Way Out West(ern)

I have vague memories of pestering my parents to allow me to stay up and watch Gunsmoke on Monday nights.

That long-running television Western was off the air before I reached grade school. I grew up in what was probably the first wave of kids for who Westerns weren’t an essential part of childhood.

And, instead of John Wayne, I think Clint Eastwood.

(in truth, I’ve never really watched a John Wayne movie of any kind)

Eastwood’s Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josie Wales, and High Plains Drifter, though, are all essential viewing for me as are his trio of Spaghetti Westerns with Sergio Leone.

I vividly recall one of those infrequent nights as a small kid when I inexplicably escaped being sent off to bed well before the late news aired.

The news had come and gone and, yet, there I was, sprawled on the floor with a pillow and a blanket, basking in the glow of late-night television.

I was seven, maybe eight and I knew little of this mysterious world.

My dad was still awake, stretched out in his chair, as up popped the logo for The CBS Late Movie on the television screen in all of its mid-’70s glory and there was For A Few Dollars More.

There we were, me and the old man, watching as Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef tracked the fugitive El Indio with steely-eyed resolve.

There was a crazy prospector, a hunchback, a little person, some odd sound effects, an unending hail of bullets, and Ennio Morricone’s musical brilliance. There were moments and scenes that were not unlike the cartoons I watched.

(except for the bullets and music)

The Old West in this flick bore little resemblence to the one which I’d seen on Sunday mornings when the only options on our handful of television stations was religious programming or an old Western in black and white.

Black and white?! I might as well have read a book.

This had grit and I could all but feel the heat shimmering from the desert plains. When Clint squinted into the glare of the sun on the horizon, so did I.

And sometime before Clint loaded up the pile of bodies into a cart to collect his bounties and Lee Van Cleef rode off alone, my dad explained to me the origin of the term Spaghetti Western.

Westerns named after my favorite meal…

The late-night world held wonders and the music of Ennio Morricone was the soundtrack.

The only Ennio Morricone I own are the soundtracks to Cinema Paradiso and The Mission – both of which are stellar – and a few other odd tracks.

So, here are a pair of songs from Ennio Morricone’s classic soundtrack to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and a pair from the late ’80s soundtrack to the obscure, twisted spaghetti Western flick Straight To Hell

Ennio Morricone – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly soundtrack

Ennio Morricone – The Ecstasy Of Gold
from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly soundtrack

Evocative and compelling, it’s impossible to think of The Man With No Name and not hear the music of Ennio Morricone (and vice versa). It was a perfect marriage.

If I could – and I suppose there’s no reason I couldn’t except for obvious financial constraints – I’d hire Morricone to write theme music for me which I would then listen to on my iPod all day as I went about my tasks.

That’s what I’d do.

Pray For Rain – The Killers
from Straight To Hell soundtrack

The Pogues – Rabinga
from Straight To Hell soundtrack

Two years ago, I wrote about Straight To Hell, an odd curio of a movie starring Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer, and The Pogues as well as a pre-fame Courtney Love, Dennis Hopper and Grace Jones.

The tagline for the movie – which was from the same director/writer behind the ’80s cult flick Repo Man – was “a story of blood, money, guns, coffee, and sexual tension.”

The movie was underwhelming, but there was some cool, Morricone-inspired music on the soundtrack.

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2 Responses to Way Out West(ern)

  1. Perplexio says:

    Some other Ennio Morricone scores worth checking out– Once Upon a Time in America (another Sergio Leone pic. This was his gangster film. He turned down the offer to direct The Godfather because he wanted to do Once Upon a Time in America instead– finally over 10 years later he did just that and brought Morricone along for the ride to compose the score) and The Legend of 1900 this is another Giuseppe Tornatore film (Tornatore also paired with Morricone on Cinema Paradiso— incidentally Morricone has scored almost all if not all of Tornatore’s films).

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