The memory of Morricone

A look back at a film legend

Legendary Italian composer, Ennio Morricone, known for his critically-acclaimed film scores, passed away Monday at the age of 91.

Looking back on his extensive log of film scores spanning more than 50 years, Morricone composed over 400 cinema scores and has been part of over 70 award-winning films, many of which are considered cult classics. Throughout his illustrious career, the pioneer film composer worked with a wide array of directors such as Sergio Leone, Don Siegel, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter and Quentin Tarrantino.

In honor of Morricone’s contributions to cinema, the Review’s Tyler Shuey examines five films that simply would not be the same without Morricone’s composition.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Perhaps Morricone’s most recognizable music score was one of his first and helped launch his career into stardom, quickly becoming a composer that most Hollywood big-wig directors wanted to work with. The popular “spaghetti western” film was directed by Sergio Leone, who is largely credited with creating and publicizing the genre. With Clint Eastwood cast as “The Good” in one of his first prominent roles; The scope of the plot centers around a bounty hunting scam set during the American Civil War where two men join alliances against the other man (Eastwood) to find a gold fortune worth $200,000 in a cemetery. Morricone’s original composition worked well with the film, featuring gunfire, whistling and yodeling to capture the sounds of a western-shootout. The main theme, which is the same name as the film, resembles the howling of a coyote for the three main characters with a different instrument for each one. The three-way standoff during the film starts with the melody “The Ecstasy of Gold” and then “The Triple Duel,” which is widely considered by critics to be one of the most exhilarating climaxes in film. Undoubtedly, Morricone’s music plays a major role in exacting such a lasting effect.

Days of Heaven (1979)

This romance drama follows the lives of two lovers (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) in the early 20th century who head for the Texas Panhandle to harvest crops for a wealthy farmer. In a deceitful plan, Gere’s character persuades Adams’ character to claim the fortune of an old, dying farmer through false marriage. The film garnered four Academy Award nominations, winning one for Best Cinematography. Morricone also received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score, an accolade that would elude him until 2016. In a documentary on film director Terrence Malick from 2002, Morricone recalled the process of working with the American filmmaker as “demanding.”

“He didn’t know me very well, so he made suggestions, and in some cases, gave musical solutions. This kind of annoyed me because he’d say, ‘This thing … try it with three flutes.’ Something impossible! So, to humor him, I would do it with three flutes and then he’d decide to use my version after all. His was impossible or I would have written it myself. And more nitpicking like that which means he was very attentive and careful about music.”

The Thing (1982)

Fast-forwarding to the ’80s, at which point Morricone had already been fully baptized into the film score scene. The task scoring “The Thing” was quite different from what Morricone had done up to that point, as he primarily worked on western films. With this film being his first in the horror genre, director John Carpenter originally approached Morricone about possibly working on the movie in efforts to employ a European musical approach. The main theme in the movie is played throughout the film, creating a chilling and suspenseful feel through the use of synthesizers. Carpenter even played the score from one of his previous films “Escape From New York” as an example for Morricone to hear. The film follows a group of American researchers who encounter a shape-shifting, parasitic, extraterrestrial life form that assimilates and imitates other organisms.

The Untouchables (1987)

Five years after his work on “The Thing,” another prominent film director, Brian De Palma, sought out Morricone for his unique talent. The 1987 American crime film “The Untouchables” tells the story of Elliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner) as he formed a group of special agents for the U.S. Bureau of Prohibition, in order to bring American gangster and bootleg businessman Al Capone (played by Robert De Niro) to justice. The movie was nominated for four academy awards with Sean Connery taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Morricone also won a Grammy Award for Best Film Soundtrack. In a 2001 interview with The Guardian, Morricone talked about his experiences with De Palma.

“De Palma is delicious! He respects music, he respects composers. For The Untouchables, everything I proposed to him was fine, but then he wanted a piece that I didn’t like at all, and of course we didn’t have an agreement on that. It was something I didn’t want to write – a triumphal piece for the police. I think I wrote nine different pieces for this in total and I said, ‘Please don’t choose the seventh!’ Because it was the worst. And guess what he chose? The seventh one. But it really suits the movie.”

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Who would have thought that Morricone would still be making film scores just five years prior to his death? In this case, it might be his best work as he took home his one and only Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2016. In what some call his “last dance,” Morricone worked with one of the most influential modern filmmakers — Quentin Tarantino — to close out the final chapter and stamp his legacy. Tarantino originally approached Morricone for his film “Inglorious Basterds” in 2009 but conflicting schedules couldn’t make it possible at the time. As sort of a compromise, Tarantino ended up using eight tracks composed by Morricone in the film from some of his respective western scores from the ’60s and ’70s. Morricone’s last piece of film work came full circle as it was his first complete Western score in 34 years.

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