from the 1969 giallo La Donna Invisibile.

Track Listing: 1. La Ballata di Hank McCain (2:08), 2. Irene (3:35), 3. Gli Intoccabili – Titoli) (1:38), 4. Defilée (1:52), 5. Come Quando Fuori Piove (2:40), 6. La Ballata di Hank McCain, Part 2 (1:55), 7. Come Lei (4:08), 8. Sogno Dopo Sogno (2:43), 9. Senza Parole (3:57), 10. Rosemary (2:04), 11. La Ballata di Hank McCain, Part 3 (2:46), 12. Las Vegas (1:35) – BONUS, 13. La Ballata di Hank McCain (Off Vocal) (2:09) – BONUS, 14. Sad Waltz (1:54) – BONUS, 15. Party Music (3:40) – BONUS, 16. Dramatic Music #1 (2:15) – BONUS, 17. Music for Evening (2:54) – BONUS, 18. La Ballata di Hank McCain (Off Vocal 2) (1:56) – BONUS, 19. Funny Waltz (1:27) – BONUS, 20. Striptease (4:51) – BONUS, 21. Dramatic Music #2 (5:16) – BONUS, 22. Lounge Fox-Trot (2:33) – BONUS, 23. Rosemary (Alternate Version) (3:05) – BONUS, 24. La Ballata di Hank McCain (Off Vocal 3 (2:47) – BONUS, 25. Epic Waltz (1:32) – BONUS, 26. La Ballata di Hank McCain (Single – Alternate Version) (4:26) – BONUS. GDM 7076, 71 minutes 46 seconds.

 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968)

Arguably one of the greatest westerns ever made, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West – C’Era Una Volta Il West in his native Italian – was his eagerly awaited, and ultimately critically acclaimed follow up to the Clint Eastwood “Dollars” trilogy that he completed with The Good the Bad and the Ugly in 1966. It’s a tale of murder, death, betrayal, and revenge, and focuses on three individuals: Frank, played against type by Henry Fonda; Jill, played by Claudia Cardinale; and a man with no name, played by Charles Bronson, whose defining feature is that he plays the harmonica. Frank is a gunslinger, who has just killed an entire family so that he and his gang can take over the land and exploit the railroad, which is intended to be built nearby. Jill is the new wife of the man who Frank has just killed, and has arrived in town to be with him – only to find her life in ruins thanks to Frank’s ruthlessness. Meanwhile, Harmonica has a vendetta against Frank that goes back years, and intends to exact revenge in any way he can. The film also stars Jason Robards as Cheyenne, another local gunman, and features Gabriele Ferzetti, Woody Strode, Jack Elam, and Lionel Stander in supporting roles. It has a screenplay by Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento – a holy triumvirate of Italian filmmaking talent if ever there was one – and of course features one of Morricone’s most beloved scores.

Leone had Morricone compose the score before shooting started, and played the music in the background for the actors on set to inspire them – and What an inspiration that must have been! The score is based around four main themes for the four main characters, as well as an overarching theme for the film as a whole, and several spectacular one-off set pieces that underscore the violence and betrayal at the heart of the story.

Jill’s theme is the most famous, a glorious and soaring melody that rises from a soft and gentle duet for dulcimer and flute to incorporate a wordless solo soprano by the incomparable Edda dell’Orso, and eventually the full orchestra. It’s a theme of great fragility and beautify, but is also underpinned by a strength and determination that captures her character perfectly; its performances in the opening “C’Era Una Volta Il West,” the sweeping “Arrivo Alla Stazione,” the wistful “L’America di Jill,” the peaceful “Un Letto Troppo Grande,” the sad, almost lost-sounding “In Una Stanza Con Poca Luce,” and the operatic “Finale” remain among the best things Morricone ever wrote, and that’s saying a lot.

Frank’s theme is, naturally, the most sparse and restrained, a tight and uncomfortable melody that uses a repetitive electric guitar motif alongside a harpsichord to convey his brutal, single-minded ruthlessness. It first appears in “L’Uomo,” and then grows to near-operatic heights of tragedy in “Il Grande Massacro,” when Frank and his gang calmly slaughter the entire McCain family in a scene filled with gratuitous slow-motion and uneasy close-ups. Later statements in the regretful, bittersweet “Epilogo” also leave positive impressions.

Harmonica’s theme, as one might expect, is built around that instrument in combination with undulating strings and an electric guitar, but Alessandro Alessandrini’s performance of it is sparse, dissonant, and antagonistic, the flip side to the romantic American west. The harmonica performances bookend a remarkable middle section for choir and orchestra. The theme is most prominent, naturally, in “Armonica,” in “L’Ultimo Rantolo,” and of course in the standout “L’Uomo dell’Armonica,” where the voices really soar.

Finally, Cheyenne’s theme has an almost comedic edge, with percussion items that mimic the hoofbeats of a horse, accompanying a plucky banjo tune. Cues like “La Posada 1,” the eponymous “Cheyenne,” “Sul Tetto del Treno,” and “Addio a Cheyenne” feature Cheyenne’s theme prominently, but Morricone is careful to never let the music – or the character – turn into parody, instead adding a level of uneasiness with minor key strings and frequent glittering harpsicord notes.

While the highlights of The Good the Bad and the Ugly are arguable superior, Once Upon a Time in the West is probably a more well-rounded overall score, and as such it is always in the conversation regarding best western scores, best spaghetti western scores, and the best scores of Morricone’s career. It’s certainly an absolutely vital work that belongs in every self-respecting fan’s collection. The score has, naturally, been released dozens and dozens of times over the years, on alums of varying length and varying sound quality. I have chosen to review the 2014 2-CD limited edition release of the score from GDM/Intermezzo Media, which pairs over an hour of score from this film with almost 40 minutes of music from that other legendary work, A Fistful of Dollars.

Track Listing: 1. C’Era Una Volta Il West (3:43), 2. L’Uomo (1:03), 3. Il Grande Massacro (2:40), 4. Arrivo Alla Stazione (0:55), 5. L’Orchestraccia (2:25), 6. L’America di Jill (2:47), 7. Armonica (2:27), 8. La Posada 1 (1:39), 9. Un Letto Troppo Grande (1:32), 10. Jill (1:47), 11. Frank (1:52), 12. Cheyenne (1:16), 13. La Posada 2 (1:33), 14. La Posada 3 (1:19), 15. Epilogo (1:14), 16. Sul Tetto del Treno (1:19), 17. L’Uomo dell’Armonica (3:30), 18. In Una Stanza Con Poca Luce (5:08), 19. L’Attentato (4:41), 20. Ritorno al Treno (0:57), 21. Morton (1:36), 22. Come Una Sentenza (3:08), 23. Duello Finale (3:35), 24. L’Ultimo Rantolo (1:44), 25. Nascita di Una Città (4:25), 26. Addio a Cheyenne (2:38), 27. Finale (4:00). GDM/Intermezzo Media Records GDM 00804, 64 minutes 52 seconds.

 

IL GRANDE SILENZIO [THE GREAT SILENCE] (1968)

Il Grande Silenzio is a critically acclaimed Spaghetti western directed by the great Sergio Corbucci. The film is set in a snow-bound Utah town in the 1890s and stars French actor Jean Louis Trintignant as a gunslinger named Silence, who has dedicated himself to protecting the weak and downtrodden after witnessing his parents being murdered by bandits as a child; he survived the attack, was rendered mute by the experience, hence his name. Silence gets the opportunity to avenge his past many years later when Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli), the corrupt official who hired the bandits that killed his family, hires a new and even more vicious bounty hunter named Loco (Klaus Kinski) to kill the Utah townspeople as part of an illegal land ownership plot. It’s a complicated story, filled with political undertones, which Corbucci said were intentional commentaries on the then-recent deaths of Che Guevara and Malcolm X.

Morricone’s score for the film is one of his most conventional efforts in the western genre, playing more like a fairly straightforward dark drama without all the quirky ideas and offbeat instrumentation. Perhaps the film’s snowbound location had something to do with it; there is a vein of icy desolation running through much of the score, reflecting both Silence’s isolation and his desire for revenge.

The main theme, as presented in the opening cue “Il Grande Silenzio (Restless)” is actually quite lovely, with a pastoral tone and a lilting melody carried by strings, guitars, and almost imperceptible finger-cymbals like sound like dripping icicles. The vocals that come in during the second half of the piece, adding a layer of warmth and humanity, which is recapitulated later in the lovely “Viaggio”. However, all this warmth this is stripped away later in cues like “E l’Amore Verra,” “Voci Nel Deserto,” and the melancholy “Gli Assassini e la Madre,” which present the theme with a sense of bitterness that matches the film’s bleak, wintry setting. The poignant vocal version of theme in the second of those cues is especially impressive.

The action music in cues like “Passaggi Nel Tempo,” “Barbara e Tagliente,” and is bold and spiky, using offbeat rhythmic ideas, unusual howling vocals, trilling trumpets, and shrill, stabbing woodwinds to raise the tension and create a sense of suspense and imminent danger. There are elements of the main theme in here too, ensuring that Silence’s presence is marked.

There is a love theme too, which first appears in the cue “Invito all’Amore (Silent Love)”. This isn’t your typical romantic love, however; Morricone’s love theme for Silence is anchored by a solo violin accompanied by nervous piano textures, and has a bitter, haunted quality, as if acknowledging that Silence’s disfigurement means he will never truly know that emotion fully. Its performance in the conclusive “L’Ultimo Gesto” begins with a series of sound effects – tapped pianos, shrill strings, gurgling percussion – and gradually increases in intensity before emerging into a shattering variation at around the 3:20 mark that ends the score on an operatic, tragic note.

As is the case with all Morricone scores, Il Grande Silenzio has been released numerous times over the years, on various LPs and CDs across Europe and Asia on numerous different labels. My favored version is the one released by Italian label Beat Records in 1995, which comes with a few bonus tracks of score from the 1969 film Un Bellissimo Novembre.

Track Listing: 1. Il Grande Silenzio (Restless) (2:28), 2. Passaggi Nel Tempo (2:25), 3. E l’Amore Verra (2:00), 4. Barbara e Tagliente (2:02), 5. Prima Che Volino I Corvi (2:31), 6. Immobile (3:28), 7. Viaggio (1:53), 8. Voci Nel Deserto (2:40), 9. Gli Assassini e la Madre (3:20), 10. Invito all’Amore (Silent Love) (4:00), 11. Nel Vecchio Saloon (1:12), 12. L’Ultimo Gesto (4:25), 13. Dopo Il Martirio (01:41). Beat Records CDCR-27, 34 minutes 38 seconds.

 

L’ALIBI (1968)

L’Alibi is an Italian comedy written by, directed by, and starring Adolfo Celi and Vittorio Gassman. It’s a story of societal one-upmanship, bitterness, and jealousy, laced with dark humor, and sees Celi and Gassman meeting up with another old friend (Luciano Lucignani) who has been out of the country for 15 years. As they reveal their mutual histories to each other, having been apart for so long, the three ‘friends’ criticize one another on their achievements, or lack thereof, and begin to re-evaluate their lives.

The score is one of Morricone’s lively 1960s pop scores, most of which is based around several light, breezy, jazzy arrangements of a recurring main theme, naturally called “L’Alibi”. The five ‘shake’ versions of the theme are effortlessly groovy, and often feature Hammond organs and electric guitars backed by a choir, rocking and dancing to the beat, while others are arranged like a samba, an ‘interludio romantico,’ or a ‘marcetta grotesca’.

Others pieces embrace a different light pop/lounge jazz style that is infectious as it is so much of its era. “Immagini del Tempo,” for example, has an unmistakable bossa nova style which Morricone blends with very classical orchestrations for strings, harpsichord, and doo-doo voices. In the various versions of “Belinda May” the choir croons the name of the girl in the title. “Canzone Della Libertà” is an unusual but superbly memorable song performed by the legendary vocalist Sergio Endrigo and I Cantori Moderni di Alessandro Alessandroni, which includes snippets from famous speeches about freedom, and has a bouncy brass-led refrain. “Sognando” even brings out the whistlers.

A few cues do break the mold; “Pennellate” uses harpsichord, strings, and percussion in decidedly unconventional ways to make for an uneasy 2 minutes of listening. Similarly, “Guardando Nel Vuoto” is an off-kilter suspense piece, spiky and agitated, using the same orchestrations as the earlier cue to throw the listener off-balance. “Delicatamente” is a pretty, fragile duet for harpsichord and piano, while “Lo Libero” is an unsettling combination of rumbling timpanis and high, agitated string sustains. Most unusually, “Animaletti” is a tribal piece for electric guitars and jungle drums, with a vocalist repeating the phrase ‘tookoo tookoo tookoo’ over and over again! It’s all very interesting, how it all comes together.

Like all Morricone scores, L’Alibi appears to have been released approximately 19 times over the years by various different labels. This version, released by Dagored in 2007, includes virtually the complete score, plus various bonus cues and alternates. It’s a fun score if you like Morricone’s kitschy catchy Europop style, but others from this time period are more essential.

Track Listing: 1. Immagini del Tempo (2:26), 2. Belinda May (2:57), 3. Canzone Della Libertà (3:04), 4. Allegretto Burlesco (1:43), 5. Pennellate (2:00), 6. L’Alibi (Shake N.1) (2:54), 7. Guardando Nel Vuoto (3:44), 8. Delicatamente (1:08), 9. L’Alibi (Samba) (2:23), 10. Sognando (1:51), 11. Lo Libero (2:10), 12. L’Alibi (Shake N.2) (1:59), 13. Animaletti (1:39), 14. Belinda May (Versione 2) (1:24), 15. Recitazione Corale (1:20), 16. L’Alibi (Samba) (1:11), 17. Una Fotografia (0:52), 18. L’Alibi (Shake N.3) (2:20), 19. In Un Filo d’Erba (2:07), 20. Belinda May (Versione 3) (2:02), 21. L’Alibi (Interludio Romantico) (0:46), 22. L’Alibi (Marcetta Grotesca) (1:18), 23. Immagini del Tempo (Versione 2) (0:56), 24. L’Alibi (Shake N.4) (1:23), 25. Belinda May (Versione 4) (2:55), 26. Una Fotografia (2:34), 27. Canzone Della Libertà (Off Vocal Version) (3:10). Dagored RED-178, 54 minutes 16 seconds.

 

GALILEO (1968)

Galileo is an Italian biopic directed by Liliana Cavani which examines the life of the famed astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei, concentrating specifically on his years-long his clash with the Catholic Church regarding his interpretation of his astronomical observations with the newly invented telescope, which posited that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around – something was considered profoundly heretical and controversial in the 1610s. The film stars Irish actor Cyril Cusack as Galileo, Georgi Kaloyanchev as Galileo’s friend and mentor Giordano Bruno, and Piero Vida as Pope Urban VIII.

Galileo sees Morricone as his most dramatically ecclesiastical, using a large orchestra and an imposing male voice choir to carry the weight of the Catholic church. The wide, open enunciation of the choir are really quite spectacular, and the way Morricone arranges them with deft support from a bank of rich brass, slapping percussion, and sharply stabbed pianos and strings is very impressive. “Galileo Nel Circo” and the conclusive cue, “Galileo,” is probably the best example of this style.

Elsewhere, Morricone cultivates an eerie, mysterious atmosphere that appears steeped in medieval church music and plainsong, using church organs, tolling bells, and voices alongside some quite avant-garde writing for strings and horns; cues like “Sogno Primo,” “Sogno Secondo,” and “Sogno Terzo” are very impressive in this regard. Furthermore, Morricone creates several settings of the ‘new’ medieval hymn “Eresia Defunta Sia,” which features new words by the director Liliana Cavani, and is arranged in a variety of ways that range from romantic to mysterious.

Galileo is a challenging score, but one which I personally admire for its marked difference to other Morricone scores from the period – the classicism, the references to and excerpts from medieval church music, and the adherence to avant garde writing stylistics, are as far away from spaghetti westerns and pop dance grooves as it is possible to be. The score has been released several times over the years – often paired with Morricone’s 1970 score I Cannibali – but this version, released by Digitmovies in 2014, is remastered from the original stereo master tapes, and includes six previously unreleased tracks approved by the composer himself.

Track Listing: 1. Lunare Primo (1:37), 2. Eresia Defunta Sia (1:43), 3. Sogno Primo (1:42), 4. Galileo Nel Circo (1:48), 5. Lunare Secondo (1:14), 6. Meditazione Prima (2:45), 7. Meditazione Seconda (2:17), 8. Sogno Secondo (1:20), 9. Sogno Terzo (0:55), 10. Lunare Terzo (2:46), 11. Galileo (2:37), 12. Eresia Defunta Sia (0:34), 13. Sogno Secondo (0:52), 14. Sogno Primo (1:06), 15. Galileo (2:03), 16. Lunare Secondo (2:30), 17. Galileo (2:11). Digitmovies CDDM-256, 30 minutes 01 seconds.

 

LA MONACA DI MONZA [THE LADY OF MONZA] (1968)

La Monaca di Monza is an Italian drama film from director Eriprando Visconti, based on the famous 1840 novel ‘I Promessi Sposi’ by Alessandro Manzoni. It is loosely based on the real life events of Marianna de Leyva, better known as “The Nun of Monza,” who was a main player in lurid scandal in 16th century Italy when she gave birth to two children fathered by a local aristocrat, and arranged for the murder of another nun in order to cover up the affair. The film stars Anne Heywood as Leyva, Hardy Krüger as the head of her convent Father Arrigone, and Antonio Sabàto as the lascivious aristocrat Giampaolo.

Morricone’s score for the film is built around one of his most haunting main themes, “La Monaca di Monza,” which builds out of some eerie scene-setting in the opening ‘Titoli’ to become a deep, lush, but slightly twisted-sounding viola melody underpinned with nervous piano chords, strings, and a harpsichord. It’s a theme which wants to be rapturously romantic, but never quite gets there, held back by Leyva’s scheming nature. The same melody is arranged as a piece of liturgical choral music for a cut-glass female vocalist ion “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” is then expanded further in the second and third “La Monaca di Monza” cues, which have a more tragic sound to them, again featuring weeping violas and cellos.

Other cues of note include the swooning, but oddly unsettling “Svegliarsi Pensando,” which uses the same instrumental textures as the main theme but carries a different melody, and the more conventionally attractive “Falsa Tranquillitá,” which initially uses a prominent harp to convey a slightly more warm and appealing tone, and then becomes quite expansive during its lush and sweeping finale.

“Quel Giorno” is quite forceful, with a touch of Baroque-flavored action music to represent Leyva’s pursuers from the Spanish Inquisition, while the two “Dopo la Notte” cues feature a variation on the main melody that acts as a lovely pastoral theme for the couple’s ill-fated and ill-conceived child. Finally, in the conclusive “Titoli di Coda,” lets all his melodies sing at their most tender, allowing them to convey the brief romance but ultimate tragedy of the nun of Monza’s life.

The version of La Monaca di Monza reviewed here is the one released by Quartet Records in 2014, paired with another beautiful Morricone romance score La Califfa. The program expands by seven minutes the previous release by Point Records, which was issued in the early nineties and now hard-to-find, and is absolutely recommended to fans of Morricone’s liturgical style.

Track Listing: 1. La Monaca di Monza (Titoli) (2:35), 2. La Monaca di Monza (Gloria in Excelsis Deo) (0:58), 3. Svegliarsi Pensando (0:56), 4. Falsa Tranquillitá (3:04), 5. Notte Non Notte (1:27), 6. Quel Giorno (2:00), 7. Dopo la Notte (1:34), 8. La Monaca di Monza # 2 (0:43), 9. La Monaca di Monza # 3 (2:13), 10. Dopo la Notte # 2 (1:10), 11. Svegliarsi Pensando # 2 (1:42), 12. Canone Per Quattro (0:57), 13. Titoli di Coda (2:27). Quartet Records QR-156, 21 minutes 46 seconds.

 

RUBA AL PROSSIMO TUO [A FINE PAIR] (1968)

Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo – released internationally as A Fine Pair – is an Italian crime-comedy film directed by Francesco Maselli starring Rock Hudson as Mike Harmon, a New York cop who unwittingly gets duped into helping a beautiful thief named Esmeralda (Claudia Cardinale) into carrying out a jewel heist at an Austrian villa.

Morricone’s score for the film is a mostly monothematic work, with that theme being a sweet, romantic Europop lounge melody that captures the playful and sexy relationship between Mike and Esmeralda at the core of the story. As introduced in the first cue, the piece’s defining trait is the dreamy, jazzy vocals I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni, which croon and scat with effortless cool.

The theme is reprised with several variations throughout the score, including one featuring harpsichord, organ, and mandolin; a slow and dreamy version featguring vocals by the legendary Edda dell’Orso, a samba version, a mysterious rhythmic take, a slower variation featuring whistles by Alessandro Alessandroni. In addition to this main theme there is also a classically-inflected minuet for keyboards and strings, enriched again with the operatic vocals of Edda, and a peculiar orchestral samba that begins with the sound of a typewriter and slow increases in scope to encompass the whole orchestra and choir.

Perhaps the main drawback to the score is the rather muffled-sounding archival recording, and the fact that the score comprises seventeen unnamed cues. The score has been released many times over the years, always in the same format; the one I own is the one released by Digitmovies in 2008.

Track Listing: 1. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 1) (2:30), 2. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 2) (1:27), 3. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 3) (2:14), 4. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 4) (2:10), 5. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 5) (3:17), 6. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 6) (2:18), 7. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 7) (2:31), 8. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 8) (2:18), 9. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 9) (2:15), 10. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 10) (2:39), 11. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 11) (2:38), 12. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 12) (3:16), 13. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 13) (1:36), 14. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 14) (1:39), 15. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 15) (1:46), 16. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 16) (2:55), 17. Ruba Al Prossimo Tuo (Seq. 17) (3:44). Digitmovies CDDM-109, 41 minutes 13 seconds.

 

UN TRANQUILLO POSTO DI COMPAGNA [A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY] (1968)

Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna – released in the US as A Quiet Place in the Country – is an Italian horror thriller film directed by Elio Petri, based on the short story “The Beckoning Fair One” by Oliver Onions. The film stars Franco Nero as Leonardo, an artist who relocates to a rural villa with his girlfriend Flavia (Vanessa Redgrave), where he begins to experience increasingly terrifying, apparently supernatural events. Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna is notable for the fact that it is the first universally-recognized ‘giallo’ film that Morricone scored in his career – a sub-genre within his filmography that would later go on to encompass such groundbreaking titles as L’Uccello Dalle Piume di Cristallo, Una Lucertola Con la Pelle di Donna, and Quatre Mosche di Velluto Grigio, among many others.

This score, ladies and gentlemen, is Ennio Morricone at his most inaccessible. It’s a score made up almost entirely of string experimentations and improvisations, inspired by the work he did with his colleagues in Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, namely Franco Evangelisti, Mario Bertoncini, Egisto Macchi, John Heineman, and Walter Branchi. While I’m sure that, from a musicologists point of view, this score contains all manner of intellectual and complicated harmonies and patterns and performance techniques, I really don’t have the vocabuilary or intellect to grasp them; it genuinely sounds like 30 minutes of random noise and dissonance, plucked and struck and scraped with nary a melody to speak of. I’m sure it captures the essence of the film perfectly, creating an alienating and increasingly horrifying atmosphere, but as a standalone listen it virtually impossible to connect with.

If you want to listen to anything, listen to the seven-minute opening cue “Musica Per Undici Violini,” which essentially an overarching compilation of everything else in the score. Of the other cues, “Vuoi Essere Felice?” has a little more tonal consonance, with a hallucinatory dream-like sound; “Il Fantasma di Wanda” and “I Sogni dell’Artista” enhance the strings with moaning, wailing, ghostly voices; they become almost orgasmic during the middle section of the disconcerting but mesmerizing “Fantasma”. Later, “Delirio Primo,” “Frenesia,” and “Delirio Secondo” add rumbling percussive sounds to the pre-established palette.

The soundtrack album for Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna has been released several times over the years – it’s apparently very popular with musical mashochists – and the version I have is the one released by the Spanish label Saimel in 2003, which includes the entire 30 minute score, plus an additional 34-minute single track titled “Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna Suite,” and which is credited to the entire Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, which is weirdness taken to the most extreme levels possible. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Track Listing: 1. Musica Per Undici Violini (6:51), 2. Vuoi Essere Felice? (0:38), 3. Il Fantasma di Wanda (1:59), 4. L’Automobile Della Contessina (1:15), 5. I Sogni dell’Artista (1:59), 6. Fantasma (6:51), 7. Do Naturale (0:39), 8. Delirio Primo (2:36), 9. I Sogni dell’Artista II (1:58), 10. Frenesia (0:58), 11. Delirio Secondo (2:37), 12. Lo Spirito di Wanda (0:55), 13. Un Amore Violento (1:02), 14. Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna Suite (composed and performed by Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza – Franco Evangelisti, Mario Bertoncini, Egisto Macchi, Ennio Morricone, John Heineman, and Walter Branchi) (34:39). Saimel 3994710, 64 minutes 57 seconds.

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