This series is inspired by a controversy thread where someone posited the idea that besides THE MISSION and some Sergio Leone westerns Ennio Morricone hasn't written anything great. Rather than making my usual comment that most of Morricone's great scores are from Italy and trying to get Americans to listen to them is like getting them to see movies with subtitles, I decided to take another tact. Since I am at an age where I will only be able to make my case a finite number of times I decided to turn this into a series presenting each great score one at a time, sort of like recordman.
From the sacred, MOSES, to the profane. Soon after I changed my mind about the merits of Morricone in 1970 I started to keep an eye out for his scores and this funky piece of Eurotrash played in a theater I worked at on Hollywood Boulevard in 1972. It was pretty unpleasant with beautiful nude actresses being killed off every 15 minutes and an actual hunting scene (a la RULES OF THE GAME) where animals lie twitching away. But the one thing that stayed with me was a scene where Richard Burton, as Bluebeard, takes a picture of a portrait of his mother and processes it until it becomes an abstract Rorschach image. That image is the main titles of the film that Morricone wrote this absolutely original elegant and mocking music for:
Everything in this movie is done tongue in cheek, albeit pretty darkly. Bluebeard plays the organ a lot and keeps his dead wives in an elaborate freezer giving this fairly expensive film a DR. PHIBES vibe, so to speak. Despite the fact this was one of American director Edward Dmytryk last films (he did another with Morricone THE HUMAN FACTOR) it is more a European piece with an international cast and crew and was produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind. They afterwards did THE THREE MUSKETEERS and SUPERMAN series (They were sometimes called the Salkind brothers even though they were father and son). Among the lovely ladies in various states of undress are Raquel Welch, Virna Lisi, Nathalie Delon, Marilù Tolo, Karin Schubert, Agostina Belli, Sybil Danning and Joey Heatherton. This is Morricone's cimbalom score and joins the likes of Miklos Rozsa'a THE POWER and John Barry's THE IPCRESS FILE as classic uses of this unique instrument. The main theme has a wonderful quality that lies between jazz and salon music that I never heard anything quite like it. But it also goes well with those Rorschach style images with mother hiding inside. Like John Williams Morricone has a knack of encapsulating what a film is about in his themes. Morricone also does some 1920s style source including a cool dixieland riff but goes decided Giallo throughout most of this. This was also the first of 5 films Franco Tamponi, a composer in his own right, conducted for Morricone.
Yet another score by the Maestro which I first encountered via a vinyl compilation album ... and I wasn't too taken (not given some of the other beautiful themes included) but, once again, I purchased the CD score and found it is a highly enjoyable listen. I've since upgraded to the Dagored extended release but I don't think the extra tracks offer too much.
This is one of his films which I've seen - at least partly (or perhaps it was heavily edited) as I don't recall much nudity!
And yes, as with The Ipcress File, I love that cimbalom. It is largely an easy-listening album, certainly not much dissonance.
Is there "something" I should know about this one? I've seen the name Raquel Welch mentionned a few times.
There's a number of things to know about BLUEBEARD.
It's a minor cult movie/camp classic.
I first saw it on a UHF re-run sometime during the 1980s, and got Anchor Bay's DVD on BLUEBEARD soon after its release.
Director Edward Dmytryk used Ennio Morricone here, and again in THE HUMAN FACTOR. Morricone's theme for BLUEBEARD is a repetitive yet affecting stew, garnished with Cimbalom and what sounds like a Duck call whislte, and seems patterned upon a tap dance routine from the 1920s.
The intentionally gaudy color photography is something to behold - globs of colored lighting appear as if in a STAR TREK episode directed by Mario Bava.
The highlight of female pulchritude occurs when Sybil Danning instructs Nathalie Delon in foreplay, both stripping down to nothing but stockings making love on the carpet, after which Richard Burton drops a crystal chandelier ontop of them!
BLUEBEARD has a reputation for being a link in a chain of "bad" Richard Burton movies from the 1970s. Richard Burton first got hit in the groin by Michael Dunn in BOOM!; in BLUBEARD, Burton receives a kick in the crotch from raven-haired feminist Marilu Tolo!
Too bad Bela Bartok hadn't lived another another 30 years or so to see this BLUEBEARD reduced to pulp!
While the cimbalom was integrated into the symphony orchestra as early as the 1870s, starting with one of Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, this instrument doesn't appear to have been featured in film scores from the 1930s up through the 1950s.
1965 could be considered the cimbalom's break-out year, with its usage by Elizabeth Lutyens in her score for the Amicus horror movie THE SKULL spearheading its subsequent (and better-known) presence that year in 2 efforts by John Barry: THE IPCRESS FILE and KING RAT.
The cimbalom has made occasional "guest" appearances from the late 1960s onwards past the 20th century: IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (Quincy Jones), THE POWER (Miklos Rozsa), David Whitaker's RUN WILD, RUN FREE, Harry Robinson's COUNTESS DRACULA, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (Francois de Roubaix), Ennio Morricone's BLUEBEARD, and so on...
...David Huckvale's excellent book HAMMER FILM SCORES AND THE MUSICAL AVANT-GARDE documents very well the cimbalom's utilization in the British film industry during the mid-'60s, and beyond, devoting most of its page 64 to this.
Nevertheless, I recall detecting a cimbalom within the orchestral fabric of Humphrey Searle's 1963 score THE HAUNTING (during the scenes when Julie Harris ascends the rickety metal spiral staircase near the climax). I also think Henry Mancini used this instrument one year earlier for his EXPERIMENT IN TERROR music, or was this some other dulcimer-type instrument ... ? ...
Up late working and this main title popped up on my custom playlist. What a marvelous haunting piece. How has Morricone come up with so many of them, simple, lovely, moving, with such inventive orchestration? Never seen the picture and it probably will never come my way, but it doesn't matter. The more I listen to works like these, the more baffled I am by people who "like film music" yet are indifferent to Morricone. He gives you so much to listen to when so many get by with providing so little. Glad he's still with us and still creating music.