Home > Reviews > SHINING THROUGH – Michael Kamen


January 20, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Shining Through is an old-fashioned World War II spy thriller with a romantic undercurrent, written and directed by David Seltzer, based on the novel by Susan Isaacs. The film stars Melanie Griffith as Linda Voss, a clerk in a New York law office, who gets swept up into a world of espionage and intrigue when her employer, attorney Ed Leland (Michael Douglas), discovers she speaks German. Ed is secretly a colonel in the OSS, and he enlists Linda for an important assignment: she is to travel to Berlin and, while posing as a member of the household staff of a Nazi officer, steal top-secret plans for a missile weapon the Germans are developing. The film co-stars Liam Neeson, Joely Richardson, and John Gielgud, and has excellent technical pedigree, but unfortunately was a critical flop and a commercial disaster: critic Roger Ebert wrote that Shining Through was “such an insult to the intelligence that I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief … scene after scene is so implausible that the movie kept pushing me outside and making me ask how the key scenes could possibly be taken seriously”. As such, the film is mostly forgotten today, a footnote in the careers of its three main stars.

One of the few people whose contribution to Shining Through is considered a success is composer Michael Kamen. In the context of his wider career, Shining Through was something of a turning point for Kamen, as it was one of the first mainstream scores he wrote where romance, and not action, was the driving force. Of course there had been romantic elements in his scores before – most notably, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves boasted a gorgeous love theme – but his primary Hollywood output to that point was mostly made up of Die Hards, Lethal Weapons, and other action-thrillers like The Last Boy Scout, Renegades, and Road House. However, as evidenced by the types of films he chose to score as the rest of the 1990s developed, coupled with numerous statements he made in interviews, it became clear that it was to elegant, intimate, romantic music that Kamen’s true heart belonged – the type heard throughout much of Shining Through.

The score is centered around two main themes. The best one is the love theme for Linda and Ed, which anchors the “Main Titles”. It’s a truly beautiful long-lined melody, arranged mostly for piano and strings, and which has a quintessential Kamen sound similar in tone to the music he would later write for scores like Mr. Holland’s Opus, Circle of Friends, Inventing the Abbotts, What Dreams May Come, and others. Anyone who swoons at the chord progressions and instrumental interplay in those scores will undoubtedly find this appealing too. It’s intentionally old fashioned, considering the film’s 1940s setting, and is unashamedly passionate and lyrical – for me, I have always considered it to be one of the best lesser-known themes of his career.

The second theme is what I’m calling the ‘German Theme,’ as it appears to deal with all the issues involving that country and how those issues related to Linda: her German-Jewish heritage, her desire to locate her family still in Berlin, her impressions of the city itself, and eventually the relationship that develops between Linda and Liam Neeson’s character General Dietrich, a Nazi officer who hires Linda to look after his children, and for whom Linda unexpectedly develops genuine feelings, despite the fact that she is secretly spying on him. The first appearance of the German Theme comes in “My Cousin Sophie,” which offers the score a darker tone, with heavier emphasis on Jesse Levy’s cello solos, and on woodwinds performing at the lower edge of their range. Some of the chord progressions and figures seem to have subtle elements of Jewish folk music to them too, perhaps commenting further on Linda’s Jewish heritage, while the flourishes from the brass section in the latter part of the cue feel dramatic, portentous, and imbued with danger.

“Airport Goodbyes” is the second significant performance of the Love Theme, although here it is underpinned with nervous tremolo strings which accompany Linda as she leaves the US for Germany to begin her assignment; the sweeping statement in the finale of the cue speaks to Linda and Ed’s romance, and their sadness at parting. “Enter Berlin” returns to the German Theme, and is replete with undulating classical cellos, underpinning the melody itself, which is carried here by high, nervous woodwinds surrounded by agitated strings, emphasizing the danger Linda is in in her new surroundings. The cue becomes bold, dramatic, and emphatic in its second half, with lots of big brass chords and rolling percussion, as Linda witnesses the militaristic takeover of the city for the first time upon her arrival. This music makes Berlin, bedecked in imperial insignia and threatening Nazi paraphernalia, seem overbearing and treacherous.

The cues from “The Boathouse” through to “The Swiss Border” make up a 25-minute sequence of action and suspense, which underscores Linda’s experiences in Germany: her undercover assignment to infiltrate the household of a high ranking Nazi official, uncover secret information about the weapons they are developing, and smuggle that information out to the west. “The Boathouse” is an intense, sharp action cue in the classic Kamen style, and is filled with creative interplay between all the different sections; it’s orchestrated beautifully, in a way that gives each part of the orchestra a moment to shine, and the brass receives a lot of specific attention. It’s also clever how Kamen offers a variation on the Love Theme during the final minute or so, emphasizing the enduring relationship between Linda and Ed, despite their physical separation.

“Kinderstrasse” underscores the revelatory scene where Dietrich discovers Linda’s true identity, forcing her to run for her life. Kamen anchors the scene around the German Theme – initially it’s bittersweet and poignant, speaking to the emotions Dietrich feels at being betrayed, and the darkly beautiful arrangement of the theme slowly builds (with the help of some choral textures) until an explosion of brass-led melodrama accompanies Linda as she flees across the city, while a shrill version of the German theme accompanied by a glockenspiel intones in the background.

There is a sense of unease to the slow, churning string figures in “Escape to Margrete,” and these turn to shock as Joely Richardson’s character Margrete – a supposedly trusted contact and one of the few people who knew Linda’s true identity – is revealed to be a double agent working for the Nazis. Kamen scores the revelation with bold classical piano figures underpinning the main love theme, accompanied by shrill woodwinds. This then turns into more urgent, heavy action, filled with churning brass bombast, as Linda and Ed desperately head for the border, and safety. “Exit Berlin” contains variations on both the main Love Theme and the German theme, but Kamen removes all elements of romance from them and makes them bitter and dangerous; the numerous large orchestral outbursts give the piece scope and a sense of drama, and it all builds to a dark and intense finale for tremolo strings, bruising brass, and rumbling percussion.

The conclusion of the action comes via “The Swiss Border,” as Ed – with Linda in serious condition having been shot by Margrete during the escape – is forced to engage in a shootout with German border guards as they try to cross into neutral Switzerland on a train. Kamen’s music for the scene is intense, and includes an action setting of the Love Theme accompanied by massive brass and piano clusters, swirling strings, rapped snares, and cymbal rings. It’s tremendously exciting, and it’s clear that the stakes are high, but I have to mention the peculiar farting brass sound that appears in the climactic moment as Ed and Linda run, then stagger, across the border – I understand it’s dramatic intent, but it never fails to make me laugh!

The “End Credits” offer a gorgeous reprise of the main Love Theme, warm, romantic, and appealing, which ends the score on a high note. “I’ll Be Seeing You” is a new version of Sammy Fain’s classic wartime ballad, performed here on-screen by actress and singer Dierdre Harrison at a USO event.

The score album for Shining Through went out of print very quickly after being released, and for many years it was a highly-prized collectible fetching hundreds of dollars on the secondary market, but of course much of it is now available to stream and download online. I honestly believe this score to be one of Michael Kamen’s best little-known masterpieces; the sweeping romance of the main theme, the more murky trepidation of the German theme, and the intensity of the action, will appeal to anyone who has ever enjoyed the more elegant and sophisticated side to his writing. While the quality of the film itself may leave something to be desired, the quality of Michael Kamen’s score does indeed come shining through.

Buy the Shining Through soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles (2:02)
  • My Cousin Sophie (2:50)
  • Airport Goodbyes (1:54)
  • Enter Berlin (3:44)
  • The Boathouse (5:01)
  • Kinderstrasse (4:58)
  • Escape to Margrete (3:44)
  • Gestapo Search (4:11)
  • Exit Berlin (5:25)
  • The Swiss Border (3:26)
  • End Credits (2:18)
  • I’ll Be Seeing You (written by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, performed by Dierdre Harrison) (3:25)

Running Time: 43 minutes 56 seconds

RCA 07863 61145-2 (1992)

Music composed and conducted by Michael Kamen. Orchestrations by Michael Kamen, Jonathan Sacks, Albert Olson, Danny Troob, Sonny Kompanek, Homer Denison, Nick Ingman and Arnold Black. Recorded and mixed by Stephen McLaughlin. Edited by Joseph S. DeBeasi. Album produced by Michael Kamen, Stephen McLaughlin and Christopher Brooks.

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