Everyone knows the secret to making a successful Western is to have an Italian director. Sergio Leone is the most famous example, but he is far from alone. Ferdinando Baldi, Lucio Fulci, Enzo Castellari, Tonino Valeri, Sergio Corbucci and a bunch more all made several contributions to what became known as Spaghetti Westerns, which is somehow racist and endearing all at once. These were the movies that brought us some of the all-time bad ass motherfuckers in movie history: Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name, Charles Bronson as Harmonica, James Coburn as Sean Mallory, Lee van Cleef as everything he ever did. Some of these movies are pretty shitty, but many of them are awesome, and the common thread between most of the awesome ones is Ennio Morricone.
I don’t need to rehash Morricone’s career here. Suffice it to say, he’s the best film composer of all-time, and I don’t owe John Williams any apologies for saying that. He wrote The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and then 20 years later wrote The Mission, which is about as diverse as you can get writing music for films. The list of cool shit in movies involving Ennio Morricone is entirely too long to go through, but one scene above all says everything you need to know.
Il Mercenario, like 99% of Spaghetti Westerns, takes place during the Mexican Revolution. Franco Nero, bad ass in several movies including this one, plays the incredibly Polish Sergei Kowalski, the mercenary of the title who trained a revolutionary named Paco who is now laying low as a rodeo clown. While moving from town to town robbing the army, they are tracked by Curly (yet another bad ass: Jack Palance) and his men. Ultimately, Paco resists the seductive allure of teaming up with Kowalski and making a lot of money, claiming his destiny is in Mexico. But whatever, that’s at the end. The best part of the movie, and maybe any movie, is when Curly and his crew catch up with Paco after a circus performance. Unbeknownst to them, Kowalski is also there, and he sees to it that a proper duel will take place between Paco and Curly. The result? Pure fucking awesome.
A few things to note:
- It’s in Italian, and this clip has no subtitles, but it doesn’t remotely matter. This could have been acted using characters from Sesame Street and it would still be bad ass
- I feel like I should wear boots more regularly. I would sound intimidating just walking around Walmart.
- There has never been any music written that included a whistle solo that wasn’t awesome: Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay, Patience, Don’t Worry Be Happy, Winds of Change, Walk Like an Egyptian…I mean that’s a hell of a track record. And while there’s some pretty good whistling in those songs, this movie and Kowalski’s “theme” is the Emperor Concerto of whistling
- Franco Nero looks rad sporting a mustache that clearly all Polish and Russian characters in movies should be required to sport from this point forward
- Seriously, this whistle solo is fucking amazing
- The trumpet is one of those instruments that has a huge degree of versatility in its sound. With that power comes great responsibility. The guy playing trumpet on this soundtrack would obviously sound terrible if he tried to bring that mess to the Mahler 5 opener. But if he were playing the trumpet solos in the Rodrigo Fantasia para un Gentilhombre? I’m listening…
- This is shot so beautifully. The overhead shot of Curly and Paco taking their paces as the choir comes in is fucking epic
- When the trumpet comes back playing his obbligato, the tension is overwhelming
- What’s not to love about Curly’s pseudo-orgasm smile after the second bell?
- The sequence right before Kowalski rings the bell for the third time is killer: Paco turning his head, Kowalski’s eyes, and the shot of Paco through Curly’s legs panning out to Curly’s shotgun. Holy shit.
- Paco’s clown nose stays on the entire time, which is important somehow
- Curly has one of the great deaths in movie history. Thinks he got his man, smug look of satisfaction on his face, tosses the gun away, realizes something is hurting in his chest, discovers that he’s been shot in the heart, starts bleeding through the corsage on his sweet looking tuxedo, puts his hand to his head like he’s trying to remember if he left the oven on, then keels over dead. Awesome.
- Ennio Morricone is God.