Hornets’ Nest

Hornets’ Nest was an Italian-made World War II film that explored the humor, strangeness and pathos—if not outright tragedy—of children being caught up in warfare. The setting is the country villa of Reanoto, Italy in 1944; a group of boys watch their parents slaughtered and find themselves the last remaining partisans in the area fighting the Nazis. American paratroopers arrive but all but one is killed on the way down—the survivor is Turner, played by Rock Hudson in an excellent performance (despite an anachronistic handlebar mustache). The boys rescue Turner and kidnap a beautiful German doctor, Bianca (Sylva Koscina), to tend to him. When Turner recuperates he intends to fulfill his mission—blowing up a nearby dam—but the boys insist that the G.I. lead them in a revenge attack upon the Nazis. The boys make an unlikely team with their unofficial chaperones Turner and Bianca, but manage to obtain some measure of success in fighting the Germans, even though the boys’ leader, a vengeful young man named Aldo (Mark Colleano), goes too far in his bloodlust—with tragic consequences.

The film benefits greatly from the somber yet melodic score by Ennio Morricone. The effort is essentially monothematic, with a main theme that blends classical reserve (a very Baroque, minor-mode theme) and offbeat pop (a major-mode whistling bridge—the theme for children resistance fighters, even performed by them as source music), lending a classical frame to the story while making it at once fresh, modern and accessible…the maestro’s career in a nutshell. Outside of the main theme, Morricone provides non-thematic, atmospheric cues for moments of skulking or pre-combat suspense—the action itself is generally unscored. It is hard to imagine another composer who could score the story of children at wartime with such delicacy, and yet Morricone never pulls his punches as far as writing a fully developed and well-crafted melody. He evokes the humor of the boys’ essential childlike natures (with the whistling theme) on one hand while lamenting the horror of their involvement with war on another (with the main theme)—without ever sounding patronizing or saccharine. As the boys’ story threatens to careen into Lord of the Flies-like anarchy, on screen it is the presence of Rock Hudson who anchors them with guidance and some semblance of morality; to the audience, it is Morricone who presents an honest expression of their essential selves while lamenting what has happened to them—as if the children themselves are maintaining some tenuous connection to humanity, which in the end is justified.

This is the premiere release of Ennio Morricone’s complete score to Hornets’ Nest, mastered from the best-available Italian tape source (in monaural sound) and produced for Film Score Monthly by Claudio Fuiano and Daniel Winkler. The only previous release was on a Japanese 45rpm single (United Artists HIT-1822) issued in 1970, which contained the main and end titles (presented as tracks 18 and 38 here), although an eight-track program was pirated on vinyl later in the 1970s by the infamous “Poo” label.

18. Main Titles
In the film’s (unscored) prologue Nazis massacre the townsfolk of an Italian village, Reanoto, when none of the residents will reveal the location of partisan resistance fighters sought by the Germans. Morricone’s main theme unfolds for the opening credits as U.S. soldiers parachute into the region and are are wiped out by Nazis—except for Turner (Rock Hudson), who gets stuck in a tree.
19. Looking for a Partisan Doctor
Turner is rescued by a group of children but the soldier is gravely wounded, so the children, led by Aldo (Mark Colleano), set off to find a doctor. This short suspense cue was not used in the film but likely accompanied a bloody scene when Aldo’s first choice of a doctor (Mino Doro) is slain by Germans.
20. Bianca, the German Doctor
Some of the boys travel to a hospital, where they trick Bianca (Sylva Koscina), a beautiful doctor, into accompanying them. The main theme tenderly underscores their quest, segueing to the whistling theme for their arrival at the boys’ “camp”; only the first 1:29 (titled “Boys to the Hospital” on the legal cue sheet) and last 0:57 (“Doctor Following Boys”) were used in the finished film.
21. Guns in the Tunnel
The boys show off their cache of guns and Aldo demands that Turner become their instructor in the art of warfare. Queasy, dissonant colors (with a quote of the main theme) evoke the darkness of the boys’ intentions.
22. Radio—Research
In exchange, the boys help Turner access a radio from the nearby German headquarters so he can continue his mission—to blow up a nearby dam. Tracks 22–24 are low-key, eerie suspense cues as the boys and Turner execute their plan, beginning with the killing of a perimeter guard.
23. Opening Window
Turner enters the building housing the radio; uneasy, somewhat amorphous strains follow him.
24. Radio—Contacting
Turner contacts the Americans but the communication is next to useless. Morricone’s cue aids immensely in heightening the suspense as the film cross-cuts between Turner’s frantic attempt to hold the line and approaching German soldiers.
25. The Dike
The boys show Turner the dam. Morricone lays down a foreboding, ominous cue (with an effective use of anachronistic electric guitar) for the forbidding target.
26. Research in the Wood
Turner and the boys hide in the woods from a German trooper on patrol; Morricone’s dissonant suspense builds until Turner kills the soldier.
27. Bianca and Turner
An unused version of the main theme was recorded but not used for the film’s second act, as Turner, Bianca (a prisoner, lest she inform the Germans) and the boys train and wait in the woods.
28. Dialogue Doctor—American Soldier
Bianca accompanies Turner on a reconaissance trip to the dam, then attempts to stab him in a moment of rage. This unused alternate of the cue features a reprise of the dam music from “The Dike” followed by suspense for her attack.
29. Dialogue With the Boys
The boys have hidden Turner’s detonators and insist that he lead them on a revenge raid against the Nazis in Reanoto—his mission, in exchange for theirs. The main theme plays like a lament for the hardness of the boys’ souls.
30. Boys Running to the River
Their raid on Reanoto a success, the boys frolic in the water in front of the dam as a diversion to begin Turner’s offensive. The whistling part of the main theme underlines the incongruity of the carefree play in the war setting. The first half of this cue (until 1:14) featuring the balance of the main theme was not used in the finished film; the scene may have been shortened.
31. Blowing the Dam
Turner leads the boys on the mission to infiltrate and blow up the dam; Morricone provides primarily non-thematic yet highly colorful and moody music for the lengthy sequence of climbing and swimming. Some of the music is dialed out of the finished film; that which remains is titled “Swimming Across the River in the Night” and “Swimming Near the Dike” on the legal cue sheet.
32. Death of a Boy
One of the boys, Silvio (Vincenzo Danaro), is killed while protecting Bianca and the youngest children; the main theme plays as a lament.
33. Boy and German Officer Fighting
The vengeful Aldo—who has killed his young friend Carlo (Mauro Gravina) on the dam through careless crossfire—runs through the woods and shoots Von Hecht (Sergio Fantoni), the German leader. Morricone provides one last suspense cue.
34. End Titles
American troops roll in at the film’s conclusion, putting an end to the hostilities—but Aldo is lost in his bloodlust and Turner carries him out of the (literal and figurative) woods. Male vocals enhance the elegiac nature of the main theme as Turner comforts the poor, wounded boy.

Bonus Tracks

35. Research in the Wood (alternate)
An alternate version of track 26 is essentially the same but with subtle differences in orchestration and timing. (There is, for example, no harpsichord at 0:39.)
36. Dialogue Doctor—American Soldier (film version)
The film version of track 28 omits the opening reprise of the dam music.
37. Boy and German Officer Fighting (alternate)
This is essentially the same as track 33, but uses an alternate for the last 0:17 with a less prominent keyboard.
38. End Titles (single edit)
This shortened version of the “End Titles” appeared on the Hornets’ Nest single. —