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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #54
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Betrayed (Bill Conti, 1988) ** By all means check out Bill Conti’s Betrayed. Just remember that composer Terry Plumeri would navigate greater depths in relation to the Ku Klux Klan for Ambushed. Meanwhile, the country feel and exotic ambience cultivated by Conti works well in “Another Way.” While the latter doesn’t stint on the relaxing vibe, it’s another matter entirely when confronted by dramatic scenes. The guitar and harmonica cannot save him in time. As for synthesizers, they are deployed carelessly. Quite simply, only an orchestra could rock the halls enough to convey the right amount of urgency or chaos. Moving on, the keyboard effects during “Kill Me Kathy” come across as clunky. Although the score moves quickly, the memory of this sub-par experience proves difficult to shake.

Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (Mark McKenzie, 1995) *** Despite music being the language of emotion, Mark McKenzie proceeds with a counteroffer. His score to Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde struck me as an intellectual pursuit. Consider “Overture” which carries so many genres on the stave it’s a medley proud of the melody. We hear a little film noir intrigue, some horror snares, even a touch of vaudeville. Evidently, McKenzie wasn’t short on ideas. For the most part, the orchestra carries through his intentions. However, trying to pigeonhole the soundtrack won’t work. It’s far too nimble and microscopic in temperament. Remember how a virus mutates inside a petri dish? Well, the container just broke. Meanwhile, I find myself both reluctant to embrace Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde and perhaps too proud to dismiss it out of hand. This certainly requires further listening and study. Above all, it’s fascinating for those idiosyncrasies as well as the many complexities on offer.

The Firm (Dave Grusin, 1993) *** With The Firm, composer Dave Grusin unfolds intricate patterns of luminosity. His piano score felt enlightened, a calm response to the fast moving society where deception and instant death can be the price of probing too deeply. The slightest alteration in pace or rhythm works wonders in terms of promoting our curiosity. All persuasive powers to the fore, Grusin sports a fine evening jacket. However, perspiration drenches the lonely player pounding the ivory fingers of magic.

Five Weeks in a Balloon (Paul Sawtell, 1962) ** It’s possible for the mind to wander while hearing Paul Sawtell’s Five Weeks in a Balloon. The music omits any crazy runs or flashes of improvisation. It left me with the impression that Sawtell, a gifted composer, devoted scant time or heart composing the music. Then the orchestra was simply brought in. Ba da boom! Job done. Well, it’s nice if the imagination can be immersed too. Better luck next time.

Ms. Stiletto (Sante Maria Romitelli, 1969) * My first contact with Sante Maria Romitelli’s music could have gone better. Romantic yet soporific, Ms. Stiletto AKA Isabella, Duchess of the Devils concludes with a three-note love theme which felt creepy rather than enticing. There’s a strange gypsy vibe as though Romitelli felt unsure about setting down musical roots. I could detect both Russian and Italian influences in the chord progressions and themes. Complicating matters further, the tone felt as crooked as a politician’s whim.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (John Addison, 1976) ** It’s rarely satisfactory to remain cryptic or slight when musically representing the adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective Sherlock Holmes. While composer John Addison would seem a dandy choice -- I was impressed by Swashbuckler and Joseph Andrews -- excitement was lacking in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. It’s not a technical matter for the orchestra plays well enough. Although “Orient Express” radiates some ambitious plans, it fails to rub off on the surrounding underscore. Therefore, it’s hard to shake the belief that Addison could be accompanying any number of scenarios, including a waltz or back alley brawl (“Flashback/False Trail”). Such thematic indecision makes for a frustrating experience. Overall, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution comes across as emotionally vapid, anonymous and polite to the point of inattention or boredom.

Untamed Frontier (Hans J. Salter, 1952) **** Untamed Frontier represents one of nearly a dozen selections featured on “The Western Film Scores of Hans J. Salter.” By far the longest cue at twelve minutes, "Untamed Frontier" comes across as a joyous suite rooted in the traditional vocabulary. This territory has been mined by the likes of Max Steiner, Victor Young, Dimitri Tiomkin and Alfred Newman. While Salter doesn’t depart from the norm, he makes it a pleasure to sit through. Indeed, this collection includes the excellent Battle of Apache Pass and The Tall Stranger. Such music can be nourishment for the soul. Despite the recordings containing hiss, this rarely detracts from the experience.

Curly Sue (Georges Delerue, 1991) ****

Sweet as a jolly new spring.

Georges Delerue was a king.

The woodwinds circle and float

Maximizing engine power on the boat.


At the behest of John Hughes

We receive fine news.

A score for the heart

With cool themes to impart.


The flute caused me to melt

Almost forgot how heaven was spelt.

A gentle synthesizer ring

Wonder what the next track shall bring.


Bouncy with the energy of youth

As a sax playing sleuth.

If you are unfamiliar with Delerue

I highly recommend Curly Sue.

Real Steel (Danny Elfman, 2011) * Time to rhyme:

What’s the big deal

About Danny Elfman and Real Steel?

Christian of Filmtracks gave it five.

For me, it’s neither dead nor alive.


To gift wrap what we feel

You are overdoing a good meal.

Emotions exposed as pure

Can stand alone for sure.


With country guitars strumming

There’s not one tune I’ll be humming.

As a package,

Little to make of this wreckage.


It’s barely adequate filler

For a play by Arthur Miller.

“Atom Versus Twin Cities” was weak

In dire need of a tweak.


You could throw Elfman a bone

Although he doesn’t leave his comfort zone.

Real Steel ought to be a blast

Though the tunes shall not last.



Black Narcissus (Brian Easdale, 1947) ***** A testament and a prelude of great things to come, Brian Easdale’s Black Narcissus represents a lighthouse beam for those sailors who hunger for salvation. Beautiful understated voices house feelings of purity and temptation. It’s a score which jumps into action right away. Even the winds weep while holding strong under threat of damnation. In “Sister Ruth and Mr. Dean,” a cordial love theme splashes against the tides of our hearts. It’s a reminder that some dreams burst with pride, and sometimes overtake reality. Finally, a selection of tracks from Black Narcissus can be heard on “The Music of Brian Easdale,” a CD where Rumon Gamba conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

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