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HUDSON HAWK – Michael Kamen and Robert Kraft


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Hudson Hawk was an action-comedy vehicle for a post-Die Hard Bruce Willis, directed by Michael Lehmann. Willis plays Eddie Hawkins, a master thief who, on the day of his parole from prison, suddenly finds himself blackmailed into committing a series of elaborate heists. The complicated plot involves the Italian Mafia, an evil international conglomerate, the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci, and a machine that turns lead into gold, but it’s really just an excuse for Willis and his co-star Danny Aiello to engage in various globe-trotting escapades of comic tomfoolery. The film co-stars Andie MacDowell, James Coburn, and Richard E. Grant, and unfortunately was an enormous box-office flop; audiences seemingly couldn’t reconcile Willis’s tough guy persona with the film’s slapstick comedy action, bizarre sound effects, and surreal humor.

Musically, Hudson Hawk is an enjoyable oddity. One of the conceits in the story is that the characters played by Willis and Aiello often spontaneously burst into song, as a way to synchronize the timing of their heists. The pair sing several tracks, two of which – Bing Crosby’s “Swinging on a Star” from Going My Way (which won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1944), and Paul Anka’s “Side by Side” – are featured on the film’s soundtrack. The film’s main theme, the “Hudson Hawk Theme,” was written by Robert Kraft (no, not the owner of the New England Patriots, a different one), a songwriter and composer who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay, and later went on to be president of Twentieth Century Fox’s music department from 1994 to 2012. His theme is a terrific piece of finger snapping, groovy jazz, enlivened with a sultry saxophone melody intoning over piano, plucked bass, and light tropical percussion.

Kraft’s other cue, the “Hawk Swing,” begins as a softly shimmering romantic piece, but then again adopts a modern jazz vibe, this time with a Hammond organ and a vibraphone duetting with the sax. It has the same sort of feeling as a Dave Grusin piece, blending jazz and rock with a little bit of Latin flair, but it’s also very much of its time, and may sound horribly dated to people with an aversion to this type of early 1990s urban cool. Finally, the “Hudson Hawk Theme” is adapted into a vocal version with lyrics by Bruce Willis himself, performed by Dr. John with all the gravelly Louisiana Cajun-zydeco style one always associated with his music.

The score proper was by the great Michael Kamen, and was one of six scores he wrote in 1991. Interestingly, and perhaps a little surprisingly, there is very little cross-pollination between Kraft’s theme and Kamen’s score, which tend to exist in splendid isolation away from one another. Kraft’s theme is prominent in the film itself, often taking center stage, whereas Kamen is left with the action sequences and the ‘underscore’ moving the plot along. Despite Kamen not using much of Kraft’s theme, his music is really quite excellent; it’s a broad, exciting, colorful orchestral caper that is awash in so many of his iconic personal stylistics, from the way he phrases the brass to the specific percussive patterns that ran through so many of his greatest works. The score is also intentionally a little mickey-mousey, often matching the slapstick tone of the action; many people baulk at this approach, but it’s very difficult to do it as well as it is done here, and kudos should go to Kamen and his orchestrators (who include luminaries such as Don Davis, Lolita Ritmanis, and Chris Boardman) for making it as vibrant and cohesive as it is.

The score is not as ornate and encrusted as something like, say, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but it’s still very busy and complicated, with multiple ideas and textures darting around the orchestra, often at the same time. The opening cue, “Leonardo,” is wonderfully rich and classical, and jumps from style to style multiple times as the track develops: there are florid trumpet lines, dancing harpsichords, twittering woodwind passages, delicate chimes, ebullient orchestral crescendos, and even a light choir. It all has that iconic renaissance historical sound, and perfectly captures the feel of Da Vinci’s time period.

“Welcome to Rome” is a slow, elegant piece for strings and tender oboes, again with a prominent classical sheen; the Italian setting of the film is characterized by the inclusion of a subtle mandolin, strumming underneath the orchestra. The subsequent “Stealing the Codex” is the first of the score’s major action sequences, and it’s terrific, an energetic and exciting full orchestral romp. It’s chock-full of Kamenisms, echoing earlier scores like Highlander, the boulevard chase from Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard, albeit with an overall lighter and more playful tone. The brass writing is notably impressive, as are the vigorously percussive string runs that underpin the whole thing. One particular recurring five-note motif in the brass seems to be an extract from part of Kraft’s main theme, and is one of the few times Kamen references it – listen for it cropping up around the 1:30 mark.

“Igg & Ook” is the music for the film’s mute twin bodyguards of the same name, and is as quirky as you would expect. Much of it seems to be like what Kraft’s main theme would sound like if it was arranged by Carl Stalling. It jumps around from style to style with reckless abandon, often sounding like a variation on the classic “mysterioso pizzicato” ‘sneaking around’ music, while at other times it sounds like incidental music from The Addams Family by way of Bizet’s Carmen – entertaining, but definitely on the intentionally silly side.

The ”Cartoon Fight” is similar in tone and approach to “Igg & Ook,” in that it apes the classic cartoonish Mickey Mouse style, but with a bigger and more forceful orchestra behind it. Some of the jazz textures Kamen employs here are superb, especially when he lets loose with a bank of roaring trombones, but the fact that he constantly interrupts the rhythmic flow of the swashbuckling action to tinkle around on a harpsichord is a little frustrating, and gives the whole thing a choppy, disjointed feel. Thankfully, there are a few allusions to the thematic material from the Leonardo cue earlier in the score here, which allows the whole thing to maintain a modicum of melodic consistency.

The conclusive “The Gold Room” has a sense of old Hollywood majesty and flamboyance, with staccato rhythmic ideas that build up through the brass, magical iridescent combination writing for strings and chimes, some little touches of darkness through a variety of imposing orchestral chords underpinned by heavy timpani hits, and a vivid sequence of tempestuous triplet-filled action. Eventually there are more references to the Leonardo theme, all leading up to a satisfyingly sweeping finale that will please anyone who loves Kamen at his most warmly thematic.

Hudson Hawk is a score that virtually no-one ever talks about when they rattle off all-time great Michael Kamen scores, but they absolutely should. The fact that the film itself was a box office disaster doesn’t help, and the fact that the soundtrack album only contains a scant 20 minutes of Kamen score may dissuade people from picking it up; it’s certainly ripe for an expansion from one of the specialty labels. Furthermore, looking at it from a wider perspective, it doesn’t have the career-defining bombast of a Lethal Weapon or a Die Hard, it doesn’t have the emotional clout of a Mr. Holland’s Opus or a Band of Brothers, and it certainly doesn’t have the thematic power of a Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – but then again not many scores do. With that in mind, Hudson Hawk is nevertheless a top tier Kamen work, filled with all the orchestral grandeur one associates with his writing, and fans of his will absolutely want to seek it out.

Buy the Hudson Hawk soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Hudson Hawk Theme (written by Robert Kraft and Bruce Willis, performed by Dr. John) (5:37)
  • Swinging on a Star (written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, performed by Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello) (2:51)
  • Side by Side (written by Harry Woods, performed by Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello) (2:16)
  • Leonardo (4:53)
  • Welcome to Rome (1:45)
  • Stealing the Codex (1:56)
  • Igg & Ook (2:19)
  • Cartoon Fight (2:52)
  • The Gold Room (5:55)
  • Hawk Swing (written by Robert Kraft) (3:39)
  • Hudson Hawk Theme – Instrumental (written by Robert Kraft) (5:17)

Running Time: 39 minutes 20 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5323 (1991)

Music composed and conducted by Michael Kamen. Orchestrations by Stu Balcomb, Chris Boardman, Harvey Cohen, Don Davis, Brad Dechter, Jack Hayes, Albert Olsen, Lolita Ritmanis, Jonathan Sacks and Mark Watters. Recorded and mixed by Bobby Fernandez and Steve McLaughlin. Edited by Christopher Brooks. Album produced by Michael Kamen.

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