After having done elementary school in Rome, by the Salesians, Sergio Leone ed Ennio Morricone they lost sight of each other for decades. They met in the early sixties, when Leone had already shot the historical film “for food reasons” The colossus of Rhodes and when Morricone, between the many other things, he was already making music for the cinema. After shooting with great difficulty For a bunch of dollars, his first Italian western, Leone needed someone to take care of the soundtrack.
At first Leone thought of working again with the composer who had dealt with the music of Colossus of Rhodes, but then, probably convinced by the directors of Jolly Film, the film’s production company, he met the composer whose music he had listened to in the western Duel in Texas. The composer – who to make everything more Americanizing in the film had used the pseudonyms Dan Savio and Leo Nichols (the former as a composer, the latter as conductor) – was Ennio Morricone.
Leone and Morricone found themselves by chance. Why Leone wanted to make a western and why Morricone had made the music of a western, including Leone said: “It was the kind of movie where an actor fell to the ground before the butt of the gun actually touched his head.” With the film already made and edited, Morricone added the music of For a bunch of dollars.
Both the music and the film were successful, although a few years ago Morricone said to the Guardian to consider the film the worst Leone film and the soundtrack its worst soundtrack.
– Also read: How were the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone
The two former schoolmates – who during the filming had chosen the pseudonyms Bob Robertson and, again, Dan Savio – also collaborated on For a Few Dollars More: another success.
But it was the The good, the bad and the ugly – the third film of the Dollar Trilogy – to give a real turn to their incredibly profitable collaboration, based on a remarkable understanding and a common will, and above all ability, to mix the high and the low, the cultured and the popular. All very evident in the film and in its most famous music: the main theme, which starts from the howl of a coyote and adapts to the three protagonists, and then the powerful “The ecstasy of gold” and the slow and tense “The triello “.
– Also read: «The world is divided into two categories»
The three of the title are “the blond” and good (Clint Eastwood); Tuco, that is the ugly (Eli Wallach) and the bad, nicknamed Sentenza (and played by Lee Van Cleef). The film is set during the Secession War and tells how all three try to get to a cemetery, where it seems there is a box with 200 thousand dollars inside: someone knows under which tombstone the box is located, someone else knows which cemetery to look for .
Unlike the previous two films, Morricone worked on a lot of music before seeing the scenes. For the main theme he was inspired by the howl of a coyote (which can be heard at the beginning of the film) and to the various instruments he also added noises of guns and whistles of various types. The two notes of the main theme are the same for the three protagonists of the title; but they are made by a different instrument for each of them: a flute for the good, an argilophone (similar to an ocarina) for the bad and a human voice for the ugly.
The main theme – also titled The good, the bad and the ugly – has been defined from Washington Post «one of the most recognizable sounds in the history of cinema ».
The theme is immediately felt in the opening titles, but returns several times during the film: each time accompanying, sometimes almost anticipating, the character or characters of which he speaks, with the relative instruments. If there is a flute, somewhere there is the good. If you hear the argilophone, then there is also Judgment nearby.
Anyway, to get to the cemetery first is Tuco, the ugly one. Exalted by the possible wealth to which he believes he is very close, he becomes ecstatic. “The ecstasy of gold” (in which the voice is of the singer Edda Dell’Orso) is the song that accompanies the scene. It starts slowly, because the tombs are many and then it’s all a crescendo of frenzy and exaltation up to the final ecstasy of when, among the many tombs, Tuco is in front of the right one.
“The ecstasy of gold” is the passage of Morricone that has arrived farther: in several other films, in the concerts of the Ramones, Bruce Springsteen and Metallica and in the songs of Jay-Z. But the place where he is better is obviously the good, the bad and the ugly, where Leone could turn to the rhythm of music, also making it heard by the actors, so that they too could have it in their ears in the same way that the spectators would have had it.
– Also read: Where Morricone’s music went
Returning to the film, after the ecstasy Tuco has to deal again with the good and the bad. It is the famous “Mexican stall”, accompanied by the equally famous song “Il triello”, which also contains some references to the soundtrack of For a Few Dollars More. It is said that in asking Morricone for music for this scene, Leone said to compose “as if the corpses were laughing from the graves”. Like several other times in Leone’s cinema, nobody speaks for several minutes, because to tell everything you need to tell you just need faces, shots and music.
After the good, the bad and the ugly, Leone and Morricone also worked together on the last three films of Leone: those of the Trilogy of the time: Once upon a time there was the West, Down the head, Once upon a time in America. Each time perfecting their understanding and increasing the relevance of music within the story. Stanley Kubrick noticed that, among others, after seeing Once Upon a Time in the West phoned Leone and him churches how he managed to shoot one of the most famous scenes of that film, with that perfect harmony and synchrony between sounds and images. Leone simply replied that he moved the camera following the crescendo of music played on the set.
Speaking of Morricone, Leone said that more than a composer, he was his screenwriter. Speaking of films and soundtracks, Morricone said: “A director doesn’t have to be a music expert, he has to trust music.”