Home > Reviews > INDECENT PROPOSAL – John Barry



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

What would you do for a million dollars? That was the question on everyone’s lips following the release of Indecent Proposal, one of the most talked-about films of 1993. The film is directed by Adrian Lyne – the man behind such equally controversial fare as 9½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction – and stars Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson as Diana and David, a young couple who are deeply in love but in severe financial straits. In a final act of desperation they travel to Las Vegas and invest everything they have in a high-stakes game of poker – but they end up losing it all. Enter John Gage (Robert Redford), a handsome billionaire, who comes to David with the indecent proposal in question: one million dollars, in exchange for one night with Diana. What happens in the aftermath of this will test Diana and David’s relationship to its limits, and the film asks interesting questions about love, temptation, and the consequences of making choices based solely on money.

The movie was a huge commercial success, mostly due to its handsome and sexy leading pair, but the moral conundrum at the heart of the story dominated water cooler talk for months. The film’s success was also bolstered by the fact that it had a crackerjack soundtrack, which featured several well-regarded pop songs and standards, as well as a gorgeous score by the great John Barry. While he was originally typecast as a jazz man, Barry had been writing longing, sensual music for much of his career, and by the early 1990s had settled into a familiar routine where he was writing nothing else, more or less. Indecent Proposal fits neatly into the genre of scores that can be easily summarized as ‘sad romance,’ alongside such titles as Frances, Body Heat, Somewhere in Time, and a dozen others. Like those scores, Barry’s music is orchestrated mostly for piano and strings, the two circling around and enveloping each other like lovers embracing. It’s gorgeous, gorgeous music, typical of Barry’s sound, and instantly appealing to anyone who, like me, is immediately drawn to his slow, luxurious melodic content.

The score is built mostly around three main recurring themes, with the first one appearing in the “Main Title” and thereafter in subsequent cues like “The Recession,” “One Million Dollars,” the gorgeous “The Run to the Heli-Pad,” and the achingly beautiful “Flashback & Photos”. It’s a quiet, intimate theme, often barely more than an orchestral whisper, but sometimes it emerges into delicious, moving heights. No-one could write music like this except for Barry; it is uniquely, unmistakably him, and while some contemporary film music writers have criticized him for rarely stepping out of his comfort zone during the last decade of his career, I have always gravitated towards this sound like an old, familiar, comforting friend. Indecent Proposal is no different.

The second theme is the love theme for Diana and David, and it appears for the first time in the second cue, “Kitchen Floor,” over a scene of the pair making love in front of their refrigerator in what was clearly an homage to a similar scene from 9½ Weeks featuring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, albeit with considerably fewer groceries. It’s orchestrated very similarly to the main theme, with mostly strings and piano, but it perhaps has a more innocent and carefree tone, and when Barry brings in a guitar and a more contemporary edge to the piano stylings the effect is excellent. Subsequent cues such as the poignant “Diana Returns,” “Last Fight,” and “Intoxicated David” return to the love theme with various degrees of intensity.

The third recurring theme is the theme for Robert Redford’s character John Gage, and is a somewhat spare solo piano melody performed by the great Mike Lang that, rather than casting him as a manipulative lothario, instead presents him as a hopeless romantic, somewhat lost and lonely, despite his wealth and power. Gage’s theme first appears in the fourth cue, “Dress Shop,” as he furtively spies on Diana as she window-shops inside a Vegas casino boutique, his infatuation with her growing alongside the slowly increasing string presence, before really cementing itself later in the lovely, jazzier “Subway Story and Dance”.

Brief moments of tension and suspense featuring tremolo strings and harp glissandi underscore the couple’s ill-fortune in the casino, and there is a recurring motif for a swaying, percussive piano and hooting woodwinds in cues like “Can’t Sleep,” “Let’s Do It” and “Helicopter to Yacht” that represents Diana and David’s apprehension and anxiety over whether to accept Gage’s offer. Beyond that, the score is content to oscillate between the three main themes, gently accompanying the unfolding drama, the betrayals, the passions, and the eventual reconciliation between husband and wife on a fog-shrouded Malibu pier.

The title of the final cue, “Let It Go Free,” references the film’s famous quote – if you want something very badly, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with – and sees Barry presenting his main theme at its most romantic. Anyone who has fallen in love with, or to, John Barry’s deeply emotional writing will find themselves swooning at this piece; it’s one of my favorite late-career Barry cues.

This review is of the 2015 Intrada album of the score, which presents around 45 minutes of original Barry music broken into 25 cues, presented chronologically, plus alternates and ‘album versions’ as bonus tracks. The original 1993 soundtrack album released by MCA condensed five Barry cues into one 25-minute suite, and anyone wanting to experience more of a ‘flavor’ of the score maybe should start there, as it contains all the main melodic ideas condensed down into a more manageable, perhaps less repetitive, chunk.

The MCA album is also worth exploring for its outstanding song choices too, primarily Lisa Stansfield’s “In All the Right Places” which she co-wrote with Ian Devaney and Andy Morris, and which is based on Barry’s love theme for Diana and David. Stansfield has one of the great blue-eyed soul voices, smoky and enticing, and this song is one of her best; in my opinion it should have been in the conversation for a Best Song Oscar nomination that year. The other songs – by The Pretenders, Roy Orbison, Seal, Bryan Ferry covering The Shirelles, Sheena Easton covering a Hoagy Carmichael standard – are all excellent too.

When it comes down to it, Indecent Proposal is very much a typical 1990s John Barry score, with all the positive and negative connotations that brings, depending on your point of view and your personal taste. Yes, it’s slow and languorous. Yes, it’s sparsely orchestrated. Yes, it sounds like a dozen other Barry scores from the period. I don’t care. This music, and the other scores it resembles, was part of my gateway into film music in the first place, and it retains a special personal importance for me; as such, Indecent Proposal gets an unhesitating recommendation for anyone who feels the same way about John Barry as I do.

Buy the Indecent Proposal soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • I’m Not In Love (written by Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, performed by The Pretenders) (3:50)
  • What Do You Want the Girl To Do (written by Allen Toussaint, performed by Vince Gill featuring Little Feat) (5:07)
  • If I’m Not In Love With You (written and performed by Dawn Thomas) (3:38)
  • Out of the Window (written and performed by Seal) (5:55)
  • Will You Love Me Tomorrow (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, performed by Bryan Ferry) (4:15)
  • The Nearness of You (written by Ned Washington and Hoagy Carmichael, performed by Sheena Easton) (3:16)
  • In All the Right Places (written by John Barry, Lisa Stansfield, Ian Devaney, and Andy Morris, performed by Lisa Stansfield) (5:46)
  • Instrumental Suite from Indecent Proposal (25:20)
  • A Love so Beautiful (written by Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne, performed by Roy Orbison) (3:31)
  • Main Title (3:41)
  • Kitchen Floor (1:54)
  • The Recession (1:09)
  • Drive to Vegas (1:37)
  • Dress Shop (2:29)
  • All Is Lost (1:43)
  • One Million Dollars (0:55)
  • Complimentary Suite (1:06)
  • The Dress (1:39)
  • Can’t Sleep (1:11)
  • Let’s Do It (1:21)
  • The Run to the Heli-Pad (2:04)
  • Helicopter to Yacht (4:28)
  • Lucky Dollar (0:57)
  • Diana Returns (1:48)
  • Matches (1:57)
  • Last Fight (1:46)
  • I Need You (1:05)
  • Subway Story and Dance (3:13)
  • Flashback & Photos (1:44)
  • Intoxicated David (1:27)
  • The Morning After (1:44)
  • SCI-Arc (2:04)
  • The Auction (0:23)
  • Let It Go Free (2:19)
  • Goodbye John (Revised) (2:21)
  • Goodbye John (Alternate) (2:24)
  • Main Title (Album Version) (2:42)
  • Kitchen Floor (Revised) (0:51)
  • Drive To Vegas (Album Version) (1:34)
  • Dress Shop (Album Version) (2:08)
  • Helicopter To Yacht (Short Version) (2:18)
  • I Need You (Album Version) (1:11)
  • Goodbye John (Album Version) (2:17)
  • Main Title (Piano Version) (2:44)
  • Main Title (Alternate Revised) (3:40)
  • Main Title (Alternate) (2:43)

Running Time: 60 minutes 38 seconds – Original
Running Time: 72 minutes 37 seconds – Score

MCA Records MCAD 10795 (1993) – Original
Intrada Special Collection ISC 317 (1993/2015) – Expanded

Music composed and conducted by John Barry. Orchestrations by Greig McRitchie. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy and Dennis Sands. Edited by Cliff Kohlweck. Score produced by John Barry. Expanded album produced by Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson.

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