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JOHN WILLIAMS REVIEWS 1970-1974

February 8, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

In this latest installment of the new irregular series looking at the early career of some iconic composers, and in recognition of his 90th birthday this week, here is our look at the first part of second decade in the career of John Williams, and all the scores he wrote from 1970 through 1974.

The 1970s was the decade which really established Williams as a major composer in Hollywood film music circles; he moved mostly away from the light jazz scores that typified a great deal of his work in the 1960s, he dropped the cheerful name ‘Johnny Williams’ and became the much more serious ‘John,’ and he formed many of the directorial relationships that would result in much of his mainstream success – notably with a young and ambitions and incredibly talented kid from Cincinnati named Steven Spielberg.

Not included here are the scores where Williams adapted music by other people: Fiddler on the Roof (1971), where Williams worked with music by Jerry Bock and for which he received his first Academy Award for Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score, and Tom Sawyer (1973), where Williams adapted music Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, and for which Williams received an Academy Award nomination for Best Scoring: Original Song Score and Adaptation, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.

 

STORY OF A WOMAN (1970)

Story of a Woman, or Storia di Una Donna, is an Italian language drama film directed by Leonardo Bercovici, and it the only score Williams has written for a non-English language film. It’s a fairly simple romantic melodrama starring Bibi Andersson as Karin, a Swedish girl studying to be a concert pianist in Rome, who falls in love with a medical student named Bruno, played by James Farantino. When she discovers that he is already married to an older woman she heads home to Sweden and marries an American diplomat named David, played by Robert Stack – but when David is assigned to the embassy Rome, destiny brings Karin and Bruno back into each other’s lives.

Story of a Woman is also one of the few John Williams scores that (at the time of writing) has never been released on CD. The film was actually shot and produced in 1968, and suffered a post-production delay before being released in 1970. The score was recorded in Rome in 1968, and features vocal performances by the great Italian pop singer Ornella Vanoni, but Williams’s music is outstanding – it’s light and breezy, romantic, sometimes poppy, sometimes jazzy, and regularly infused with passionate Italianate spirit energy.

The score is mostly arranged for strings and piano, but often rises to encompass the full orchestra, especially in an exciting sequence where Karin attends the 1968 Winter Olympics. A six minute suite of music from the film is available on Youtube at https://youtu.be/UjI4xKftKzs, but unfortunately it suffers from absolutely appalling sound quality; even so, despite the mud and the distortion, the voices and sound effects, you can hear the kernels of what may a long-lost romantic great. There’s also a lovely performance of the love theme arranged for solo piano and performed by Dan Redfeld at https://youtu.be/CFzjN71n1zQ, which gives you a better idea of the actual melody. The film itself has recently been released on a re-mastered BluRay, which means that a proper soundtrack may be forthcoming soon.

 

 

JANE EYRE (1970)

This version of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre was directed by Delbert Mann, and played in cinemas in the UK, but debuted as a television movie in the United States more than a year later in 1972. Susannah York plays the virginal title character, and George C. Scott plays the taciturn and imposing Edward Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall where Jane is sent to be a governess, and who falls in love with the young woman despite hiding a dark secret. It’s a classic tale told with all the sheen and professionalism of a BBC period drama, and this extends to the score by John Williams.

In many ways you can point to Jane Eyre as being the score where Johnny Williams, the hep cat jazzman, turned into John Williams, the orchestral maestro we know today. Jane Eyre is wonderful; it’s a rich, emotional, luxurious, romantically melodramatic score overflowing with gorgeous theme for elegant strings and virtuosic pianos. It’s built around two recurring themes – the swooning “Love Theme” for Jane and Rochester, and the recurring main theme which is presented fully in the “Overture (Main Title),” and is perhaps a tiny bit more imposing and sinister, but remains wholly beautiful. Both themes accentuate the orchestra with harpsichords to illustrate the period setting, and both have a classical sheen that gives the entire project a refined air and a serious attitude.

These two themes re-occur frequently throughout the score, but there is still room for additional highlights. “To Thornfield” is a wonderful scherzo of travelling music, full of scampering strings, twittering flutes, and dance-like movement that follows Jane’s carriage as it traverses the wilds of the Yorkshire moors to her new home. “Festivity at Thornfield” is a period formal dance for a string quartet that feels like t could have been written in the 1840s. “Grace Poole and Mason’s Arrival” is awash in menace and subtle horror, a clever variation on the sound from the first part of the main theme, and has a sound that continues on into the subsequent “Thwarted Wedding”. “Across the Moors” is wild and passionate, full of surging strings amid a tempestuous variation on the love theme.

Williams won the 1972 Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for Jane Eyre, and it’s not difficult to see why. Many people last place Jane Eyre on their list of all time John Williams great scores, and it’s not difficult to see why there too. The score has been released several times over the years, on LP and CD, most notably by the British label Silva Screen. The best version currently in print is the 2012 release from La-La Land Records, which doesn’t offer any new music over any of the previous releases, but does feature crisp remastered sound.

Track Listing: 1. Love Theme from Jane Eyre (3:15), 2. Overture (Main Title) (3:55), 3. Lowood (2:25), 4. To Thornfield (1:51), 5. Festivity at Thornfield (2:08), 6. Grace Poole and Mason’s Arrival (3:00), 7. Meeting (3:07), 8. Thwarted Wedding (2:37), 9. Across the Moors (2:38), 10. Restoration (3:56), 11. Reunion (End Title) (4:23). La-La Land Records LLLCD-1214 , 33 minutes 15 seconds.

 

 

THE COWBOYS (1972)

The Cowboys is a western directed by Mark Rydell , based on the novel by William Dale Jennings, starring John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne, Bruce Dern, and Robert Carradine in his film debut. It follows the fortunes of rough-and-ready rancher Will Andersen (Wayne), who is forced to hire a bunch of inexperienced schoolboys as cowhands in order to help him get his herd to market, after his regular hands desert him to join the California gold rush. However, once Anderson and his cowboys are out on the open trail of the cattle drive, they face all manner of dangers – not least of which is a gang of cattle rustlers led by the ruthless Asa Watts (Dern), who are trailing them across the prairie.

The Cowboys is one of the only full-blooded, traditional, Elmer Bernstein-style western scores in John Williams’s filmography, and it’s a shame he has never been given the opportunity to do more, because it’s really, really good. Everything is built around his rousing, energetic main theme, first presented in the “Main Title,” which begins with a thunderous flurry of strings, and then heads off out into the wild frontier with a series of vivacious reprises that place an accordion, a harmonica, and rapped tambourines against the might of the full orchestra. The theme is instantly memorable, alternately boisterous and rowdy, sweeping and spirited, and plays throughout the score, but Williams is able to but it through numerous variations, including slightly more comedic ones in “Schoolboys or Cowboys” and “Learning the Ropes,” a more tender one in “The Ranch,” more subdued and downbeat ones in “Nightfall” and “A Sad Day,” and with joyous ebullience in the “Overture”.

“Wild Horses” is a knockabout action sequence with some especially impressive writing for brass and even an interlude for a percussive electric guitar that screams ‘1970s,’ the “Alternate Main Title” is interesting as it is clearly much closer in style and arrangement to Jerome Moross’s The Big Country, and The danger posed by the rustlers is conveyed with some outstanding dark action music in the eponymous “Rustlers,” and later in “Into the Trap,” where the music is underpinned with some quite tortured anguish.

The Cowboys is an excellent score, probably the best western score Williams has written, and fans of the genre will want to experience it to hear his take on the classic sound. The original album, released on CD by Varese Sarabande in 1994, is just around half an hour long and hits all the highlights; for those who want to delve deeper, an expanded edition was released as part of the Varese Sarabande CD Club in 2018.

Track Listing: 1. Main Title (2:19), 2. Schoolboys or Cowboys (1:10), 3. Learning the Ropes (1:29), 4. Wild Horses (1:42), 5. Deserted (1:40), 6. Crazy Alice (1:59), 7. Alternate Main Title (1:29), 8. The Ranch (2:33), 9. Overture (2:32), 10. Bedtime Story (1:46), 11. Rustlers (1:17), 12. Stealing Back the Heard (1:24), 13. Nightfall (1:55), 14. A Sad Day (1:35), 15. Into the Trap (2:13), 16. The Drive (1:44), 17. Summer’s Over (1:29). Varese Sarabande VSD-5540, 30 minutes 16 seconds.

 

 

THE SCREAMING WOMAN (1972)

The Screaming Woman is a TV movie for ABC, directed by Jack Smight, based on a short story by Ray Bradbury. It’s a horror-thriller tale, and stars the legendary Olivia de Havilland as Laura Wynant, a wealthy widow who has recently been released from a mental institution, after suffering from delusions. Laura travels to her country estate to recuperate, but her convalescence quickly turns into a nightmare when she starts hearing faint calls for help, and comes to believe that a woman has been buried alive on her property – the problem, of course, is that no-one believes her.

Like Story of a Woman, The Screaming Woman remains one of the few John Williams scores that (at the time of writing) has never been released on CD. As befits the tone of the film, Williams adopted a thriller and horror style, with much of it having a sound similar to that of his great friend and contemporary Bernard Herrmann. The main title theme is a spiky, agitated affair for a bank of undulating woodwinds, shrill swirling strings, stabbing pianos, and a rampaging percussion motif, accompanying a scene of Dame Olivia sprinting through her estate, shrieking at the top of her voice; the brief end titles is an elegant piece that has stylistic similarities to Jane Eyre, while also foreshadowing some of the dark romance that Williams would later write for things like Dracula.

There is some confusion as to what Williams actually wrote for the underscore proper – there was a musician’s strike at the time the film was made, and it appears that much of the underscore was cobbled together from pre-existing library music by people like Morton Stevens and even Jerry Goldsmith – but whatever the truth is, there is certainly enough excellent music in the film to warrant some sort of album, or at least an extended suite re-recording. The score for The Screaming Woman has never been legitimately released in any format – the only thing available is a bootleg CD that came out in 2010s, which appears to have been ripped from a DVD of the film, and has very poor sound quality. Until then, the entire film is available to view for free on Youtube at https://youtu.be/CrGy9VSf6fs.

Track Listing: 1. The Discovery/Main Titles (2:44), 2. Going After the Dog (1:07), 3. Laura Back Home (0:33), 4. Cleaning the House (0:55), 5. Washing Off the Blood (0:37), 6. Calling the Police (0:47), 7. Fake Digging (0:45), 8. Digging Alone (1:40), 9. Looking for Help (1:09), 10. Digging With David (1:45), 11. Lies (0:31), 12. Face to Face (0:08), 13. Almost Caught (0:56), 14. Lovers (1:34), 15. Waking Up (2:27), 16. Leaving Home (0:23), 17. Night Excursion (1:14), 18. Night Digging/Lovers Depart/Finale (2:56), 19. End Credits (0:58). Bootleg, 23 minutes 21 seconds.

 

 

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

One of the biggest and most popular films of the early 1970s was The Poseidon Adventure, a disaster action thriller directed by Ronald Neame and produced by Irwin Allen. The film takes place on a luxury ocean liner, the SS Poseidon, which is on her final voyage before being decommissioned, and is full of wealthy passengers celebrating New Year’s Eve. However, disaster strikes when the boat is hit by a rogue tsunami and capsizes; with dozens of passengers and crew trapped inside, a disgraced preacher (played by Gene Hackman) attempts to lead a small group of survivors to safety. In addition to Hackman the film had an all-star supporting cast including Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters and Roddy McDowall.

Williams had worked with producer Allen many times before, on TV series such as Lost in Space and Land of the Giants, and as such was the first choice to score the film. In many ways this was the first true blockbuster of Williams career – it was the highest grossing film of the year, and earned Williams his second Academy Award nomination for Best Original Dramatic Score – but, ironically, it’s one of the least accessible and least successful of Williams’s major scores of the period, at least for me.

The main theme as heard in the “Main Title” is a dark, moody piece for rolling strings and pianos which seem to capture the motion of the ocean, while also foreshadowing the disaster to come. Interestingly, some of the chord progressions of the theme seem to be a prototype for what would eventually become the Force theme from Star Wars – it was quite unexpected to hear that cropping up in a completely different context. The main theme is actually not very prominent throughout the rest of the score – there are reprises in “Raising the Christmas Tree,” “The Red Wheel,” and “Rogo Takes Command,” among others – but for the most part Williams foregoes thematic strength in favor of grim atmospherics that enhance the treacherous journey through the bowels of the ship that the survivors of the disaster must navigate in order to safely escape.

There’s a tender, but slightly mundane, love theme for “Rogo and Linda” in the cue of the same name. The action and suspense music, as heard in cues like “The Big Wave/The Aftermath,” “Through the Galley,” “Saving Robin,” and elsewhere is low-key and rumbly, with lots of moody strings, shrill dissonances, and low-end piano clusters, but it misses a great deal of the panache heard in so much of Williams’s action music from the period. The final cue, “End Title (The Rescue)” does provide a final satisfying rendition of the main theme in its most heroic guise, but by that point you may have decided that the whole thing was not worth rescuing. In the end, although The Poseidon Adventure was a major hit and a landmark Williams work in terms of his career, I have never been fond of it, and collectors may want to wait until the end of their journey to add it to the collection, as there are many more important scores to experience first.

This review is of the expanded release of the score that was part of the 4-CD Disaster Movie Soundtrack Collection box set released by La-La Land Records in 2019, along with the scores for Earthquake and The Towering Inferno; a more concise version was originally released by Film Score Monthly in 1998, although that one has slightly inferior sound quality. The album also includes several versions of the song “The Morning After,” written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Original Song. It was performed in the film by Renée Armand, dubbing for Carol Lynley. A version of “The Morning After” performed by Maureen McGovern became a hit single in 1973.

Track Listing: 1. Main Title (2:12), 2. Rogo and Linda (1:34), 3. The Big Wave/The Aftermath (4:02), 4. Raising the Christmas Tree (1:28), 5. Nonnie and Red/Up the Tree (1:59), 6. Death’s Door/The Upturned Galley (2:01), 7. Through the Galley (1:13), 8. The Other Survivors (1:37), 9. Search for the Engine Room (2:51), 10. Barber Shoppe Scene (1:46), 11. Saving Robin (1:24), 12. The Death of Belle (3:25), 13. Hold Your Breath (3:08), 14. The Red Wheel (1:25), 15. Rogo Takes Command (1:38), 16. End Title (The Rescue) (3:42), 17. Main Title (Alternate Version 1) (1:58) BONUS, 18. New Year’s Party (Version 1) (0:58) BONUS, 19. To Love (3:12) BONUS, 20. New Year’s Party (Version 2) (2:11) BONUS, 21. Main Title (Alternate Version 2) (1:59) BONUS, 22. The Morning After (Version 1) (written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn) (2:10) BONUS, 23. Love Is A Many Splendored Thing (written by Sammy Fain) (2:19) BONUS, 24. Give Me The Simple Life/A Certain Smile (written by Rube Bloom/Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster) (1:49) BONUS, 25. The Morning After – Instrumental Version (written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn) (2:09) BONUS, 26. Auld Lang Syne (1:34) BONUS, 27. The Morning After (Version 2) (written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn) (2:10) BONUS, 28. End Title (Alternate Version) (2:38) BONUS. La-La Land Records LLLCD-1133, 60 minutes 26 seconds.

 

 

PETE ‘N’ TILLIE (1972)

Pete ‘n’ Tillie is a comedy drama starring Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett, directed by Martin Ritt. It’s basically the story of a relationship; Matthau is the eccentric, unfaithful, womanizing husband Pete, Carol Burnett his long-suffering wife Tillie. When their pre-teen son Robbie is diagnosed with cancer, it puts even more stress on Pete and Tillie’s already strained relationship, and pushes Tillie – whose grip on sanity is already tenuous thanks to Pete’s personality and constant cheating – to the brink. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Julius J. Epstein’s screenplay, and for Geraldine Page’s supporting role playing Gertrude, one of Pete’s conquests, who develops an unlikely friendship with the wife of her lover.

The only release of the score for Pete ‘n’ Tillie is as a handful of bonus cues on the expanded soundtrack for Stanley & Iris released by Varese Sarabande in 2017. The main title theme is lovely – soft, sentimental, warmly romantic, arranged for strings and piano with woodwind accents – and fits in with the tone of other later scores in this style, like The Accidental Tourist, Stanley & Iris, and Sabrina. The theme is present throughout much of the score, with especially pretty reprises coming with a light pop/jazz arrangement in “Afterglow,” in the sprightly “Marriage Book,” in the affectionately endearing “Vacation,” and especially the emotional final pair “End Title and End Cast,” and “Love Theme”. Meanwhile, the more serious aspects of the story dealing with Robbie’s illness are scored with a more intimate sound in cues like “For Robbie” and especially “Funeral,” which adapt the main theme into something much more somber, and feature poignant brass and harp glissandi behind the strings.

Unfortunately, the album does not include the original song “Love’s the Only Game in Town,” which was written by Williams with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and performed by Matthau; this remains unreleased on CD, although there was a vinyl LP of the song that was released back in the 70s when the film came out. Pete ‘n’ Tillie is a lovely little score, inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things, but it provides a charming break from the bombast that typifies most of Williams’s work of the era.

Track Listing: 1. Pete ’n’ Tillie – Main Title (1:57), 2. Afterglow (1:46), 3. Marriage Book (1:48), 4. Bedroom Scene (0:57), 5. Vacation (2:45), 6. For Robbie (1:33), 7. Funeral (0:52), 8. Hospital (0:42), 8. End Title and End Cast (3:49), 10. Love Theme (2:27). Varese Sarabande VCL-03171178, 18 minutes 51 seconds.

 

 

IMAGES (1972)

Images is a psychological horror film written and directed by Robert Altman. It’s essentially a surrealist examination of a woman suffering an extended mental breakdown, and stars Susannah York as Cathryn, a wealthy children’s author whose grip on reality becomes looser and more terrifying when she begins to see a series of disturbing visons and hallucinations – the images of the title – while staying at a remote vacation home in Ireland. It’s one of the most unusual films in Altman’s career, having to do with doppelgängers, and asking questions about reality and perception. It also inspired John Williams to write one of the most challenging atonal scores of his entire career.

The liner notes of the 2021 Quartet release of the score say that ‘the composer based his ideas on two different musical styles: one more classical, almost childlike, the other experimental, aggressive, with an essential contribution from famous Japanese percussionist and experimental musician Stomu Yamashta. This musical duality allows Williams to reflect how sanity gradually and irretrievably loses ground to madness in York’s character.’ All this is accurate, but it doesn’t really convey what listening to the score is actually like. It’s a wild, bizarre, almost hallucinatory auditory experience – music enters and leaves seemingly at random, never really coalescing into anything concrete, which I suppose is the point considering that the film deals with a sense of unreality that never truly resolves.

There is a folk-like main theme, which is heard prominently in the opening “In Search of Unicorns” on a moody and distant piano, and then later in “Dogs, Ponies and Old Ruins” as a duet for guitar and glockenspiel, and in the downbeat conclusion “The Waterfall and The Final Chapter”. By far the best and most accessible cue of the entire score, and the best rendition of the theme, comes in the in dramatic and occasionally rhapsodic “Blood Moon,” which has a sound in common with cues like Jane Eyre and Dracula and is really quite excellent.

The rest is, to put it charitably, difficult. It’s an atonal collision of sounds – rattling metallic percussion, string harmonics, shrill woodwind blasts, literal bells and whistles, and most disturbingly of all a series of whispers and moans and hurling noises performed by Yamashta himself, some of which come across like the audio recording of the excretory aftermath of an especially bad plate of sushi. Once in a while a more consonant passage will emerge, and the familiar John Williams is briefly present itself, but these oments are few and far between. Cues like “The House,” “Visitations,” “The Killing of Marcel,” and “Land of the Ums,” are barely tolerable, but they nevertheless remain fascinating from a technical point of view, as they are so unlike anything Williams has composed, before or since.

The score received an Oscar nomination, eventually losing to Charlie Chaplin’s long-delayed 1952 score Limelight, which was only eligible because it did not screen in Los Angeles until 1972. I’m not sure what else there is to say about Images – it’s a fascinating, challenging, totally unorthodox, deeply strange score that impresses enormously on a technical and intellectual level, but I fear most ‘traditional’ John Williams fans will hate everything except the occasional moments of dramatic lushness. The score was unreleased for many years following the film’s opening, but there are now several options for collectors. My personal choice for the best release is the one from Quartet Records in 2021.

Track Listing: 1. In Search of Unicorns (4:06), 2. The House (2:40), 3. Dogs, Ponies and Old Ruins (2:15), 4. Visitations (2:53), 5. Reflections (3:16), 6. The Killing of Marcel (3:13), 7. The Love Montage (4:48), 8. Blood Moon (3:17), 9. Land of the Ums (1:47), 10. The Night Witch Ride (2:55), 11. The Waterfall and The Final Chapter (4:19). Quartet Records QR-455, 35 minutes 29 seconds.

 

 

THE LONG GOODBYE (1973)

The Long Goodbye is a hard boiled film noir detective story, adapted from Raymond Chandler’s novel by Leigh Brackett, and directed by Robert Altman. The film stars Elliott Gould as private eye Philip Marlowe, shifted in time from Los Angeles in the 1940s to the 1970s; the plot involves Marlowe agreeing to help his old friend Lennox, who has been accused of killing his wife, a crime that Marlowe does not believe he has committed. However, when Lennox himself disappears, Marlowe begins his own investigation into the disappearance, and crosses paths with the mysterious Eileen Wade, who had hired him to locate her alcoholic novelist husband, lives on the same street as Lennox and his deceased wife. The film co-stars Nina van Pallandt and Sterling Hayden, and was the second collaboration between Altman and Williams in quick succession, after Images.

The score is perhaps the epitome of the ‘themes and variations’ style. Everything is based around one main theme – according to the album notes Altman asked Williams to provide repeat it throughout the film with many variations adapted for various scenes. If you don’t like the theme you’re basically out of luck because everything revolves around it. Thankfully I do – it’s a cheerful, lazy, languid piece of jazz, with just enough sleaze to be a perfect film noir piece, but with just enough upbeat pep in its step to be engaging.

The album opens with nine arrangements of it for various difference ensembles and instrumentalists, as well as a couple of vocal versions featuring lyrics by Johnny Mercer – one performed by smoky-voiced sultriness by R&B vocalist Clydie King, and another with gravel-voiced intensity by Jack Sheldon. I especially like the opening piano solo piece performed by Williams himself, the intensely dramatic tango version, and the lively mariachi version which speaks to the fact that a lot of the film’s finale takes place in Mexico. The 10-minute “Main Title Montage” full of laid back jazzy beats and rhythms, again based mostly around the main theme, and incorporating what appears to be an edited duet between King and Sheldon, and the “Love Theme” version features warm strings and trumpets, while the “Finale” surrounds the theme with some odd electronic textures, before finishing with a jaunty harmonica solo.

The soundtrack for The Long Goodbye was unavailable for many years; it first appeared as a series of bonus tracks tagged onto the end of the album for Fitzwilly released by Varese Sarabande in 2004, before eventually being released as a standalone album by Quartet in 2012, expanded to more than an hour and including several bonus tracks and outtakes. It’s far from an essential purchase and, as I said before, if the theme doesn’t grab you then you’re not left with much else to latch on to, but I had enough of a good time with it to be able to give it a restrained recommendation.

Track Listing: 1. The Long Goodbye (performed by John Williams) (3:07), 2. The Long Goodbye (performed by Clydie King) (4:35), 3. The Long Goodbye (performed by the Dave Grusin Trio) (5:02), 4. The Long Goodbye (performed by Jack Sheldon) (3:32), 5. The Long Goodbye (performed by the Dave Grusin Trio) (4:33), 6. The Long Goodbye – Tango (2:30), 7. The Long Goodbye (performed by Irene Kral & The Dave Grusin Trio) (3:11), 8. The Long Goodbye – Mariachi (2:04), 9. Marlowe in Mexico (3:37), 10. Main Title Montage (10:58), 11. Night Talk (2:08), 12. The Border (0:34), 13. Love Theme from The Long Goodbye (1:58), 14. The Long Goodbye – Sitar (1:02), 15. Guitar Nostalgia (1:01), 16. The Mexican Funeral (2:31), 17. Finale (1:08), 18. Clydie King Adlibs Rehearsal (8:25) BONUS, 19. Jack Riley and Ensemble Rehearsal (1:39) BONUS, 20. Violin Rehearsal (2:06) BONUS. Quartet Records QR-185, 65 minutes 45 seconds.

 

 

THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING (1973)

Sadly, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing is not a film about felines doing the foxtrot: it is instead one of the offbeat westerns that seemed to be so prevalent in the 1970s. It’s an adaptation of Marilyn Durham’s novel of the same name directed by Richard C. Sarafian, starring Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles. Reynolds plays Jay Grobart, an outlaw in the American west, whose wife – a Native American woman Cat Dancing – is raped and murdered. Grobart kills the man responsible, but then with nothing else to live for turns to a life of crime himself, robbing trains and working as a gun for hire. Life seems to headed on a downward spiral for Grobart until he meets Catherine, the abused wife of an arrogant millionaire, who offers him a second chance at love. The film co-stars Lee Cobb, Jack Warden, and George Hamilton, and was originally scored by French composer Michel Legrand; however, his score was rejected by the producers amid a series of post-production calamities, who then turned to John Williams to write a fast replacement in less than a week.

The main theme, as heard in the opening cue “Cat Dancing,” is a weird hybrid of honkytonk saloon music, 1970s jazz, and traditional western writing, which passes a melody around between pianos, electric guitars, and harmonica backed by a lush string section. I like it, but it’s about as far from the familiar John Williams sound as you can get – it sounds more like something an Italian might have written for an obscure spaghetti western (which, now that I think about it. might have been the intent). The theme meanders through much of the rest of the score, and is often awash in pizzicato strings, strummed guitars, and more earthy harmonica solos by the renowned Tommy Morgan – cues such as “Moving,” the second half of “Bound Up,” and “Braiding/Just Whistle” stand out here.

One flashy action sequence – “Follow that Horse” – is clearly a variation on the score for The Cowboys, albeit with the addition of a jaunty banjo and clip-clop percussion, while the darker and more sparse orchestral material in cues like “I’m Running Away Too/Mud in Your Eye,” “Billy’s Fall/Boys Will,” “Dawes and Catherine,” parts of “The Mask” and “The Camp,” and the shrill “Jay’s Fall” address the more serious and at times brutal parts of the story related to Cat Dancing’s death and Grobart’s revenge plot. The second half of the score introduces a variation on the main theme which acts as a love theme for Grobart and Catherine, which is unusual and features some unconventional chord progressions, but strangely attractive, especially when Williams really pushes the romantic buttons in cues like “Little John,” “I Love You, Jay,” and the almost magical-sounding “In the Snow/Together Again”.

There was no album for The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing until it was released by Film Score Monthly in 2002, almost thirty years later. The album includes over an hour of Williams’s score, plus four tracks from Legrand’s rejected score totaling almost 30 extra minutes. It’s recommended for collectors and the curious, but be warned that it’s one of the most idiosyncratic scores Williams wrote during the period.

Track Listing: 1. Cat Dancing (2:40), 2. The Telegraph Pole (1:05), 3. Follow That Horse (1:19), 4. I’m Running Away Too/Mud in Your Eye (2:12), 5. Moving (2:09), 6. Bound Up (3:08), 7. Billy’s Fall/Boys Will Be (2:38), 8. The Aftermath (1:59), 9. Braiding/Just Whistle (2:23), 10. Deserted Hotel/What’s Your First Name? (2:48), 11. Dawes and Catherine (1:00), 12. Jay and Catherine/The Mask (3:07), 13. Little John (3:12), 14. I Love You, Jay/To Camp/The Cave (2:04), 15. In the Snow/Together Again (1:46), 16. Jay’s Fall/End Title/End Cast (3:10, 17. Main Title (Michel Legrand’s Rejected Score) (2:17), 18. Suite Part 1 (Michel Legrand’s Rejected Score) (11:13), 19. Suite Part 2 (Michel Legrand’s Rejected Score) (8:26), 20. Improvision on 1M1 (Michel Legrand’s Rejected Score) (6:16). Film Score Monthly FSM Vol.5 No.4, 64 minutes 52 seconds.

 

 

THE PAPER CHASE (1973)

The Paper Chase is a comedy-drama film starring Timothy Bottoms, Lindsay Wagner, and John Houseman, directed by James Bridges. Based on John Jay Osborn Jr.’s 1971 novel it tells the story of James Hart (Bottoms), a first-year law student at Harvard Law School, his experiences with his brilliant but demanding instructor Professor Charles Kingsfield (Houseman), and his unexpected romantic relationship with Kingsfield’s married daughter Susan (Wagner). Houseman earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the professor, and the score was by John Williams.

The “Love Theme” is a pretty light pop piece for strings, recorder, and jazz percussion which is very pleasant, if rather light and undemanding. The more conventionally romantic performances in “Be Irrational,” “Thinking of Susan,” and “Real Identity/Into the Sea” represents the burgeoning relationship between James and Susan, while the final performance in the “End Title” has a more prominent brass countermelody and might be the best statement of it overall.

I actually much prefer the more subtle and understated dramatic music Williams wrote for “The Passing of Wisdom,” a theme for the Kingsfield which features delicate interplay between the different sections of the orchestra, breathless and hesitant, and filled with almost starry-eyed reverence for the learned professor. I also like the mock-baroque scherzos “Hart in a Hurry” and “To the Hotel,” which feature a scurrying virtuoso harpsichord performance, strident strings, and an overarching touch of comedy that recalls his earlier score for Fitzwilly, and in some way pre-dates the antics in Home Alone.

Rounding out the score are a couple of arrangements of classical pieces by Bach and Telemann, and two jazz-rock source cues (“Keven’s House,” “Kevin’s Tutor”) which are decent fun and could have been written by Ennio Morricone for one his famous euro-pop comedies.

Unfortunately, the full score for The Paper Chase has never been released as a standalone soundtrack– the only available music is a suite of 12 cues totaling a tad over 30 minutes, which were included as bonus tracks on the 1998 Film Score Monthly release of the soundtrack for The Poseidon Adventure. It’s a light, breezy, but ultimately rather forgettable score, sandwiched between much more memorable works.

Track Listing: 1. Love Theme from The Paper Chase (2:37), 2. The Passing of Wisdom (3:06), 3. Little Fugue in G Minor (written by Johann Sebastian Bach) (2:05), 4. Be Irrational (2:55), 5. Kevin’s House (Source) (2:32), 6. Hart In a Hurry (1:16), 7. Thinking of Susan/Kingsfield’s Study/The Empty Classroom (3:12), 8. Kevin’s Tutor (Source) (3:36), 9. To The Hotel (2:02), 10. Concerto in D Major: Allegro (written by Georg Philipp Telemann) (1:39), 11. Real Identity/Into the Sea (3:35), 12. End Title (2:38). Film Score Monthly FSM Vol. 1 No. 2, 31 minutes 16 seconds.

 

 

CINDERELLA LIBERTY (1973)

Cinderella Liberty is a romantic drama film adapted by Daryl Ponicsan from his own novel, and directed by Mark Rydell. The film stars James Caan as John Baggs, a sailor the US navy stationed in Seattle who falls in love with a prostitute named Maggie (Marsha Mason) and becomes a surrogate father for her 10-year-old mixed race son. The film co-stars Eli Wallach and Burt Young; the film’s title comes from the concept of a “cinderella liberty pass,” which allows armed forces personnel to freely leave the naval base as long as they are back by midnight curfew.

The film was the third collaboration between director Rydell and John Williams, after The Reivers and The Cowboys, and it ultimately earned him two Oscar nominations: one for Best Original Dramatic Score, and one for Best Original Song for “Nice to Be Around,” which he co-wrote with Paul Williams (no relation), although he ultimately lost both to Marvin Hamlisch and The Way We Were. The main theme inhabits the same tonal world as things like The Reivers, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing and, later, The Missouri Breaks, by blending traditional Americana – harmonicas and guitars – with contemporary jazz percussion and understated orchestral writing, all of which addresses the low-key drama in the relationship between Maggie and Baggs.

The theme runs through much of the score, receiving especially notable performances in “Nice To Be Around,” “Maggie and Baggs,” and the standalone “Cinderella Liberty Love Theme,” as well as in a stylish jazz arrangement in “Boxing Montage,” and with more romantic strings in “A Baby Boy Arrives”. Other cues of note include the groovy urban funk of “New Shooter” and “Neptune’s Bar,” some which reminds me of some of his cop show scores from the 60s, the agreeable Hammond-infused pop stylings of “Maggie Shoots Pool,”

The score for Cinderella Liberty was released as a vinyl LP at the time the film was released, but was unavailable for many years in any digital format other than a poorly-sourced bootleg, until Intrada released it as part of their Special Collection series in 2008. Like many of his low-key Americana dramas, it will likely only be real interest to collectors and Williams completists, but it has a certain down home charm that I find appealing.

Track Listing: 1. Wednesday Special – Main Title (performed by Paul Williams) (2:28), 2. Nice To Be Around (2:51), 3. New Shooter (3:07), 4. Maggie Shoots Pool (3:56), 5. Maggie and Baggs (4:07), 6. Boxing Montage (2:59), 7. Nice To Be Around (performed by Paul Williams) (2:38), 8. Neptune’s Bar (2:23), 9. Cinderella Liberty Love Theme (3:59), 10. The Ferry Ride (1:46), 11. A Baby Boy Arrives (2:06), 12. Wednesday Special – End Title (performed by Paul Williams) (2:28). Intrada ISC-70, 34 minutes 48 seconds.

 

 

CONRACK (1974)

Conrack is a drama film based on the 1972 autobiographical book The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy, directed by Martin Ritt and starring Jon Voight in the title role. It tells the story of an inspirational schoolteacher who is assigned to an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina, which is populated mostly by poor black families who only speak Gullah, a creole dialect. The children he encounters have little to no concept of wider world, and are given little more than a cursory education, but as he starts to try to teach the children about life and society he faces a great deal of resistance – most notably from the school district’s superintendent Mr. Skeffington, played by Hume Cronyn. The film’s title, ‘conrack,’ is what the Gullah children call Pat, in their strong dialectical accent.

Unfortunately, the full score for Conrack has never been released as a standalone soundtrack – the only available music is the six minute Main Title cue which was included as a bonus track on the 1998 Film Score Monthly release of the soundtrack for The Poseidon Adventure. The theme is actually lovely – it opens with a warm, delicate woodwind texture underpinned with ascending piano scale and gentle strings. A country-blues flavored acoustic guitar solo soon takes over, clearly alluding to the culture of the Gullah people, and thereafter the pieces switches between the two styles. The Gullah theme gets an interlude for a honkytonk piano, and the whole thing eventually builds into an upbeat finale for rousing strings and accents from a harmonica.

As such, Conrack remains possibly the most obscure John Williams score of the 1970s. Having never seen the film I have no idea how much additional music there is, but I would certainly like to find out. If you don’t want to shell out money for an entire soundtrack just to hear this one piece, you can listen to it on Youtube at https://youtu.be/nDKDbThxiTQ.

Film Score Monthly FSM Vol. 1 No. 2, 06 minutes 07 seconds.

 

 

THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974)

The Sugarland Express is one of the defining scores of John Williams’s career, as it was the first one he wrote for the then 28-year-old director Steven Spielberg. The film is a comedy-drama caper chase movie starring Goldie Hawn and William Atherton; they play Lou Jean and Clovis, a young husband and wife couple who are trying to get to their child before he is placed in foster care. Lou Jean busts Clovis out of jail, and a chase across Texas ensues, a circumstance that is exacerbated further when they take one of the police officers chasing them hostage along the way. However, media coverage of the event turns Lou Jean and Clovis into minor celebrities, to the extent that the good people of rural Texas try to stop the police and help them reunite with their child.

Williams’s score fits squarely within that Americana/jazz/country sound of scores like The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Cinderella Liberty, and others, and is based around a fun, lively, homespun theme for strings, harmonica, and guitars. A few of the chase sequences are underscored with rock and pop instrumentals that take on the instrumental tone and sound of the American south, while the police convoy chasing them has a more robust orchestral sound featuring militaristic rapped snares, tolling bells, and an insistent piano rhythm. The surprisingly dark finale, wherein Clovis is shot to death by cops on his own front lawn, is one of the few moments of serious drama and is scored with string-heavy tension, but the finale and “End Credits” return to the more jovial main theme, and allow Lou Jean’s future to have a touch of positivity and optimism through the use of warmer and more inviting strings behind the harmonica melody .

Surprisingly, considering its importance in in Williams’s career history, the score for The Sugarland Express has never been legitimately released in any format – the only thing available is a bootleg CD that came out in 2000, the source of which remains unclear, and which has appalling sound quality. Williams seemingly doesn’t want to it to be released – his reasons have ever been revealed – which means that the only legit recording of the theme was done by Silva Screen featuring harmonica solos by Steve Lockwood, and which appears on one or two of their Williams compilations. However, but it can only be matter of time until one of the specialty labels does justice to this landmark work.

Track Listing: 1. Prelude (3:36), 2. Main Theme (3:27), 3. End Credits (1:41), 4. Passing The Road Barrier (2:13), 5. Negotiations (1:58), 6. The Caravan (1:14), 7. Opening Titles (1:25), 8. Plans (1:18), 9. The Quarrel (2:03), 10. Car Congestion (0:48), 11. The Journey Begins (0:41), 12. The Parade (1:11), 13. Country Roads I (1:04), 14. Country Roads II (0:58), 15. Collecting Tickets (0:47), 16. Deal (1:24), 17. Snipers (1:43), 18. The Handy-Can (2:25), 19. Lou and Tanner (1:03), 20. Easy Lounge I (2:17), 21. Easy Lounge II (0:48), 22. Gifts (2:33), 23. Emergency Mission (1:48), 24. Theme (Roadrunner) (2:01). Bootleg, 40 minutes 26 seconds.

 

 

EARTHQUAKE (1974)

Earthquake was the second of the high concept three disaster movies Williams scored in the 1970s; this one was directed by Mark Robson from a screenplay by Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather. It features an all-star cast led by Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Geneviève Bujold, and Richard Roundtree, and looks at the events leading up to a day when a massive 9.9 earthquake hits Los Angeles, destroying much of the city and killing thousands, and then how the survivors cope in its immediate aftermath.

Williams’s disaster scores have never been my favorites, but there are always moments of excellence to be found, and this is certainly the case with Earthquake. The “Main Theme” is a terrific construct, a mass of portentous strings and dramatic brass outbursts that eventually coalesce into a jazzy main theme featuring lush piano riffs, staccato percussion, and florid orchestral accents that evokes the sound of the mid-1970s absolutely perfectly. Subsequent performances of the main theme can be heard later, first as a more subdued piano solo in “City Theme,” and then with considerably more depth and orchestral charm in the impressive “The City Sleeps” – the final moment of calm in the great metropolis before all hell breaks loose.

Other cues of note include the terrific urban funk of “Miles on Wheels,” which accompanies Charlton Heston as he cruises around LA in his convertible, flared collar and bouffant hair blowing in the wind; the pretty “Love Scene” music for Heston’s little dalliance with Geneviève Bujold’s character Denise; and the suspense sequence “Cory in Jeopardy,” which blends heavy staccato piano writing with nervous-sounding xylophones, while hints of the main theme hover in the background.

At the other end of the scale, “Something for Rosa” is one of the worst examples of 1970s lounge muzak, and “Something for Remy” is a wacky blend of modern jazz and orchestral suspense which isn’t sure what it wants to be, and ends up succeeding at neither. Thankfully the “Finale and End Titles” redeems the score enough with a subdued orchestral coda, reflecting on the aftermath of disaster.

The original album from Earthquake – of which this is a review – is interesting as it also features several minutes of earthquake-related sound effects, various rumbling and crashing noises that apparently were included to make the listener feel like their experiencing a seismic shock. Thankfully these were excised from the expanded release of the score, which was released as part of the 4-CD Disaster Movie Soundtrack Collection box set from La-La Land Records in 2019 along with the scores for The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, and expands the score to over an hour, including alternates and bonus cues.

Track Listing: 1. Main Title, Earthquake (2:56). 2. Miles on Wheels (2:29). 3. City Theme (2:55), 4. Something for Rosa (3:15), 5. Love Scene (2:19), 6. The City Sleeps (2:31), 7. Love Theme (2:26), 8. Cory in Jeopardy (2:24), 9. Medley (Watching & Waiting/Miles’ Pool Hall/Sam’s Rescue) (3:50). 10. Something for Remy (3:44), 11. Finale, End Title (1:41), 12. Earthquake: Special Effects (SFX) (2:59), 13. Earthquake: Aftershock (SFX) (0:24). Varese Sarabande VSD-5262, 33 minutes 53 seconds.

 

 

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

The Towering Inferno was the third of the three disaster movies Williams scores in the 1970s, and the second one to be produced by his longtime collaborator Irwin Allen. The film was directed by John Guillermin and takes place in a state-of the-art skyscraper in San Francisco during a party to celebrate its opening; it catches fire following a short in the electrical system, which was improperly installed by the building subcontractor to save money, and quickly spreads. Paul Newman plays the architect who designed the building who rushes to move the party guests to safety inside the building, and berates the subcontractor who failed to follow the safety protocols; Steve McQueen plays the fire department battalion chief who tries to co-ordinate rescue efforts from the ground. They are joined by an all-star supporting cast including William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaughn, and Robert Wagner; the film was a runaway hit – the highest grossing film of the year – and earned Williams his fifth Best Score Academy Award nomination, and his tenth overall.

The exciting “Main Title” theme – which plays over a helicopter shot as it buzzes the skyscrapers of San Francisco- is energetic and florid, a mass of swirling strings and busy, punch brass, interspersed with a romantic string interlude that seems like a prototype for the flying theme from Superman, and some percussive ideas that would later come back in his theme for the NBC Nightly News.

The score’s main love theme, as heard in “Liselotte and Harlee” and others, is almost identical to the love theme for Charlton Heston and Geneviève Bujold from Earthquake (they were composed almost simultaneously), and it has the same effect here are as did there: lovely, but so redolent of the most cheesy parts of 1970s pop-romance that it should be sporting flares and a shag haircut. There are also several track of lush muzak – “Something for Susan” and “More for Susan” among them – that will probably make contemporary listeners’ teeth stand on end, but it was very much of its time, and will appeal to anyone who likes that kind of saccharine sound.

Thankfully, a lot of the action, suspense, and dramatic underscore is really very good, and once the film kicks into high gear and starts killing off all its expensive guest stars, the score follows along with it. “Let There Be Light” is a celebratory fanfare accompanying the star-studded opening of the building, a moment of Hollywood glamor before all hell breaks loose. “The First Victims” is the first example of this excellent action – all stabbing piano clusters and frantic clashing strings – while the subsequent “Trapped Lovers” is excellent – the orchestra is filled with a sense of desperate suspense and looming terror, and the interpolations of fragments of the main theme work well.

Later, cues like the anguished “Liselotte’s Descent,” the dissonant parts of “Down the Pipes/The Door Opens,” and “Helicopter Rescue,” build on this sound in impressive ways, while the nine-minute finale “Planting the Charges” is combines this action sound with more prominent statements of the main theme, building up to an impressive and lare scale conclusion. Some of the textures and fleeting musical phrases Williams uses throughout these cues feel familiar, as they come back later in everything from Jaws and Star Wars to Close Encounters, The Fury, Raiders of the Los Ark, and even some of the more intense moments of E.T. In many ways, you can look at the action parts of The Towering Inferno as being the final score which blended the Johnny Williams the jazz man with the now-familiar John Williams sound we all know and love; his next score, in the summer of 1975, would be Jaws – and from then on everything changed.

This review is of the original CD soundtrack album released in 2001 by Film Score Monthly as part of FSM’s Silver Age Classics series. An expanded release of the score was also included in the 4-CD Disaster Movie Soundtrack Collection box set released by La-La Land Records in 2019, along with the scores for The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake. The album also includes several versions of the song “We May Never Love Like This,” which written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, and was intended to capitalize on their 1972 Oscar-winning song from The Poseidon Adventure – it worked, too, because they won their second Academy Award for it!

Track Listing: 1. Main Title (5:01), 2. Something for Susan (2:42), 3. Liselotte and Harlee (2:35), 4. The Flame Ignites (1:01), 5. More for Susan (1:55), 6. Harlee Dressing (1:37), 7. Let There Be Light (0:37), 8. Alone At Last (0:51), 9. We May Never Love Like This Again – Film Version (written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, performed by Maureen McGovern) (2:04), 10. The First Victims (3:24), 11. Not A Cigarette (1:18), 12. Trapped Lovers (4:44), 13. Doug’s Fall/Piggy Back Ride (2:18), 14. Liselotte’s Descent (3:07), 15. Down the Pipes/The Door Opens (2:59), 16. Couples (3:38), 17. Short Goodbyes (2:26), 18. Helicopter Rescue (3:07), 19. Passing the Word (1:12), 20. Planting the Charges (9:04), 21. Finale (3:57), 22. An Architect’s Dream (3:28), 23. We May Never Love Like This Again (Album Version) (written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, performed by Maureen McGovern) (2:13), 24. The Morning After (Instrumental) (2:07), 25. Susan and Doug (Album Track) (2:33) BONUS, 26. Departmental Pride and The Cat (Damaged) (2:34) BONUS, 27. Helicopter Explosion (Damaged) (2:34) BONUS, 28. Waking Up (Damaged) (2:39) BONUS. Film Score Monthly FSMCD Vol.4 No.3, 77 minutes 45 seconds.

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