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Never so bold...
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1966 Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica SpA.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Sergio Leone's masterpieces with Clint Eastwood were just beginning to make their mark on America when Navajo Joe came along, attemping to do a similar kind of thing but in an even grittier way; a different Sergio was in the director's chair (Corbucci, who had made the seminal Django), and Burt Reynolds was in place of Eastwood. One constant was the composer - of course, Ennio Morricone, whose work in this genre I would rank as the most extraordinarily creative and brilliant film music there has been.
The main title theme for Navajo Joe is a hoot, unexpected even from this most unpredictable of film composers - it begins with a woman's screech, a primal and startling sound, before a choir sings the name of the character and occasionally utters some words of wisdom about him (eg: "Never so bold!") - a memorable, striking, vintage piece of Morricone, famously used in Alexander Payne's Election over thirty years later. And there aren't many film scores which become ingrained in popular culture because two entirely separate pieces from them cropped up in entirely different films decades later, but as well as the main title in Election, Quentin Tarantino used "A Silhouette of Doom" in Kill Bill - it's a driving, suspenseful piece for the villains of the story, built around a five-note motif hammered at the low end of a piano which forms a key building block of the score as a whole.
Those two pieces dominate, cropping up in countless variations over the 45-minute score, but always given fresh impetus with each new appearance thanks to the composer's ingenious knack for building up whole scores sometimes from relatively small (in terms of volume) ideas. It also helps that there are one or two other set-pieces along the way - the inevitable saloon music, "The Peyote Saloon", with the piano and banjos, the wonderfully outlandish "But Joe Say No", the two "Navajo Harmonica" source cues and the breathtakingly beautiful "The Demise of Father Rattigan".
A kind of legend has built up about this score over the years due to numerous factors - no doubt the fact that it is such good music is the key one, and the use in other films has also helped, the fact that Morricone wrote the score (somewhat mysteriously) under the pseudonym Leo Nichols (and the possibly apocryphal story that Burt Reynolds was furious that the producers were too cheap to hire Morricone so got this Nichols fellow instead) but its peculiar release history also plays a part, with various LPs being issued through the 1960s and 70s which were all unsatisfactory for one reason or another, and the only CD release (in the mid-1990s) suffering from very poor sound. Now Film Score Monthly has put out the definitive release, of the whole score, plus 10 minutes of bonus tracks, in easily the best sound yet (though it is still certainly not problem-free). Even by their standards the liner notes are good, with a short essay by John Bender, track-by-track analysis from Lukas Kendall and Jim Wynorski and a brief note from the latter about his history with the score. Top-notch.