You don’t need to be told that Ennio Morricone is a living legend. His work from the 1960s all the way up to present day stands alone in the world of film score composition. You don’t need to be told all of this because it’s impossible to watch any number of beloved movies made in that timeframe without encountering his distinct style, which elevated each one of those films to new heights. Even in the last few decades, his brilliant scores are being repurposed to enhance a whole new generation of filmmaker’s scores. Here are ten songs to remind you of Morricone’s wizardry.
L’Arena, Il Mercenario (1968)/Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)
I’ll be blunt. I haven’t seen Il Mercenario, although I have every intention of seeing it. This whole list started because I thought of this particular scene from Kill Bill while making a work analogy. The editing of the Bride’s escape with Morricone’s score is perfect. When the hand jolts through the ground, tell me you don’t want to pump your fist.
L’Estassi Dell’Oro, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
This list would be invalid without a sampling from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Everyone knows the iconic whistling theme over the opening credits, but “L’Estassi Dell’Oro” leading up to the film’s taut climax is impossible to overlook.
Fists in the Pocket (1965)
Right about now, most of you are saying “What the hell is Fists in the Pocket?”. Well, I’ll tell you, gentle reader- it’s a mid-60s Italian film about a young man’s rebelliousness. But Morricone’s score lends an eerie tone to the film that presents the story as a descent into insanity. If you want to talk about Morricone’s scores elevating a film, this is a perfect place to start.
The Thing (1982)
The synth-inspired theme to John Carpenter’s atmospheric 1982 thriller, the theme that helped raise the terror to 11, was composed by Ennio Morricone. I’m as shocked as you, but no less impressed with the effectiveness of the composition. Allegedly, there was some tension between Carpenter and Morricone, but it’s a testament to Morricone’s skill that he could create a score that matched the director better than it matched Morricone.
Rabbia E Tarantella, Allonsanfan (1974)/Inglourious Basterds (2009)
It’s the song over the final credits of Inglourious Basterds, right after Aldo Raine has left his special mark on Hans Landa. There’s some admitted guilt for including these songs in the context of more modern films (again, I haven’t seen Allonsanfan), but thumbs up to people like Tarantino for raising awareness of Morricone’s work.
Here’s to You (with Joan Baez), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
And speaking of more modern directors shedding light on Morricone, Wes Anderson did so in The Life Aquatic by including this piece. Obviously, the lyrics are from Joan Baez but the music is Morricone, and it was a memorable part of Anderson’s film.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
The wail of the harmonica, its unmistakeable tie to Charles Bronson’s character, the rising tension leading to the inexorable conclusion… This is how you score a western.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
It’s such a departure from Morricone’s vengeful western scores, but it shows off his range. And it fits the tone of the film like a glove.
The Untouchables (1987)
That movie that you liked when you were a kid? The one that you thought was just a cool gangster film? Yeah. That was scored by Morricone. Now that I listen to it, of course, it’s impossible not to recognize the harmonica, repurposed… which is probably the only time DePalma’s ever repurposed something in a way that I thought was cool. But that’s a whole other discussion.
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
You may recall Morricone’s use of clocks, chimes, and bells in the Fists in the Pocket score. They appeared that same year in another film that Morricone scored- For a Few Dollars More. Their use ties tightly to the source of Mortimer’s vengeance.