Ennio Morricone’s score for this German detective thriller is a weird mix of haunting nostalgia and baroque, quasi-German pop nonsense that admittedly reflects the film’s peculiar blend of black comedy and mystery, but the contrast is sometimes jarring in the film and this expanded soundtrack CD, which boosts the original LP’s content with a huge array of alternate and unused cues.
It may be unsurprisingly to learn that parts of Morricone’s up-tempo variations were either dialed down in the film mix, or according to the CD liner notes, replaced by less overtly comedic material from other Morricone scores in the international versions.
The best illustration of the score’s two extremes is the opening titles set in 1948 Istanbul – rich in mandolin, yet bittersweet with Edda Dell'Orso’s cascading voice – and the pop variation “Notte cromatica” for the opening Swiss scenes, starkly performed with gilded harpsichord, electric bass & guitar, high register strings, and a chorus of gleeful women ‘La-la-la-ing’ back and forth, with Morricone sometimes punctuating their airheaded joy with French horn mountain calls redolent of a cough syrup commercial.
In “Meditazione melodica,” Morricone uses male wordless chorus for what feels like a slight expansion of the mountain call, slowed down and eloquently harmonized into a soft, quasi lament, which the composer then diverts down a beautiful, tragic path with intersecting harmonies, bass hits on piano, and waves of wordless voices paired with flute. An electric bass adds dramatic weight, and the lengthy 4-minute cue eventually withers away with a quiet recap of the soft opening bars.
Even in the domestic German version, most of Morricone’s cues were reduced in the final film mix, perhaps due to the director’s desire to keep the humour quietly on the surface, such as the perky woodwinds in “Fuga in svizzera.”
The accordion ‘Oom Pa Pa’ in “Balleto… col morto” is more reflective of the film’s black sense of humour, which is why it was appropriately retained for the sliding cadaver sequence in the film's opening, after a local detective is found slumped over the steering wheel of his Mercedes.
“Caduta e ripresa” represents the score’s most oft-used suspense motif, and it’s an expansion of the minimal harmonic meshing at the beginning of “Meditazione melodica,” slowed down so Morricone can emphasize the eerie combination of flutes, waves of strings, and chunky bass drum hits.
Beat Records’ CD features many theme variations unused in the film, which may reflect a sense of disconnect between the composer and filmmakers, or that director Maximilian Schell was trying to find the right balance of mystery and comedy, but wasn’t able to express it clearly to the composer. “Jazzetto classico” feels like a Jacques Loussier riff on a fragment of the “Notte cromatica” theme; the second version of “Meditazione melodica” emphasizes keyboards and solo flute (oddly evocative of Pino Donaggio’s Dressed to Kill); and “Fox astratto” is a percussive chromatic flashback to a Keystone Cops silent; and in “Affresco con bambino,” Morricone applies an off-key boy’s voice for this variation of his lilting, irony tinged suspense theme.
Beat’s mastering is first-rate, and once again the recording shows off the superb engineering that’s typical of seventies Italian soundtracks, with miking placements that guaranteed robust, clean sounds with exquisite analogue warmth. Limited to 1500 copies, the CD comes with a digipak design replicating the gorgeous poster art from the Italian campaign, and a dual English-Italian liner notes.
The score's a bit eclectic in style, but it's an important addition to one’s personal Italian crime music collection.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan