Home > Reviews > MASQUERADE – John Barry



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Masquerade is a now long-forgotten mystery-thriller directed by Bob Swain and written by Dick Wolf, just before he took over television with his expansive Law & Order franchise. The film is set in and around an elite New England yachting community, and tells the story of Olivia, a naïve, recently orphaned millionairess who returns home after many years away, and falls in love with a dashing young yacht racing captain named Tim. However, Olivia soon becomes embroiled in a labyrinthine plot of lies, deceit, and murder, the scope of which apparently extends to the entire community. The film stars Rob Lowe and Meg Tilly as the central pair, features Kim Cattrall, John Glover, Dana Delany, and Doug Savant in supporting roles, and has a lovely original score by John Barry.

Masquerade was a turning point score in John Barry’s career; shortly after completing work on this music he became terribly ill, suffering a ruptured oesophagus after having an allergic reaction to a health drink. He came coming shockingly close to death as a result – sources say he was actually given last rites by a priest after a surgery did not go as planned – but, amazingly, Barry recovered, but he did not work again for almost two years, and missed out on scoring the 1989 Bond film Licence to Kill. His comeback movie was Dances With Wolves in 1990, which for me remains his career best, but it might not have happened at all had Barry’s constitution and powers of recovery not been so strong – meaning that Masquerade would have been his last score.

Musically, Masquerade is very much a prototypical Barry thriller score from the 1980s and 90s, having much in common with earlier works such as Body Heat, Jagged Edge, and several James Bond efforts, as well as subsequent scores like Ruby Cairo, Indecent Proposal, The Specialist, and Mercury Rising. It is anchored by a lovely main theme, which acts both as a theme for the main character Olivia, and for the romantic relationship she has with the duplicitous Tim. After a few moments of stylishly sinister build-up for piano and strings, the theme first appears at 1:00 of the opening cue, “Main Title”. It’s a lilting, romantic, slightly sultry piece arranged initially for cascading strings with light accents from woodwinds and harp. The chord progressions, the grinding cello and bass countermelody, and the deliberate pacing, will all be immediately recognizable to Barry fans.

The theme is omnipresent through much of the score, in cues such as “Graduation,” “Compulsive Promptness,” “Masquerade/Daddy Would Have Liked You,” “Married,” and in the effortlessly beautiful “End Titles,” although Barry does sometimes change things up by shifting the melody from strings to woodwinds, or piano, and even solo harp, while offering slight tonal differences by using lightly tapped triangles to add a touch of sparkle.

A secondary theme – similar in tone but with a slightly different melodic line – is used to represent Olivia’s love of the sea, and specifically those adventures she has aboard her late father’s yacht – the Masquerade of the title. It is hinted at in several cues, often playing sequentially or contrapuntally to the main theme, but receives an especially prominent performance in the delicately lilting “Obsession Is Ready.” The second part of that cue, “Pregnant,” also features a gorgeous one-off theme for flutes and solemn, undulating strings which clearly informs the music Barry would later write for Swept from the Sea in 1997.

When the main themes are not present, Barry’s music is used to score the intrigue of the murder plot, and here he engages in some of his familiar suspense writing, much of which recalls the quieter moments of his James Bond scores. In cues such as “Face Slap,” “Virgin Sacrifice,” “Tony Dies,” “Two Glasses/Violence, Not Affection,” and “Birthday Gift,” Barry uses abstract flute chords, elongated string sustains, prominent timpani hits, hints of an acoustic guitar, tinkling piano figures, and occasionally even a quiet choir, to create an uneasy mood.

Once in a while the music rises to embrace something like action music, although the slow-burning deliberate pace of cues like “The Fight,” “No Crash,” “Sabotage,” and “Explosion” are so far removed from the kinetic energy of today’s high-impact action sequences that some listeners may fail to even recognize them as such. Rather than increasing the tempo with frenetic beats, Barry uses stabbing strings, piano clusters, and insistent xylophones, in a style somewhat reminiscent of the Oddjob fight sequence from Goldfinger. Despite this, I still find a great deal of musical excellence in Barry’s restraint, having developed a strong appreciation for his idiosyncratic approach to this type of music over the course of his career. In “Explosion” it’s interesting to note how Barry continually oscillates between Olivia’s theme, the Masquerade theme, and the action stylings, giving the music a familiar tonal center while adopting an intelligent dramatic arc that addresses the film’s thematic ideas.

The score for Masquerade has only ever been released once, almost 15 years after the film came out, as a limited edition by producer Ford Thaxton for the Belgian specialist soundtrack label Prometheus (worth noting is the fact that the album liner notes are by the erstwhile James Southall, one of the few he ever wrote). It has been out of print on CD for some time, but is available as a digital download on iTunes; it includes the full score, several bonus cues and variations, and two pieces of original rock and blues source music written for a scene set in a lobster restaurant!

In the bigger scheme of things, Masquerade is a minor John Barry work. It’s written in the same style as, and therefore eclipsed by, much more famous scores, and the fact that the film itself is virtually forgotten today means that the theme never entered public consciousness. But that theme is actually the key; Barry was such a master of melody, and he was able to craft so many different themes that were distinct from one another but also very clearly his. His style, his approach, and his sensibility were wholly unique to him, and that’s something worth acknowledging. While it could easily be dismissed as another variation on the old fashioned Barry style, I miss his voice in film immensely, and as such anyone who enjoys John Barry’s music in general, or who specifically enjoys any of the scores name-checked above, will find Masquerade to be just their cup of tea.

Buy the Masquerade soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:18)
  • Graduation (1:01)
  • Compulsive Promptness (1:50)
  • Masquerade/Daddy Would Have Liked You (3:10)
  • Face Slap (1:08)
  • Virgin Sacrifice (3:08)
  • The Fight/Tony Dies/Call The Police (4:16)
  • Two Glasses/Violence, Not Affection (5:15)
  • Married (1:17)
  • Ann Is Dead/I Sleep Like A Baby With You (1:55)
  • Obsession Is Ready/Pregnant (3:01)
  • Tim & Brooke Cool It For A While/Birthday Gift (1:25)
  • No Crash (0:34)
  • Your Move, Romeo/A New Plan (2:30)
  • Sabotage (1:40)
  • Explosion (4:46)
  • She’s Alive (0:59)
  • End Titles (3:13)
  • Made For Each Other (Version 1) (1:30) Bonus
  • Pity The Poor (1:52) Bonus
  • Made For Each Other (Version 2) (1:07) Bonus
  • It Was You (1:34) Bonus
  • The Last Dance (2:09) Bonus
  • Lobster – House Blues (2:00) Source Music
  • Lobster – House Rock (1:09) Source Music

Running Time: 55 minutes 47 seconds

Prometheus PCR-514 (1988/2002)

Music composed and conducted by John Barry. Orchestrations by Al Woodbury. Recorded and mixed by John Richards. Edited by Clifford Kohlweck. Score produced by John Barry. Album produced by Ford A. Thaxton.

  1. docmartinfan
    March 30, 2018 at 8:02 am

    (3rd try to leave a comment – sheesh) Jon! I just wanted say I thoroughly enjoyed your study of Barry’s MASQUERADE. And thank you.

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