Home > Reviews > ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part IX

ENNIO MORRICONE REVIEWS, Part IX

February 7, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

In this ninth installment of my series looking at the early careers of iconic composers, we take a look at half a dozen scores written by the legendary Ennio Morricone in 1970. The scores include an intense action thriller, a revenge-themed war film, a historical epic drama that sounds like a dance party, an abstract score for a crime drama, and two scores containing what many people consider to be two of his all-time greatest themes, one of which is my personal all time favorite Morricone love theme!

 

CITTÀ VIOLENTA [VIOLENT CITY] (1970)

Città Violenta is an Italian-French action film directed by Sergio Sollima, starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland and Telly Savalas. Bronson plays professional assassin Jeff Heston, who is holidaying in the Virgin Islands with his mistress Vanessa (Ireland), but is shot and left for dead by an unknown assailant. Heston survives, but is imprisoned after being framed for a murder he did not commit; years later, Heston is released from prison and tracks Vanessa to New Orleans, where he finds that she is now married to Weber (Savalas), the crime boss who framed him. However, when Heston refuses to join Weber’s gang, the hunter becomes the hunted, and he finds himself running for his life through the Big Easy.

Ennio Morricone’s score is built around two recurring main themes. The first, “Città Violenta,” is a dirty and gritty theme for orchestra, wailing guitars, and darkly insistent pianos, which gradually emerges into a strident melody that many may see as a forerunner to the theme he wrote for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight some 45 years later. The use of a nervous dulcimer in the theme’s second half is vintage Morricone, and the whole thing speaks to Heston’s dangerous lifestyle. The second recurring theme, “Con Estrema Dolcezza,” is a love theme for Heston and Vanessa, and is a quintessential romantic melody for strings and woodwinds, although the unusual addition of an echoing guitar in the background gives it an unexpectedly menacing quality.

The rest of the score is built out from the stylistics of these two ideas. Cues like “Rito Finale” and “Norme Con Ironie” offer more low-key variations on the main Città Violenta theme. Elsewhere, pieces like “Mille Volte Un Grido” are abstract and dissonant suspense tracks for banks of throbbing guitars and unusual synthetic textures, while other cues such as “Momento Estremo” are softer and more intimate, often featuring prominent performances from woodwinds and harpsichord. There are also one or two groovy light rock action tracks – “Svolta Definitiva,” “Disperatamente” – that enhance further the grittiness of the New Orleans setting, with “Disperatamente” being especially notable for its strange, breathless vocals.

The soundtrack to Città Violenta has been released many times over the years. The version reviewed here is the one released by Italian label GDM Records in 2012; the main theme also features on many of the dozens of Morricone compilation albums released over the years.

Track Listing: 1. Città Violenta (2:24), 2. Rito Finale (3:05), 3. Mille Volte Un Grido (2:31), 4. Città Violenta #2 (1:17), 5. Momento Estremo (3:18), 6. Con Estrema Dolcezza (2:41), 7. Svolta Definitiva (4:37), 8. Norme Con Ironie (3:55), 9. Riflessione (1:27), 10. Disperatamente (2:53), 11. Rito Finale #2 (1:29), 12. Con Estrema Dolcezza #2 (3:08), 13. Rito Finale #3 (2:34), 14. Città Violenta #3 (2:40), 15. Dolcemente Acre (3:15), 16. Città Violenta #4 (4:52), 17. Sospensione Sovrapposta (1:40), 18. A Caissa (2:24), 19. Città Violenta #5 (5:00), 20. Con Estrema Dolcezza #3 (1:09), 21. Riassunto (3:07). GDM/Legend 4218, 59 minutes 26 seconds.

 

HORNETS’ NEST (1970)

Hornets’ Nest is an action war film directed by Phil Karlson and starring Rock Hudson, Sylva Koscina, and Sergio Fantoni. The film is set in Northern Italy in 1944 and follows a group of teenage boys who survive a massacre perpetrated by the Nazi army in their village. The oldest of the boys, Aldo, vows revenge against the Germans, and finds an opportunity to do that when he rescues American Army captain Turner (Hudson), the only survivor of a paratroop regiment that is ambushed by the Nazis. Aldo kidnaps Bianca Freedling (Koscina), a German doctor, to nurse Turner back to health, and then convinces Turner to train him and his friends in the use of military weapons and tactics.

Morricone scored the film with just one main theme – an overarching classical theme for gentle woodwinds and tinkling dulcimers first heard in the first half of the “Main Titles,” which then gradually morphs into an unusually light pop arrangement in which the main melody is whistled. The theme reappears frequently throughout the score – it receives especially notable statements in the third cue “Bianca, the German Doctor,” and then later in “Dialogue With the Boys” and “Death of a Boy,” among others. The main theme is surprisingly light, considering the nature of the film, but it does reflect the young protagonists well, lamenting for their loss of innocence in the face of Nazi aggression. Interestingly, Captain Turner does not have a thematic idea of his own – the entire score is focused on Aldo and the children, and their quest for redemption.

When theme is not present Morricone tends to score the action and suspense with a series of atmospheric pieces for string sustains and uneasy-sounding dissonant colors; good examples of this atmospheric writing can be heard in tracks such as “Guns in the Tunnel,” “Radio Research,” and “The Dike,” which adds to the tension with an electric guitar. Perhaps the best action cue is “Blowing the Dam,” which features slightly more expansive orchestral textures, and becomes quite taut and anxious as it develops.

Hornet’s Nest was one of the more obscure scores in Morricone’s 1970s filmography for many years, available only via bootlegs, until it was released by Spanish label Quartet Records in 2010, building off an earlier release from Lukas Kendall and Film Score Monthly as part of the 2008 MGM Soundtrack Treasury box set. It’s a minor work in Morricone’s filmography, but will be interesting to completists, and the main theme is pretty.

Track Listing: 1. Main Titles (2:08), 2. Looking for a Partisan Doctor (:27), 3. Bianca, the German Doctor (5:02), 4. Guns in the Tunnel (1:55), 5. Radio – Research (2:05), 6. Opening Window (1:27), 7. Radio – Contacting (1:42), 8. The Dike (:55), 9. Research in the Wood (2:08), 10. Bianca and Turner (1:13), 11. Dialogue Doctor-American Soldier (1:30), 12. Dialogue with the Boys (1:18), 13. Boys Running to the River (2:08), 14. Blowing the Dam (6:31), 15. Death of a Boy (:36), 16. Boy and German Officer Fighting (1:20), 17. End Titles (3:44), 18. Research in the Wood (Alternate) (2:08), 19. Dialogue Doctor-American Soldier (Film Version) (1:23), 20. Boy and German Officer Fighting (Alternate) (1:20), 21. End Titles (Single Edit) (2:31). Quartet Records QRSCE-011, 43 minutes 31 seconds.

 

I CANNIBALI (1970)

I Cannibali is a historical epic drama film directed by Liliana Cavani, based on the classic Greek tragedy of Antigone by the playwright Sophocles. The film stars Britt Ekland as Antigone, the daughter of King Oedipus and Queen Jocasta, who returns to her home city following the death of her father, ostensibly to stop a prophecy regarding the deaths of her brothers from coming to pass. However, when she arrives she finds that the throne has been seized by her uncle Creon, that her brothers are already dead, and that the streets of the city are full of dead bodies – bodies that Creon has ordered not to be buried as a warning to any potential rebels within the city. However, Antigone still tries to bury her brothers, sparking a confrontation with her uncle that has terrible consequences for all.

I Cannibali was the second of three collaborations between Cavani and Morricone, after Galileo in 1968. The score opens with a truly bizarre pop song, “Cannibal,” performed in English with proto punk-rock intensity by vocalist Don Powell. The lyrics are truly outrageous (“call me a cannibal, I won’t die… savage cannibal… crazy cannibal… pagan cannibal… I’ll just fly away on my sky blue horse”). It’s absolutely anachronistic for the film’s setting, and utterly bonkers in context, but it’s also completely rooted in that quintessential Morricone 70s sound, and so will likely appeal to devotees. There are several versions of the “Cannibal” melody later in the score.

The most prominent secondary theme is called “Song of Life,” and first appears a languid lounge-rock arrangement in the second cue featuring a prominent Hammond organ, and picks up the full choir of Alessandro Alessandrini’s Cantori Moderni, so much so that by the end it shares a lot of similarity with the superb ‘Abolição” cue from 1969’s Queimada. There are several restatements of this theme too, including a longer version for wordless vocals, and variations for electric piano and a more robust instrumental complement.

The rest of the score continues very much in this light rock/pop/lounge vein, with different melodic ideas emerging from similar arrangements comprising strings, organs, guitars, woodwinds, drum kit percussion, and dream-like vocals. Cues like “Senza Possiblitá d’Uscita,” the quixotic and flower-powery “Dove Sei, Dove Siete Voi,” and the groovy “Ricerca del Fratello” follow these stylistics, while the more upbeat and energetic “Scherzo Rondo” is a sort of mock-baroque piano piece enlivened with hi-hat cymbals and, eventually, wa-wa-wa vocals.

There have been a few releases of I Cannibali over the years. The one reviewed here is the one released on the Italian Digitmovies label in 2009, which expands the original CAM release to almost an hour of toe-tapping psychedelia. Quite what all this has to do with classical Greek tragedy and cannibalism is anyone’s guess, but it’s inexplicably entertaining, nonetheless.

Track Listing: 1. Cannibal (Vocal Versione Lunga) (3:56), 2. Song of Life (Versione Organo) (4:45), 3. Senza Possibilitá d’Uscita (2:10), 4. Dove Sei, Dove Siete Voi (2:17), 5. Scherzo Rondo (2:26), 6. Song of Life (2:51), 7. Ricerca del Fratello (1:51), 8. Marcia dei Can Can (1:56), 9. Song of Life (Vocal Versione Lunga) (4:48), 10. Dove Sei, Dove Siete Voi (Versione Organo) (2:17), 11. Scherzo Rondo (Versione 2) (2:17), 12. Song of Life (Versione Piano Elettrico) (2:51), 13. Marcia dei Can Can (Versione 2) (1:17), 14. Cannibal (Shake) (1:11), 15. Song of Life (Versione Strumenti) (4:48), 16. Dove Sei, Dove Siete Voi (Versione Oboe) (2:15), 17. Song of Life (Versione Organo 2) (2:51), 18. Cannibal (Versione Chitarra) (3:37). Digitmovies CDDM-128, 50 minutes 24 seconds.

 

LA TENDA ROSSA [THE RED TENT] (1970)

The Red Tent is a Russian/Italian drama film directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, adapted from the novel by Yuri Nagibin. The film stars Sean Connery as Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen, and tells the true story of how he led an expedition to rescue his great rival Umberto Nobile (Peter Finch), one of the survivors of an airship crash off the coast of Svalbard in 1928, but lost his life in the process. The film co-starred Claudia Cardinale and Hardy Krüger and, interestingly, Ennio Morricone was not the original composer on the film; Russian musician Aleksandr Zatsepin originally wrote the score for the film’s domestic release in the Soviet Union in 1969, but his music was replaced with a new score by Morricone for the film’s international release the following year.

Morricone’s main theme for The Red Tent is often cited by aficionados as one of the most beautiful themes of his entire career, and it’s not hard to see why. This “Tema d’Amore” is a gorgeous, haunting, searching lament for a bank of strings that gradually grows to enormous proportions of effortless beauty, especially when the heavenly sound of soprano soloist Edda dell’Orso enters the cue after around 80 seconds. This combination of graceful religioso strings and angelic vocals is a classic Morricone sound that has been heard in many scores over the years, but The Red Tent is truly one of the best.

The rest of the score, as one might imagine, pales in comparison to this staggering opening, but there are still numerous highlights to be found. A more earnest, forthright melody emerges in the second cue “La Tenda Rossa,” but this is interrupted with some stark, dramatic strings and woodwinds that speak to the danger of Amundsen’s quest to find Nobile. The subsequent “Morte al Polo” is a surging, similarly dramatic action cue for interlocking rhythmic string ideas, interspersed with lovely statements of the main theme that enhance the sense of tragedy and loss, as well as some effective ghostly choral ideas. “Un Amore Come la Neve” revisits the main theme with more emphasis on the brass, “Messagio da Roma” is a clever suspense cue that features the piano hammering out morse code, and the “Finale” is a solemn coda that builds to an appropriately elegant and emotional climax.

The soundtrack ends with a massive 22-minute piece entitled “Altri, Dopo di Noi” – “Others, Who Will Follow Us” – an extended piece of dense and challenging dissonance which occasionally emerges into frenetic trombone-heavy action music that underscores some the intense rescue sequences (listen to that explosion of brass at the 10:00 mark), and more allusions to morse code, before it eventually drifts away into icy nothingness. I would love for this suite – which is actually a massive edit of several short cues together – to be split out into more digestible chunks, because many individual moments are superb, but they tend to be buried in the middle of this dissonant behemoth that is challenging to get through.

As one would expect given its popularity, the score for The Red Tent has been released many times over the years. My preferred version is the one released by Italian label Legend Records in 1994, although the 2010 expanded release from the same label is also recommended.

Track Listing: 1. Tema d’Amore (3:31), 2. La Tenda Rossa (2:30), 3. Morte al Polo (4:11), 4. Un Amore Come la Neve (2:12), 5. Messagio da Roma (1:40), 6. Sono Vivi (1:39), 7. Addio (2:51), 8. Altri, Dopo di Noi (22:20). Legend CD15, 40 minutes 54 seconds.

 

INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970)

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion [Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto] is an Italian crime drama directed by Elio Petri, starring Gian Maria Volonté and Florinda Bolkan. Volanté plays a police inspector who kills his mistress, and then tests whether the police would charge him for the crime by manipulating the investigation and planting obvious which obviously point to him as the suspect – but despite this, he is never arrested or even accused of the crime. The film is intended to be an expose of police corruption in the Italian judicial system and was a critically acclaimed success, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in that year.

Morricone’s score is actually one of his most famous and popular from the period, as its main theme has been featured in concerts and included on numerous compilation albums over the years. The theme is peculiar, sort of like a twisted carnival march, with an intense dance-like rhythmic core that begins with a harp, moves to a de-tuned piano, and finishes in the strings, all while being surrounded by an array of twanging, plinking, and plonking textures that range from a Jew’s harp to an acoustic guitar. It’s relentless, obsessive-compulsive feel is actually perfect for the tone of the film, but quite how Morricone came up with this sound for this film is unimaginable – true testament to his creativity and genius.

The theme is prominent in many other cues, receiving especially notable statements in “Ripresa l´Indagine,” “Taglio Primo,” and “Indagine,” albeit with occasionally different instrumental textures carrying the main rhythmic idea. There is a recurring secondary theme too, entitled “Miraggio,” which begins as a bass passacaglia and slowly, intently picks up a Hammond organ, sly strings, and several of the main theme’s twangy enhancements, although the tone of the piece feels a little less jovial, perhaps a little more sultry, alluding to the more sinister aspects of the inspector’s murderous activities. The rhythmic ideas in the “Miraggio” theme occasionally remind me of the whimsical theme Elmer Bernstein wrote for Ghostbusters in 1984, if that tells you anything about its tone.

The rest of the score is essentially a series of variations on these two themes, and thankfully the score is only 29 minutes long, which means that the whole thing is over before it gets too repetitive and wholly wears out its welcome. The soundtrack album reviewed here is the 2007 Cinevox release which presents the original 11-track soundtrack album in mono, but then pads the album out with 15 minutes of alternate takes, plus an additional 21 minutes of stereo mixes that essentially repeat all the same material. Most people won’t need even half of this, but it’s good that this iconic Morricone has been preserved with such loving care.

Track Listing: 1. Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto (3:26), 2. Ripresa l´Indagine (1:10), 3. Taglio Primo (2:07), 4. Indagine (4:31), 5. Miraggio Seconda (3:22), 6. Indagine Insabbiata (2:05), 7. Miraggio Terzo (1:55), 8. Miraggio (2:31), 9. Taglio Secondo (1:25), 10. Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto (4:08), 11. Miraggio (Versione Singolo Lato B) (2:00), 12. Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto (Alt. Take #2) (2:55), 13. Miraggio (Alt. Take #2) (1:53), 14. Taglio Primo (Alt. Take #2) (1:33), 15. Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto (Unused Take) (3:11), 16. Taglio Scondo (Alt. Take #2) (:57), 17. Miraggio Secondo (Lat. Take #2) (2:45), 18. Taglio Primo (Alt. Take #3) (1:45), 19. Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto (Titoli Stereo Mix) (3:26), 20. Indagine Insabbiata (Alt. Take #2 Stereo Mix) (2:04), 21. Miraggio (Alt. Take #3 Stereo Mix) (3:24), 22. Indagine (Alt. Take #2 Stereo Mix) (4:31), 23. Taglio Primo (Alt. Take #4 Stereo Mix) (2:05), 24. Taglio Secondo (Alt. Take #3) (1:26), 25. Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto (Finale Stereo Mix) (4:09). Cinevox CDMDF-617, 64 minutes 44 seconds.

 

LA CALIFFA (1970)

La Califfa – the Lady Caliph – is an Italian drama film written and directed by Alberto Bevilacqua, starring Romy Schneider and Ugo Tognazzi. The film is about civil unrest and class warfare, and sees Schneider playing a woman named Irene Corsini. When her husband is killed by the police in a violent clash during a strike, Irene becomes the militant leader of a group of downtrodden factory workers, and finds herself becoming engaged in an increasingly bitter struggle with Doberdò (Tognazzi), a former colleague of her husband who is now the manager of the factory at the center of the strike. However, unknown to the other workers, Irene also begins a stormy love affair with Doberdò that threatens to derail her cause.

Of all the gorgeous love themes Ennio Morricone wrote in his career, the one from La Califfa is my favorite. It’s central presentation, in the cue “La Califfa,” is one of those pieces which just makes you melt. A rich, sonorous oboe introduces the melody, which drips with romantic affection and swooning tenderness, before switching to lyrical bank of strings, to carry the piece on. A subtle, almost subliminal piano countermelody adds depth, the briefest interlude for soft horns changes the color of the piece, and then the oboe returns, giving the relationship between Irene and Doberdò the most bittersweet of musical resolutions – a forbidden passion that they both want but cannot have. I could listen to this theme all day; it’s the side of Morricone I love the most.

Of course, there are other aspects to the score too. “Sangue sull’Asfalto” is a dramatically intense piece that features tolling bells, harsh electronic stabs, and a religioso orchestral sound to make the death of Irene’s husband all the more tragic; the theme from this cue appears later on several other occasions, including in the moving “Sotto la Pioggia,” “Addio Alla Fabbrica,” and “Ricordo Di Un Amico,” where the theme is rendered on an acoustic guitar underpinned with urgent piano lines.

Later,“Requiem Per Un Operaio” is a disorienting mass of overlapping voices; “La Donna Al Fiume” is an emotionally intense combination of more rolling pianos, elegant woodwinds, and gorgeous soprano work from the ubiquitous Edda dell’Orso; “La Pace Interiore” is a liturgical church organ piece; “Dentro La Macchina” revisits the rolling piano motif with a more dissonant accompaniment; “La Cena” and “Prima e Dopo L’Amore” do the same, but with a heartbreaking viola solo at the core. “L’Impatto” is perhaps the closest the score gets to having an action cue, in which a deconstructed take on the secondary theme is underpinned with harsh snare drum rhythms, tolling bells, and a strumming mandolin.

The version of La Califfa that I own is the one released by the Italian label Screentrax in 2000, but there are several others which provide an excellent overview of the score, including an expanded release from Quartet Records that came out in 2004 and pairs the score with music from the 1969 film La Monaca di Monza. Whichever one you choose, this is an essential Morricone work, with one of his most beautiful main themes.

Track Listing: 1. Sangue Sull’asfalto (2:35), 2. La Califfa (2:37), 3. Requiem Per Un Operaio (2:23), 4. Sotto La Pioggia (1:46), 5. Le Donne Al Fiume (1:04), 6. La Pace Interiore (1:15), 7. Dentro La Macchina (2:52), 8. Addio Alla Fabbrica – Movie Version (1:04), 9. Ricordo Di Un Amico (1:38), 10. Le Donne Al Fiume (#2) (1:07), 11. La Cena (2:43), 12. Notturno (1:01), 13. La Donna e La Campagna (3:41), 14. Prima e Dopo L’Amore (1:57), 15. Gelo e Disprezzo (1:19), 16. Trittico Per Organo (3:30), 17. Fari Nella Notte (:57), 18. L’Impatto (1:38), 19. La Pace Interiore (#2) (1:26), 20. La Donna e L’Agente (2:38), 21. Addio Alla Fabbrica – Album Version (1:04), 22. La Califfa #2 (10:11), 23. Finale (2:16). Screentrax CDST-323, 52 minutes 42 seconds.

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