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A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS
Morricone's moment of genius which launched his career
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1998 Razor & Tie Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
Seminal moments in film music history would include Max Steiner's King Kong, Alex North's A Streetcar Named Desire and then Ennio Morricone's A Fistful of Dollars, the score for a film which would launch him - along with Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood - towards fame and fortune. It's a great film - more modest than Leone's explosive work to come, but hugely satisfying; and Eastwood is perfection itself. It's a dark film, very cold, but stylistically it's so colourful - and Morricone's music is, of course, as much a part of it as any other element.
I don't know whether it was Leone or Morricone who came up with the musical template - presumably it was some combination of the two - but there was a flash of lightning, of genius about it. There are few film scores where one could say that the music wasn't just innovative for film, it was actually a whole new type of music - but here's the prime example. The brilliance of the opening title theme, with Alessandro Alessandrini's whistling, his vocal group's grunting, the electric guitar, whip and drums; it's three minutes of sheer brilliance. A flash of genius, indeed.
"Almost Dead" brings in the next indelible theme - a low-end piano riff alternating with harmonica and gypsy-like violin solos - the man with no name being brilliantly accompanied by a mixture of American and European folk music. "Square Dance" is exactly what it says, a delightful (very catchy) piece of Western dance music. "The Chase" is a wonderful piece of action music, a frenzied combination of trumpets, percussion and choir - once again, nobody had ever heard music like this anywhere before, let alone in a film score.
More action follows in "The Result", another great piece (the folk music influence shining through more obviously this time); "Without Pity" focuses more on (melodic) suspense before exploding into an exciting action finale; and then comes what is called "Theme From A Fistful of Dollars", a breathtaking trumpet theme which I guess could be considered this score's equivalent of "Ecstasy of Gold". On most albums (including the one I'm reviewing), this 15-minute set from the score is followed by a suite which essentially reprises all the same music, re-edited into a very good arrangement which is great to listen to; there has been a slightly expanded Italian CD release featuring more of the score, but essentially all the important stuff's here. Legendary stuff, a genius classic.