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REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT – Laurence Rosenthal

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

MOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

This is the tragic story of Mountain Rivera who competed for heavyweight champion of the world but is now at the end of his 17 year boxing career. He has suffered a devastating knockout blow by Cassius Clay in the seventh round and his career is over. A life time of damaging blows has left him a broken man with slurred speech, unrealized dreams and many regrets. Unbeknown to him, his manager Maish Renick bet against him lasting four rounds with Clay and is now owes the mob considerable money, money that he does not have. As such he hatches a self-serving plot to reinvent Rivera as a costumed wrestler, a scheme to make him some quick money so he can pay off the mob who will otherwise soon kill him.

Army, Rivera’s loyal trainer understands the sad new reality and so takes him to the unemployment office where he meets Miss Miller, a manipulative social worker who nurtures his illusion that he could be a movie usher, a camp counselor, or even her romantic partner. Over time the two begin to get close, but all is for naught as Rivera realizes that walking out on the deal Maish has crafted is not an option. So to save the neck of the ‘friend’ who has betrayed him, he accepts the humiliating role of playing “Big Chief Mountain Rivera” thus forfeiting any hope for a new beginning. The film is a sad commentary on the cruelty of life, misplaced loyalty and the betrayal of friends.

In the main title we begin our journey with the potent four note main theme which opens powerfully with dramatic fanfare, pounding drums and the clanging of a metallic fight bell; an instrument choice that was well conceived. There is a harshness to this theme that seems to me to evoke the tough and bitter reality of Rivera’s existence. Soon violins take up the melody now accompanied by the march like interplay of drums and horns. Slowly the march loses vital energy and the cue comes to a fading ending. I like strong main titles that make a statement, and this one joins a select group.

“Night Threats” is a classic avant-garde jazz piece carried by sax, muted trumpets, drums and strumming bass. Starting off like most jazz pieces unsure of it’s destination, the music slowly coalesces around a steady and energetic beat. As the title suggests the music is restless, unnerving and perfectly captures the danger and pulse of New York’s seedy night life. “Bad Deal” follows and is a short atmospheric cue with a simple statement carried by alto sax, cymbal accents and drum echoes.

“First Date” took me completely by surprise as I suddenly found myself transported from the harsh New York streets into the bygone era of 19th century Vienna! My God, Rosenthal brings us a sumptuous four minute waltz theme of uncommon beauty. The piece opens with a strumming harp that ushers in strings which carry the flowing dance with its customary elegance, grace and gentility. This cue for me portends a new life unfortunately destined to be unrealized. It was a score highlight for me as I was struck by its incongruous beauty.

“Night Cap/Questionable Judgment” is a troubled and disjointed cue. It opens wonderfully carried by strings full of longing with tender echoes of the waltz theme, and yet the theme sours as we quickly segue into a most dissonant jazz cue that shatters the idyllic state of mind. “Things Are Looking Up” is a hopeful cue in which the waltz theme tries to take wing, and yet slows and dissipates, unable to realize its former energy.

The score concludes with “The Soft Side” a five minute cue which reprises the beautiful waltz theme. But all is not as it should be as the music is juxtaposed to scenes of Rivera donning the silly Indian costume so as to assume his new role. Subtly woven into the texture of the waltz is the four note main theme, but it is stripped of its boldness, power and bravado as it has like Rivera become a pathetic caricature of its former glory. This is an outstanding piece of music, brilliantly conceived, and testimony to Rosenthal’s genius.

Although we are only treated to 16 minutes of score, all that could be salvaged from the surviving mint condition ¼ inch master elements, it is well worth the journey. Presented in truly superb mono sound, I must applaud Intrada on a most remarkable restoration.

I really enjoyed this short score, and it goes to show you that quality does not require quantity to achieve its’ end. Nor I argue should we discount a score simply because it is not presented in 24 bit stereo. The main theme is excellent as is the jazz writing and graceful waltz, however what elevates this score is the brilliance of the final cue. I heartily recommend this CD to those of you that seek classic film scores as well as main stream collectors not prejudiced toward mono recordings.

Rating: ****

Buy the Requiem for a Heavyweight soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (1:48)
  • Night Threats (1:20)
  • Bad Deal (0:35)
  • First Date (4:02)
  • Night Cap/Questionable Judgment (2:54)
  • Things Are Looking Up (3:09)
  • The Soft Side (5:00)

Running Time: 16 minutes 36 seconds

Intrada INTISC-148 (1961/2010)

Music composed and conducted by Laurence Rosenthal. Album produced by Douglass Fake.

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