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Duello nel Texas
  • Composed by Ennio Morricone
  • Digitmovies / 2012 / 42m

There’s a bit of debate about it but some consider 1963’s Duello nel Texas, about a gringo who fights various nasty types in a Mexican border town, to be the very first spaghetti western.  Not open to debate is that it was the very first western scored by Ennio Morricone, who went on to achieve legendary status thanks to his work in the genre (A Fistful of Dollars arrived the following year).  The album is bookended by a song, “A Gringo Like Me”, sung first by Peter Tevis and then by Dicky Jones, with music by Morricone and lyrics by Anne Carol Danell and Tino Fornai.  The lyrics are somewhat self-contradictory – the central line “There’s only one kind of man you can trust, that’s a dead man, or a gringo like me” seems to list two kinds of man you can trust so soon after claiming there to be only one.  I guess in a similar vein, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, whose chief weapon is surprise – fear and surprise.

Morricone’s score is a far cry from the style he would pioneer shortly afterwards.  It’s almost entirely traditional, featuring pleasant guitar solos, rambunctious saloon music and some gritty orchestral action.  It’s mostly easygoing and inoffensive but perks up considerably for the action sequences.  None of the tracks is given a title, but track 5 introduces that side of things and is very good; the stabbing piano in track 12 is the most recognisable Morricone trademark here and that’s arguably the finest piece of music on the album (though track 14’s gorgeous trumpet solo runs it close).  There’s a horn theme that’s also worthy of note, full of grit and heroism; and a really nice harmonica theme that finds its way into a few tracks.  It’s all a perfectly nice album, but there are none of the touches of flair or creative inspiration that would later become the composer’s hallmarks.  The most memorable parts of the score are slightly awkward orchestral renditions of the song.  It’s interesting to hear such an early score by Morricone (the 2012 release by Digitmovies marks the first time the score’s been available in any format), and one which is so unexpectedly conventional in nature; and the sound, while in mono, is clear and perfectly acceptable.  As an historical curio to Morricone enthusiasts, it’s clearly an essential purchase; and while in truth those enthusiasts (such as me) are likely to return to the majority of his other western scores more frequently, it’s still a decent album.

Rating: *** | |

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