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RUBY – John Scott


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

November 22, 1993, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, and in the years leading up to that memorial several films and TV shows were made looking at the details surrounding the event. The JFK assassination had fascinated the American public for decades, and the stories and conspiracy theories surrounding it had become stock-in-trade for filmmakers and authors. The most high profile film made during that period was JFK, written and directed by Oliver Stone and released in late 1991, but the spring of 1992 saw another film about the event – Ruby, directed by John Mackenzie. It takes a look at the life of one of the other important figures of the event: Texas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who shot and killed JFK’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement garage of a Dallas city police station two days after JFK’s death. The film starred Danny Aiello as Ruby, and has a supporting cast that included Sherilyn Fenn, Arliss Howard, David Duchovny, and Tobin Bell.

The score for Ruby was written by the great British composer and conductor John Scott, and was essentially the last score Scott wrote for a semi-major movie released in mainstream cinemas; Ruby was followed by titles like Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog in 1995, The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo in 1997, The New Swiss Family Robinson in 1998, Time of the Wolf in 2002, and The Wicker Tree as recently as 2011, but none of them had anything like the same level of prestige. Scott is 91 years old now as I write this, and is essentially retired, but was only 61 when Ruby came out, and it’s a shame that his career essentially trailed off from this point on, because his talent and dramatic flair was never in question, and Ruby is a great example of that.

The score is anchored, as all Scott scores are, by a terrific main theme, and the one for Ruby leans very heavily into the world of jazz. John Scott has always had superb jazz credentials, going back to the early days when he was playing sax for John Barry and arranging for artists like Cleo Laine, Johnny Dankworth, and Henry Mancini, and Ruby is an excellent showcase of that sound. The main jazz theme is led by brass – usually either a trumpet or a saxophone – and perfectly captures the sleazy world of dingy nightclubs through which Ruby moved, while also simultaneously bringing a film noir feeling to the score that addresses the film’s conspiracy theory angle: a shadowy world of rogue CIA agents, espionage and intrigue, blackmail, and more, into which Ruby almost unwittingly finds himself drawn. Not only that, the theme often emerges into something more sweepingly orchestral, and in these moments the theme has a touch of poignant melancholy running through it , as if alluding to the fact that Ruby was as much of a ‘patsy’ as Oswald was, driven inexorably towards murder by forces much stronger than himself.

The theme anchors several standout cues, including in the second half of the “Main Title,” in the more percussive “Ruby Meets Candy,” with unexpected woodwind lyricism in “The Camera,” with romantic lushness in both “Later Hank” and “Confidence,” and with noirish sensuality in “Presidential Suite”. When it is performed by the orchestra in the guise of a love theme the melody itself has a golden age sweep to it; at times some of the textures and flourishes remind me of Nino Rota’s Romeo and Juliet, at other times of something by John Williams, but it’s never anything less than wholly lovely.

Interspersed within statements of the main theme is a great deal of dark and moody suspense material, which makes use of staccato piano lines, shrill strings, urgent percussive patterns, and an overall atmosphere of impending dread. The first half of “Main Title,” parts of “Ruby Meets Candy,” the intense and dramatic “The Hanging,” and the darkly anticipatory and surprisingly sultry “JFK Arrival in Vegas,” among many others, are excellent examples of this. Once in a while some of Scott’s saxophone phrasing reminds me of Michael Kamen – listen to “Cuba,” and the way the sax interacts with the strings and the muted brass – which is probably why Scott’s music fitted so well when being tracked into the finale of Die Hard.

“Telephone Trixie” is a standout piece of burlesque that reminds me a little of David Rose’s ‘The Stripper,’ while “Thanks for Everything” uses jazz flutes and funk rhythms in a way that recalls some of the best writing for 1970s Blaxploitation films.

Mostly, however, this brooding suspense is very typical of Scott’s writing of the period, echoing the sound of scores like Man on Fire, Lionheart, and Shoot to Kill. There’s one evocative action cue, “Just Do Your Duty,” which initiates the build up to the famous moment where Ruby leaps out of the crowd waiting underneath the Dallas police headquarters and unloads a slug of lead into Oswald’s gut live on TV.

The climactic “Ruby Kills Oswald” starts slowly, with a lonely Goldsmith-esque trumpet performance of the main theme, but eventually emerges into something quite dissonant, blending the brass with shrill writhing strings and heavy piano clusters. The conclusive “Candy and Ruby” is richly symphonic but heavy with regret, morosely enticing in a way that almost laments for Ruby and the life choices he made – after his murder of Oswald he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death, and was in the middle of an appeal when he died of lung cancer in prison in 1967. The score ends with an especially excellent performance of the main theme during the expansive “End Titles” cue.

Ruby is a great score, especially if you appreciate film noir orchestral writing and stylish jazz. It’s also yet another reminder – as if one was needed – of how great a composer John Scott is, and why it’s such a shame that he never got the truly mainstream assignments and opportunities and acclaim his talent deserved. The score was released by Intrada Records at the time the film came out, and although it’s been out of print for years it’s still available at reasonable prices on the secondary market, and it gets a strong recommendation from me.

Buy the Ruby soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:31)
  • Ruby Meets Candy (3:07)
  • Telephone Trixie (1:47)
  • The Hanging (2:46)
  • Cuba (1:02)
  • The Camera (4:48)
  • Never Go Back (1:15)
  • Later Hank (1:24)
  • Confidence (1:11)
  • JFK Arrival in Vegas (1:40)
  • A Ride with Maxwell (1:09)
  • Just Do Your Duty (2:08)
  • Presidential Suite (1:56)
  • Thanks for Everything (1:05)
  • Some Expert Advice (2:28)
  • Candy’s Back (2:07)
  • Pre-Assassination (3:34)
  • Ruby Kills Oswald (3:59)
  • Candy and Ruby (2:35)
  • End Titles (4:48)

Running Time: 47 minutes 19 seconds.

Intrada MAF-7026D (1992)

Music composed and conducted by John Scott. Orchestrations by John Scott and Tim Simonec. Recorded and mixed by Toby Foster. Edited by Joe Tarantino and Steve Livingston. Album produced by John Scott and Douglass Fake.

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