Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Fistful of Dollars (Morricone, 1964)

     Largely considered the first important "spaghetti western" (and the first collaboration between composer Ennio Morricone and director Sergio Leone), this film (Italian: "Per un pugno di dollari") is also the first of 3 iconic films involving Clint Eastwood as an American gunslinger in a "fake" Western (an Italian production shot in Spain).

     In this first "Dollars Trilogy" film, Morricone is credited with a pseudonym ("Dan Savio"), and today doesn't think much of the score (or the film), but I think this soundtrack qualifies as the first of the quintessential spaghetti western scores.  The use of whistles, acoustic and electric guitars, recorders, whips, anvil, etc... all contributed to creating a fresh sound-world at the time.  The "Torture" cue also features what sounds like free improvisation, which Morricone explored in his free music combo "Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza".

     There have been a few releases of the soundtrack to "A Fistful of Dollars" over the years, but, aside from a rare bootleg complete score, the best release is the 17 track GDM release, which is also on iTunes fortunately (link at bottom).  All of the major themes are present on this disc (and in fact the "Torture" cue kind of goes on too long for my tastes, considering that that is basically a form of sound design in my opinion).  An interesting interview with Morricone can be read here.
Trk Title
Film Sequence
1 Main Title
Title sequence, Joe rides into a small village in the middle of the wilderness (the Rojos' "small house").
Whistled main theme over guitar rhythm, then building with percussion/bells, chorus ("We can fight"), electric guitar, strings, brass etc, with a brief choral/violin interlude at 1:36 (later developed in "Ride").
2 Nearly Dead
(Quasi Morto, 1:40)
A bandit (Chico) gives Joe a warning look to ignore the unsavory activities going on.  Joe catches the eye of an imprisoned woman, Marisol. (also used when the Baxter men shoot at Joe's mule).
Piano builds on guitar part of main title, violin/recorder/harmonica plays counter melody.  
Joe rides past a seemingly dead man on a horse with the sign "Adios Amigo" on his back. ("I've never seen a town as dead as this one.").  Later, a faster variation (unreleased) is used after Joe shoots the Baxter men.
"My mistake.  Four coffins."
At 0:50, a more relaxed variation of the opening whistle/guitar texture returns, followed by a violin/cello answer.   The fast, descending recorder/piccolo figure at 0:54 is a kind of "Joe" signature figure
3 Suspense Music
(Musica Sospesa.
After Joe signs up with the Rojos, Chico shows him to his room.  Joe eavesdrops on the Rojos.
Atmospheric suspense texture, with notable elements being muffled electric guitar, piano clusters, harmonica, and variations of the "Joe" motif
4 Square Dance (1:36)
An army troop arrives escorting a stagecoach with something valuable inside (gold for a Gatling gun purchase).
Rustic, staccato strings supported by electric guitar/timpani/bongo downbeats, varying in intensity
5 Ramon
After killing off the army troop, Ramon emerges from behind his Gatling gun.  He shoots a fleeing soldier with a shotgun.
"Stagecoaches are an uncomfortable way to travel."
Sinister string chords with timpani/snare accents, joined by brass, guitar, a brief wind interlude, recap
6 Consuelo Baxter (1:18)
When Consuelo Baxter goes to her bedroom she is surprised by Joe, who begins to explain the Rojos' real intentions.
Eerie, sustained strings/harmonics, building to a climax, joined by brass, timpani
7 Double Games
(Doppi Giochi, 1:41)
The Baxters and the Rojos are both tricked by Joe into riding out to the cemetery to intercept some soldiers (corpses) who could expose the Rojos' plan.  
Title theme in a galloping arrangement with el. guitar melody and chorus ("We can win"), followed by the choral interlude, then transitioning to a new oboe/choir theme.  
Joe stays behind at the Rojos' compound and sneaks in.
At 0:57, title theme returns in a lively ac. guitar/recorder duet
8 For a Fistful of Dollars
(Per Un Pugno Di Dollari, 1:26)
Joe announces to the Rojos that he's available for hire, and then goes to confront the Baxter men who shot at his mule ("Get three coffins ready.").  Also used when the Baxters prepare to go to the Rojos' dinner invitation, and during parts of the Baxters and the Rojos' prisoner exchange, and finally when Joe is beginning to relearn how to shoot his gun while hiding from Ramon.
Funeral march on strings/guitar with sad/noble theme on cor anglais (oboe), building and then joined by female choir
9 Exchange of the Prisoners
Marisol and the Baxters' son pass each other on horseback.  Marisol's son, Jesus, runs out and they have a brief family reunion.  Also used when Joe's aim improves while practicing in a cave, and gets an idea with the metal sheet.
Slow military drums (snare/bass), building to trumpet/string accents, supported by choir
10 Ride
(Cavalgata, 3:29)
After fooling the Rojos into thinking that he's passed out from drinking, Joe rides out to Ramon's small house in order to free Marisol.  A version is also used when Joe races back to his room after freeing Marisol.
Falling "Joe" motif leads to variation of main title choral interlude in a galloping rhythm, trumpets soon support the chorus.  After a pause at 1:12 comes a brief texture of building brass/choir/snare, then a return to the choral galloping, bells, trumpet, etc...
11 The Pursuit
(L'Inseguimento, 2:25)
The Rojos hear gunshots and rush to the small house.  Meanwhile Joe kills the last of the Rojos at the small house and reunites Marisol with her family, freeing them all. 
"Why do you do this for us?"
"Why? Cause I knew someone like you once.  There was no one there to help."
Roiling suspense in snare, timpani, el. guitar, brass, building to a trumpet fanfare/cadence with string accents (0:51), then a return to the choral interlude motif at 1:02, and finally a lonely version of the funeral march theme at 1:28 on cor anglais/choir/strings
12 Torture
(Tortura, 9:31)
Partially used when the Rojos beat Joe, trying to find out where he hid Marisol.  Later, Joe manages to escape by killing Chico and a guard with a huge rolling barrel.

The remainder was used (to chilling effect) when the Baxters surrender and try to escape from their burning house, and the Rojos mercilessly shoot them all down in a massacre.  Joe briefly pauses his hidden coffin escape to witness the carnage.
Tam-tam textures lead to atonal piano/string clusters, sinister brass/snare, weird voices, etc…essentially avant-garde, atmospheric horror music, at different dynamic levels.  The "Joe" motif makes a weak reappearance at 2:19, 5:13 and 7:13, and at 3:19, 6:01, and 7:13 an electric bass line briefly appears as a kind of rhythmic motif.  I suspect all this was largely improvised music.  The cue ends with some insistent snare figures and moaning brass.
13 Search for the Escaped
(Alla Ricerca Dell'Evaso, 1:22)
Joe crawls and hides as Ramon's men look for him.
Tense brass/wind accents over a hammered piano/snare rhythm, joined by male chorus (loose variation of choral interlude theme)
14 Without Pity
(Senza Pieta, 2:08)
Joe asks Piripero the coffin builder to help him sneak out in a coffin.  Ramon's men set off an explosive at the Baxter house, thinking they are harboring Joe.
Slow, hesitant melody on strings.  At 1:31 the mood changes to an arrangement of the middle part of "The Pursuit" (a building trumpet/snare fanfare into the choral interlude motif)
15 The Reaction
(La Reazione, 2:36)
Unused cue, probably for the sequence when Ramon shoots at Joe, but Joe keeps getting up (he is protected by the hidden metal shield)
"You shoot to kill, you better hit the heart, Ramon.  Aim for the heart or you'll never stop me."
A harmonica intro leads to "showdown" music with tremolo violin, staccato piano/el. bass, snare, timpani, followed by several falling "Joe" figures, leading into the "Pursuit" fanfare cadence with harmonica.  From 0:58 the showdown/Joe motif/fanfare sequence more or less repeats with some variations.
16 For a Fistful of Dollars
An explosion startles Ramon and his men.  Joe is revealed when the smoke clears ("Heard you wanted to see me.").  Ramon and four of his men move into position for a showdown.
Funeral march theme reprise on guitar/strings with melody in trumpet, joined by choir/snare in a middle section crescendo
17 Finale
Joe gets on his horse and leaves town, as the camera pulls back to reveal the dead bodies of Ramon and his men, with Piripero measuring them for coffins.
Title theme guitar rhythm with "Joe" figures and whip cracks (?), quickly moving into the choral interlude;  el. guitar teases the main melody, which soon becomes whistling, all supported by male choir ("We can win"), etc...

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