Dynamic Duo: Sergio Leone Film Director/Ennio Morricone Composer
My son and daughter -in-law treated my wife and me to a great night out this past week end at Denver’s jazz venue “DazzleJazz” where we enjoyed the fourth annual performance by Dave Devine and company playing music from Ennio Morricone’s ‘Spaghetti Western Dollars’ trilogy which includes “A Fist Full of Dollars”, “For a Few Dollar’s More” and the motherlode flick “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” all creations of Italian director Serio Leone. For good measure, a medley from Leone’s classic “Once Upon a Time in the West” capped off the evening.
The production is simply awe inspiring and I will leave it to the music critics to cover that ground, including reviewing the superb talents of Devine’s accompanying ensemble which includes members of another Denver group “DeVotcka” (Devine is also a member).
The first motion picture in this trilogy “A Fist Full of Dollars” was a 1964 production which didn’t make it to American Theaters until 1967. Leone’s concept for his creations was to make westerns that were more believable and especially less preachy than those coming out of Hollywood.
Westerns in general had fallen out of favor in the U.S. and thus the delay in arriving on U.S. shores. In fact, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” – third in the series – proceeded “A Fist Full of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More” even though it was the final installment, coming out in 1966.
The first movie was an extremely low-budget affair at around 200 grand, of which actor Clint Eastwood received a mere $15,000. The part had been offered to several others including Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, James Colburn and Steve Reeves (and others) who all declined.
When the time came to shoot number three, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” Eastwood’s asking price was a quarter of a million dollars plus ten percent of the box office receipts, a demand that Leone grudgingly accepted and a coup for Eastwood since to that point in time his only role of any note was in the TV series “Rawhide”.
An interesting tid-bit – Eastwood did not want to smoke cigars in the movie but Director Leone insisted and thus, the – he puffed – Eastwood did not smoke in real life – so I’m not sure what happened to his speaking voice (think “Grand Torino” 2008). Also Lee Van Cleef (“The Ugly”) was actually good in “A Fist Full of Dollars”.
Once Upon a Time (in the West)
Eastwood would turn down a fourth role as “Joe the Stranger” as his part was known in Italy – evolving to “The Man With No Name” and finally “Blondie” in America. Eastwood felt he was being too typecast in the role and so he gave way to Charles Bronson in “Once Upon a Time in America” who would oppose the evil and heartless Henry Fonda as “Frank”. “Once Upon a Time” would initially bomb at the box office but has since established itself as perhaps the most iconic and revered western of all-time – open to debate of course – but now officially recognized and protected in U.S. Library of Congress.
By the Way…
My title reference above is a fond recollection of something a good friend of mine said back in 1967 not long after “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” enjoyed a successful run in the nation’s theaters. He called to say his wife wanted to go see a new movie, one he was not too excited about seeing, referring to it as “Yours, Mine & The Ugly”. That picture starred Lucille Ball and appropriately enough – Henry Fonda – without his six shooter.
The Music Legacy
On the Billboard Single charts, Hugo Montenegro took “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” title track to number two in the nation. Hugo also released a “trilogy” LP which managed to climb to number 8 on the Hot LP Charts.
Leroy Holmes released a couple of LP’s which charted, the first being “For a Few Dollars More” in 1967 ahead of “The Good” and then a competing LP release with Montenegro for “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” peaking only at number 138 in 1968.
Eastwood bowed out of the Leone’s productions but still kept up the image of a “Blondie” seem-alike” in “Hang Em High”, which was released in 1968 with Eastwood taking on the role of “Marshall Jed Cooper”. Booker T and the MG’s enjoyed a number 9 chart hit with the title song. The sound track was composed by Dominic Frontiere and he charted (barely) with the official soundtrack at #193 in the summer of 1968.