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CURLY SUE – Georges Delerue

October 21, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Curly Sue is a warm-hearted family comedy written and directed by John Hughes – the last film Hughes directed prior to his death in 2009, although he did write and produce others. The film stars James Belushi as Bill, a drifter and scammer who swindles strangers out of money to support himself and his partner in crime, a cute moppet orphan girl he calls Curly Sue (Alisan Porter). After moving from Detroit to Chicago, Bill and Curly Sue find their next target in Grey Ellison (Kelly Lynch), a yuppie lawyer. However, things take an unexpected turn when Grey learns about the con, but falls in love with Bill anyway when she learns the truth about their past, and how much he genuinely cares for Curly Sue. Grey asks Bill and Curly Sue to move in with her – a decision which sparks the ire of Grey’s jealous, vindictive ex-boyfriend Walker (John Getz), who plots revenge against the man who he believes broke up his relationship.

Despite its brief popularity at the time, Curly Sue is a mostly forgotten movie these days, so it might come as something of a surprise that it was scored by Georges Delerue. I’ve written variations on this sentence several times before, but it bears repeating now – for far too much of his Hollywood career, it seemed like people didn’t quite know what to do with him, so he ended up scoring films like this, the quality of which were so far beneath the levels of his talent that the disparity was almost obscene. This was the musical voice of the French New Wave, the composer of choice for François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, reduced to scoring Jim Belushi comedy movies. But one thing that was always true of Delerue was that, no matter what film he was scoring, he invariably wrote stunningly beautiful orchestral music, and that is certainly true for Curly Sue.

The main theme, which relates specifically to the little girl at the center of the story, is introduced in the “Main Title,” is superb, a light and charming and playful melody that dances around between elegant strings and whimsical woodwinds, backed by light chimes. It has a lullaby-like quality to it that is effortlessly charming, and the when the strings swell in a romantic sweep… well. Nobody but Delerue ever wrote music like this. It’s quintessentially him. The main theme re-occurs frequently throughout the score, receiving several notable recapitulations; for example, “They Cut My Hair” features the main theme in a slightly melancholy arrangement that moves from jazzy trumpets and brushed snares to solo piano. Later, “Grey Was A Girl Once, Too” blends the theme with some then-contemporary synth elements and more jazz textures; Delerue didn’t write for electronics very often, and so this offers a rare chance to see him experimenting in that way.

A secondary theme that seems to represent Bill and Curly Sue’s relationship with Grey is introduced in “A Hot Bath and Pizza, Ahh!”. It has a touch of light jazz in the way the instruments are phrased, and in places feels like a cousin to the theme from Steel Magnolias; it’s upbeat, lively, engaging, and effortlessly charming, but it also has the capacity to convey different emotions – its subsequent performance in “Big Girls Go To School” is more straightforwardly lovely, and the way it combines with the main theme in its second half is instrumental in cementing the relationship between Sue and Grey, the mother figure she never had.

Other cues of note include “Two Shades of Grey” and “Every Girl Needs a Mom,” both of which offers a hint of drama through a series of main theme variations that use introspective woodwinds, especially oboes, to capture the danger and loneliness of Bill and Curly Sue’s life on the streets, as well as some cathartic swells in the strings, offset by poignant piano lines. “Someone’s Always Hitting Bill” is an engaging light action caper cue for tremolo strings and a more fulsome brass section, which briefly rekindles memories of the more intense parts of Joe Versus the Volcano, but then quickly devolves into a perky, cheeky comedy sequence for clarinets and pizzicato strings.

The conclusive “Separation and Reunion” is simply stunning – a massive, sweeping final statement of the main theme for the entire orchestra that wrings every last droplet of emotion from the ensemble. The initial delicacy and fragility of the violin writing is gradually overtaken by intimate oboes backed with harps, and then eventually larger forces, as the theme takes center stage and celebrates Bill and Curly Sue’s newfound life with Grey, and the promise of a better future for them all.

The album, on Giant Records, also features a few source cues. “Thirty-Five-Thirty” is a wonderful piece of toe-tapping big band jazz with a prominent saxophone, while “Yacht Club Swing” is a lively period piece that wouldn’t sound of out of place in a 1930s dance hall, and ““Bill Can Be Cool/Shop N’ Bop” is a blend of jazz and blues that is authentic, dense, and contains some ridiculously complicated trumpet improvisations. These tracks were produced by Femi Jiya, who worked extensively in the pop music world for artists ranging from Prince and Simply Red to the Bee Gees. There are also three original songs, two of which (“Innocent Believer” and “Git Down”) were co-written by John Hughes, while the other is an original soft-rock ballad called “You Never Know,” which was written by Steve Dorff and John Bettis and is performed Ringo Starr with his unmistakable scouse drawl.

If you can get over the fact that Georges Delerue was hired to score this film in the first place, listeners will find Curly Sue to be yet another superb score by the master of wistful, elegant, emotional comedy-dramas. This film had no right to have a score this good; some of the writing is staggeringly beautiful, and is at a level of emotional and technical sophistication so much higher than the film itself could ever hope to be. Although the music is available to stream through Youtube and various other sources, the soundtrack album itself is a fairly rare collectible these days; if you do happen to find a copy, it comes with an unhesitating recommendation from me as yet another reminder of what an iconic and brilliant composer Georges Delerue was, and why the longevity of his legacy demanded better films than he was given in the last decade of his life.

Buy the Curly Sue soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:05)
  • Thirty-Five-Thirty (3:34)
  • Two Shades of Grey (2:26)
  • Innocent Believer (written by John Hughes and Matt Deakin, performed by 2YZ feat. Terry Wood) (4:34)
  • A Hot Bath and Pizza, Ahh! (1:01)
  • They Cut My Hair (2:15)
  • Big Girls Go yo School (1:41)
  • Grey Was a Girl Once, Too (3:45)
  • Yacht Club Swing (3:10)
  • Git Down (written by John Hughes and Matt Deakin, performed by 2YZ feat. Andrea Salazar and Kenyatta Vaughn) (4:53)
  • Every Girl Needs a Mom (4:50)
  • Someone’s Always Hitting Bill (1:40)
  • Bill Can Be Cool/Shop N’ Bop (2:55)
  • The Train Calls to Bill (2:30)
  • You Never Know (written by Steve Dorff and John Bettis, performed by Ringo Starr) (4:03)
  • Separation and Reunion (3:48)

Running Time: 50 minutes 10 seconds

Giant Records 7500-24439-2 (1991)

Music composed and conducted by Georges Delerue. Orchestrations by Georges Delerue. Recorded and mixed by Bobby Fernandez. Edited by Dan Carlin. Album produced by Georges Delerue.

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