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Westerns are films set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American Old West. Some of the most beautiful music scores had been inspired by these movies.

 

“Will, I think you’d better go while there’s still time. It’s better for you, and it’s better for us” (High Noon, 1952)

A town Marshall is personally compelled to face a returning deadly enemy, while his own town refuses to help him. Dimiti Tiomkin can probably be considered the father of western film score. His memorable score for this magnificent western adds to the suspense that builds up as Will Kane awaits Frank Miller, who is arriving on the noon train.

 

“We deal in lead, friend”  (The Magnificent Seven, 1960)

Based on the Japanese legendary film The Seven Samurai, it tells the story of Mexican peasant villagers oppressed by bandits that decide to hire a group of seven gunfighters to defend them. The epic score composed by Elmer Bernstein gives me a sense of euphoric excitement, followed by a relaxing sense of inner peace. It is like riding a horse at full speed in a wide-open prairie, then going across a turbulent blue-white river, and finally reaching a nice green meadow.

 

“Every gun makes its own tune” (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966)

Ennio Morricone composed the score for the ultimate Spaghetti Western film. Three gunmen set out to find a hidden fortune during the American Civil War. The inimitable music is very thrilling, and the background of hallucinatory chanting voices is exhilarating. It makes me feel like an outlaw galloping in a western desert with dusty winds and rolling tumbleweeds, while being chased by vicious bounty hunters. The “man with no name” also rode to the tune of magnificent scores in the first two films of the Sergio Leone’s trilogy.

 

“I had never really known who John Dunbar was. Perhaps because the name itself had no meaning. But as I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was” (Dances with Wolves, 1990)

The maestro John Barry wrote a melancholic, romantic, and incredibly beautiful score for the exiled military man who befriends wolves and Indians. The majestic and melodic “John Dunbar Theme” is an essential element in this transcendent, endearing, and breathtaking film.

 

“Should we distrust the man because his manners are not our manners, and that his skin is dark?” (The Last of the Mohicans, 1992)

Three trappers in the midst of the French and Indian War protect a British Colonel’s daughters. Trevor Jones composed a passionate orchestral composition that turned out to be one of the most popular and acclaimed scores of the nineties. Due to minor music cue contributions by Randy Edelman, the score was unfortunately not eligible for Oscar consideration.

 

From Stagecoach (1939) to True Grit (2010), we has been blessed with numerous western score masterpieces. I just have scratched the surface of this treasure trove. Get your shovels ready and dig deeper. You will not be disappointed.

 

Western Good-Bad-Ugly

Notable Western Scores

 

Stagecoach (1939) – Richard Hageman, Frank Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken, Louis Gruenberg, and Gerard Carbonara

The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) – Max Steiner

Fort Apache (1948)- Richard Hageman

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – Richard Hageman

Lone Ranger  (TV Series 1949) – “William Tell Overture” by Gioachino Rossini

Rio Grande (1950) – Victor Young

High Noon (1952) – Dimitri Tiomkin “The Ballad of High Noon”

Shane (1953) – Victor Young

The Man from Laramie (1955) – George Duning

Friendly Persuation (1956) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Searchers (1956) – Danny Knight

3:10 to Yuma (1957) – George Duning

Cowboy (1958) – George Duning

The Big Country (1958)– Jerome Moross

Rifleman (TV Series 1958) – Herschel Burke Gilbert

Rawhide (TV Series 1959) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Bonanza (TV Series 1959) – David Rose

Rio Bravo (1959) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Horse Soldiers (1959) – David Buttolph

The Alamo (1960) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Magnificent Seven (1960) – Elmer Bernstein

How the West Was Won (1962) – Alfred Newman

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – Ennio Morricone

For a Few Dollars More (1965) – Ennio Morricone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – Ennio Morricone

Return of the Seven (1966) – Elmer Bernstein

Once Upon a Time in the West  (1968) – Ennio Morricone

Hang ‘Em High (1968) – Dominic Frontiere

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Jerry Fielding

Two Mules for Sister Sarah (1970) – Ennio Morricone, Stanley Wilson

Duck You Sucker (1971) – Ennio Morricone

The Cowboys (1972) – John Williams

My Name is Nobody (1973) – Ennio Morricone

High Plains Drifter (1973) – Dee Barton

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – Jerry Fielding

Silverado (1985) – Bruce Broughton

Glory (1989) – James Horner

Lonesome Dove (TV Miniseries1989) – Basil Poledouris

Dances with Wolves (1990) – John Barry

The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – Trevor Jones

Unforgiven (1992) – Lennie Niehaus, Clint Eastwood

Gettysburg (1993) – Randy Edelman

Maverick (1994) – Randy Newman

Wyatt Earp (1994) – James Newton Howard

Legends of the Fall (1995) – James Horner

Deadwood (TV Series 2004) – David Schwartz

The Proposition (2005) – Nick Cave. Warren Ellis

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – Nick Cave. Warren Ellis

3:10 to Yuma (2007) – Marco Beltrami

True Grit (2010) – Carter Burwell

 

 

Films with fantastic themes often have an element of magic, myth, and wonder. They allow us to escape to imaginary lands, whimsical worlds, and extraordinary alternate realities.

 

“And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline, for no one, no one in this world can you trust, not men, not women, not beasts… This you can trust” (Conan the Barbarian, 1982)

Basil Poleudoris musically painted a richly colored mythical landscape full of magic and power, hope and sorrow, beauty and danger, metal and fire. This great musical triumph was accomplished with haunting chorals, thunderous percussion, lavish melodies, and great orchestral sound. He created in the process one of the greatest music masterpieces in fantasy-adventure film history.

 

“Eddie. The guys and I were talking, we’d like want to invite you to our card game on Friday night. Would you like that? Only thing is, you can’t cut!” (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)

A young, innocent, shy, eccentric and weird-looking man named Edward (Johnny Depp), whose hands are made of scissors, is adopted by the kind hearted Peg Boggs. Danny Elfman’s music, like Edward’s scissor-handy works (garden sculptures, hairstyles), is highly imaginative, truly beautiful, and breathtaking. A haunting and inspiring musical journey that is melancholic but fun, tragic but hopeful, wintery but heart-warming, and dark but not evil. Tim Burton’s tender, dreamy, heartbreaking, and inspiring movie has, as it deserves, one of the best fantasy film scores ever written.

 

“Long ago, when man was young and the dragon already old, the wisest of our race took pity on man. He gathered together all the dragons, making them vow to watch over man, always” (Dragonheart, 1996)

The majestic and uplifting Randy Edelman’s score really breathe fire into my heart. “To The Stars” theme is magical, awe inspiring, commanding, stunning, and truly unforgettable. This majestic score is able to transcend tears, sadness, and sorrow. It lifts our spirits to a triumphant state of remembrance, commemoration, and glory.

 

“Once upon a time there was a boy named Peter Pan, who decided not to grow up”

(Peter Pan, 2003)

Inspiring, exciting and delightful, this score is one of James Newton Howard finest accomplishments. The sweet and poignant composition “Flying” is an amazing and uplifting magical adventure. Sweet harps, graceful bells, lovely choral works and soaring melody fill our imagination with mystery, hope and tender feelings. He is able to capture for our enjoyment the wonderful dreamy world of Neverland.

 

“You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that, even if it hurts (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006)

It was hard not to fall in love with Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film masterpiece. The beautiful but tenebrous universe blends a haunted fairy tale with the ugliness of reality. Javier Navarrete’s fantastic lullaby magically captures the mystery of the movie. The score can be at times relaxing and soothing, but the composer’s sweeping imagination combined with violin, brass and strings can conjure dark, majestic and sweeping melodies. The music induces a feeling of incantation, placing us under a comforting spell that helps us go through fear inducing imagery that would otherwise lead to a heightened state of dread and anxiety. It is without doubt one of the best film scores composed in the past decade.

 

I did not dare to overlook the epic fantasy films based on the works of J. R. R Tolkien and J.K. Rolling. I plan to review their beautiful music in a future blog about great fantasy film sagas.

 

Heart of Summer

Notable Fantasy Film Scores

 

The Wizard of Oz (1933) – Herbert Stothart

Beauty and the Beast (1946) – Georges Auric

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – Bernard Herrmann

Alice in Wonderland (1951) – Oliver G. Wallace

A Christmas Carol (1951) – Richard Addinsell

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – Bernard Herrmann

Scrooge (1970) – Leslie Bricusse

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – John Williams

Excalibur (1981) – Trevor Jones (featuring mainly music by Richard Wagner and Carl Orff)

Dragonslayer (1981) – Alex North

Legend (1985) – Jerry Goldsmith (European release) / Tangerine Dream (American release)

Clash of the Titans (1981) – Laurence Rosenthal

Time Bandits (1981) – Trevor Jones

Conan the Barbarian (1982) – Basil Poleudoris

The Dark Crystal (1982) – Trevor Jones

Krull (1983) – James Horner

Fire and Ice (1983) – William Kraft

Brazil (1985) – Michael Kamen

Lady Hawke (1985) – Andrew Powell and Alan Parsons

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1986) – Michel Kamen

The Pricess Bride (1987) – Mark Knopfler

Willow (1988) – James Horner

Scrooged (1988) – Danny Elfman

Highlander (1986) – Michael Kamen and Queen

Labyrinth (1986) – Trevor Jones and David Bowie

Edward Scissorhands (1990) – Danny Elfman

The Green Mile (1999) – Thomas Newman

Groundhog Day (1993) – Thomas Newman

Hook (1991) – John Williams

Dragonheart (1996) – Randy Edelman

Meet Joe Black (1998) – Thomas Newman

Peter Pan (2003) – James Newton Howard

Big Fish (2003) – Danny Elfman

Corpse Bride (2005) – Danny Elfman

Brothers Grimm (2005) – Dario Marianelli

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) –Javier Navarrete

Lady in the Water (2006) – James Newton Howard

Eragon (2006) – Patrick Doyle

The Golden Compass (2007) – Alexandre Desplat

Bridge to Terabithia (2007) – Aaron Zigman

Stardust (2007) – Ilan Eshkeri

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) – Alexandre Desplat

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) – James Horner

Avatar (2009) – James Horner

Alice in Wonderland (2010) – Danny Elfman

Clash of the Titans (2010) – Ramin Djawadi

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010) – Harry Gregson-Williams

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) – Trevor Rabin

Hugo (2011) – Howard Shore

Conan the Barbarian (2011) – Tyler Bates

Your Highness (2011) – Steve Jablonsky

Wrath of the Titans (2012) – Javier Navarrete

John Carter (2012) – Michael Giacchino

Dark Shadows (2012) – Danny Elfman

Life of Pi (2012) – Michael Danna

Snowman and the Huntsman (2012) – James Newton Howard