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GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN
Quirky historical score done the way only Morricone would dare
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1968 Turner Entertainment Co.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
A period drama set in 18th century Mexico, Guns for San Sebastian is in effect a kind of western, with Anthony Quinn playing a man who ends up protecting a village against violent Indian attacks. It also stars Charles Bronson, and was a very international production, with a French director (Henri Vernuil, who also made The 25th Hour) and a crew made up of French, Italians and Mexicans. One of the Italians was composer Ennio Morricone, still relatively early in his career at the time - but he's already managed to squeeze in the Dollars trilogy for Sergio Leone.
In some ways his music here is something of a precursor to his next Leone masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West (the ultimate film score?), with an approach sometimes approaching operatic, and sometimes referring back to the crazy pop stylings of his earlier western scores. The disc opens with an overture which includes the gorgeous, sweeping main theme highlighted by Edda dell'Orso's wordless vocals, as expressive, beautiful and soaring as ever - the marriage of her voice to Morricone's music is one of film music's greatest creations in whichever score it is used, and this is right up there.
The next track introduces another theme, heard in subdued arrangement for electric guitar and strings - it's a subtle piece, but all the way through you just know that later on Morricone is going to unleash it in some kind of frenzied, almost orgasmic style - and that moment duly arrives during "Building the Dam". "The Chase" is vintage Morricone western action music - fluttering recorder, pounding percussion, blaring brass, choir - glorious! The love theme, heard briefly in the overture, gets an extended treatment in "Kinita's Plea", a truly gorgeous piece of music.
As usual with Morricone, there's plenty of restatement of themes, but there are a few nice individual set-pieces as well, such as "Chuch Music / Sneaking Away", which opens with a brief passage of liturgical choral music before going into a striking, dynamic piece of suspense. "The Long Trek" recalls a piece from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as Morricone paints a somewhat bleak picture of the landscape. "Leon Fights Teclo" is a fine action track with Morricone favouring abrasive dissonance to very good effect. "The White Stallion" is an extraordinary piece combining the full orchestra with Edda dell'Orso to extremely powerful effect. The finale, "Teclo's Death / Victory" is a shimmering, moving piece for percussion and choir.
This new album from Film Score Monthly greatly expands the previous release (doubling the length, in fact) and fortunately this isn't one of those Morricone scores that just gets more repetitive when it is expanded, there's some genuinely fresh new material here which improves the album no end. Just as importantly, FSM were able to go back to the original elements to remaster the sound, which is significantly better than it has been before.