Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Story Behind the Iconic Whistle Theme

by Matthew Wilson

Name a more iconic western theme than the tune from Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly.” The whistle elevated the film to its status as one of the greatest westerns ever made.

In a similar manner as “Star Wars” and it’s John Williams’ theme, the theme song is inseparable from the film. Usually, it’s the first thing people imagine when they think of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti western magnum opus. It’s a rarity that a theme song holds an entire film together. But it can be argued that “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” doesn’t work without the tune at its center.

Italian composer and conductor Ennio Morricone was the creator behind the iconic tune. Morricone also crafted the theme songs behind the other two installments in the “Dollars” trilogy. Besides Eastwood’s involvement, Morricone’s music gave the films’ continuity from one installment to the next, crescendoing with the third installment.

The Composer Wrote the Theme for Clint Eastwood’s Classic

Morricone, who worked on over 400 films and TV shows, reflected on creating the film’s theme. The soundtrack featured guitarist Bruno Battisti, conductor Bruno Nicolai and vocalist Edda Dell’Orso among others. As for the distinctive whistling, Alessandro Alessandroni performed that part of the song. Upon release, the soundtrack reached No. 4 on Billboard 200 chart and No. 2 on the pop chart.

“I thought that I might come close to this effect by overlaying two hoarse male voices. One singing “A” the other singing “E” somewhere in between sforzato and falsetto. I went to the recording room, talked about it with the singers. We recorded the voices. And added a light reverb and the effect worked,” Morricone said in Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words (quote via Oxford University Press). “Then I continued this incipit by emulating vocal sounds through the wah-wah effect. Which trumpets and trombones obtain by moving the damper back and forth. An effect typical of brass bands in the twenties and thirties.”

The tune becomes the climax of the film and the trilogy as a whole, starting at the intense three-person standoff. The score builds tension upon tension until it’s finally released in the only way it could, with violence. The theme then sends off the Man in Black riding once more across the desert plains.

Over the course of his career, Morricone worked on scores for films like “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “The Untouchables,” and “Mission to Mars.” But the western’s film remains his crowning achievement. The composer passed away at 91 last year, leaving behind a long-lasting career and his music.