Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Shamus resurrected!

1973’s Shamus arrived as Burt Reynolds was transitioning from television work — notably in the engaging shows Hawk and Dan August, although neither found an audience — and struggling to establish star wattage in B-level action films such as Sam WhiskeyShark and White LightningShamus gained a bit of momentum from Reynolds’ solid performance in 1972’s Deliverance, but crowd-pleasing hits such as The Longest Yard and Smokey and the Bandit still were a few years away.

As I wrote in Volume 2, the somewhat clumsily plotted Shamus relies almost entirely on Reynolds’ roguish charm, as hard-luck PI Shamus McCoy. Director Buzz Kulik and scripter Barry Beckerman try for the Raymond Chandler vibe, with an assortment of eccentric characters and a plot that starts with a diamond heist, but then — bewilderingly — matters blossom into the illegal black-market sale of U.S. military ordnance. 


The film also benefits from Jerry Goldsmith’s droll score, which is dominated by a primary cue —  McCoy’s theme — introduced as a leisurely jazz waltz that plays behind an amusing title credits sequence. It’s arguably the film’s best part, as a hung-over McCoy stumbles out of bed (on his pool table) and searches for clothes, coffee and toothpaste in the low-rent digs he shares with Morris the Cat. A whimsical piano melody plays against Fender bass and gentle percussion, with soft flute providing counterpoint; a bit of wah-wah guitar slides into the mix during the melody’s reprise. 


Kulik makes ample use of this theme, most notably with a warmer, romantic arrangement heard when McCoy gets between the sheets with a suspect’s sexy sister (Dyan Cannon). Goldsmith also supplies fast-paced action jazz during a tumultuous sequence that begins in a warehouse, where McCoy finds crates of military guns, and continues when he’s pursued by a gaggle of gunsels. This climactic chase is backed by a percussive synth cue that sounds very much like Goldsmith’s work on the two Derek Flint films.

In my book, I conclude by noting the absence of a soundtrack album, because the master tapes were believed lost. In point of fact, Film Score Monthly’s Lukas Kendall revealed that Sony verified the existence of said tapes more than two decades ago … and then sat on them. Intrada has come to the rescue, with a just-released digital version of Goldsmith’s score. It’s a spare album, with 11 tracks clocking in at not quite 26 minutes, but don’t assume that implies lesser quality. The listening experience is thoroughly enjoyable, with several variations on McCoy’s theme — including “A Real Dog” and “Getting Acquainted” — blended with the suspenseful action jazz of the aforementioned warehouse melee (“Here I Come”), and the final confrontation with the alpha villain (“A Broken Limb”).

August 2021 update: The score also is available digitally via iTunes, Amazon and other comparable sources, and also can be streamed via Spotify.

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