Ennio Morricone’s “Malamondo”: The “mondo” mid-sixties film soundtrack for “way out youth”

By on March 2, 2016

Ennio Morricone — the celebrated 87-year old Italian film music composer with more than 500 credits to his name during a sixty-year career — finally won his first Oscar for his Original Score for The Hateful Eight at Sunday’s Academy Awards, which sent us back to our record collection to listen to more Morricone, where we found his soundtrack LP for the semi-obscure 1964 documentary Malamondo, which is now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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Have a listen to the maestro’s jazzy beatnik-friendly musical accompaniment in this strange, colorific trailer for an Italian exploitation flick that took a “mondo” look (two years in the making!) at early 60s-era teenage angst by showing them doing healthy activities like skiing nude in Switzerland, hot-butchering in Italy, and having an orgy in a graveyard. We also see Scottish girls hunting for a husband, a British motorcycle race to win a girl, and Parisian existentialists and German university students having deep thoughts.

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Listen as the narrator Marvin Miller boldly intones about “way out youth… frantically curiously searching for a way out… reckless, restless youth… out for kicks, anywhere they can find them…ready for anything… from freeloading to free love…uninhibited youth in an over-inhabited world… the pinned-down girls, the twilight boys… the after-dark girls… the wild and the willing.”

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Some of the highlights from Morricone’s soundtrack include “Penso A Te“, “Twist delle zitelle” (“Twist of the spinsters”), “La Prima Volta“, “Sospesi Nel Cielo (2)“, “Muscoli Di Velluto“, “Questi vent’anni miei“, and Ken Colman singing the main theme to Malamondo, “Funny World” (which was later recorded by Astrud Gilberto and many others).

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Back cover of the original Malamondo LP, with liner notes by Arnold Shaw

Morricone just might be the oldest person to win a competitive Academy Award (the academy has said it keeps age-related data only for the acting and directing categories and no winners in those particular competitions have exceeded 82 years of age).

On Sunday, February 28th, Morricone took home his first Oscar in the competition for Best Original Score for the Quentin Tarantino film (check out our recent exclusive interview with actor Craig Stark here), although he had previously been nominated five previous times in the same category, for his musical scores for Days of Heaven, The Mission, The Untouchables, Bugsy and Malèna.

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He was previously awarded an honorary Oscar in 2007 in recognition of his groundbreaking work which includes several classic spaghetti westerns directed by Sergio Leone.

One of the first of those Leone Italo-American revisionist westerns was 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, a year that proved to be a turning point in his incredible career, although in 2007 Morricone told the the Guardian UK : “It’s the worst film Leone made and the worst score I did.”

Morricone had already written some of the film score prior to the film’s release, which wasn’t typically what happened with his work; usually, the maestro wrote directly for the screen, and Morricone said that Leone often extended shots in his films (particularly in the “Dollar” trilogy — Fistful, For A Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) — because he did not want Morricone’s score to end.

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Morricone: “Leone’s films were made like that because he wanted the music to be an important part of it, and he often kept the scenes longer simply because he didn’t want the music to end. That’s why the films are so slow – because of the music.”

For the American release of A Fistful of Dollars three years later — it debuted in U.S. theaters in January 1967 — Morricone even used a rather Anglo-sounding pseudonym, “Dan Savio” (Leone himself used the name “Bob Robertson”) in the film’s credits.

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Certainly the film and its score (despite Morricone’s own feelings about both) is one of Leone’s and Morricone’s best collaborations — we have to disagree with him on this — and audiences loved both, the film grossing more than any other Italian film up to that point.

That same year the movie was released in Italy, 1964, Morricone began his 20-year collaboration with Alessandro Alessandroni, a childhood friend, whose vocal group, Cantroi Moderni, were the ones who provided the whistling and twanging guitar you hear on those great soundtracks (it’s always a treat to hear soprano Edda Dell’Orso hit those soaring notes too). Alessandroni was the guitarist in the band and he also acted in the film.

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That same year, Morricone and Alessandroni’s group provided music for several other films, among them Bullets Don’t Argue (he’s credited as “Dan Savio” on that one too), Two Escape from Sing Sing, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Prima della rivoluzione (Before The Revolution), most of these film scores composed outside the Spaghetti Western genre (as would be the case over most of Morricone’s career) and typically featuring hallmarks of what became his trademark sound: reverbed surf guitars, a tonal chorale, and brilliant Spanish horns.

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For Malamondo, which had its U.S. premiere in San Francisco on October 16, 1964, the film’s Italian director Paolo Cavara (the English version was adapted and directed by Jack Lewis) focused his camera on young Europeans, showing them having fun and hanging out, typically exploring their “customs” and hobbies, in a way that isn’t too different from other films of this type, like Mondo Hollywood.

Popular Italian pop group Adriano Celentano and his Clan are seen at a sidewalk café with a huge crowd surrounding them, rehearsing and then performing the song “Sabato Triste” (“Sad Saturday Night”).

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Here’s a lengthy excerpt from the original New York Times review of the 79-minute long Malamondo:

AFTER such off-beat documentaries as ‘Mondo Cane’ and ‘Women of the World,’ it was inevitable that another such film would study the various tribal rites and bheavior patterns, from the eccentric to the bizarre, of contemporary youth. This is ‘Malamondo,’ the documentary from Italy released by Magna Pictures, which, with an English narration, opened yesterday at the Palace and other houses.

Technically, in its excellent color photography and shrewdly juxtaposed flow of vignettes, this picture is impeccable. In content, much of it is interesting, some of it fascinating. Yet this reportedly authoritative close-up of troubled and rebellious youth remains skimpy and hollow in tone, even old-fashioned.

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In the first place, unlike the two predecessors, this picture consists entirely of footage shot in Europe. What about Oriental youngsters, not to say our own all-Americans, supposedly pace-setters for the world? In any case, the picture starts with some students clustered at the feet of that elderly rebel, Bertrand Russell, then it fans out to show how European yearlings balk and relax in the post-World War II “hell” bequeathed by their elders. Says who, pray? Anyhow, the narrator does.

The film ends on a limply optimistic note, after an episode about suicide-bent young people in Sweden.

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All told, however, as a visual potpourri of off-beat human behavior, shrewdly arranged and with a surprise around every corner, much of “Malamondo” is extremely absorbing. Take, for instance, a colorful visit to a Paris “happening, where some young Bohemians cavort abandonedly. Add, immediately, a powerful, quiet visit to the Dachau Museum by some German youngsters, obviously benumbed by the horrible mementos. Next comes the slashing of a Heidelberg student’s cheek with a razor in order to produce the traditional scar.

Some of the film is obviously strong stuff, and the picture is laced throughout with amorously entwined couples in steamy close-ups. One sequence, about some daring parachutists of both sexes, ends in an alcoholic orgy in a graveyard.

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Two of the best and most amusing chapters show some rather unattractive English girls parading with placards announcing free love, and be-being soundly dunked by jeering boys. Then there is a highly colorful look at a Roman piazza where a rock ‘n’ roll quartet is improvising. The picture’s two eye-openers, spilling over into sensationalism, are a brisk inspection of some nude Swiss skiers and an inspection of some homosexuals in a Montparnasse night spot.

As a shifting kaleidoscope trained on young unconventionals, Malamondo is long on color. We still maintain that it speaks not for today’s youth but strictly for itself.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.