Months before “A Million Ways to Die in the West” opened in theaters, teaser trailers revealed several grisly ways people met their maker in the American West. Though the trailer is graphic, however, nothing compares to what actually made the final cut.
“I read the script a couple of years ago when they first started working on it. I thought ‘They’re really not going to do that, are they?’ [Seth MacFarlane] is pretty fearless, you know?” composer Joel McNeely said when reached by phone for an interview. “There’s some pretty funny stuff that was not in the movie which was also fairly outrageous. A lot of it will be in the DVD.”
McNeely composed the score for “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” including a sequence that will appear in the director’s unrated cut of the film. “There’s about 19 more minutes of film,” he explained.
The story behind “If You’ve Only Got a Mustache”
With a grand song over the opening credits and Alan Jackson’s rendition of the movie’s theme, MacFarlane’s latest outing brings to mind great westerns of yesteryear. “That was the intention; we definitely were going for a retro thing, the tradition of the grand sweeping Westerns of the 50’s and 60’s,” the composer said.
McNeely added that writing the music was just a pleasure from start to finish: “I was really being freed to do what I like to do most, which is write for the orchestra. This was fun; there is just no other way to put it. I had a blast with this thing.”
In addition to directing the film, Seth MacFarlane plays Albert, the sweet and cowardly farmer who wonders why he stays in such an awful place. Neil Patrick Harris steals the show, though, as Foy, the owner of the Mustachery and Albert’s romantic rival for the lovely Louise (Amanda Seyfried).
Foy never passes up an opportunity to needle Albert, especially with a song entitled “If You’ve Only Got a Mustache.”
“That’s actually a song by Stephen Foster, believe it or not. It was written around the turn-of-the-century, and it had slightly different lyrics,” McNeely explained. “I think the first verse in the movie is almost verbatim of the Stephen Foster version. Then Seth wrote his own lyrics from there on out. The original version of the song was almost like a sea shanty. I reworked the song to put it into a Bluegrass style.”
“If You’ve Only Got a Mustache” quickly becomes a rollicking dance number, with choreography by Tony and Emmy award winner Rob Ashford.
“I was there when they shot that [scene] in New Mexico. That barn is an existing set. You can’t really tell when you watch the movie unless you focus on it how narrow that barn is. There really isn’t space for dancing in there. The fact that Rob made this big production number in an area that’s maybe fifty feet wide is pretty cool,” McNeely offered.
Broken bones and sissy fighting
In the words of the composer, the saloon brawl was fun, but also kind of challenging: “The saloon brawl itself, the way they shot it is intentionally brutally violent. You see guy’s arms being snapped in two, bones sticking out. Just deliberately, terribly violent,” he said.
Then the action cuts to Albert and his best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) sissy fighting over in one corner. “That’s funny: the juxtaposition of the brutality of the fight and those two guys, being as silly as they are. It represented a kind of a challenge because I had to jump back-and-forth with them. To go from serious action music to lighter-not comical, but lighter,” he said.