After deconstructing the classic American Western by way of The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars, director Sergio Leone distilled his intentions with 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West, arguably a milestone for both Leone and his musical cohort, Ennio Morricone. For his part, Morricone framed Leone's meditative camera work and mythic narrative with a mix of hauntingly spacious pieces and reconfigured snatches of old-timey tunes. Just within the stretch of the first four pieces here, Morricone evokes the endless expanse of the West with a Copland-esque aria (the main title theme), weaves some twisted grit into the showdown theme with loads of guitar fuzz ("As a Judgment"), ingeniously combines whistling and a clippity-clop rhythm for a respite piece ("Farewell to Cheyenne"), and conjures the surreal end of the cowboy mythos via a wonderfully disjointed serial-style number ("The Transgression"). And whether sounding upbeat or stark, Morricone informs it all with the dry and windswept vacancy of the West. Beautiful and stunning.
One of the most lyrical western movie scores from one of the all-time greatest movie westerns. Unlike the slightly more cartoonish music (in the Raymond Scott sense) for Sergio Leone's earlier "Man With No Name" westerns starring Clint Eastwood (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
), Once Upon A Time in the West
is epic in scope and elegiac in tone. Composer Ennio Morricone uses a haunting, wordless female vocal on the main theme (and in the equally beautiful soundtrack for Leone's companion gangster epic, Once Upon A Time in America
, many years later) that sends chills down your spine and may even bring tears to your eyes. --Jim Emerson