I was 24 years old back in 1964 when I saw my first Spaghetti Western. The movie was called A Fistful of Dollars and it was directed by the Italian legend Sergio Leone and it starred a brash young actor named Clint Eastwood. And the soundtrack was produced by a friend of Leone’s named Ennio Morricone. And I was hooked.
Leone and Morricone went on to make more Spaghetti Westerns in the 60s and of course I saw them all. In 1968 they teamed up to produce one of my most favorite westerns of all time called Once upon a Time in the West. And in 1984 they got together again for the last time to come up with Once upon a Time in America, my favorite New York gangster movie of all time. Robert de Niro and Morricone. wow!
Morricone created more than 500 soundtracks during his career, most of them for Italian movies. He received the Academy Honorary Award in 2007 and the Best Original Score Oscar for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in 2016. He died the other day at the age of 91.
In 1986 Morricone produced the soundtrack for a British movie called The Mission. The movie starred Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson and de Niro again and it sorta flopped in the US. The story was a tad confusing and the acting was only so-so. It did win one Academy Award, though – for cinematography. You will soon see in the following clip de Niro climbing a cliff that just happens to be right next to the largest waterfall in the world. I think that may have helped win the Oscar.
The Mission takes place in Brazil in the 1750s and is the story of some Spanish Jesuit priests (Irons and Neeson among others) who are trying to convert the local Guaranis to Christianity. Uh-oh. De Niro plays the role of a slave trader (another uh-oh) who also murders his brother (this probably deserves another uh-oh). It is now 34 years since the movie was made and probably the biggest uh-oh is that the story is based on fact: the struggle of two European powers (Spain and Portugal) to gain control of South America and in so doing destroy the culture of its inhabitants. Some of the events portrayed in the movie actually occurred.
The following clip from the movie runs for 8 minutes and 53 seconds. There is no dialogue at all in the scene. Neeson stares once or twice. Irons moves around a bit. And de Niro (who is performing penance for his fratricide) grunts and cries. And that’s it. Except for the waterfall in the background and Morricone’s magnificent music. I think it is the best soundtrack of his entire career.