When this score came out in 1969 on an LP from Paramount Records it was the legitimization of Morricone for oldguard film music collectors. They never took to his oddball westerns, gangster or arthouse scores (even though things like GALILEO and ONCE UPON A TIME INTHE WEST were practically operatic) but this elegant contemplative piece they took to. This epic co-production of Russia and Italy was about General Umberto Nobile who was an Italian aeronautical engineer and Arctic explorer whose dirigible Italia was the first to get to the North Pole but crashed before it returned. Creating a strange international limbo Italian Nobile was played by Peter Finch and Norwegian explorer Roald Amunsen was played by Sean Connery and much of the rest of the cast is Russian. But the story, told as a memory piece from Nobile’s point of view on a sleepless night in his old age, unfolds like a dream. The main theme is a shimmering haunting one that lends to that idea. Youtube has furnished a whole suite from his score to give you both a taste and some clips:
This film was done in two different versions. The shortened 2 hour version for most of the world and then the Russian version in 70MM (which is what it was shot in) and a half hour longer. The Russian version also had a different score by Aleksandr Zatsepin. As always I am always more surprised at the similarities rather than the differences in alternate scores (LEGEND, JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN, CHINATOWN). This score reminds me of Morricone scores but not the epic one he wrote for this, more along the lines of his low budget melodramas or lounge scores with organ and solitary female voice. Some irony comes in that THAT intimate one was put on the big 70MM presentation and Morricone’s large one was put on the scaled down version. Anyway the way to hear this one is on Legend’s expanded version still available in a number of places.
It would be interesting to see the Russian version of the film, which some people claim runs as long as four hours. Available video versions of the film look surprisingly poor, given the 70mm nature of the original photography.
One of my very favourites, and I finally saw the film last year on youtube. Two great themes, a fugue played on - what, a cello, double bass? - and some perfectly icy suspense music incorporating the Morse SOS signal representing the hopelessness of the stranded aviators and some slashing strings to show the biting wind and cold. Wonderfully atmospheric and at the same time heart-rending.
This was an early LP for me, bought in the late 70s without a clue what it was about from (perhaps) Magpie Records in Worcester, and played to death. A lucky find and a score to which I regularly return.
I too am a fan of this score Back in the early 70s I used to have a great record store in my local town in Uk ran by a brother and sister though getting on a bit they used to get all the scores in I found this in said record store as always they were in plastic sleves but when to it to the counter two records came out to which i bought both the other Lp was A fistful of dynamite , up to that point i had only got Morricone's westerns and best ofs so this score opened up a whole new world of film scores to me and not been able to stop buying since