Home > Reviews > POLICE ACADEMY – Robert Folk


October 16, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Major cities in the United States were dangerous places in 1984. Murders, drive-by shootings and gang violence was rampant, and drug pushers, hookers and pimps harassed the good people of the cities on every street corner. In response to this urban decay, the leadership of the Police Department opened their doors to anyone who wanted to become an officer of the law, even if they had previously been turned away – with hilarious results! This unlikely scenario is the backdrop to one of the most popular and enduring comedies of the 1980s, director Hugh Wilson’s Police Academy, which followed the adventures of a group of misfits as they try to navigate their way through basic training. The characters are now familiar – Steve Guttenberg’s cocksure, wisecracking Mahoney; Bubba Smith’s imposing but loveable Hightower; David Graf’s dumb, trigger-happy Tackleberry; Michael Winslow’s motor-mouthed human beatbox Jones; Marion Ramsey’s timid and mousey Hooks; GW Bailey’s short-fused, ill-tempered Lieutenant Harris; and George Gaynes’s barely competent Commandant Lassard; as well as a sex kitten role for a young Kim Cattrall – and the film was so successful that it spawned an astonishing six sequels, each one progressively worse and less successful than its predecessor – in fact, by the time Police Academy 5 rolled around in 1988, even Steve Guttenberg refused to appear!

However, the one man who remained with the series throughout its 10-year cinematic life was composer Robert Folk. When Folk was first hired to score Police Academy, he was a comparative new kid on the block, fresh out of Juilliard with just a handful of movies and some episodes of TV shows like Falcon Crest, Knot’s Landing and Hart to Hart under his belt. Police Academy was his first major studio film, and he grasped his opportunity with both hands, composing the now-iconic Police Academy March as his score’s central idea. Folk followed the path laid for him by Elmer Bernstein, whose straight-as-an-arrow scores for raucous comedies like Airplane, Stripes and Animal House proved beyond doubt that the best way to score jokes like these was to ignore the jokes and score the drama and pathos.

Police Academy did just that, with the march as the centerpiece of the score. Taking a leaf out of John Philip Sousa’s playbook of rousing military themes, the Police Academy March is a flurry of snare drums, flutes and stirring brass fanfares, and is surprisingly malleable, capable of being adapted into several different emotional and textural vacations. It is heard in fairly straightforward performances in “Main Title,” “Barbara,” “The Academy,” the florid “Obstacles,” the celebratory “Guns,” “Improvement,” and the conclusive “Straighten Up,” but then appears with sinister darkness in “Night Rounds,” with a moody sneakiness in “Rounds Resume/Tackleberry,” with parade-ground efficiency and a hint of jazz in “Join Up,” and with a combination of pizzicato playfulness and Teutonic self-importance in “Formation/Move Out” that illustrates the character of Lieutenant Harris to a tee.

When the score plays without the March, it’s less memorable, but still shows a great deal of compositional acumen worthy of a listen or two. “Assignment” introduces a new military theme, similar in tone to the main march, but with a different melody and a more pronounced Civil War fife-and-drum aspect. The wannabe ladies man George Martín, played by Andrew Rubin, has his own little motif, a send-up of his Latin Lover persona in “Martin and Company,” “More Martin,” and “In Drag,” filled with sultry saxophones and a jazz rhythm section. Later, Mahoney has a more introspective saxophone love theme for his burgeoning relationship with Kim Cattrall’s lovely Karen in “Regrets”. Finally, a touch of classical pastiche in “Jam Up,” a rockabilly riff in “Hightower Drive,” and a swing arrangement of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” round out the score’s more playful moments.

Both “Recruits” and “Pussycat/Uniforms” have a downtown vibe of then-contemporary guitar-led irreverence, and have more than a touch of Bill Conti about them, especially the way the muted horns combine with rock-edged percussion á la Rocky. This is carried through to the score’s finale, from “Riot Starts” through to “Where’s Harris?” which is unexpectedly dramatic, as the hapless recruits are suddenly forced to deal with a genuine threat of civil disobedience. Wailing electronic guitars, urban Isaac Hayes-style rhythmic ideas, and even some synth effects, combine with a beefier brass section and a jazz piano, musically turning Mahoney and his cohorts from clueless cops into competent officers in the style of Shaft, Starsky & Hutch or TJ Hooker. Listen out for the wonderful moment towards the end of the fantastic “Riot Gear” cue, when Folk performs the Police Academy March on heroic French horns, deep down in the mix underneath all the swaggering cool.

Despite further such box office hits such as Can’t Buy Me Love in 1987, In the Army Now in 1994, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in 1995, and Nothing to Lose in 1997, Robert Folk’s career as a major composer never really built on the success of Police Academy, and has never really developed the way I, and many others, wanted it to. Folk is such a talented composer, with such great dramatic sense, a knack for memorable themes, and a rich orchestral knowledge, it continually amazes me that he never had a film career similar to that of contemporaries like Bruce Broughton and Alan Silvestri. I have often wondered whether his ‘Police Academy Guy’ tag actually became a hindrance, especially as the quality of the films themselves got worse as the years went on, to the point where he was being overlooked for more serious dramatic work as a result of his association with them. I don’t know the answer to any of these questions – I’m just thinking out loud – but it’s interesting to speculate. Whatever the case may be, the music for Police Academy is still first rate: even if you’re not a fan of the film itself, Folk’s memorable contribution to the genre cannot be overlooked.

This CD from La-La Land Records represents the first release of Folk’s score for Police Academy – previously, the only available music was a 9-minute suite on Folk’s Selected Suites compilation album on the Knightsbridge label. It comes in a smart package with handsome production values, informative liner notes by Daniel Schweiger, and a bonus performance of “El Bimbo” for those nights when you want to dust off your leather chaps and head out to the Blue Oyster bar for an impromptu cheek-to-cheek tango.

Buy the Police Academy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title/Night Rounds (1:52)
  • Rounds Resume/Tackleberry (1:10)
  • Barbara (0:51)
  • Join Up (1:10)
  • The Academy (1:16)
  • Recruits (1:54)
  • Pussycat/Uniforms (1:56)
  • Assignment (1:20)
  • Formation/Move Out (3:26)
  • Obstacles (2:15)
  • Martin and Company (0:46)
  • Ball Games (0:27)
  • More Martin (0:28)
  • Regrets (1:05)
  • Guns/In Drag (4:01)
  • Warpath (0:28)
  • Improvement (1:15)
  • Jam Up (0:42)
  • Hightower Drive (1:37)
  • Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie) (0:40)
  • Need to Talk/Hightower Leaves (1:16)
  • Riot Starts (1:25)
  • Riot Gear (2:42)
  • SOB (0:32)
  • Match (1:44)
  • Where’s Harris? (2:40)
  • Straighten Up (1:26)
  • Police Academy March (1:06)
  • El Bimbo (written by Claude Morgan, performed by Jean-Marc Dompierre and His Orchestra) (1:49)

Running Time: 43 minutes 19 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1269 (1984/2013)

Music composed and conducted by Robert Folk. Orchestrations by Robert Folk. Recorded and mixed by Dan Wallin. Edited by Doug Lackey. Album produced by Robert Folk, Matt Verboys and Neil S. Bulk.

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