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QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER – Basil Poledouris

October 15, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Quigley Down Under is a fun, knockabout action-western, written by John Hill, and directed by Simon Wincer. The film stars Tom Selleck as Matthew Quigley, a sharpshooter from the American west, who answers an advertisement looking for men with his skills, and finds himself traveling to Australia circa 1860. Upon arrival, he meets another American woman, Cora (Laura San Giacomo), and then his prospective employer, a rancher and ruthless local businessman named Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman). However, when Quigley is told that his job is to murder Aborigines, he refuses; enraged, Marston abandons Quigley and Cora deep in the outback. They are saved by members of the local tribe, who are subsequently attacked by Marston’s men; angered by the injustice, and by Marston’s ruthlessness, Quigley vows to put a stop to it all. Despite addressing the important topic of the genocide of the aborigines in 19th-century Australia, and despite starring Selleck (who was still a bankable box office star at the time), the film was not a great success, with many critics citing its uneven tone, which unsuccessfully combined Selleck’s roguish charm with some quite strong violence and action.

The score for Quigley Down Under was by the great Basil Poledouris, and was the second of five movies he did with director Wincer, the others being Lonesome Dove, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man in 1991, Free Willy in 1993, and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles in 2001. Wincer always inspired Poledouris to write some of his best work, and Quigley Down Under is no exception – it contains one of Poledouris’s all-time greatest main themes, some terrific evocations of the Australian outback in a style that draws parallels with the American west, and several ball-busting action sequences of great power and energy.

There are four or five recurring themes running through Quigley Down Under, three of which are performed within the “Main Title”. Quigley himself has two themes, and they are the first two things you hear. The first is a jovial, vaguely comical theme for a solo clarinet, which picks up a new instrumental color with each refrain – solo tuba, then banjos and guitars – and has a sort of roguish attitude, a handsome grin behind a bushy mustache, a glint in an eye. The theme changes at 1:02 and becomes much more rousing, a classic western idea for bold brasses and strings evocative of wide open plains – although this time, the plains are in the antipodes, not the wild west. Poledouris introduces some fun ragtime elements under the melody, further adding a touch of mischievous charm to Quigley’s happy-go-lucky attitude and personality. Then at 2:21 Poledouris introduces his third theme, Cora’s Theme, a lovely set of textures for woodwinds, strings, and solo harp. There will be more of that later.

Quigley’s themes and Cora’s theme are prominent in the second cue, “The Fight,” which underscores Quigley’s actual arrival at the docks in Australia, and his first encounter with the men who work for his prospective employer Marston. Unfortunately, this encounter is an old-fashioned donnybrook brawl, for which Poledouris channels his inner Aaron Copland with a classic folksy western theme full of dancing strings. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up Quigley’s main themes take over once more; there is a pretty statement of Cora’s theme, and the piece ends with a superb statement of Quigley’s B Theme over the majestic vistas of the outback, which has more than a little of Lonesome Dove in its DNA. This leads into the “Native Montage,” which presents a lovely guitar version of Quigley’s B Theme with accompaniment from light flutes and elegant strings, an idyllic depiction of pre-colonial agrarian aborigine life.

The score changes enormously in the fourth cue, “Marston’s Murderers,” which is where Poledouris brings out his recurring action ideas for the first time. The cue opens with an array of intensely rhythmic low brass clusters, heavy wooden percussion rhythms, banjo licks, and light electronic tonalities, which together create an identity for Elliott Marston, his gang of thugs, and the threat they present to Quigley, Cora, and the local natives alike. At 0:51 Poledouris presents the first explosion of Quigley’s Action-Adventure theme, a massive and heroic theme for noble horns and accompanying banjos, spirited and rousing. The addition of modern cymbal licks during its second refrain offers an interesting new texture, while the conclusion of the cue is more enigmatic, featuring strings and electronics with a wandering woodwind motif. The action continues later in “The Fire,” in which nervous, clattering percussion and shrill woodwinds lead into an intense variation on Quigley’s Action-Adventure theme. These moments of high anxiety are interspersed with orchestral dissonances, as well as electronic textures which at times remind me a little of Robocop.

However, by far the best action cue is “The Attack,” which offers repeated statements of Quigley’s Action-Adventure theme, performed with intensity and power over a lively bank of tapped percussion. The moment at 1:06 where Poledouris’s action banjo kicks in is just terrific, one of the action highlights of Poledouris’s entire career, and the subsequent juxtaposition of the bold, heroic horn theme against the unfathomably fast banjo picking and guitar strumming underneath it is just sensational. The contrapuntal writing that moves between brass and strings towards the end of the cue gives it a notable complexity that is deeply satisfying, especially when it combines with the recurring Cherry 2000-style rhythmic ideas.

Elsewhere, “Cora’s Story” offers several moments of peaceful reflection, as well as subtle variations on her theme, as the character finally reveals her sad history to a concerned Quigley. Poledouris uses gentle strings, haunting woodwinds, and chime-like electronic percussion sounds, the combination of which make it sound a little medieval, a little liturgical, and draws comparisons to the softer moments of Flesh + Blood. There is also a moving violin solo, and soft guitars, which add a lilting folk-like quality to the sound. Meanwhile, in “The Gift,” Poledouris introduces his final recurring theme, to represent the aborigine tribe that helps Quigley and Cora in their hour of need. The theme appears here for the first time at the 2:07 mark, and is just gorgeous; the way it combines with Cora’s theme, the clarinet version of Quigley’s A Theme, a gorgeous lilting duet for violin and guitar, and a magnificent conclusive statement of Quigley’s B Theme, makes this cue one of the most emotionally fulfilling of the entire score.

The finale of the score begins with “The Capture,” which revisits the ideas for Marston’s gang amid a set of dramatic and anxious percussive textures, including some rolling, clanging bells that have an identifiable James Horner vibe. The penultimate cue, “Freedom” is all about relief and emancipation, with Quigley having defeated Marston and his men, and saved the aborigine tribe. The relief comes from a slow, reflective version of Quigley’s Action-Adventure Theme arranged for oboes and strings, underpinned with a touch of Morricone-esque bittersweetness; the emancipation comes via the magnificent statement of the Aborigine Theme at 1:48, the stirring woodwinds of which have echoes of the score for Farewell to the King. After a brief moment of fife & drum pageantry to represent colonial Australia’s British redcoat army – yes, they were there too! – the conclusive “Matthew Quigley” offers a wonderful final summation of the score. Beginning with an uncertain, hesitant, minor-key version of Cora’s theme, the music slowly melts into romance as Quigley and Cora embrace, and then the end credits begin, offering final statements of the main Quigley A Theme, the Quigley B Theme, the Ragtime variant, Cora’s theme, a Ragtime variant reprise, and a Quigley A Theme reprise to close.

The score for Quigley Down Under was released by Intrada Records at the time the film was released, but despite the popularity of the score and the composer, the album was out of print by the end of the decade, and was commanding hefty prices on the secondary market. An expanded release of the score came out in 2006 on the Belgian label Prometheus, produced by Ford A. Thaxton and Luc Van de Ven. The expanded album features more than a dozen additional cues, taking the album running time up to almost 75 minutes. There are several notable highlights on this album not included in the original release, including a couple of superb action cues in “The Stabbing,” “You’ll Be Back,” and “Dingo Attack,” as well as some unusual ethnic throat singing which acts as a secondary leitmotif for the natives and can be heard in several cues, notably “The Aborigines Return”.

While Poledouris aficionados rightly proclaim scores like Conan the Barbarian, Lonesome Dove, Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Les Misérables as his career standout works, Quigley Down Under should not be overlooked as part of this list. Although the publicity material, which showcases Tom Selleck’s laconic smile grinning down from every poster and CD cover, may make it seem as though the score could be comedic, even silly, it is much, much more than that. The way it interweaves the half dozen or so recurring themes is intelligent and impressive, the choices of specialty orchestration (clarinet, tuba, banjo) are fascinating, the romantic moments are beautiful, and the action music is dazzling, with the aforementioned “The Attack” a career highlight. As such, Quigley Down Under comes with an unhesitating recommendation.

Buy the Quigley Down Under soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:17)
  • The Fight (4:57)
  • Native Montage (2:11)
  • Marston’s Murderers (3:31)
  • Cora’s Story (3:18)
  • The Fire (2:57)
  • The Gift (5:25)
  • The Attack (2:49)
  • The Capture (2:44)
  • Freedom (3:34)
  • Matthew Quigley (5:22)
  • Main Title (3:19)
  • The Fight (4:57)
  • The Redcoats Move On (1:54)
  • The Arrival (1:52)
  • The Test (1:03)
  • Marston’s Game (1:00)
  • Quigley Pans Out (0:48)
  • Quigley Gets Beat Up (1:50)
  • The Stabbing (2:02)
  • Desert Trek (2:56)
  • The Aborigines (1:18)
  • Native Montage (2:12)
  • Cora’s Story (3:19)
  • Marston’s Attack (3:33)
  • Royus Interrupts (1:34)
  • The Cliff (1:08)
  • The Bodies (0:33)
  • The Baby (1:50)
  • You’ll Be Back (1:13)
  • Dingo Attack (2:41)
  • The Fire (2:59)
  • Under the Boat (3:00)
  • Quigley & Cora (2:37)
  • The Gift (5:26)
  • The Warning (1:37)
  • The Attack (2:51)
  • The Capture (2:44)
  • After the Gunfight/Freedom (3:35)
  • The Aborigines Return (2:56)
  • Matthew Quigley/End Credits (5:24)

Running Time: 40 minutes 05 seconds (Original)
Running Time: 74 minutes 11 seconds (Expanded)

Intrada MAF-7006D (1990) – Original
Prometheus XPCD-162 (1990/2006) – Expanded

Music composed and conducted by Basil Poledouris. Orchestrations by Grieg McRitchie and Mark McKenzie. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle. Edited by Tom Villano. Score produced by Basil Poledouris. Expanded album produced by Ford A. Thaxton and Luc Van de Ven.

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