Home > Reviews > THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE – Graeme Revell


January 13, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a psychological thriller which builds on the ‘something-from-hell’ sub-genre trope, and made parents everywhere think twice about hiring a nanny. The film stars Matt McCoy and Annabella Sciorra as Michael and Claire Bartel, successful young parents with a pre-teen daughter and a baby on the way. After the baby is born Claire hires the seemingly perfect Peyton Flanders (Rebecca de Mornay) to be their new nanny, and for a while things go well – until unusual events start occurring in the Bartel household, and Claire begins to suspect that there is more to Peyton than meets the eye. The film was directed by Curtis Hanson, and was a popular box office hit in the early weeks of 1992; it also became notorious for a particular scene in a greenhouse, which remains a grisly thrill to this day. The title of the film is taken from the famous 1865 poem of the same name written by William Ross Wallace, which praises motherhood and celebrates mothers, and states that ‘the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world’.

The score for The Hand That Rocks the Cradle marked the mainstream Hollywood debut of New Zealand-born composer Graeme Revell. He originated from the industrial rock world, and while living in London in the mid-1970s he was a founding member of the band SPK, but he also worked a variety of other jobs while trying to make it as a composer and musician – he worked as a regional planner in Indonesia and as an orderly in a psychiatric hospital in Australia – before first emerging into the world of film music in the late 1980s. He scored the cult Australian thriller Dead Calm and the brilliant TV mini-series Bangkok Hilton, both starring Nicole Kidman, in 1989, and then dabbled with B-movie Hollywood horror fare such as Child’s Play 2 and Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, but The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was the score that finally brought him to popular attention, at the age of 37. The irony of this is that the score’s main theme is actually not by Revell at all.

The main theme for the film, as heard in the main title cue “The Home” and in several cues thereafter, is actually an adaptation of the melody from the song “Poor Wand’ring One,” which was written for the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance by the Victorian-era composer-lyricist team William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan in 1879. The story of The Pirates of Penzance begins when a hard-of-hearing nanny accidentally sends an orphaned baby boy to be trained as a ‘pirate’ instead of a ‘pilot’ – i.e. someone who steers boats – and this of course has parallels with the plot of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which involves a nanny and a baby boy and a whole load of unsavory subsequent shenanigans. The music of Gilbert & Sullivan appears embedded throughout the film: Peyton hums the Poor Wand’ring One melody when strolling with the baby through the park, Michael hears a snippet of the song on the radio, the clock in the basement plays more music from the same operetta, and there are additional references to another Gilbert & Sullivan work, HMS Pinafore.

The melody itself is lovely – the arrangement in “Main Title (The Home)” is pretty and delicate and focused on pianos, strings, and woodwinds, which gives it an innocence and a lullaby-ish quality which is perfect for the set-up to come. It actually feels quite similar to the sound Jerry Goldsmith established for the film Sleeping With the Enemy a year previously, a sound of domestic bliss which then becomes eerily threatening when juxtaposed against the terrible events that come later. The same melody appears in several additional cues later, most notably with music box prettiness but a slightly menacing undertone in “Peyton and Baby Joey,” and then with a sense of palpable relief in the gorgeous “Solomon’s Baby” during the film’s finale.

Meanwhile, the original Revell music tends to concentrate on the darker and more thrilling aspects of the story. “The Miscarriage” is full of ominous, but still melodic, string and piano lines that offer tonal similarities with the main title theme, and add both weight and tragedy to Peyton’s trauma, before then setting her off on her psychotic journey of revenge and retribution. “Solomon” is the music for Ernie Hudson’s character, an intellectually disabled handyman who helps around the Bartel home, and is initially the only person to see Peyton for who she really is – which, of course, makes him her target. Their increasingly toxic and dangerous relationship is characterized with sinister shifting string chords that take on a threatening air, and occasionally rise to darkly satisfying crescendos.

“Marlene’s Discovery” is an effectively ominous cue which makes increased use of brass, pulsating underneath the constantly undulating and shifting string and woodwind writing, while tubular bells toll portentously in the background. It all rises to a desperately shrill and dangerous finale as the hapless Marlene – who was Michael’s ex-girlfriend, and is being set up by Peyton for Claire to think they are having an affair – has a close encounter with some broken glass in a greenhouse. The subsequent “The Greenhouse Affect” underscores the scene of Claire finding Marlene’s body, and is darkly mysterious, offering more references to the main theme surrounded by brooding string and woodwind textures that become more dissonant as the cue progresses. Poor old Marlene won’t be a wand’ring one any more.

“Claire Investigates” was clearly temp-tracked with music from The Silence of the Lambs by Howard Shore, as it uses the same morose rolling woodwind textures, backed with eerie strings, cold pianos, and glittering chimes, as the finale of that film – Hannibal Lecter having an ‘old friend for dinner’. It’s very effective in this context too, though, as Claire searches through various archives and discovers the truth about Peyton – who she really is, and what she wants. There is a real sense of intimidating drama to the ascending brass scales and shrill string sustains in the subsequent “You’re Not My Mommy,” while the relentless timpani hits drive the intensity along. The finale of the cue – which sees a now completely unhinged and deranged Peyton trying to kill Claire and take the baby – is stark and cacophonous, full of strident orchestral textures and pounding piano clusters.

The final pair, “End Credit Medley” and “One Family Again,” revisit the Poor Wand’ring One main theme for a final time, while also revisiting the Howard Shore Silence of the Lambs style with a certain flair that feels appropriately conclusive and ends the album on a darkly dramatic note. All they need to do now is clean the blood off their white picket fence. The album also includes performances of the full “Poor Wand’ring One” song, as well as a performance of a second song from The Pirates of Penzance, “Oh Dry the Glist’ning Tear,” both performed by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, which specializes in Gilbert & Sullivan revivals. Both are lovely.

Graeme Revell would go on to have a very respectable career in Hollywood throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, scoring popular and successful films in a variety of genres, ranging from The Crow and From Dusk till Dawn to Pitch Black, Tomb Raider, Daredevil, Sin City, and Pineapple Express, among many many others. He moved back to New Zealand in 2014 and essentially left the mainstream scoring scene – he hasn’t scored a movie since Riddick in 2013, and hasn’t scored a TV show since the second season of Gotham ended in 2015 – but for more than 20 years Revell was one of film music’s busiest and most reliable composers, and The Hand that Rock the Cradle is a great place to start exploring his output. It might not have been a perfect showcase for Revell’s original voice – Gilbert & Sullivan meets Howard Shore is an odd combo – but it’s effective, and it worked, and set Revell up for greater things to come.

Buy the Hand that Rock the Cradle soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (The Home) (2:52)
  • Poor Wand’ring One from The Pirates of Penzance (written by William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, performed by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company) (2:55)
  • The Miscarriage (2:19)
  • Peyton and Baby Joey (1:30)
  • Solomon (3:15)
  • Oh Dry the Glist’ning Tear from The Pirates of Penzance (written by William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, performed by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company) (3:10)
  • Marlene’s Discovery (3:21)
  • The Greenhouse Affect (2:55)
  • Claire Investigates (3:53)
  • You’re Not My Mommy (4:55)
  • Solomon’s Baby (2:17)
  • End Credit Medley (2:20)
  • One Family Again (2:52)

Running Time: 38 minutes 34 seconds

Hollywood Records HR-61304-2 (1992)

Music composed by Graeme Revell. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec and Graeme Revell. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands and Dan Wallin. Edited by Dick Bernstein. Album produced by Graeme Revell.

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