There’s a moment at the beginning of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Sergio Leone’s Italian Western which is in my top ten films of all time, when baddie Lee Van Cleef approaches a small house out in the desert. The camera pans across from a young boy on a horse to see him riding, and Leone’s beautiful composition and movement of the camera creates a feeling of the calm before the storm. The musical piece playing, The Sundown, is acoustic. It’s one of the most serene, beautiful and evocative acoustic guitar pieces I’ve ever heard.
The man who composed that piece was, of course, Ennio Morricone. He passed today at the age of 91, and his legacy as a composer is one of the greatest in the history of film. He had a little experience before Leone recruited him for the first of his revolutionary Italian Westerns, A Fistful of Dollars, and so began one of the greatest director/composer partnerships.
The legend goes they didn’t have enough money for an orchestrated soundtrack, so Morricone improvised with reverb on the electric guitar and human voices. This changed the face of film soundtracks forever, and began a body of work that is second to none.
With over 500 credits to his name, throughout the years Morricone added his magic (or in the case of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, some scenes were built around his music) to classic films like The Mission, The Untouchables, many classic Italian Westerns, and my favourite Italian Crime film, Almost Human. It’s astonishing, considering he scored so many classic films, that the only Oscar he ever won was for the Tarantino Western, The Hateful Eight, only a few years ago.
Whenever I watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and it comes to that particular early scene, tears well up in my eyes. Now there will be an added note of poignancy at the thought of Ennio Morricone’s passing, another legend gone.