Wonderful Western: The Scores of Ennio Morricone

The 88th Academy Awards were quite memorable in several regards. There was an amazing, show-stealing performance from Lady Gaga, the internet’s wish came true when Leonardo DiCaprio finally won Best Actor, and a legendary maestro took home his first Oscar. At the age of 87, and after five previous nominations and an Honorary Oscar, Ennio Morricone finally took home the golden statuette for Best Original Score for his work on The Hateful Eight. The fact that he won for a Western is very fitting.

While Morricone’s filmography has a wide variety of genres probably the most prominent one is the Western and he has made some of the most iconic scores for them. How iconic? I guarantee you that even if you’ve never heard of Morricone or the movies he’s worked on, you’ve heard his music. In this edition of Wonderful Westerns, we’ll be looking at some of the highlights of Morricone’s work on Western films.

The most fitting place to start would be with his first collaboration with another legend of film: Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). This was not the first Western Morricone worked on — that distinction belongs to Gunfight at Red Sands (1963), directed by Ricardo Blasco. While the score for Fistful doesn’t have as many memorable music moments, it does highlight certain elements that would appear in later Morricone scores, in particular his use of whistling.

The next film of the “Man With No Name Trilogy,” however, does have some distinct music bits that leave a massive impression. For a Few Dollars More (1965) has one particular score that is used in the movie serves as a motif for the characters of Col. Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) and the villain El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte) in the form of pocket watches that both characters have and the identical music they play. In an interview with The Quietus, Morricone said, “The music that the watch makes transfers your thought to a different place. The character itself comes out through the watch but in a different situation every time it appears.”

WARNING: The clip below features spoilers.

But without a doubt, the most famous score he has ever composed was for Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). As I said earlier, even if you never watched a movie with his music you’ve probably heard his music and this score is definitely something you’ve heard. You’ve probably mimicked the iconic whistle and “wah-wah-wah” at one time or another. What’s great about this score is that each of the three main characters gets his own score that gives you an idea as to what his character is like.

As stated above, Morricone finally won an Oscar for composing a score for a Tarantino movie and if you’re familiar with Tarantino’s work, you can probably tell that he’s a fan of Morricone. So much so that he has used some of Morricone’s music in his movies. Example: Two tracks from the movie Navajo Joe (1966) were used in Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies.  “A Silhouette of Doom” was used in Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003), and “The Demise of Barbara and the Return of Joe” was used in Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004).

Another noted Spaghetti Western director that Morricone worked for was Sergio Corbucci, whose best-known film is probably Django (1966). Morricone not only worked with him by composing the score but Corbucci also wrote the lyrics to a song that Morricone arranged the music for, a song called “Vamos a Matar, Companeros” from the movie Companeros (1970).

I’ll end this article with one of the best scores he has ever composed for any move ever, the score for Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Someone once described this movie as almost like a ballet, and in a way, I can see that with nearly every movement and framing of the film being set purposefully almost dance-like and the score fits in perfectly. It does what a score should do — it enhances the experience and adds to the movie. The best example of this I can think of is the music for the final duel, so yes, in the clip below there are spoilers.

I’ll end this article with Ennio Morricone’s acceptance speech at the 88th Academy Awards. Congratulation, Signore Morricone. You are more than worthy of this award and the legacy you have.

About John Hamilton 41 Articles
John Hamilton is a lover of classic cinema from Southern Ohio and has been since he was a tiny little lad growing up on the farm. He's a fan of every type of film out there, especially Westerns and movies from the '60s and '70s. John is also a blogger and freelance writer.