Friday, September 30, 2011

Moments of Movie Magic: "Ecstasy of Gold" from Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966)

This tribute to the great Italian composer Ennio Morricone, artist of such magnificent film scores as this one and "Cinema Paradiso", "Once Upon a Time in the West" and so many others features one of my favorite scenes in all films and one that many others share as well.

It's the haunting and powerful moments near the end of Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", the third film in Leone's western series that later included "Once Upon a Time in the West" with Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale and Henry Fonda as a blue-eyed sociopath villain!

Few who enjoy action films devoid of excess special effects can fail to appreciate this amazing climax to one of the greatest epics in the Western cinema canon.

"The bad" gunslinger Tuco (played with a great relish by the still-active Eli Wallach) starts off on his mission to locate a grave containing several thousand gold dollars in a massive American Civil War graveyard. It is the end of a long and bloody quest to fulfill a greedy desire to spare nothing and no one in a quest for ill-gotten gain--the parallels of Manifest Destiny and the rush for land and its mineral and agricultural wealth are all too symbolized to perfection.

And that ALL paths, to paraphrase the great English poet Thomas Grey, whether "paths of glory" or a brutal one simply for the headstone and gilded remains of a forgotten soldier named "Arch Stanton", "lead but to the grave".

The certainty of death in this aftermath of the orgy that is warfare points to another kind of greed---the greed of old men for power over the men they send to death, men who will never share the fruits of peace.

Death literally surrounds the three men (also played by star Clint Eastwood and former Holywood heavy Lee Van Cleef) whose conquest is more material and individualistic and ultimately as empty as the grave where the money was originally supposed to be.

With plenty of mordant humor and a uncanny knack of evoking the American West as both a myth and a flesh-and-blood place in time, this film (and its score) is truly a masterpiece no one who loves film can discount.

The background on Maestro Morricone and his old school chum, Sergio Leone, is the focus for the beginning of this mini BBC documentary. The second half shows how the evocative "Ecstasy of Gold" theme looked in the theaters and in concert halls later on when the composer toured and conducted orchestras and singers in Munich, Venice and London.


  1. Believe it or not, I had the soundtrack album to the three main films in this series when I was 14 years old - "The Good; The Bad; and the Ugly" was one of my fave tunes at the time.

    This was a close second.

  2. I believe it Will. At about the same age, I was collecting the second-rank Hugo Montenegro covers of many of these instrumentals on .45 records, like "For a Few Dollars More"(1965) and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". The soundtracks eluded me for some reason.

    Years later, I was lucky enough to have a friend gave me a CD soundtrack with many of these amazing musical works by Morricone from these films.

    The range Moricone shows between the score from this one and the more romantic themes he uses in several scenes with Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson/Jason Robards in "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) really show how great a composer he is.

  3. Me also. I was surprised to find even the heavy metal band Metallica used the music from this film to open their concerts. Both musical works have a life of its own. Just the first few bars of "TG,TB&TU" have been used in many film and television shows to evoke this sense of menace, often in a humorous vein.

  4. Just great soundtracks ever .... loved the westerns too !

  5. I have to agree Rosie. A vintage classic. And the music stands alone. This mini-documentary really does Morricone's work on the film justice.