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L’Ultimo Treno della Notte
  • Composed by Ennio Morricone
  • Cinevox / 2009 / 39:45

Sometimes you read a plot description of a film and instantly know that it must be a classic.  The plot description of 1975’s L’Ultimo Treno della Notte (released internationally under various titles, including the informational Don’t Ride on Late Night Trains, the more abrupt Night Train Murders and puzzlingly different Xmas Massacre) at IMDB is “A pair of psychotic hoodlums and an equally demented nymphomaniac woman terrorize two young girls on a train trip from Germany to Italy.”  Hard to see how you could go wrong with that.  The film was marketed in the US under the tagline “Most movies last less than two hours! This is one of everlasting torment!”  Providing the score was the great Ennio Morricone (this was one of 21 scores he did during the year).  It’s an evocative, effective piece of music which usually gets a mention in reviews of the film for being appropriately chilling – but it does so in a rather surprising way.

The album actually opens with a cheerful song, “A Flower is All You Need”, belted out in the grand tradition of 1970s Europop by Demis Roussos.  The score could hardly be more different.  It’s all very carefully built around a great theme, dynamic and rather unsettling, but actually strongly melodic.  Morricone builds the fear through his choice of instrumentation – a harmonica is virtually ever-present through the score, accompanied at times by a rhythm section, at others by the orchestra, sometimes by nothing, but it’s always there, cleverly building up considerable psychological steam (at times the composer lets all subtlety go out of the window by adding in actual train sound effects to the mix).  A secondary theme is much more overtly oppressive, the harmonica usually playing its way around crashing piano figures and uncomfortable winds.  But, unlike some suspense music by this composer, it’s never unlistenable – in fact it’s fascinating to hear this atmosphere being built, and how effectively chilling it is without often straying away from melodic territory.  There is a lovely secondary theme (“Tema Solitudine”), a vintage piece of Morricone expressing loneliness and sorrow through music.  Finally, the aggressive “Coincidenze” sees the composer launching a musical onslaught, to bone-chilling effect (it’s not that far removed from similar passages in his more famous score for The Exorcist II – but with multiple harmonicas!)  For sure, it’s not really a major score by his standards, but it’s a solid effort for this thriller and certainly worth Morricone fans seeking out.

Rating: *** 1/2

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