Posted Mon Jul 6, 2020 at 07:35 AM PDT by Matthew Hartman
Oscar-winning legendary composer Ennio Morricone died today in Rome at 91 years old after what is being reported as complications from a broken leg from a fall. The Italian maestro lent his unique skills and compositions to over 500 television and film projects. Perhaps best remembered for his contributions to Sergio Leone’s westerns, Morricone was an adept composer seamlessly moving between genres from action gangster films like The Untouchables to horror science fiction like The Thing to sweeping period epics like The Mission.
Growing up the way I did with the father I had, The Good The Bad and The Ugly theme was just as recognizable to me as the opening of any Star Wars film. Once I got my own CD player in my room, I quickly stole my father’s copy of Leone’s seminal score and would listen to it every night before bed. Long about the time where Tuco was being beaten to the tune “The Story of a Soldier” is when I’d drift off to sleep only to be woken up by the beautiful “The Ecstasy of Gold.” Later Yo-Yo Ma would collaborate with Morricone to craft Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone – a collection of the composer's greatest tunes beautifully orchestrated for Yo-Yo Ma’s cello – if you’ve never heard it check it out.
To this day whenever I’m watching a classic catalog title I’ve never seen and I hear some of those familiar note progressions I instantly get excited. Seeing his name in the opening credits elevates nearly every movie he lent his talents to. That doesn’t mean every movie to feature his music was amazing – I still have issues with The Hateful Eight but I love that brooding score that also incorporated cut music cues from John Carpenter’s The Thing soundtrack. It’s often a struggle for me to pick just one iconic score from his oeuvre, but his Spaghetti Western scores are stalwarts in my collection. I once paid far too much to acquire an out-of-print release of his Navajo Joe only for it to get a deluxe re-release at a quarter the price. Such is life.
The Sergio Leone Westerns
With Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon A Time in the West and Fistful of Dynamite – they’re all iconic pieces of music for these seminal westerns. It’s nearly impossible to choose one over the other so this collection from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is the best way to enjoy all of these great movies and Ennio’s music.
John Carpenter’s The Thing
It’s shocking to me that 38 years ago this now-classic science fiction horror film wasn’t only a titanic flop at the box office but Ennio Morricone’s hypnotic and brooding score was nominated for Worst Musical Score at the 1983 Razzie Awards! Granted, it’s the least “Morricone” sounding of Morricone’s music but just as The Thing wouldn’t be the same without the incredible Rob Bottin creature effects, it wouldn’t be the same without the music.
The Hateful Eight
As I said earlier I don’t particularly like this film – least of all in it’s truncated theatrical version – Morricone hit it out of the park with the score. I can watch the movie because the score is terrific. Just 11 years prior Morricone had been recognized with an Honorary Oscar – only for him to finally and justifiably win one for this film.
Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick has always brought a lyrical fluid visual quality to his films that lend naturally to whatever composer happens to be working with him. Such is the case with Ennio’s work here. It’s a sweeping piece and unlike anything he composed for the Italian Westerns. It’s romantic and grand – “The Harvest” is a particularly beautiful piece I often listen to while I work.
Alright, things don’t get much more badass and “Morricone” than this film’s opening track “The Strength of the Righteous” – that jazzy dissonant piano with steady snare, it gets the hairs standing on the back of your neck right out of the gate. Then you get the “Al Capone” suite that almost comically depicts his opulence with a full orchestra. The “Death Theme” also hits hard when two essential characters are murdered in the film. It’s just a great score that fits the film beautifully.
Roland Joffé’s adventure drama demanded an epic score and Morricone delivered. It’s sweeping in its majesty conveying the scope of the film filling each scene with romantic overtures and leaning into the necessary action beats. “Gabriel’s Oboe” is a particular favorite piece of mine.
Burt Reynolds may have absolutely hated working on this film calling it one of the worst movies he was in – but I love it! It’s an action-fueled western that has a delightful pulp quality that only Sergio Corbucci could deliver to the screen. Capping it off is another engaging score from Morricone. That theme whenever Joe caps off one of the bad guys is glorious and beautifully used by Tarantino for Kill Bill.
This 2000 romantic comedy is delightful as it captures the excitement of a young man falling for an older woman. Plus it features Monica Bellucci in the lead and what better way to highlight her beauty than this wonderful piece of music? It’s not an action score. It’s not an epic. It’s simple and delightful and probably his most playful composition. The jangly guitar and strings are familiar and signature Morricone, but everything is just pure whimsy and a delightful listen. Sadly, this has yet to get a Blu-ray release here in the states, but it’s worth seeking out just for the music.
Obviously, it’s impossible to quantify a career as expansive as Ennio Morricone. Working up until the day of his injury, the iconic composer showed no signs of slowing down. He leaves behind an incredible library of music that can be enjoyed over and over again. Everyone has a favorite Morricone score – what’s yours?
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