The Harmonious Sounds of Franco De Gemini

You might not know the name but you have probably heard his music and the unmistakable sound of his harmonica on countless Italian film scores. The plaintive wail of his instrument on Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) was used as a musical motif for Charles Bronson’s avenging angel, who was identified simply as “the man with the harmonica” in Sergio Leone’s landmark film. Yet that nickname really belongs to Franco De Gemini who has brought his distinctive sound from the background to the foreground in more than 800 movie scores in his lifetime.  His talent for expressing conflicting emotions through his music in both minimalist and operatic arrangements is this composer’s secret weapon.

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Audie Murphy: Role Model

Audie Murphy plays an angel of death in the semi-allegorical western western, No Name on the Bullet (1959), directed by Jack Arnold

Clint Eastwood certainly carved out his own genre niche as “The Man With No Name” gunslinger of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy but he wasn’t the first to craft his screen persona as an archetype of the tight-lipped, deadly frontier drifter. Audie Murphy had already perfected the prototype in No Name on the Bullet (1959), a much darker variation on the heroic lawmen the actor usually played in westerns. Continue reading

Tinto Brass Directs a Spaghetti Western

Yankee film poster 1966If U.S. moviegoers are familiar with the name Tinto Brass at all, it is probably due to the infamous 1979 epic Caligula which featured world renowned actors (Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Malcolm McDowell, etc.) and hardcore sex scenes (which were later added by producer/Penthouse tycoon Bob Guccione against the wishes of Brass who disowned the film). Brass had already established himself as a master of art house erotica/perversity with 1976’s Salon Kitty about a brothel in WWII Berlin where the prostitutes were undercover spies. But after Caligula, Brass seemed much happier directing more modestly budgeted, softcore adaptations of literary works like The Key (1983, based on the novel by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki) and Paprika (1991, inspired by the novel Fanny Hill), which showcased his increasing obsession with shapely female bottoms.

In retrospect, his early career is a contemplation of the paths not taken: documentary (Ca ira, il fiume della rivolta aka Thermidor, 1964), avant-garde cinema (L’urlo aka The Howl, 1970) and eccentric genre offerings such as Col cuore in gola aka Deadly Sweet, 1967). Of the latter, Yankee (1966), the only spaghetti western ever directed by Brass, is definitely worth a look.   Continue reading