FourScore,  Movies/Entertainment

FourScore Match-Up #6: “Once Upon A Time In The West”

Much like one of our earlier FourScores, today’s match-up focuses on the gunslingers who helped tame the West. Each film is is chock full of boots, spurs horse and more, fantastic shootouts and of course simply stunning scores to drive it all home. But only one will take the tile of the Wildest. Who will it be? Is it the OK Corral’s fearsome foursome, the tale of the outlaw/bored king Ben Wade, a man named “Bluebonnet” just trying to make a living, or the anonymous man named “Joe“?? Find out after the jump…


TombstoneBruce Broughton If there was a composer who had a knack for a Western, Broughton should be at the top of the list. While his resume shows only 2 credits of scoring the old west (this and Silverado), he creates such an enveloping atmosphere with his themes. Maybe it’s not hard to do but it is still very impressive. As the West was very rugged, Broughton gives it an almost Medieval feel with hints of romanticism. The score has a dignified nature which results in making Doc Holliday and the Earps (Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan) all appear larger than life. In a way it is reminiscent of the Westerns of old Hollywood during its golden age.

(Favorite Tracks: Arrival in Tombstone and Fortuitous Encounter)


3:10 to YumaMarco Beltrami Probably the baby of this bunch Beltrami really gave weight and distinction to this film. This score has a very sinister feel to it (especially with that tin piano in the opening) and is in fact fitting as Ben Wade is one cold cowboy. The outlaw mastermind behind countless stage robberies, Beltrami’s music is about as no nonsense as Wade himself. But in what is essentially a film about a bored king longing for something more Beltrami’s change of music is in tandem with the change of heart Ben takes in the film. The rough and early music transitions very smoothly as Wade becomes the reluctant good guy and the soft Spanish guitar work is a nice touch. Beltrami keeps pace fantastically and the finale to the score will keep you on the edge of your seat as much as the film sequence itself does.

(Favorite Tracks: Chinese DemocracyHotel and Bible Study)


Open RangeMichael Kamen gives us a slow and peaceful score that is about as calm as the plains. But when the action kicks up very uneasily and unexpectedly the music is tense and simply grabs you. There are the typical scratchy fiddles thrown in (as if we couldn’t tell this was a western) but Kamen is certain to raise some eyebrows with an impressive string section. Though if you’re a fan of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves you’ll notice some similarities here but they aren’t many which makes this score sound very original. Kamen also makes great use of the percussion section in very tense scenes. My favorite though is the underlying subtle strumming of guitar stings on tracks that really carry the piece and in a track like Wounded Button are in very effective in their simplicity. All in all Open Range sounds like it conveys the feeling of the time and the panorama of the real life open range even without watching the film. In short, this is soft, sweeping and delivers the goods when tensions get high.

(Favorite Tracks: Cattle Drive and Boss Convinces Charlie)


A Fistful of Dollars – Tough to imagine any Western debate without Ennio Morricone‘s work, and here I think we have his finest. Some it now may be viewed on as cheesy but this was his music before it was overused and ripped of for an entire generation of lackluster Westerns. His flurry of flutes fiddles and piano are brilliant and have a richness and color to them that is lacking in today’s Western film scores (though Broughton comes close). Many modern Westerns are more subdued but with A Fistful of Dollars, Morricone lets the dust and bullets fly and it is a joy to the ears. It may seem a few notes away from a full out musical but in its time it is very fitting and professional score that to this day is very respected.

Favorite Tracks: Almost Dead and The Chase)


FourScore Ruling:

When Ennio penned those few notes for the low-budget remake of Yojimbo I bet no one foresaw how iconic it would become. In fact, some themes have an Asian sound to them and think that might have been his nod to that film. While his work in pretty much all the Sergio Leone Westerns forever defined Western music it is great enough to stand up without the film. Personally I like his work on The Untouchables (specifically the end credits) the best but with this nearly 50 year old score he still shows Kamen, Beltrami and Broughton, gifted as they may be, that they still have a lot to learn. Also, like Clint himself, his music gets better with age.

No contest…it’s Morricone. The man is a legend for a reason.


    • MarcC

      You said it Will, but what I should have done is pit Morricone against himself. Find the best of his work out of four. But I thought these were scores that great in their own rights and there’s not a bad score in this bunch.