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Ennio Morricone's Pocket Watch

Andrea is a film scholar who obtained his Masters in Research of Film (Mres) at Edge Hill University by analysing the music biopic genre.

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A Tribute to il Maestro

Composer Ennio Morricone sadly passed away in 2020. This was a true tragedy for any film music lover. Il Maestro’s incredible music was foregrounded in several cinematic masterpieces, most notably in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. As a huge fan of Morricone’s film music, I’d like to take a closer listen to my personal favourite within his oeuvre; the watch chimes (Carillion’s theme) from For a Few Dollars More (Leone: 1965). This article will be answering why the film’s grand narrative and main characters are essentially centralised by the piano melody of chimes from a tiny pocket watch. I'll also explain how a simple and subtle sound possesses a crucial influence in mediating one of the most highly regarded spaghetti westerns in cinematic history.

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El Indio

We first hear the sound after we are introduced to the film’s antagonist, El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè). Upon seeking revenge on the bounty hunter who put him behind bars, El Indio uses the watch chimes a temporal manipulator for a gun duel between the two men. This function becomes accustom to El Indio throughout the film during his duel scenes. To a certain extent, the watch chimes can be considered as a leitmotif for El Indio. However, the music serves a greater function than this and is not confounded to a singular character. In the first scene in which the chimes are used the music begins to be diegetic as the source is given on screen through the watch. The minuscule music then grows into a grand non-diegetic orchestra. In this scene, the chimes transform into a church organ, essentially symbolising imminent death for El Indio’s duel opponent.

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Col. Douglas Mortimer

The next time the chimes are produced, they have a different source and a different sound. The film’s protagonist, Col. Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), has a pocket watch that strikes a resemblance to El Indio’s in both its look and sound. In explaining his motive to capture El Indio to fellow bounty hunter, Monco (Clint Eastwood), the melody of the chimes are played non-diegetically on an acoustic guitar. A close-up of the Colonel’s pocket watch transitions to a close-up of El Indio and the chimes return to their original sound. In this, a cinematic link between protagonist and antagonist is established.

Framed Together

Further on in the narrative, this link between the two characters is cemented. After a shoot-out with Juan Wild the hunchback (Klaus Kinski), the Colonel and El Indio are framed together within a mid-shot. Not by coincidental means, the watch chimes reappear non-diegetically as the Colonel and El Indio come face to face. Therefore, the music is not necessarily a leitmotif dedicated to El Indio. More accurately, it’s a leitmotif for the relationship between the film’s protagonist and antagonist. There is a reason why these very different characters have the same musical theme. Although it is played more alongside El Indio, having this specific connection with the Colonel establishes a narrative arc that will eventually have to become resolute.

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The Final Duel

Without question, the best use of the watch chimes can be heard during the narrative climax; a final stand-off between the Colonel and El Indio. This finale encapsulates the two sources of the chimes to bring their narrative arc to a dénouement. The chimes are once again used to pace the action on screen. Similar to the first scene discussed earlier, the minute music of the watch chimes transforms into a forte orchestra. As El Indio is the controlling source of the chimes, the music is mezzo piano with the watch’s original melody attributed with a small wind section.

El Indio appears to have the upper-hand on the Colonel. However, the mood switches as the music is interjected by the other source of the chimes; the Colonel’s watch in the hands of Mondo. With this interjection, the music is met with a tremolo acoustic bass riff. To add an interesting side note about this specific part of the music, New Order bassist Peter Hook claims to have “borrowed” the riff for the bands most popular single, Blue Monday. The music within this climactic scene is met with an equally climactic crescendo of trumpets to mediate a picturesque Leone wide-shot of the two gunslingers distanced and ready to duel.

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Chiming Out

It is incredible to note that from orchestrating a simple melody Morricone mediated a grand narrative between good and evil. Furthermore, a poignant narrative within the phenomenal yet formulaic Dollars Trilogy narrative of: Clint Eastwood rides into town, overcomes an opponent, rides off into the sunset a richer man. The importance of the watch is certified magnificently through the use of a wide-shot. Mondo’s hand holding the watch is foregrounded as the Colonel and El Indio are backgrounded and out of focus standing either side of the watch. This tiny musical accessory is what links, but also separate’s these two completely different characters. Once El Indio is defeated, the open watch no longer produces it’s usually melody. There is no longer a need for it to be heard as the narrative arc between the Colonel and El Indio has come to an end.

© 2020 Andrea Sciambarella