#6: THE UNTOUCHABLES (Ennio Morricone)

October 20, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

In the pantheon of film composers, few are more respected than Ennio Morricone. Over a career that spans (thus far) 45 years, Morricone has composed about 540 movie scores, which puts him ahead of the great, prolific Max Steiner. It's a nearly impossible task to assign one of those jobs the honorific of "best," and I'm not willing to do it. But I will single out my favorite. That's 1987's The Untouchables. If I included pre-1970 soundtracks, A Fistful of Dollars would give it a run for its money. And I have a soft spot for the gloriously meldramatic strains of Cinema Paradiso. The truth is that a Morricone score can provide a high point for a bad movie (Red Sonja,anyone?), and can make a good movie better. That's the case with The Untouchables.

Based on the evidence at hand, one can assume that I like percussive main title themes. That's one reason why "The Strength of the Righteous" stirs my blood. It's a great way to start The Untouchables - rousing yet with an underlying sense of menace. It sets the tone perfectly. The rest of the soundtrack is an excellent mix of styles. The triumphant "The Untouchables" stands alongside "The Strength of the Righteous" as memorable. "Al Capone" is more playful than one might expect from a vicious gangster's theme song but, by being so, it captures the conflicting aspects of the character. "Death Theme" and "Four Friends" are poignant. "On the Rooftops" pumps up the action element. And "Machine Gun Lullaby" offers an eerie approach to a deadly situation.

The Untouchables is arguably Brian De Palma's most accomplished movie to-date, and some of the credit has to go to Morricone. This is not to disparage the director, who had the good sense to hire him. (The two would share a pair additional ventures - 1989's Casualties of War and 2000's Mission to Mars - and are scheduled to collaborate on next year's Untouchables prequel.) This is a film where the music gels with the on-screen action; each complements the other. The Untouchables is also a great soundtrack to listen to in its own right. Whatever your mood, there's something on that CD that will match it.