Morricone, Ennio (b. 1928)
The Hellbenders [I crudeli] (1967)
“The Hellbenders is Morricone’s first western score built entirely around the trumpet—the trumpet soloist was Nunzio Rotondo. Morricone (again signing himself as ‘Leo Nichols’) composed an accompaniment that was nothing like his output of the time. The main themes, dominated by the trumpet (doubling as a bugle) and occasionally voiced by soprano soloist Edda Dell’Orso or electric guitar, are predominantly stately marches—a funeral dirge for a burial party that, rather like the Hellbenders themselves, rarely exceeds a steady canter.
“But when the on-screen action occasionally flags, Morricone’s score saves the film; it’s difficult to imagine The Hellbenders being quite so enjoyable without his up-tempo title music. Based on an interesting percussion arrangement, it incorporates a hollow drum, a series of rapid high-hat rolls and a whip-crack (like A Fistful of Dollars), which accompanies the credits sequence—a Unionist convoy fording Torrid Junction. The cavalry bugle breezes in with a repetitive, languorous roll, backed by strings, piano riffs and the Alessandroni Singers. This piece is used at various points to score the hearse’s progress through the desolate vistas. A more dignified version of the theme is used at Fort Brent, and in the first half of the film Morricone uses discordant sound effects to accompany several tense scenes. These effects include repetitious piano notes, rushes of snare and bongo drums, tapping woodblocks, whips, eerie strings and a ghostly, echoing trumpet. When the group get their first glimpse of the Hondo, the camera pans across the river. An electric guitar plays a simple, dramatic theme as Jonas whispers ‘There it is,’ as though he’s saying the words of a prayer. In the finale, as the mortally wounded Jonas reaches the river, Dell’Orso’s soprano vividly accompanies the ‘Death of the South,’ as the Hellbenders’ flag drifts away downstream.
“The Hellbenders, like only a handful of Italian westerns, is a complete one-off, unique in the fact that it was not copied and has no sequels. Its only legacy was that Morricone’s entire score was used, uncredited, in the unworthy western Drummer [sic] of Vengeance (1974).” 1
|Stealing the money|
|Traveling to Fort Brent|
1 Howard Hughes, Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns (London; New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004), 144.