Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In 2015, in my review of the score for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, I wrote the following paragraph about composer Joe Kraemer. “New York-born Kraemer first came onto the film music scene in 2000 as a 29-year old, scoring Christopher McQuarrie’s directorial debut, The Way of the Gun. Kraemer’s score for that film was so good, that he was immediately tipped to be the next ‘hot young composer’ in Hollywood, but instead Kraemer essentially disappeared for a decade, and by 2010 was getting by scoring low-budget straight-to-DVD action movies and the soft-core anthology series Femme Fatales for Cinemax. Then, in 2012, McQuarrie directed a second film, Jack Reacher, and to everyone’s surprise and delight Kraemer scored that film. The score for Jack Reacher was so good that everyone thought “finally, Kraemer’s career is back on track” … except, of course, Kraemer promptly disappeared again for another three years. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is Kraemer’s third go-around at establishing himself as a major composer, and I hope beyond hope that it works this time, and that directors other than Christopher McQuarrie realize what a gem we have in him. Kraemer is too talented to be languishing on the sidelines, and I don’t want to have to type another version of this paragraph again in 2019.”

Well, naturally, here I am in 2019, having had my prophecy unfortunately come true. In the four years since Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Joe Kraemer has not scored a single major theatrical film; he’s scored numerous short films and documentaries, a few super-obscure indie movies, and a couple of episodic TV series (the most notable of which was the brilliant music he wrote for the series Comrade Detective in 2017). Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was outstanding, genuinely one of the best action scores of the decade, and it is utterly inexplicable to me that this pattern of peaks and troughs keeps happening to Kraemer. On pure talent alone, Kraemer should be writing music for two or three major studio features every year. His latest attempt at cracking this seemingly-impossible music nut is The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot, but despite a good cast and an interesting premise the film has been sucked into the straight-to-streaming distribution black hole, and is unlikely to raise his profile in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, great music is great music, and this score is great music, so I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure people know that Joe Kraemer is still out there writing it.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is an unusual action-adventure-drama written and directed by Robert D. Krzykowski, starring Sam Elliott, Aidan Turner, and Ron Livingston. Elliott plays Calvin Barr, a World War II special forces veteran who as a younger man was part of an elite team that successfully assassinated Adolf Hitler in 1945 and ended the war – although the mission was kept classified, and a cover story about Hitler committing suicide was presented to the public instead, to protect Barr’s identity. Forty years later, Barr is living a quiet life in the Pacific Northwest, until he is approached by the US government with a new mission. A strange virus has emerged which could potentially end all life on earth, and the mythical bigfoot has been identified as the likely source. Barr’s mission is to track, find, and kill the bigfoot before the epidemic gets out of hand.

The sensationalist title and somewhat outlandish plot may lead listeners to think that Kraemer’s score is similarly over the top, but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the music is dramatic and appropriate; the press information from La-La Land Records calls it “a robust, thematic score, teeming with drama, romance, pathos and suspense” … “a striking work, incorporating classic 70s vibes with a modern sensibility” … “thoughtful and impactful”. These are all terrific descriptors, and perfectly illustrate the excellent music Kraemer wrote for this wholly unique film. The main theme is the theme for the main character, “Barr’s Theme,” which gets its introduction in the opening cue. Contrary to expectations, the theme for this rugged adventurer is actually quite soft, elegant, with a dream-like and wistful edge to its piano-led core. The theme receives several further strong statements, notably in “The Hat Shop” and “The Last Night,” where the tremolo strings allow it to be tinged with pathos and regret. Cleverly, Kraemer also whittles the theme down to a four-note Barr Motif that runs through much of the score’s action and suspense music, but more on that later.

The other main thematic idea in the score is the Brothers Theme, which speaks to the relationship between Barr and his brother Ed, played by Larry Miller, which plays a major part in the plot of the movie. The theme is introduced, appropriately, in the “Brothers” cue, where the warm, inviting melody is carried by strings and harp. Interestingly, long-time John Williams fans will notice a strong similarity between this theme and the theme from the 1986 film Spacecamp, although I’m sure this is completely coincidental. The Brothers theme re-appears later in “Resolution,” where it is performed by unexpectedly sinister-sounding strings and woodwinds, and becomes more dramatic as it develops, with the notable inclusion of tolling bells. One other minor theme, which appears to be a love theme for Barr and his long-lost sweetheart Maxine, appears in “Letters From Home,” a pretty music-box lullaby for sweet woodwinds, which slowly builds to a sweeping and sentimental finale for massed strings.

The rest of the album is given over to action, drama, and suspense, and it is the action cues that will likely impress people the most. “The Man Who Killed Hitler” is the first of these, a brilliant track filled with Horner-esque crashing piano clusters, aggressive militaristic percussion, stark stabbing strings, and which features woodblocks and tolling bells down in the mix to give it a different sound. Throughout it – and indeed throughout all the action and suspense cues – Kraemer plays around with the deconstructed 4-note Barr Motif, moving it around the orchestra from fanfare-like brass to faster, more intense cellos. “One Last Mission” is similarly bold and turbulent, filled with rhythmic, swirling strings and forceful brass. Later, “Chase Through the Forest” revisits many of these same ideas, showcasing the thunderous string figures and the Horner piano crashes, while highlighting the way Kraemer uses xylophones in combination with low, blatting brass. In the conclusive “And Then The Bigfoot,” Kraemer makes wonderful use of massive whooping brass phrases, John Williams-style rhythmic ideas, and clattering tribal percussion; the brass dissonances that emerge during the cue’s second half are truly something to behold.

A few of the more low-key suspense sequences are worth noting too. “The Tent Sequence” has an overriding sense of tension and nervousness, but it’s done with elegance and clever instrumental techniques that make excellent use of plucked strings, edgy woodwind textures, and a hammered dulcimer. This cue also appears to introduce a recurring idea for extremely low woodwinds that may be a motif for the Bigfoot itself; you can hear it in this cue, and later at 5:02 in the subsequent “European Trek”. Both “European Trek” and “The Mountain” have a western vibe, determined, purposeful, and masculine.

The 9-minute “Finale and End Credits” offers a series of extended ruminations on both Barr’s theme and the Brothers theme, both of which are warmly sentimental, featuring lots of strings, pianos, and rhythmic brass writing, and which builds to a bold and expressive finale. The CD version of the soundtrack also includes a bonus cue, “Coming Home,” which fits in well with the rest of the score’s soundscape.

Despite the obscurity of the project itself, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is a score which demands attention. One of the things I love about it the most is how strongly, almost defiantly, musical it is. This may sound like an odd observation to make, considering how all film music is music by its very definition, but the point I’m trying to make is that Kraemer is never content to simply present basic rhythms and pulses, as many lesser composers would do in his position. The main themes have clear, identifiable melodies. The action music has underlying percussive patterns that change and develop, and never settle into a boring repetitive groove. The instrumental combinations are interesting and intellectually engaging, always presenting a new performance technique or combination to keep the music fresh. It’s just so great to hear a composer like Kraemer serving the film’s dramatic needs with music that is satisfying from both an emotional and compositional standpoint.

So… here we are again. Do I have to repeat myself here? Will I be writing another version of my opening paragraph in 2023 after another barren, Kraemer-free four-year streak? I hope not. Although The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is certainly not going to attract people the way Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation did, I refuse to believe that I’m one of the only people aware of Joe Kraemer’s immense talent, and if this review reaches just one single person with the ability to change the number and profile level of the movies he scores, I will be very happy indeed.

Buy the Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Barr’s Theme (1:13)
  • The Man Who Killed Hitler (3:33)
  • The Tent Sequence (7:22)
  • The Hat Shop (2:58)
  • Barr’s Tale (3:11)
  • European Trek (6:19)
  • Brothers (2:18)
  • One Last Mission (1:57)
  • Letters From Home (3:12)
  • Chase Through The Forest (2:16)
  • The Mountain (3:18)
  • Coming Home (2:47)
  • The Last Night (5:36)
  • And Then The Bigfoot (2:05)
  • Resolution (2:31)
  • Finale and End Credits (9:15)

Running Time: 59 minutes 50 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1497 (2019)

Music composed by Joe Kraemer. Conducted by Johannes Vogel. Orchestrations by Joe Kraemer and Andy Kyte. Recorded and mixed by Bruce Botnick. Album produced by Joe Kraemer.

  1. teacher8007
    April 27, 2019 at 4:30 am

    Actually, the whole story behind Hitler’s assasination and cover-up takes an entirely different twist in the scene under “Barr’s tale” underscore and makes for a brilliant epitomized historical study on the longevity of the Nazi monstrosity thru the decades. The whole plot and conceptualization of the film evolves from this pivotal scene that gives the story appropriate dramatic gravitas in the telling of the solitary hero’s fate who is passed by by recorded History and informs the sensibilities of Mr Kraemer’s excellent score…

  2. RG
    July 4, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    Beautifully written score particularly “finale and end credits” ; Bravo Mr. Kraemer and an excellent review by Mr. Broxton ; sadly these type of cinematic gems are passed over by the mainstream

  3. January 6, 2023 at 4:28 am

    It’s 2023 now… let’s see what Kraemer cooks up this time…

  4. January 6, 2023 at 4:29 am

    It’s 2023 now… let’s see what Joe Kraemer cooks up this time…

  1. January 19, 2020 at 5:10 pm

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