Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Soundtrack updates

Thanks to the ongoing efforts of labels that specialize in soundtracks — and the fans who purchase their products, thereby maintaining the pipeline — quite a few scores have received enhanced treatment since my two books came out in April 2020.

Taking them in the order of release...


Music Box Records released an expanded version of Philippe Sarde’s score for 1977’s Mort d’un Pourri (Death of a Corrupt Man) in June 2022. The music is noteworthy for the contributions by famed saxman Stan Getz, who was paid a singular honor by director Georges Lautner: The film opens on a silhouette of Getz, while he delivers an elegant solo version of the film’s haunting primary theme.


The original soundtrack album had a dozen tracks; this new Music Box release has 19, all fully remastered from hi-res transfers of the original stereo mixes. Another bonus: Gérard Dastugue’s new liner notes include commentary by Sarde. The original album was already excellent; this new disc is sensational.


very unexpected entry was found in the September 2022 release of Goldsmith at 20th, Volume V, which at first blush doesn’t seem to belong here. But a treat is hidden among this fifth anthology of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for 20th Century Fox: four tasty jazz tracks from Nick Quarry, a proposed private-eye TV series starring Tony Scotti. As Jon Burlingame explains in his detailed essay, the series was to be based loosely on 1967’s big-screen Tony Rome, the first of Frank Sinatra’s two cracks at that character.

But director Walter Grauman — who had helmed pilots for The Fugitive and Honey West, among others — wasn’t allowed to shoot a legitimate test episode. As Burlingame notes, the 15-minute “presentation film” was just a series of action sequences; Goldsmith supplied slightly more than 10 minutes of music as a favor to Fox music director Lionel Newman. The cues are strongly in the vein of Goldsmith’s Our Man Flint/In Like Flint scores, with plenty of jazz/rock swagger.


Riz Ortolani’s energetic jazz/pop score was by far the best part of 1967’s Tiffany Memorandum, which often was the case with the countless low-rent Eurospy entries unleashed by Italian filmmakers determined to cash in on the James Bond craze. It’s therefore ironic that Ortolani’s music was treated so shabbily; decades passed before four tracks were included on the 1996 anthology album Beat at Cinecittà. Fans got a bit more the following year, when nine tracks appeared on an Ortolani compilation album.

Beat Records’ November 2022 release finally features Ortolani’s full score: 22 tracks running just over 55 minutes. The earlier titled tracks are blended with studio session takes simply titled “Tiffany Sequence M8,” “Tiffany Sequence M22” and so forth. All I can say is, It’s damn well about time.


This next entry isn’t a soundtrack, but nonetheless warrants mention. In July 2023, not quite a decade after a three-day Man from U.N.C.L.E. convention — cheekily dubbed The Golden Anniversary Affair — took place in late September 2014, Arena Records released a recording of the live jazz concert that highlighted the final evening. Burlingame was present, of course — after all, he worked hard on Film Score Monthly’s four original soundtrack sets of — and his brief liner notes for The Jazz from U.N.C.L.E. detail how he and convention organizer Robert Short chose the cues that would be performed by (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) The Summit Six Sextet: Steve Rosenblum, sax; David Lamont, flute; Dave Iwataki, keyboards; Yu Ooka, guitar; Nedra Wheeler, bass; and Dean Koba, drums. 

 The resulting concert clearly delighted the convention attendees, who enjoyed lively covers of iconic cues by Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Fried and Robert Drasnin: “Meet Mr. Solo,” “Roulette Rhumba,” “Dog Fight on Wheels,” “There They Go” and many others (including, yes, the memorable title theme). For those of us who couldn’t be there, this album is the next best thing.


John Barry’s bluesy, brooding score for 1982’s Hammett perfectly suited the noir conceit of placing a mystery writer — in this case, Samuel Dashiell Hammett — into his own hard-boiled investigation. Barry’s music is very much in the vein of what he did for 1981’s Body Heat, and he was quite fond of what he did on Hammett. “I loved doing [it],” he told Ford Thaxton in 2001. “That was a terrific movie.” (I agree with that appraisal, but the public didn’t; the film withered on the vine.)

The original Prometheus Records release was spare, with 10 score tracks and an eight-track “Suite” of source cues. Silva Screen’s July 2023 update features more of both, for a total of 25 tracks: many of which — such as “Hammett Meets Salt”/“Suicide Is Fascinating”/“I’m Calling It In” — are built from multiple cues. The result is a much richer listening experience.


1966’s handsomely mounted Agent 505: Todesfalle Beirut (Agent 505: Death Trap in BeirutFrom Beirut with Loveand several other alternate titles) follows the 007 template better than most Italian Eurospy entries, although the plot is ridiculous. Even so, the action is well paced, and Ennio Morricone’s jazz-inflected score — one of his very few spy-fy assignments — gives the film additional bounce. Morricone eliminated strings entirely, relying instead on brass stingers, moody organ touches and a pulsating rhythm section: just right for a story that blends spyjinks with a touch of science-fiction (a means of magically transforming desert sand dunes into arable farmland?).

Despite Morricone’s popularity, a soundtrack album didn’t appear until 2007, with 14 tracks paired with his score for 1963’s Il Successo. Beat Records’ October 2023 update, under yet another title — La Trappola Scatta a Beirut, also combined with Il Successo — doesn’t add any previously unreleased tracks; even so, the audio quality — taken from the mono master tapes of the original sessions — is a notable improvement.


Finally, 1992’s Sneakers is a seriously under-appreciated heist thriller with an all-star cast — Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn and River Phoenix — backed by a whimsical James Horner jazz score that perfectly complements the film’s breezy tone and character banter. The icing on the cake: Branford Marsalis’ effervescent tenor sax. Jazz fans also got to enjoy bits of classic tracks as diegetic cues: Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” and Charlie Byrd’s covers of “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Corcovado” (none of which landed on the soundtrack album).

The original Columbia album was okay, but its 10 tracks — at 48:27 — didn’t come close to supplying all of Horner’s lovely, wall-to-wall score; a widely circulating 24-track bootleg was far more satisfying. La-La Land’s December 2023 two-disc expansion is better still: 21 tracks totaling 73:24 on the first disc, with three alternate takes accompanying the original album tracks on the second disc.

As the saying goes, Good things come to those who wait (patiently or otherwise...!). 

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