Ennio Morricone absolutely shines with his heroic score for The Untouchables, where excellent use of instrumentation firmly establishing the tone in 1930s Chicago and a tapestry of great themes makes for one of the most musically exquisite film scores around.
With the recent passing of film score legend Ennio Morricone, I felt it was high time I tackled one of his iconic scores on this site – so here’s one of my favourites; The Untouchables. It’s a great score, with the highlight being a rousing main theme that’s simply a joy to listen to each and every time I hit play. Both on album and in film though the theme doesn’t get introduced until quite a ways in, with the music instead starting off with The Strength Of The Righteous. Deep, ominous piano notes introduce the score with quiet percussion keeping the pace high, and a somewhat curiously placed but typically Morricone harmonica playing worrisomely in the background. Overall, the track is a rather grim introduction to the criminal underbelly of 1930s Chicago in which the film is set, and a curiously unoptimistic one given the narrative – but in terms of musically establishing the villainy that the heroes of the story are up against – it does an excellent (and rather atmospheric) job.
Things then soften for Ness and his Family, Part I, where slow and gentle strings introduce a rather romantic theme for the main titular Untouchable and (naturally) his family. It’s a lovely piece that sadly only lasts for just over a minute, but happily it does return a few times later on in the score. Tensions are then ominously high in Warehouse/False Alarm, another short cue that primarily utilises string instruments gradually increasing both in pitch and volume until dramatically crescendoing just before the track closes. Downbeat jazzy blues are then the forefront of Ness Meets Malone, a slow and methodical piece that’s honestly rather beautiful in its soft, saxophone-based musical territory – it’s just unfortunate that (similarly to that earlier cue) the jazz only lasts for about a minute or so. A theme for the iconic villain of the film then strikes a beat in Al Capone, Part II, and it really is hard to miss this track. It has an upbeat yet old-fashioned swagger to it that practically boasts the character it represents, and as a villain theme almost feels like a musical caricature – but that’s what makes it so great. It stands out and refuses to not be heard, and as themes for a bad guy go – you sure won’t forget it for a while.
The first glimpse of the righteous main theme is heard on light woodwinds and strings in Ness Meets Wallace/Ness Meets Stone, a particularly short cue (lasting just over thirty seconds) that acts as a great prelude to the main theme’s proper and rather epic introduction in subsequent track Victorious. Here the music starts out quiet and almost pensive before loud, triumphant brass and strings practically burst into the fray, playing the main theme in its first parade of musical victory (hence the track title). For two highly enjoyable minutes the theme is played, pulling the score rapidly and firmly out of its previously dark tone and into hope before then quietly fading away. Murderous/Goodnights then briefly brings back the ominous to start before then becoming almost tranquil with a particularly relaxing rendition of the theme for Ness and his family on light percussion and strings. This calm doesn’t last for long though before a dark, evil-sounding new theme emerges briefly in Nitti Harasses Ness, but we do then get a short return to the family motif in the sub-minute Send Family Away – albeit now with a touch of musical melancholy.
The main theme plays in unusually muted form at the start of Waiting For What?/Montana Intro, with the brass acting rather apprehensively until right at the end of the cue where the theme plays again in a quietly hopeful manner. Dark, worrisome beats then open Waiting At The Border, with low brass notes playing quietly in the background alongside anxious strings – overall, as tension building music go, this four minute cue sure had me on the edge of my seat. Thankfully though the build-up is then happily unleashed in the next track – The Untouchables. Here the main theme finally plays in full form on heroic brass and enthusiastic strings, and Morricone simply goes all out with it. For three incredible minutes you get to hear just how utterly breathtaking his main theme here is, and if not for the ever-so-slightly more brilliant end credits playthrough of it, this would undoubtedly be the standout cue.
After a minute of tense atmospherics in Surprise Attack/Dead Man’s Bluff, the theme for family returns in strings-based romantic form in Ness and his Family, Part II. It truly is a beautiful motif, and one that happily gets a fair amount of album time, though this is unfortunately the last time we hear it going forward. The evil theme from Murderous/Goodnights then returns in typically malevolent form in In The Elevator, where a harmonica takes prominence for much of the just-over-a-minute cue accompanied by high-pitched, almost horror-like strings that then crescendo towards its end. The quiet, jazzy blues theme from Ness Meets Malone then reprises in Four Friends, asserting itself as a theme for the dead while playing on wistful woodwinds and sorrowful strings. For the first time on the album, the themes for the titular heroes and iconic villain then meet in Payne And Bowtie, with the swaggering Capone motif playing on confident strings to start off with before the main Untouchables piece then performs quietly but hopefully on light woodwinds. It isn’t a particularly significant or lengthy musical moment on the album, but it is a fun one to hear nonetheless.
Disaster strikes in The Man With The Matches/Nitti Shoots Malone, with the evil motif from earlier cues reprising on harmonica to establish a rather chilling atmosphere before stabbing strings strike in very ominous and horror-like fashion. To hammer home a travesty the death theme from Four Friends then returns in the two-minute Malone’s Death, where slow woodwinds and pensive backing strings perform the motif in (rather expectedly) sorrowful form. The tone then switches up considerably for Machine Gun Lullaby/Kill Bowtie, which for the first half is (as the title suggests) a quiet, peaceful instrumental lullaby. As time goes on however, low and rather sinister brass notes start to build in the background, escalating tension until finally crescendoing five minutes into the cue where high-pitched horror strings then take over for the track’s short remaining runtime.
The percussive theme all the way back from The Strength Of The Righteous then returns alongside the evil motif in Courthouse Chase, a rapid-paced action cue that keeps tensions high throughout it and its stylistic sequel On The Rooftops/Nitti’s Fall. In this second part the Righteous theme continues where it leaves off in Courthouse initially, with loud punches of brass then joining the fray in the back half accompanied by dramatic strings. A quietly victorious main theme then plays in the short He’s In The Car/Here Endeth The Lesson to indicate the end of the action, with the theme for the dead hammering this home in its return and first full track; Death Theme. It’s a solemn close to the action (and the score, almost) and perfectly in tone with the film, utilising slow and soft jazz instruments alongside quietly optimistic strings. To close out the score properly though Morricone has one last treat in store; standout cue The Untouchables (End Title). As the title suggests it is indeed the main theme, played as loud and victorious as ever on triumphant brass and heroic strings. For three glorious minutes the theme gets a full upbeat playthrough, and a hugely enjoyable one at that.
Overall, Ennio Morricone’s score for The Untouchables is expertly crafted and highly entertaining. The various themes dotted across the album are all sublime, with the main Untouchables motif of course being the standout – though I do find myself rather partial to Al Capone’s swaggering setpiece as well as the quietly romantic ideas for Ness’ Family. The instrumentation here is also excellent, with the composer’s use of loud brass and dramatic strings as well as the standout harmonica firmly establishing the score in 1930s crime-ridden Chicago while also keeping hopes high and heroism close when it needs to appear (see the exceptional main theme). All-in, The Untouchables is a bit of a favourite of mine, and after reading this review and hearing the score for yourselves, I’d hope you agree.
Standout Cue: 27. The Untouchables (End Title)