Soundtrack: Three From Morricone

Three Soundtracks From Morricone

Ennio Morricone could be the most versatile musician of the modern age. The more I delve into the soundtrack music of who may be the most prolific film composer of all time I am astonished by the breadth of his musical imagination.

It’s nothing short of marvelous to hear him break his own compositional template with every film assignment. I collect a lot of soundtracks, and there is one compilation of Morricone’s from the CAM Soundtracks label that I like a lot which highlights this diversity of style and willingness to custom tailor the score to the material.  

It’s all the more remarkable that Morricone declined the opportunity to do hack jobs on the scores for these three films – Professione Figlio (EN: Venetian Lies), La Banda J. S. Cronica Criminale del Far West (EN: Sonny & Jed), and Le Monachine – and instead delivered scores full of sensitivity and invention.

The opening track of this comp is the main theme of Professione Figlio – a gorgeous melody with stately pacing and orchestration that makes me feel that, were it attached to an international hit on the level of something from Fellini or Coppola, it would be in for pops soundtrack repertory for orchestras the world over. I haven’t seen this film under either title (I’ve discovered no presence of this film on streaming networks or YouTube) but from what I know of the plot the rest of the score is sensitively rendered and evocative of the action as best I can imagine it. 

The score to La Banda J. S. Cronica Criminale del Far West (EN: Sonny & Jed) is a strange beast. The music is more interesting than the film it accompanies, which is as shoddily produced a spaghetti western as ever was made. Call it a Ragu Western. The main characters can’t stop mugging, the lovers-on-the-run story is stale, the plot is cartoonish, and the horrid dubbing is off-putting in the extreme. It does get more interesting when Telly Savalas shows up to track the outlaw couple while sporting a collection of sunglasses and stylish coats (the silver-grey chinchilla number with black highlights is particularly memorable) and blowing off a lot of ammo with his long barreled .45. I guess the thing is supposed to be camp as hell but I will tell you it’s pretty rough going.

Listen to the oddball soundtrack instead, which is well suited to the nuttiness (an out-of-tune piano interlude is a match for the mood of things) but generally rises well above the film it was meant to accompany. The ‘Sonny’ main theme has Morrcone’s singular orchestration of that period and traverses an interesting contrast of moods. And in ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’, which sounds like a mashup of Aaron Copland and Carl Stalling…. Check the berserk slide guitar – I’d swear that was Pat Place!

The third film, Le Monachine, a slight comedy about some nuns protesting an airport that is routing planes too near their monastery, is easier on the eyes and ears. The score is a pretty little thing that employs at its core an elegantly simple combo of harp, harpsichord, combo organ and trap kit augmented her and there by piano, flute and electric guitar. The music is feather-light, the mood serene. This one shows so well that Morricone could really apply the touch when needed. 

Ok so here I am writing about the musical scores of a trio of films that I’m indifferent about and that few people will ever have the patience to sit through. You may understandably ask me: WHY do I bother?

And the answer would be that I have owned these recordings for years and have listened to them all quite frequently for their above-stated virtues. And that’s the point – Ennio Morricone’s work in film transcends the medium and is of such musicality and originality that they stand on their own as compelling instrumental music. And I can’t think of many film composers I can say that about.