Music of Hugo Montenegro

Today I am going to look at the work of composer Hugo Montenegro. Montenegro is probably more famous for his re-interpretation of other composer’s music. His version of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly topped the U.S. charts (making it to #2). But Montenegro did his own tunes as well and provided the soundtracks to a few spy movies, namely The Ambushers, and The Wrecking Crew – starring Dean Martin as Matt Helm. He also composed the theme (from 2nd season) for the TV series, I Dream of Jeannie, which has got to count for something!

Montenegro’s re-versions of other composers tunes, in this day and age are a little redundant – as it is quite easy to access the originals. But that wasn’t always the case. As a lad, growing up in rural Australia, it was virtually impossible to access Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly – whereas Montenegro’s was easy to find. I still have several western compilation L.P.s, from my childhood, with Montenegro’s version on them. On top of that, it got radio play too.

I must admit I find Montenegro’s original movie scores a bit too scattered for my liking, and don’t follow the plot. A wild swinging tune is great to listen to, while not watching the movie, but with the film, if the intent is to convey suspense – then the number fails – such as in the Frank Sinatra detective thriller, Lady in Cement.

I almost see Montenegro’s music as a toy from my youth. It was great when I was young, exposing a young fella to the wild multitude of sounds out there. But now as an adult, I think Hugo can be locked away in the cupboard, (or slipped into the bottom of the toy-box) and in its place, composers such as Morricone, Goldsmith, Bernstein, Williams et al should be sampled.

Mort Goode’s liner notes to the album, ‘Original Music From The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ say this about Montenegro’s contribution:

‘One of the most intriguing elements that keeps “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” moving sprightly or stealthily each week is music. It sparkles or sputters. It tantalises or tickles. It relieves or revives. The variety of musical themes has been expanded for this album. This original music is fascinatingly arranged and conducted by Hugo Montenegro with a swashbuckling orchestra conjuring up images of U.N.C.L.E. escapades. Several talented and renowned composers have contributed to the music.’

Soundtracks Include:

The Ambushers, The Wrecking Crew, Original Music From The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lady in Cement, Charro, The Undefeated.

Music of Hugo Montenegro

Liner Notes: Eurospy

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am looking at Eurospy films.

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It probably says a lot about EuroSpy films that their soundtracks are a lot easier to find than many of the movies. That, no doubt, has a lot to do with the quality of composers coming out of Europe at the time, such as Ennio Morricone, Mario Nasimbene, Piero Umiliani, Michel Legrand, Sandro Brognolini, Riz Ortolani, Manuel Parada and many, many more.

With Eurospy soundtracks there are many varying styles, and it is hard (and pretty unfair) to lump them all together. The first style attempts to stay as close to the John Barry, James Bond sound as possible. These are the least interesting to me as soundtracks, because quite frankly, if I want John Barry, I will listen to the real thing. One of the better examples, is Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai’s score for Operation Kid Brother. Some of the film’s musical cues, mimic the Barry sound quite successfully.

The second style, operates under the premise that James Bond is an old ‘suit’ and not with the times. And the music reflects this – possibly owing more to The Beatles, than John Barry. In the films, you’ll often see a Beat group – called something like ‘The Spyders’, ‘The Planets’ or ‘The Fireballs’ – playing in a nightclub that the hero visits in the course of his investigation. If the film happens to be directed by Jess Franco, there’s also a good chance that there will be a scantily clad woman dancing in a cage too.

Since I have so foolishly mentioned Franco, if you can find the soundtracks to his Red Lip films – Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster – by Jerry Van Rooyen, give them a listen. Truly amazing wild and swinging stuff. Also, the music by Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – to the Franco / Miranda trilogy (okay, only The Devil Comes From Akasava counts as a Eurospy – the other two being Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy) is also well worth listening to.

Below, are my thoughts on a few of the more easy to locate Eurospy soundtracks.

Agente Speciale LK
Bruno Nicolai

Agente Speciale LK, or Lucky The Inscrutable as I call it, is a strange little film that was directed by Jess Franco, and released in 1967. Just mentioning Franco either conjures up fear or perverse delight. But generally, Franco’s films, despite what you may think of their content, usually had pretty good soundtracks.This one is composed by Bruno Nicolai.

The film itself is a weird hybrid of comic book and spy movies. It stars Ray Danton as ‘Lucky The Inscrutable’, a super hero – spy who wears superman style costume with a large ‘L’ on his chest. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack is light hearted and pop oriented – albeit sixties Italian pop, rather than cool spy jazz. It includes some sixties choral singing – Light ‘Bub-adubba-das’ lilt over the top during action sequences – and deep ‘Bum, Bums’ resonate in the title song. The style is more like Hugo Montenegro (Matt Helm phase) than Nicolai’s sometimes partner, Ennio Morricone.

I must admit when I saw the film, I didn’t think the music was that bad at all (hence, why I bought the album), but as a listening experience on it’s own without visuals, I was fairly disappointed. It is quite cheesy in places. But it does take the smorgasbord approach. Unlike some soundtracks which keep repeating the same theme over and over again, here each track is very different. If you don’t like one, you may like the next.

The standout track for me, is ‘Lopagan Island’ which is a jaunty calypso style number with Edda Dell’Orso’s soprano voice warbling over the top. The CD is almost worth it, for this track alone (only it is too short). Who is Edda Dell’Orso I hear you ask? Thanks to her collaborations with Ennio Morricone, on the soundtracks to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, she is often referred to as ‘The Voice Of Italian Cinema’. You might not know her name, but anyone who has listened to The Good, the Bad & The Ugly or Once Upon A Time In The West soundtracks, will recognise her voice.

As each track is so different it is hard to classify or compare this album to something else. On the whole, I find it a bit abrasive. It isn’t smooth ‘lounge music’. If you are a fan of Eurospy soundtracks (and you’ve got spare cash to throw away) if you see it, buy it. It’s worth a listen, and I am sure one of the tracks will grab your attention, but I wouldn’t spend hours searching the net for a seller.

Dick Smart 2.007
Composed and arranged by Mario Nascimbene.
Orchestra conducted by Roberto Pregadio.
Released by Hexacord.

Dick Smart is a pretty wild Eurospy production directed by Franco Prosperi. It features Richard Wyler as swinging sixties dilettante, womaniser, and part-time spy, Dick Smart. Smart is hired by the CIA, for a fee of one million dollars, after five atomic scientists go missing from around the world.

Nascimbene’s score is very good, and the hook will get stuck in your head for days, even weeks perhaps. You will find yourself humming the theme after you’ve finished listening to the album. As the film is primarily set in and around Rio, the soundtrack features a lot of Latin beats, like Sambas and Bossa Novas. Each track gives away it’s musical style in it’s title ‘Samba For Dick’, ‘Bossa For Dick’ etc… There are no vocals until the end track. The male vocal is quite flat – it almost seems spoken. But the instrumentals are quite good, although slightly repetitive, but it is a soundtrack, so you’d expect that a few musical motif’s are repeated.

If the album has a weakness, it is that sometimes the instrumentals tend toward ‘elevator music’ with weird sixties electronic sound effects over the top. At the end of the CD, there are some musical cues and control room dialogue from Nascimbene. It is an interesting curio – but doesn’t add much. But still it isn’t a bad album. If you’re a fan of Eurospy Soundtracks, buy this one. I wasn’t disappointed.

Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die
Composed and arranged by Mario Nascimbene.
Released by Avanz Records

Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die, even if you haven’t seen the film, as a stand alone listening experience, is great. It is better than the Dick Smart soundtrack, but is similar in so many ways. Once again, the film is set in Rio, so the soundtrack has a Latin American feel to it. Although there is a lot more variety on the Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die soundtrack. The closing title song, although not listed on the album, is performed by Lydia Macdonald (I think. Please correct me if you know otherwise). Macdonald, while hardly a household name these days, was a very busy girl in the 1960’s especially singing title songs to Eurospy films. She can be found singing ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’ on the soundtrack to Requiem For A Secret Agent; ‘Nothing To Fear’ from MMM Missione Morte Molo 83, and the title track to From The Orient With Fury.

As with the Dick Smart, Kiss The Girls also has a few weird sci-fi electronic soundscapes. No doubt, if I had seen the film I’d know what these are. Most likely they are from scenes in the film, where the chief villain is test firing his latest hi-tech weapon. These call be a little bit grating. They aren’t really ‘lounge’ tunes, and as such aren’t really easy listening. But on the whole, this is a pretty good soundtrack album. It’s a bit harder to track down than Dick Smart, but once again, if you are a fan of this type of soundtrack, this is worth hunting down.

Liner Notes: Eurospy

Liner Notes: Carol Borden

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by, Carol Borden, who draws out the best in comics at the, Cultural Gutter. She shares her five favourite soundtracks below.

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If I were to base this on composers I love, it would probably be very different. But then, if you asked me on another day, it would be different. Top 5 or 10 or even 20 lists and I are not good friends.

In The Mood For Love (2001) by Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi

I sigh to this soundtrack late at night. Director Wong Kar-Wai and composer/violinist Michael Galasso’s In The Mood For Love soundtrack represents how well music can work with a movie and how good a soundtrack thoughtfully combining original composition and music by other composers and artists can work with a film. Zhao Xuan’s “Hua Yang De Nian Hua” provides crackly radio nostalgia. Nat King Cole’s covers of Bebel Gilberto classics provide romantic polish to a glossy, stylish film. But what I like best about the soundtrack is the strings. Composers and bands often use saccharine sweet string arrangements, but the real power of a violin is its ability to evoke a rough, raw, yearning ache, and Michael Galasso does that so well in his original compositions and in his arrangement of “Yumeji’s Theme,” from Shigeru Umebayashi’s soundtrack for Seijun Suzuki’s Yumeji.

Night On Earth (1992) by Tom Waits

Tom Waits and Jim Jarmusch are amazing together. I probably like Jarmusch’s Down By Law better as a film, and love all the Waits songs used in that soundtrack. But Waits’ Night On Earth soundtrack fits perfectly with the film, all thumping bass, crooked horns, sad piano, acidic electric guitar and old country accordion. Waits provides different arrangements of a theme to mark the same night experienced by cab drivers in 5 different cities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. And there are variations on two songs he and Kathleen Brennan wrote for the film, “Back In The Good Old World” and “On The Other Side Of The World.” Good for listening to while driving on dark, snowy winter nights.

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974) by David Shire

For the record, there is no other version of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three. There is only the one directed by Joseph Sargeant, starring Walter Matthau and scored by David Shire. Shire was a prolific composer of 1960s and 1970s soundtracks, but this is my favorite of his. It’s a perfect synecdoche of 1970s film soundtracks. Again, I like the variations on a theme—particularly the expanded arrangement of the opening them for the end credits. I love the squonking brass echoing street noise and the sounds of the subway, and the complex percussion scoring. Frankly, one of the best inspirations musicians have ever had is the train. I imagine that this is exactly how badass Fun City sounded like in the 1970s.

Tokyo Drifter (1966) by Hajime Kaburagi

Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter is almost more a musical than a yakuza movie. The set design is highly stylized and the color is saturated. And the film opens with protagonist Tetsuya Watari singing, “Tokyo Drifter/ Tokyo Nagaremono.” Watching the movie, it’s easy to think that’s the only song in the soundtrack as it is arranged, reprised, answered and whistled through the film and into your mind. But Chieko Matsubara sings jazzy, operatic elegies in club scenes, including a variation, “Chechez Le Vagabond” and “Furi Furi” by “group sounds” band, The Spiders. Suzuki’s movies are all notable for their jazzy soundtracks, but what makes me choose Tokyo Drifter over, say, Branded To Kill is the way one song infuses an entire film, as if the whole film is just an elaboration of it. Even Chieko Matsubara’s last song, interrupted by the final showdown, bleeds easily into “Tokyo Drifter’s” final reprise. The song itself has become iconic and you can find many interpretations online, from shamisen arrangements to Japanese Academic Punks w/Tokyo Big Beat Junky’s ska version.

Yojimbo (1961) by Masaru Sato

Yojimbo might be the most satirical and catchy as hell soundtrack I’ve ever heard. With his mix of modern and traditional instrumentation, Sato punctuates scenes, underscores the humor in Yojimbo and amplifies mood, whether in a nameless samurai’s decision to follow one path over another, hired swords working up the courage to fight or a young mother’s heartfelt, though foolishly-timed, thanks. The “Burlesque” dance number, in particular, is one of my favorite pieces in the movie for the way it presents a straightforward scene—prostitutes dancing as an enticement for the wandering ronin—and just undercuts the seriousness and slyness of the madame’s scheme. If the theme from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three captures the subway, Yojimbo’s theme really captures rambling along dirt roads. I imagine that Sato just recorded the natural soundtrack that followed Toshiro Mifune around during the whole Yojimbo shoot.

(If I were to choose one soundtrack to represent the best in soundtracks, it would be Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, which somehow feels like a chorus out of ancient Greek drama, commenting on the film. Also, “The Ecstasy of Gold” graveyard sequence makes my hair stand on end).

Carol Borden is one of the team at Cultural Gutter, a website that ‘takes trash seriously.’ The site is updated Thursday afternoon with a new article about an artistic pursuit generally considered to be beneath consideration. Carol Borden draws out the best in comics, James Schellenberg probes science-fiction, Chris Szego dallies with romance and Alex MacFadyen stares deeply into the screen.

Liner Notes: Carol Borden

Liner Notes: Todd Stadtman

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by Todd Stadtman from Die Danger Die Die Kill, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

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Casino Royale (1967), Burt Bacharach. Burt Bacharach’s score is the glue that holds the otherwise chaotic Casino Royale together, the one consistent character in a movie absent a traditional lead. It’s also essential Bacharach, at once sophisticated and playful, and almost proudly cheesy. Oh, and catchy as hell; there are certain scenes that’ve stuck with me stubbornly over the years due only to the music that accompanied them. Besides, how can a soundtrack with Dusty Springfield’s version of “The Look of Love” as its centerpiece not rate inclusion here?

You Only Live Twice, by John Barry. All of Barry’s 007 scores are close to my heart, but I think that YOLT is by far his most challenging. Spurred by the genre bending present within the film itself, he addressed YOLT’s sci-fi aspects with an even denser than usual pallet of queasily dissonant strings, while at the same time adding an element of Asian exoticism to his usual foundation of brassy suspense riffs. The result is one of the most mysterious, intoxicating and compulsively listenable out of all his imminently listenable Bond scores, not to mention one that would provide an irresistible source of samples for trip hop producers come the 90s. On top of that, you have Nancy Sinatra’s theme, which is, to my mind (sorry, Shirley) the runaway best of the bunch.

Asoka, by Anu Malik. Asoka is by far the most frequently played out of all the Bollywood soundtracks I own, which is saying an awful lot. Anu Malik’s songs somehow manage to capture the grandeur and gravitas of the historical epic which contains them while at the same time maintaining an infectious pop sensibility. Many of the hypnotic compositions also conjure an air of magic and destiny, making for tunes that are somehow at once hummable, haunting and head bopping.

Vertigo, by Bernhard Hermann. I worried that including Vertigo would be something of a cliché, but, if I’m being honest, it has to be here. As much as the contrarian in me resists admitting it, this officially sanctioned “greatest movie of all time” is among my very favorites, an affection that carries over to its also deservedly admired soundtrack. Living up to the film’s title, these are swirling, brain-fogging compositions that lend to mania, madness and obsession a purple, seductive beauty

Danger: Diabolik, by Ennio Morricone. This may not be everyone’s Morricone soundtrack of choice. But enamored as I am of the swinging 60s, Mod/pop art aesthetics that Danger: Diabolik exemplifies, there’s no choice to be made. To my mind, no film crystallizes that aesthetic — redolent of comic books, bubblegum, pop music, popped pills, and pulp thrills – better, and Morricone supplies the perfect accompaniment — from hammered harpsichords, to twanging baritone guitars, to “I can hear the colors” psychedelic flourishes. At the same time, Danger: Diabolik is one of cinema’s coolest love stories, something that Morricone nails with the woozy, liquid chord changes and anxious modulations of “Deep Deep Down”, masterfully capturing the essence of Diabolik and Eva’s mad, doomed, but overall groovy romance within a flawlessly crafted pop gem.

Honorable mention: Raumpatrouille Orion, by Peter Thomas. I know that the subject here is feature film soundtracks, which throws the score for this German sci-fi TV series out of contention. But I nonetheless want to honor it for being the ideal musical accompaniment to the type of roguish, cocktail-fueled space sex tourism that I thought was my birthright as a child of the 60s. I also wanted to give a shout out to Thomas, who contributed so much that was slinky, stylish and swinging to the sound of European genre movies during the decade — not the least being his themes for assorted Edgar Wallace Krimis and the Eurospy adventures of Jerry Cotton.

Todd Stadtman thought that Die Danger Die Die Kill! would be a good name for a blog and now he’s stuck with it. He’s been writing about international cult and genre cinema there since 2008, in addition to being a regular contributor to Teleport City. Soon you will be able to thrill to his contributions to the World Directory of Cinema’s Turkey edition.

Liner Notes: Todd Stadtman

Liner Notes: Denis Klotz

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by Denis Klotz from The Horror!?, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

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When David asked the interested members of M.O.S.S. to send him a commented list of their five favourite movie soundtracks, I found myself even more confused and exasperated than is my usual state of mind, for how could anyone reduce his favourite movie soundtracks to a list of only five instead of – say – a hundred?

After much hemming and hawing, I came down with this list. It’s as close to the experience of giving birth as I’ll ever come, I suspect. Obviously, there’s no particular order to things.

1.) Halloween (1978): John Carpenter’s soundtrack to the film that created the slasher sub-genre stands exemplary for all those soundtracks of low budget productions that make a virtue out of the fact they can’t afford an orchestral score and won’t just take library music. It’s minimalist – possibly primitive – and tense and much better at evoking the primal emotions its film thrives on than anything more orchestral could have been. For me, this particular soundtrack also points forward and backwards in time to all those other composers of soundtracks that use minimal arrangements, synthesizers, sounds you’ve never heard before and repetition to set a movie’s rhythm, from Goblin’s work in Italy to the BBC Radio Workshop.

2.) Gojira (1954): Quite on the opposite side of the musical spectrum stands Akira Ifukube (or Ifukube Akira if you prefer the Japanese way of writing names). It’s orchestral, it’s as maximalist as befits its monster and it’s made by someone standing with both feet in the tradition of classical music. However, Ifukube’s score is just as adept at evoking emotions and setting the film’s rhythm as Carpenter’s, another demonstration that completely different approaches to art are equally fruitful.

This soundtrack was followed and preceded by many another fine Ifukube soundtrack for kaiju movies, Kurosawa, and in between, all of them made with the same care as this one, how ever minor the film itself turned out to be.

3.) “(Do) The Jellyfish” from Sting of Death (1965): From the sublime we come to the ridiculous, a jaunty – and more than just slightly horrifying – little pop number from a local man in a suit horror movie made in Florida. It’s a prime example of all the times when a low budget movie suddenly breaks out into song for no good reason except that its producers actually thought anyone would want to buy the horrific thing. Plus, this sort of pop song advert makes for a cheap enhancement of production values.

It is however only very seldom that a song is picturized quite as traumatizing as this one, with a gloriously painful dance scene that will burn the song forever into your brain. Once it was there, it was only a small step for it to worm itself into the part of my mind that genuinely enjoys this sort of thing.

4.) The One-Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine aka Master of the Flying Guillotine: The soundtrack to Wang Yu’s piece of Weird Fu cinema isn’t actually the soundtrack to it. In fact, most of its sound queues are borrowed from films and LPs from less permissive copyright cultures. But Flying Guillotine’s case is a special one, for Wang Yu (or listed composer Frankie Chan, who knows) used such peculiar, mostly non-orchestral, music – German Krautrock masters Neu, for example – in such an idiosyncratic way that it enhances the weirdness of the whole affair it belongs to a hundredfold. It also adds another argument to the case against copyright.

5.) Ennio Morricone (1928): Last but not least, and because I like cheating in lists, it’s not actually a film, but the whole body of work of what I think of as the greatest film composer of all times, with a body of work so rich I find it impossible to just pick one movie from. So obviously, I just take all of them. It’s Morricone. What else is there to say?

Denis Klotz, whom you might also know as houseinrlyeh, is the owner of The Horror!?, your one-stop shop for all writing about movies you never heard about but should have. He also makes a nuisance of himself on Twitter as @houseinrlyeh, and is a member of that most venerated company of bloggers and podcasters, M.O.S.S.

Liner Notes: Denis Klotz

Revolver (1973)

AKA: Blood In The Streets
Director: Sergio Sollima
Starring: Oliver Reed, Fabio Testi, Agostina Belli, Daniel Beretta, Paola Pitagora
Music: Ennio Morricone

There’s one trait in Italian crime thrillers that I really admire. Nearly all of them, no matter how hyper stylised and cartoon like they may be during their running time, at the end they have a touch of realism. Rarely does the hero ride off into the sunset with his girl by his side. Think about EuroCrime favourite Maurizio Merli – how many times has he been shot in the back during the final reel?

Revolver is a not a cop film in the usual sense – American or Italian. It can be argued that the hero, Vito Cipriani (Oliver Reed) does make it to the end, and he has his girl by his side, but the film still ends on a cynical, realist note. Just before the credits roll, Cipriani’s wife, Anna (Agostina Belli) pulls away from him, disgusted at the man he has become. But as usual, I am getting ahead of myself – I am talking about the end credits and I’ve only just started the review.

Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi) and his best friend are small time hoods. When this film opens it finds them running from the police after a robbery has gone wrong. Ruiz’s friend has been shot in the stomach and is losing a lot of blood. Ruiz manages to hot wire a car and the two of them make their getaway out of town. They pull up beside a stony river bed. Ruiz’s friend pleads not to allow the police to find his body. He doesn’t want to be taken to a morgue and chopped up by the coroner. Ruiz promises that won’t happen. After his friend has died, Ruiz buries him under some rocks by the river.

Some time later, we meet Vito Cipriani – the warden of an Italian prison. One afternoon he is called into the prison to deal with a prisoner, armed with a knife who is causing a riot in the prison’s hospital. Cipriani handles the situation quickly and effectively and then returns home to his wife, only to find she isn’t in the house. Cipriani then receives a telephone call from two men who have kidnapped his wife, Anna. They demand that Cipriani arranges the release from his prison, a prisoner named Milo Ruiz, or his wife will be killed. Cipriani hasn’t go much choice, but explores every avenue possible before agreeing to release Ruiz.

But rather than take the blame for Ruiz’s release, Cipriani makes it look like an escape. Cipriani takes Ruiz into an interrogation room and beats the crap out of him. This results in Ruiz being transferred to the prison’s hospital. Then Cipriani calls away the hospital guard giving Ruiz the opportunity to escape.

Ruiz grabs the opportunity with both hands, but once over the wall he is picked up at gunpoint by Cipriani. He isn’t the type to ‘hope’ that the kidnappers keep their side of the bargain. He wants Ruiz as a bargaining chip to make sure they keep to their word.

Trading Ruiz for Anna doesn’t go as planned. The kidnappers try to double cross Cipriani, and when that doesn’t work they flee with Anna to Paris. Meanwhile Ruiz and Cipriani form an uneasy alliance and both choose to follow the kidnappers to Paris to find and release Anna.

Revolver is a pretty good tough thriller. It may not have the same heart pounding car chase scenes that other popular Italian thrillers have, but it doesn’t need them. This film has a solid centre in the form of Oliver Reed. Reed gives a characteristically intense performance that drives this film on. Fabio Testi’s performance is lighter, and it times it seems like it is all a game to Ruiz. And in some ways it is a game. Not a particularly nice game, and one that seems to have the odds stacked fairly against the two anti-heroes.

Revolver (1973)

Psichedelico Jazzistico

Artist: Ennio Morricone
Released by: él / Cherry Red Records

Here’s a quick look at another Ennio Morricone compilation CD, but substantially different from The Legendary Italian Westerns. These tracks are taken from the late sixties and early seventies, and while not quite as ‘psychedelic’ as the title would imply, they are certainly surreal, and in places have an almost dream like quality. But these dreams aren’t always nice dreams. As some of this music is taken from Giallo films, the music is often creepy and, at times, abrasive. But that is one of the many charms of this release – the diversity of sounds and musical styles on it.

Sometimes the music drifts into religious choral sounds, backed up with church organ, and at other times it slips into very sinister carnival music. There is one track that can only be described as an ‘organ freak out’. There’s even some straight ahead 70’s grinding funk. Also, as you’d expect from Morricone, there is a wide variety of pianos and keyboards.

If you have heard only Morricone’s soundtracks for The Mission and a few Spaghetti Westerns, you may be in for a bit of a shock listening to this. These tracks aren’t all nice melodies (although there are those on the album too). But the bulk of these tracks, mess with your head. If that’s a mind space that you like being in, then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.

Track Listing

1. Plume Di Cristallo
from L’Uccello Dalle Plume Di Cristallo
2. Non Rimane piu Nessuno
from L’Uccello Dalle Plume Di Cristallo
3. Corsa Sui Tetti (AKA Black Glove Underground Pt. 1)
from L’Uccello Dalle Piume Di Cristallo
4. Come un Madrigale
from Quattro Mosche Di Velluto Grigio
5. Quattro Mosche Di Velluto Grigio
from Quattro Mosche Di Velluto Grigio
6. Sauna
from Metti Una Sera A Cena
7. Alla Luce Del Giorno
from Metti Una Sera A Cena
8. Uno Che Grida Amore
from Metti Una Sera A Cena
9. Sospesi tra le Nuvole
from Forza G
10. Forza G (Psichedelico Jazzistico)
from Forza G
11. L’Assoluto Naturale
from L’Assoluto Naturale
12. Studio di Colore
from L’Assoluto Naturale
13. Indagine Su Un Cittadino Al Di Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto
from Indagine Su Un Cittadino Al Di Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto
from Il Gatto
15. Marianzela e la Seduzione
from Il Gatto

Psichedelico Jazzistico

The Burglars (1971)

Director: Henri Vernuil
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Omar Sharif, Dyan Cannon, Robert Hossein, Renato Salvatori, Nicole Calfan
Music: Ennio Morricone – conducted by Bruno Nicolai
Based on the novel by David Goodis

This Euro-heist caper, set in Greece and directed by Henri Verneuil, is a bit different to most. Rather than building up to the perfect robbery, the film starts with the heist, then spends the rest of it’s running time, seeing if the criminals can get away with the loot.

Three men and a woman; Azad (Belmondo), Ralph (Robert Hossein), Renzi (Renato Salvatori) and Helene (Nicole Calfan), drive up to a stately home in an un-named Greek city. Ralph and Renzi get out of the car and put stockings over their heads. They go to the front door of the caretakers quarters and ring the doorbell. When the caretaker answers, he is knocked to the ground then tied and gagged. They then signal for Azad to go to the main house. He does and makes quick work of the front door. Inside there are priceless works of art adorning the rooms. Azad ignores them and heads straight to the safe. He puts on his gloves and goes to work. Joined by Ralph (Renzi and Helene keep watch out side), a x-ray machine is used to work out the model number on the inside workings of the safe’s door. Azad looks up the details in a safe guide book (must be very handy for all safe crackers). He finds another series of numbers. At this point, Azad, opens a suitcase he has been toting along with him. Inside is like a little computer. He enters these numbers and he is directed to a key shape. He then selects the base key from a series he has pre-prepared. Then this computer, sort of becomes a key-cutting device, and shapes this key into one which will fit this particular make and model of safe. It’s all rather hi-tech and hard to put in words, but it is impressive. So now Azad has a key, but he still doesn’t have the combination to the four tumblers on the door.

Meanwhile, driving by is police detective Abel Zacharia (Omar Sharif). He notices Azad’s car parked out the front, and stops to investigate. As he snoops around, the bound and gagged caretaker tries to make as much noise as possible. Rocking his chair, he crashes into a fish bowl that smashes loudly on the floor. By now Zacharia’s suspicions are heightened. But before he can move in to the house, Azad scoots around the back to his car. Zacharia notices and comes across to question him, forgetting about the noise inside. Azad gives Zacharia a cock ’n’ bull story about his car breaking down. Zacharia trusts him for now, and goes about his business.

Azad returns to the safe, and using a listening device attached to his computer / cutter / suitcase, he cracks the tumblers and the safe. Inside there is a large amount of money and bonds, but Azad only takes one million dollars worth of emeralds. The heist is beautifully staged in its intricacy and precision. Azad and crew have made their score, now they have to get out of town. But this has been pre-arranged. They have made a deal with the captain of the ship, the Arax, to take them (and the emeralds) from the country, no questions asked. Unfortunately the ship has suffered hull damage as it came into port. It will be another five days before it leaves.

Azad and crew decide to wait it out and head their separate ways in the meantime. After Azad has dropped Helene off at the train station he notices he is being followed by somebody in a beaten up, dirty little car. In traffic, Azad tries to lose the unseen, gloved driver, but this driver is well up to the task and doggedly stays on Azad’s tail as the cars race around the streets, down steps, through tunnels, and basically on any surface a car can travel. It’s a great sequence.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, Zacharia isn’t quite as he seems. Actually he is, but he’s a little bit more too. He is a cop, but one who is looking to raise his lifestyle and willing to blackmail a few people on the way. Sharif appears to be having a great time, especially when eating, drinking and shooting.

Dyan Cannon’s role is little more than a cameo. She plays a glamorous photographic model that Azad picks up in a bar. Sure, there’s a twist, but there’s no real attempt by the film-makers to conceal it, so you won’t be guessing long.

This film has a series of amazing scenes that on their own are quite okay, but as a cohesive film they don’t link too well. The heist at the beginning is well staged, and carried out virtually without dialogue, but after Jules Dassin’s Riffifi, I guess all good heists have to be carried out that way. This is followed up by the fantastic car chase that I mentioned earlier in the review. When you review a car chase, it inevitably gets compared to the ones in Bullitt or The French Connection. Unlike many others, this is actually worthy of the comparison. It won’t surprise many people that it was put together by French driving legend, Rémy Julienne. Later in the film, there’s an interesting musical interlude at a strip club; some drunken target practice in a toy factory; and finally Belmondo shows us an interesting new technique for catching buses. All these sequences are good. But the film as a whole just doesn’t add up to quality of its disparate parts.

The Burglars isn’t a bad film, but it has dated. In the early seventies, the story may not have mattered so much. It was about style, and this film has early seventies jet-setting style to burn. But now with the world virtually at out fingertips, style isn’t so important. We want a story and characters that are engaging, and this film just falls short of the mark.

Belmondo catches the bus – from The Burglars – uploaded by sheriff85

The Burglars (1971)

The Legendary Italian Westerns

Artist: Ennio Morricone
Released by: BMG / RCA
Release Year: 1990

When it comes to film composers, very few people are as prolific and as popular as Ennio Morricone. And as popular and as diverse as Morricone is, his most successful soundtracks are his scores to countless Spaghetti Westerns. This compilation CD collects the cream of the crop and whacks them on one very enjoyable CD.

The opening track, ‘A Gringo Like Me’ has to be one of the toughest drinking songs ever written. It extols all the virtues and requirements it takes to be a man in this rough old world. How’s this for lyrics:

Keep your hand on your gun.
Don’t you trust any one.
Be the first one to fire.
Every man is a liar.

Don’t be a fool for a smile or a kiss,
or your bullet might miss…
keep your eye on your goal.

There’s one thing that’ll save you your life,
It’s your hand on your knife…
and the Devil in your soul.

I know, I know…it’s pure poetry. But in their defence, the liner notes state: “They were often written by lyricists whose command of the English language was at best primitive…” But the lyrics don’t really matter. It’s the tunes underneath, and what great tunes they are!

After ‘A Gringo Like Me’, which is from the movie Gunfight At Red Sands there are three tracks from Guns Don’t Argue. One of the three, ‘Lonesome Billy’ is from the same lyrical school as ‘A Gringo Like Me’.

Then we’re into the big guns (if you’ll pardon the clumsy western analogy). Next we’re treated to seven tracks from A Fistful Of Dollars. If that doesn’t get you whistling, nothing else will.

The next four tracks are lifted from the film, A Gun For Ringo which starred Giuliano Gemma. Following this, we return to Eastwood territory with a fine selection of cuts from the For A Few Dollars More soundtrack. Here you get a bit of everything, from the twangy title tune, the showdown and even the musical pocket watch.

After that there are a few short brackets. First one number from Ringo Rides Again and then two tracks from 7 Guns For The MacGregors.

Next is the song ‘From Man To Man’ from Death Rides A Horse, which starred John Philip Law. Despite all the different roles that Law played, Sinbad, Pygar (the angel in Barbarella) – to me, he’ll always be Diabolik.

The CD closes out with four tracks from Once Upon A time In The West. I really love the track, ‘Man With A Harmonica’. If I could have a theme played every time I walked into a room, this would be it. But I guess it could get a bit annoying after a while…but I think it would impress people that don’t know you. Whoa…let’s not mess with this guy. He’s one tough hombre. Listen to his theme music!

I guess the big gaping hole on this compilation is that there are no tracks from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but that’s not to denigrate the tracks on this album. They are all pretty good, but the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is probably Morricone’s most recognised musical work, and as such, it seems like a strange omission. (It’s not on Volume 1 of this series either – that’s dedicated to American Western Themes) If you’re a Morricone lover, but you don’t want to buy all the soundtrack albums individually, then this compilation isn’t a bad fall back position.

The Legendary Italian Westerns