Original Review by Craig Lysy

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story is an iconic television movie that was adapted from an Earl Hamner Jr. story starred Patricia Neal and Richard Thomas in a traditional heart-warming story of a poor rural family’s Christmas. The story takes place on Christmas Eve in 1933 during the Great Depression with the children awaiting, with great anticipation, the miracle in the barn when at the stroke of midnight all off the animals speak. The family is also awaiting the homecoming of their beloved father who had to seek employment in the city and is returning home. A snowstorm places Mr. Walton’s return in peril and the family struggles to remain optimistic as the night wears on. But this is a happy tale and when he returns with a bag of gifts all is made right as the family celebrates the joy and warmth of Christmas. The film was made on a very modest budget, but it was an immediate hit, spawned The Waltons – a highly successful television series and remains an enduring classic holiday favorite.

Goldsmith had a long resume for scoring classic Americana films and had the fortune of previous collaboration with Fielder Cook on the TV series Playhouse 90. Cook’s offer to score the film was well received as Goldsmith was having a hard time securing assignments for feature films. He loved the story, clearly understood the film’s emotional narrative and provided what can only be described as a classic holiday score in the finest rural American traditions. So, let us begin our journey…

In “Walton’s Mountain” Goldsmith introduces his Main Theme, emoted as a gentle waltz by guitar, accordion and harmonica in the finest tradition of rural Americana. He instantly succeeds in setting the mood and transporting you to snow covered Walton’s Mountain, which serves as the backdrop of the opening scene. I really like this short “Main Title” which has a wondrous and enduring folksy charm. Played as we see the children hauling wood to the house, we hear a harmonica playing atop a banjo and underpinned with pizzicato strings. Playing against this theme is a lush counter line carried by violins and viola alight with delicate harp accents. Simply wondrous!

Goldsmith really manages to pack a lot into the short cue “The Hayloft” which plays as the kids head back to the barn to crack walnuts for the apple sauce cake. He opens with beautiful gossamer like Childhood Innocence Theme carried by a duet of harp and recorder that serves as a prelude for a return of a now up-tempo Main Theme. But there is more as he introduces a new melodic line carried by harmonica playing over a series of string chords. The cue, “The Christmas Tree”, is a wonderful piece and for me a score highlight. We see Grandpa Walton and John Boy hiking into the back woods to cut down a Christmas tree. As grandpa recounts the history of the Walton Mountain Goldsmith emotes the Main Theme as a lyrical dance. After a prelude of harmonica and bass, warm violins introduce the theme with strumming guitar accompaniment. He then shifts the melody to a recorder while maintaining the guitar that is joined by rhythmic plucked bass. The melody is transferred a third time to harmonica that continues the dance over guitar and bass with delicate flute accents. The cue come full circle and concludes with a transfer of the melody back to violins and recorder playing in duet for a wonderful conclusion. You just feel the warmth and the charm of life in simpler times.

“Growing Pains” is for me another score highlight as it is a woodwinds lovers dream come true. Regretfully, despite the introduction of the Growing Pains Theme, much of this wonderful cue was excised from the film. Set in the barn, the scene focuses on Mary Ellen’s queries to John Boy about dating and kissing. After a prelude of recorder, flute and plucked banjo, harp glissandi introduces a counter by strings that then yields once more to the opening line of recorder, flute and banjo. From here a quartet of flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon emote this new intimate theme that is filled with both innocence and tenderness. Next violins take up the melodic line to express the theme yet soon yield once more to the quartet, which brings the cue to a satisfying conclusion.

“The Broken Doll” involves a scene where Elizabeth accepts a charity gift from the missionary in town only to find when it is unwrapped that the doll’s face is broken. Her disappointment finds voice in this cue. We open with a discordant chord from which arises a plaintive recorder, which echoes the Growing Pains Theme with harp glissandi counters. As the melody continues the recorder plays over strings with strummed guitar accents. In “A Serious Matter” we are provided with additional testimony that there is in simplicity, beauty. Olivia worries that her husband may have been injured in a bus accident and so sends John Boy in search of him. This delicate cue opens with a solo harmonica, guitar and accordion with violin counter play. We transition to a descending melodic line carried by banjo with harp glissandi that concludes with the harp emoting the melody over violins.

With “A Man’s Job” Goldsmith provides us with a marvelous complex up-tempo travel cue! In the scene, John Boy borrows a car to drive to Charlottesville in search for his father. We begin with a now energetic banjo line that was emoted in the previous cue, which is joined in duet by harmonica. Soon sliding violins counter as they did in “A Serious Matter”. But Goldsmith is not done as bassoon and bass join to further enrich the passage. In “The Sisters”, John Boy runs out of gas and joins the Baldwin sisters who are renowned for their bootleg whiskey. A recorder playing over shimmering harp opens the cue and gives way to a wondrous gentile waltz emoted by solo harp. This transitions to accordion and a dancing solo flute with harp accents that play over lush violins. So beautiful!

From here with “More Help”, we gain our second traveling motif as the sisters assist John Boy with a sleigh ride amidst the gentle falling snow. Energetic strings with accordion, guitar and woodwind quartet carry us along the snow-covered road. In “A Late Visit” we see the Walton children lying awake in their beds anxiously awaiting the arrival of both their father and Christmas. The sound of sleigh bells rouses them as they rush downstairs to greet Santa Claus. The cue opens with a flute chord and a harp line emoting uncertainty that is joined by plucked bass and finally beautiful counter line by a plaintive solo violin as Olivia realizes that John Boy has arrived home without her husband.

For me, “A Miracle” is the emotional highlight of the score as we see John Walton return home at last to a thankful wife and joyous family. For the cue Goldsmith sets the arrival with the Childhood Innocence Theme, which he now emotes fully. It opens hesitantly with harmonica and guitar, which is joined tenderly by plucked harp. This gives way to a sublime solo flute line played over tremolo strings. The cue concludes with lush violins taking up the melody that is now alight with repeating harp glissandi. Our story concludes and comes full circle in the “End Title” with a closing statement of the Main Theme.

rascalsandrobbersRascals and Robbers is a made for TV movies that starred up and coming actors Patrick Creadon (Tom) and Anthony Michael Hall (Huck) and explores secret adventures not penned by Mark Twain. Our heroes manage to assist a slave to purchase his sister’s freedom, save an entire town from a confidence scam, come to the rescue of a failing circus, and pit wits against classic villain. Set in rural Mississippi along the mighty river, the film remains true to Twains vision and provides our young heroes with a strong supporting cast. The film had modest success and remains a fine example of a classic Americana film.

Director Dick Lowry had collaborated with Horner on two previous TV movies, Angel Dusted and A Few Days in Weasel Creek, so it was natural to call upon him for he latest film. Horner took on this modest project and completed it days before he began his scoring efforts for Star Trek II. In an interview Horner confided that he had made a small 37-piece orchestra at CBS’s Radford Facility “sound big and make the instruments go a long way.” The “Main Titles” provides a beautiful introduction to the film as Horner introduces his youthful and happy go lucky Tom’s Theme with a solo trumpet line that plays over pizzicato strings, guitar and sparkling glockenspiel. We feel a folksy charm when a harmonica takes up the melody and a sense of mischief as the energetic Flight Theme is introduced by playful clarinet and tremolo string motifs, which dance to and fro.

In “Tom Sees Scree for the First Time” Tom encounters our villain for the first time. The cue opens with Tom’s Theme now delicately emoted by a flute, kindred woodwinds, plucked strings and glockenspiel accents. As the grim Scree’s carriage passes Horner darkens the passage led by descending strings, bass harmonica and then a cyclic string line as the mysterious carriage passes. At the 0:38 we get a full statement of the Flight Theme as Tom chases the carriage. This wondrous theme is for me a score highlight. It is alight with playful strings and glockenspiel as it shifts to and fro between two major chords a third apart. A discordant chord crash with bass harmonica echoes signals Tom’s surprise meeting of Scree face to face. As Tom flees, the Flight Theme resumes under a sustained violin chord. The introduction of mischievous woodwinds, folksy banjo and Jew’s harp announce the arrival of the impish Huck. At the 2:31 mark “Following the Spies” opens with eerie tremolo strings that are joined with trepidation by a solo oboe emoting Tom’s Theme. The cue accelerates full pace with ominous strings with horn counters as the boys flee the tavern. A solo oboe playing over a sustained string chord concludes the cue as the boys arrive at the cemetery.

“Tom and Huck Discovered” is just an amazing and rich flight cue that provides early career evidence of Horner’s genius. As Scree and Mr. Clinch discuss their plan to swindle the town, an owl startles the boys alerting the men to their presence. An orchestral burst signals the boys discovery and as they flee Horner unleashes a truly exhilarating string line with contrapuntal play from both Tom’s and Scree’s Themes. A respite by woodwinds and glockenspiel signal the boys becoming trapped in an alley, but the Flight Theme resumes as they discover an escape through a loose plank in the fence. At the 1:22 mark in “Running Into the Stable” a discordant orchestral crash signals Scree’s discovery of the boys. A repeating descending woodwind motif with tense strings and bass counters play as the boys hide from their pursuers in the stable. “Running from Scree” continues the thematic continuity of the boy’s flight. The cue opens with a shrill orchestral chord as Scree discovers the boys. Once again Horner plays the Flight Theme that is now darker and more desperate with counterpoint from both Scree’s Theme emoted by harmonica, but also Tom’s Theme that now assumes a minor modal expression. The cue concludes with a solo piccolo emoting Tom’s Theme as Scree captures him.

“Captured by Scree” involves the boy’s escape from the tavern and their eventual recapture by Scree. After a drum roll Horner introduces a new vigorous ostinato string line with bass counters as Scree pursues and once again captures the boys. As Scree spirits the boys away in his wagon, Horner plays his theme in low register strings and counters it with Tom’s Theme which is emoted in high register woodwinds with harp accents. As Scree pulls a knife and prepares to kill the boys, Tom spooks the horses and the wagon takes off. A triumphant Tom’s Theme now emoted on French horns over ostinato violins play and is joined by refulgent horn play to conclude the cue.

In “Huck Shows Off” the boys join a circus and Huck tries to impress a girl with acrobatics on a log. The cue opens with a cliché drum roll and trumpeting fanfare which transitions to a precise and syncopated dance motif that terminates with an extended orchestral trill as Huck teeters and eventually falls. At the 0:38 mark we segue into “Riding to Town”, a most complex and brilliantly conceived cue. The cue opens with a solo oboe line with wonderful flute counters that leads into Tom’s Theme that is first carried by harmonica over ostinato harp and strings, and then lushly by full strings over harmonica and woodwinds. A duet of flute and guitar with harmonica and string counters concludes this wondrous cue.

In “Procession to Paradise Plantation” one of the villains arrives to take the masquerading ‘King’ to the plantation. Here Horner infuses the cue with energy as we hear sparkling strings with French horn counters emote a now refulgent Tom’s Theme, before finishing with the exotic Arabic Theme. It suffices to say that this famous string motif that had such resplendent expression in the “Wrath Of Khan” score found its genesis in this precursor score. We begin yet another flight scene with “Reba’s Escape” as the kids flee once more from Scree and his villains. Frantic horns and rattle percussion open the cue that accelerates with a sustained horn chord playing over ostinato strings which are joined by rapid fire percussion. As the string ostinato continues it is joined by piano as the kids escape. An ominous sustained low register string chord with chirping clarinet alert us to Scree’s presence and as he plots to kill Tom and Huck we hear his dark theme now carried by strings rise and fall with woodwind echoes.

In “Running to the Cave” Scree again captures the wagon forcing the kids to flee into the woods. As the chase begins, Horner again emotes the vigorous ostinato string line with woodwind counters first heard in “Captured By Scree”. As they near a cave the ostinato thins to just the violins as solo oboe plays a wary Tom’s Theme that is soon joined by Scree’s Theme on bass. An ominous bass chord sounds and breaks the ostinato as they enter the cave where Horner introduces eerie echoing electronic sound effects. Continuing on to “In the Cave” Horner unsettles us with foreboding waves of Herrmanesque woodwind chords played under tremolo strings that fade with a harp glissandi flourish. During the chord interludes an ominous introduction of bass harmonica and bass heralds Scree’s arrival.

“Den of Snakes” opens cleverly with recurrent rattles, bassoon wailing, violin screeching and eerie sound effects that just make your skin crawl. At 0:30 we segue into “Den of Snakes, Part II” where a solo oboe emoting Tom’s Theme hesitantly joins the eerie musical mix. The cue concludes ominously with Scree’s arrival, which is born by low register strings and bass clarinet. In “Wicked Surprise” Scree grabs Tom and all hell breaks loose. Bass harmonica heralds Scree presence and a shock chord his grasp of Tom. As Tom struggles Scree’s Theme dominates in the low strings until a string crescendo signals his rescue by Arco. As they flee and reach a door in “Trapped” the woodwind chords return. As Scree breaks through the cave wall to resume his hunt his theme resurges with a tremulous Tom’s Theme carried by solo piccolo plays in counterpoint over a violin ostinato. As he arrives in “Scree’s Surprise” dark bass chords sound with bass harmonica until an orchestral crescendo signals Alice striking Scree’s head with a rock.

In the concluding “Fight in the Graveyard” Horner features a marvelous convergence of themes as our young heroes take on the two remaining villains in a fight and save the day. The scene is scored as a dance with a vigorous interplay of the string carried Flight Theme, the ostinato motif heard in “Captured By Scree” and Tom’s Theme now emoted by woodwinds and horns. The music of the “End Titles” conclude with youthful energy of the Flight Theme with a joyous Tom’s Theme as the boys are seen escaping once again from Aunt Polly’s house to begin a new adventure.

I must thank Lukas Kendall and Neil Bulk of Film Score Monthly for resurrecting a most amazing, unanticipated and cherished release of this holiday classic. For this premiere CD release, the complete score, that includes some passages that were cut from the film, has been mastered superbly from the original ¼” monaural tapes in the CBS Inc. Film and Television Collection at UCLA Performing Arts Special Collections. Folks, quality does not require bulk! Although the score comes in at only 20 minutes, there are a multiplicity of themes that abound in the simple beauty of classic rural Americana. The use of traditional American instruments and a small ensemble orchestra provides an intimacy and warmth to this classic holiday tale. Indeed it attests once more to the genius of Goldsmith in understanding the emotional core of the films he scored. I highly recommend this score as a wonderful addition to your collection.

Similarly, on Rascals and Robbers they have restored and released what I consider underappreciated TV movie scores. Folks, the complete score is newly remixed and mastered in pristine stereo from the original ½” three-track masters found in the CBS collection at UCLA. I must say that I was unfamiliar with this score and quite surprised upon the listen. This is a classic early career Horner score that abounds with creativity, innovation and a display of what will become his signature contrapuntal writing style. We have a multiplicity of fine themes including ones for chase, our villain, a carnival, an eerie and mysterious cave, but most of all Tom’s Theme that is wonderfully emoted on several instruments. This score is a most enjoyable listen whose complexity will not disappoint you. I recommend it not only for Horner enthusiasts like myself, but also for general collectors. For those of you not inclined to explore TV movie scores, I cannot think of a better place to begin than with this score.

Rating: ****

Buy the Homecoming: A Christmas Story/Rascals and Robbers: The Secret Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Promo (0:46)
  • Waltons Mountain (1:06)
  • Main Title (1:02)
  • The Hayloft (1:13)
  • The Christmas Tree (1:53)
  • Growing Pains (2:40)
  • The Broken Doll (1:15)
  • A Serious Matter (1:18)
  • A Man’s Job (1:54)
  • The Sisters (1:30)
  • More Help (0:46)
  • A Late Visit (1:21)
  • A Miracle (1:46)
  • End Title (0:50)
  • Showcard #1/Showcard #2 (0:13)
  • Main Titles (2:26)
  • Tom Sees Scree for the First Time/Following the Spies (4:15)
  • Tom and Huck Discovered/Running Into the Stable (2:15)
  • Running From Scree (1:55)
  • Huck in the Tavern/Gallery of Rogues (1:39)
  • Captured by Scree (2:25)
  • Carnival Music/Turn in Your Noses (0:51)
  • Huck Shows Off/Riding to Town (3:03)
  • King Gasparbeltazar/Procession to Paradise Plantation (1:45)
  • Scree Comes to Beton’s Landing (0:35)
  • Scree’s Ride (0:22)
  • Reba’s Escape (1:39)
  • Running to the Cave/Wild Drum Hits (2:22)
  • In the Cave (1:38)
  • Den of Snakes/Den of Snakes, Part II (1:57)
  • Wicked Surprise/Trapped/Scree’s Surprise/Fight in the Graveyard (3:09)
  • End Titles (1:10)
  • Bumper #1/Bumper #2 (1:17)

Running Time: 54 minutes 51 seconds

Film Score Monthly FSM Vol. 14 No. 6  (1972/1982/2011)

THE HOMECOMING: A CHRISTMAS STORY Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Jerry Goldsmith and Arthur Morton. RASCALS AND ROBBERS: THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER AND HUCK FINN Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Album produced by Lukas Kendall and Neil S. Bulk.

  1. April 5, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Excellent review! Can’t wait for this one to arrive here.

  2. Craig Richard Lysy
    April 6, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for the kind words James. I hope they keep digging up these lost gems! Even more remarkable to me was releasing Van Cleave’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars whose review I submitted last week.

    All the best!

  3. December 16, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Fantastic web site. Lots of helpful information here. I’m sending it to a few friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thank you to your effort!

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