Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Settling a new score: The Streets of San Francisco

La-La Land celebrates autumn’s arrival with the third volume in its Quinn Martin Collection series: a stylish two-disc set of Patrick Williams’ scores for the popular 1972-77 TV series, The Streets of San Francisco. This marks the debut of any sort of soundtrack album; the sole previous release was a 1975 Capitol Records single, with its even more dynamic arrangement of Williams’ kick-ass title theme.


Williams began his film and television career in 1967. Although (among many other things) he delivered episode scores for cop/crime shows such as Dan AugustThe Name of the GameMannix and Cannon— several for Quinn Martin — in the early 1970s he was best known for his lighter sitcom themes and scores for The Mary Tyler Moore ShowThe Sandy Duncan Show and The Bob Newhart Show.


(He also scored a 1970 big-screen film with the improbable title of The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker … something I definitely need to track down.)


Streets was an opportunity for Williams to strut his impressive jazz/funk sensibilities, and he responded with one of the decade’s most explosive cop show themes (attached to one of the decade’s finest cop shows). As soundtrack journalist/historian Jon Burlingame notes in his extensive booklet essay, Williams’ reputation for jazz composition always attracted industry heavyweights, when it came time for a Streets scoring session: among them Pete Candoli and Buddy Childers (trumpets); Vincent De Rosa (French horn); Jerome Richardson, Tom Scott and Bud Shank (saxes); Dick Nash and Frank Rosolino (trombone); Laurindo Almeida and Larry Carlton (guitar); and John Guerin (drums).


“Pat’s writing is breathtaking,” noted veteran music critic and author Gene Lees, in a quote reproduced in numerous obituaries when Williams died, in July 2018. “He’s just one of the finest arrangers and composers who ever put pen to paper.”


Williams scored Streets’ two-hour pilot and five first-season episodes, followed by an additional episode during each of the subsequent four seasons. He established a propulsive “urban swing” template that dominated the show during its entire run; additional original scores — by Richard Markowitz, Duane Tatro, Tom Scott, John Carl Parker, QM stalwart John Elizalde and others — were faithful to those origins. (As with most shows by this point, each season featured only a handful of original scores; all other episodes were tracked with existing library cues.)


As merely one highlight of this splendid package, it’s marvelous to hear Williams’ title theme unencumbered by the characteristic QM voice-over announcer (Hank Simms) gravely intoning the stars, guest stars and episode title as the corresponding text appeared on the screen. (I always loathed that affectation … what, viewers couldn’t read on their own?)


This two-disc set features Williams’ score for the two-hour pilot, along with cue suites from all nine of his subsequent episodes. The traditional action-oriented nature of the series’ initial seasons eventually yielded to more serious dramatic fare, building to the fifth season’s grim two-part premiere, which depicted co-star Michael Douglas’ departure and Richard Hatch’s introduction as Karl Malden’s new partner. Williams’ scores correspondingly became darker over time, his cues more frequently dominated by unsettling piano filigrees and sinister strings, as opposed to the explosive brass and wah-wah guitar licks that powered his earlier efforts.


Two years after Streets solved its final case, Williams worked on what became the final TV show produced under the Quinn Martin banner: the insufferably dumb Robert Conrad spy series, A Man Called Sloane, which ran only 12 episodes before deservedly being yanked in late December 1979. Williams contributed the title theme and full score for the initial episode — which actually aired second — along with an additional 21 minutes of library cues that were tracked into subsequent episodes. This Streets package also includes the bulk of his score for that one episode (“The Seduction Squad”).


(I must say, the propulsive title theme is much more palatable — even with its silly synth effects — when divorced from the inane title credits sequence. And the rest of Williams’ score is far superior to the dim-bulb episode for which it was written.)


While you’re visiting La-La Land, be sure to pick up a copy of The Quinn Martin Collection Volume One: Cop and Detective Series, which features title themes and cue suites from CannonDan AugustMost Wanted and Barnaby Jones, along with title themes from The ManhunterCaribeBert D’Angelo: Superstar and Tales of the Unexpected. (Volume Two is devoted to The Invaders: great stuff, but off-topic here.)

On a final minor note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Volume Three’s booklet quotes a brief passage from the second volume of my Crime and Spy Jazz books. (Much obliged, Jon!)

Friday, September 18, 2020

Recent discovery: Missione speciale Lady Chaplin

The echoes of Thunderball are impossible to ignore in Missione speciale Lady Chaplin (Special Mission Lady Chaplin), the last — and most enjoyable — of American actor Ken Clark’s three “CIA Agent 077” Eurospy entries. Even so — despite the best efforts of co-directors Alberto De Martino and Sergio Grieco — the entertainment value has little to do with Clark, whose athletic prowess cannot conceal his stiff-as-a-board performance. Both he and the similarly wooden Jacques Bergerac — as the villain of the piece, the aptly named Kobre Zoltan — are constantly out-classed by former Bond girl Daniela Bianchi’s enthusiastic handling of Lady Arabella Chaplin: celebrated fashion designer in the public eye, mistress-of-disguise assassin at Zoltan’s behest. She and a variety of cool spy gadgets propel this derivative saga, which gets additional bounce from Bruno Nicolai’s jazz-laden score, and a plot that starts in Madrid and then takes its characters to New York, London, Paris and Morocco.
Dick Malloy (Clark) and his boss, Heston (Philippe Hersent), head to Madrid after learning that somebody has been trying to sell a dog tag supposedly recovered from the USS Thresher, a sunken American nuclear submarine. This implies that the sub has been raised, a notion rejected as impossible when our heroes consult with Zoltan, a marine salvage gazillionaire who throws lavish parties and entertains his guests with dueling scorpions. It initially appears that Zoltan is right; when Malloy investigates via a bathysphere descent, the Thresher is at the ocean bottom two miles down, where it’s supposed to be. But a closer examination reveals that its 16 Polaris missiles — all armed with nuclear warheads — have been removed.
Zoltan is indeed behind the dirty deed; he and Arabella also orchestrate the heist of a heavily guarded propellant from a moving train, during a nifty sequence that showcases her resourcefulness. Needing a way to then smuggle the propellant across several borders, Arabella oversees a chemical process that transforms the compound into explosively flammable dress material (!) subsequently used in one of her fashion shows (!!).
Malloy quickly catches on to Arabella’s double life, and seems rather forgiving of her lethal tendencies; by this point we’ve seen her cold-bloodedly execute at least four men. More crucially, Malloy constantly remains a step or two behind Zoltan’s activities, while evading assassination attempts by dozens of gun-toting lackeys — almost always decked out in black turtlenecks — during reasonably well-staged action sequences. (One wonders how Agent 077 has maintained his excellent reputation.)

Friday, September 4, 2020

Recent discovery: Upperseven, l'uomo da uccidere

Writer/director Alberto De Martino was granted a better than average budget for 1966’s Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere, released in the States as The Spy with Ten Faces (only four, actually, if my count is accurate). This Italian/West German Eurospy entry offers a reasonably credible storyline that takes ample advantage of production designer Francesco Cuppini’s lavish sets; cinematographer Mario Fioretti also is kept busy during a globe-trotting adventure that sends its characters to London, Copenhagen, Rome, Capetown, Johannesburg and Basel (Switzerland). Best of all (for our purposes), De Martino grants plenty of space to Bruno Nicolai’s often vibrant jazz score, which has strong echoes of John Barry’s Bond work, without being slavishly derivative. On the other hand, the title character’s smug over-confidence often feels condescending; one wishes he’d get bloodied a bit more, to instill some humility.


The dastardly Kobras — a well-sculpted villain, played with calmly sinister panache by Nando Gazzolo — cooks up a complicated scheme to disrupt a Pan-African alliance being financed by South African diamonds. The gems are to be traded for American dollars, at which point Kobras and his minions will break into a Swiss bank and steal the currency, leaving an equal amount of counterfeit bills to cover their tracks. Kobras intends to use the stolen funds to further bankroll a concealed missile base on behalf of Chinese partners. Determined to save the day: Agent Paul Finney (Paul Hubschmid), code-named Upperseven — senior to 007, one assumes — a master of molded mask disguises, accompanied by useless CIA agent Helen Farheit (Karin Dor, soon to bedevil James Bond, in You Only Live Twice). Finney also makes ample use of a weaponized cane, perhaps borrowed from The Avengers’ John Steed.


There’s no title sequence; the credits appear as Finney cleverly trails a car driven by Kobras’ primary henchman, Santos (Guido Lollobrigida), while chanteuse Paolo Orlandi delivers a saucy reading of the bold, brass-heavy title song (apparently crooned by a love-struck lass who prays that Upperseven will “set her free,” because he no longer wants her). It’s a vibrantly percussive tune that warrants placement alongside Barry’s best 007 power anthems.


Once at their destination, Finney employs a mask to invade Kobras’ smuggling operation; he assesses and photographs the situation, while backed by a swinging instrumental arrangement of the title theme, which favors muted trumpet and throbbing bass. Finney then calls in reinforcements, sets a bomb and blows everything to smithereens: a sequence that introduces Nicolai’s secondary action cue, which opens with a drum roll and a powerful, mid-tempo 1-4-1-2 motif. (It reprises a few times as the story progresses, notably when Kobras helps a colleague escape from prison.) Police round up most of the surviving bad guys — Santos departed earlier — but Kobras escapes when he’s spirited away by resourceful gal pal Birgit (Vivi Bach, far more capable than Helen Farheit) and Chen, their Chinese partner.