It's sometimes surprising to see his name turn up on movies as disparate as Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1966) and Richard Fleischer's Red Sonja (1985). But he makes you want to rent all those movies (or find the soundtrack albums) just to hear what he was up to. Today, he's quoted in films (such as Kick-Ass) as often as he composes new scores, and he's instantly recognizable.
For some reason, I usually get in the mood for Westerns in the spring (just as October makes me binge on horror movies). As for Morricone's Westerns, his most famous works are the "Dollars" trilogy for director Sergio Leone (coming out on Blu-Ray this summer), but he also worked on at least 35 more films for other directors, notably Sergio Corbucci, Leone's equally talented colleague. Corbucci's films are perhaps less formally mind-blowing, but they're a good deal darker, and indeed, often cruel.
I love three of them in particular, Django (1966, also coming out on Blu-Ray this summer), The Great Silence (1968) and Vamos a matar, compañeros (1970), or simply known as Compañeros on the American DVD release. It stars Franco Nero as a Swedish arms dealer who reluctantly teams up with a Mexican revolutionary (Tomas Milian) to rescue a professor (Fernando Rey) with a valuable secret. Jack Palance plays the one-armed, pot-smoking bad guy who has a trained falcon at his side.
This is one amazing movie, but perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that it contains perhaps my favorite Morricone score. It has a recurring theme, repeated six times, with a demented chorus chanting "Vamos a matar, vamos a matar, compañeros!" over and over again (there are also rhymes with "sombrero" and "pistolero"). It's such a driving, building, energetic bit of music that your adrenaline starts to pump even while you're laughing.