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The Big Gundown
  • Composed by Ennio Morricone
  • GDM / 54m

One of the great spaghetti westerns, The Big Gundown (aka La Resa dei Conti) stars Lee Van Cleef as a lawman hunting down bandit Tomas Milian.  Directed by Sergio Sollima who wrote the screenplay with Sergio Donati (who went on to write Once Upon a Time in the West) it is well-served by its simple plot, gorgeous locations and expansive cinematography.

Ennio Morricone’s score is – needless to say – left, right and central. His brilliantly dynamic main theme is introduced as a song (“Run Man Run”) over the opening titles, belted out with some gusto by Christy (who performed similar duty on Danger: Diabolik for the composer shortly afterwards).

Ennio Morricone

It’s wonderful in song form but when Morricone uses it in the body of the score (as he does for “La caccia” and most spectacularly “La seconda cacci”, with an arresting guitar solo to open) it’s so outlandishly expansive, it’s a thing of real wonder. While more straightforward than his Sergio Leone themes, it’s still one of the great Morricone western themes.

After the song comes a brief guitar interlude in “La vedova” and then we do hear some of that trademark creative flair in a secondary theme, “La corrida”, with all sorts of inventive wind and percussion sounds playing alongside a Mexican-influenced melody. By contrast is the expressionistic, beautiful “Dopo la condanna”. Two desert sequences – “Primo deserto” and “Secondo deserto” – are scored with surprisingly claustrophobic swirling strings and little staccato piano phrases, Morricone signalling that while the landscape may be wide open, the characters’ turmoil is very much locked inside their heads.

One of the score’s most famous pieces is “La condanna” (thanks in no small part to Quentin Tarantino’s later appropriation of it) in which Morricone blends Beethoven (used as source music in the film) with his own unmistakable sounds. “La resa” is one of those grand epic showdown pieces with awesome trumpet solos that is such a feature of much of the composer’s best work in this genre – quite brilliant.

The brief “Arriva Cucillo” is a lovely, lilting guitar solo over shimmering strings that ends on a discordant note; then “Coro dei mormoni” is some source religious choral music that’s as good as Morricone’s religious choral music usually was. A somewhat restrained version of the main theme closes things out for what is labelled as the end title.

That’s the great original LP programme, which was issued on CD various times before the extended versions started to appear, of which there have been many. The GDM release (whose contents were replicated as a CD included in the fantastic Blu Ray package of the film which also features notes by film music writer Gergely Hubai, an isolated score and even “musical subtitles” adding notes about the music as you watch the film) adds various bonus tracks which are mostly variants on what was already there, the main title song in Italian as well as English, and some added source music.

The Big Gundown is actually one of Morricone’s most expansive western scores, featuring some great themes as well as that dynamic song, so no fan of the composer should be without it. As mentioned, it is a “straighter” score than some of his more famous westerns, but what it may lack (only in relative terms) in creativity it more than makes up for with the qualities it does have. It’s just great.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Stephen Ottley (Reply) on Sunday 12 July, 2020 at 16:43

    One of my favourite Morricone scores. I was lucky enough to see this at my local cinema in the UK when it was first released here. Even more fortunate was the fact it was the original full length version, rather than the butchered cut the poor Americans had to put up with.

  2. Ashley (Reply) on Tuesday 14 July, 2020 at 14:16

    One of his greatest scores. A rare example of an album where you want to listen from beginning to end!