The Soundtrack

LALO SCHIFRIN – A TOUR DE FORCE…

By • Jul 15th, 2005 •

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This month (July ‘05) sees the premiere release from Aleph Records of the full original score from MAGNUM FORCE, the second movie to feature Clint Eastwood as uncompromising Inspector ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan. As well as taking a look at this great score I’ll also be putting a spotlight on some of Lalo’s other scores, many of which have become synonymous with some of the most iconic stars and movies ever to grace our screens.

Having said that, where do you start with a man who’s equally at home scoring for THE AMITYVILLE HORROR as he is with SPARKY’S MAGIC PIANO?

Lalo’s compositions and musical accomplishments are far too numerous to cover in their entirety, so by way of a compromise, the following selection is comprised of my own particular favourites and a selection from Lalo himself which are noted as such. Album details are given at the foot of the column.

Firstly a brief (and feebly inadequate) bio: Lalo Schifrin was born in Buenos Aires. He was a child prodigy studying music under his father Luis (a concertmaster of the Teatro Colón in Buenos and who conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires). Here too he studied law before moving to Paris, France, to study classical music and jazz at the Paris Conservatoire. There he also had opportunities to work in French radio and TV and became a professional jazz pianist, composer and arranger, playing and recording in Europe. By the mid ‘50s he had returned to his native Argentina, had his own jazz big band and had represented his country in the International Jazz Festival. The legendary Dizzy Gillespie, who had heard the band perform, asked Lalo to be his pianist and arranger and by 1958 Lalo had moved to the States and for a time was also musical arranger for Xavier Cugat in New York. Lalo then moved to Hollywood in 1964 where he began scoring TV shows and movies.

In the mid 60s, whilst composing episodic scores for TV series like NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SPECIALS, KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATRE, THE BIG VALLEY, BOB HOPE PRESENTS THE CHRYSLER THEATRE and T.H.E. CAT, Lalo’s name became associated with two of the most popular series of the time (and some would say of all time); MGM’s THE MAN FROM UNCLE, and MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE from CBS. Whereas he only did the occasional episode of UNCLE he had full writing honours on MISSION and it’s catchy 5/4 theme has become one of the most famous in TV history. Interestingly though it is also Lalo’s rearrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s UNCLE theme, used from the second season onwards, with minimal alteration by Gerald Fried later, that most people remember today. Another show at that time, and from the same stable as UNCLE, was the short-lived and mostly forgotten JERICHO about an elite force, not unlike MISSION’s IMF force, operating behind enemy lines during WWII. Lalo scored the pilot, UPBEAT AND UNDERGROUND (episode three in broadcast order), and also a main theme. Here however Goldsmith, reportedly unhappy with Lalo’s treatment of his UNCLE theme, got his revenge: this time Lalo’s theme was rejected in favour of Jerry’s.

His association with these action-adventure series led to his involvement with the espionage movies THE LIQUIDATOR (’65) with Rod Taylor, and MURDERERS ROW (’66), an inept Bond spoof with li’l ol’ wine drinker Dean Martin as ‘super-spy’ Matt Helm.

Then came THE CINCINNATI KID.

KID was to poker what Paul Newman’s THE HUSTLER was to pool, and Lalo, with one of his first Hollywood soundtrack recordings, was now scoring for heavyweights Steve McQueen (The Kid), Edward G. Robinson (The Man) and Karl Malden (The Shooter). The setting is 1930s New Orleans and what better place to show off Lalo’s talent for jazz literally in a classic setting: The birthplace of jazz itself. Legend Ray Charles sings the powerful opening theme and the score has a diversity of themes and styles unusual for the time. Lalo’s training in jazz and classical music comes to the fore as he effortlessly blends the two together. We are treated to jazz waltzes (Christian’s Theme), a frenzied string and brass hoe-down (The Cock Fight), sleazy blues and wistful melancholy. Rich fare indeed. Lalo Schifrin had arrived and, like The Kid, he would take on anyone, at anything, anytime.

Soon to follow was COOL HAND LUKE featuring that other screen icon Paul Newman with wonderful support from George Kennedy. Again given the opportunity to combine musical styles, this time symphonic music and ‘blue grass’, Lalo’s Oscar nominated score gives us a rich and varied tapestry of melodies, from Luke’s sweet and plaintive guitar theme through trademark Schifrin action motifs and Latin ballads, some blues guitar and the location fixing banjo and harmonica riffs, Lalo again blows the competition away with the breadth of his musical dexterity. Sacrilegiously the “Tar Sequence”, from the memorable sequence where Luke and the other members of the chain gang demonstrate their resilience and defiance to the guards even when given the most arduous, repetitive and soul destroying of tasks, was used for many years as the theme for local “Eyewitness News” broadcasts on ABC-owned television stations.

THE FOX (Lalo’s choice), based on a D. H. Lawrence story, was in 1968 one of Hollywood’s first explorations of female homosexuality with Anne Heywood and Sandy Dennis as two women on an isolated farm whose tranquil existence is disrupted by wandering seaman (read the subtext in that!) Kier Dullea. With this score, which couldn’t be more different from KID and LUKE, Lalo really taps into his classical roots using pieces reminiscent of Debussy and Ravel to capture the peace and beauty of the farm whilst at the same time creating a sense of underlying menace. This is a real highlight from Lalo’s vast catalogue. The score to THE FOX was also Oscar nominated.

Not straying too far from his TV work Lalo was also at around this time scoring yet another successful and long running TV action series – MANNIX (another of Lalo’s selections). Ever unpredictable, as his 5/4 approach to MISSION proved, Lalo came up with a theme that was in 3/4 time, basically a waltz, for Mike Connors’ tough private detective, a move which caused producer Bruce Geller to comment “A Private Detective in three-quarter time?! Thanks Lalo, and what’s next? 4/4? 9/4? 9/8? Ten to one it’s all of them.” The original LP release was praised as one of the finest TV soundtracks ever released. With this new recording Lalo has re-recorded, and in some cases updated, the original 11 tracks and has added four new pieces based on his original MANNIX ideas.

As well as THE FOX, in 1968 Lalo was also busy scoring THE BROTHERHOOD, WHERE ANGELS GO – TROUBLE FOLLOWS, HELL IN THE PACIFIC and COOGAN’S BLUFF, his first collaboration on a Clint Eastwood movie.

This year also came BULLITT. BULLITT was one of Lalo’s first ‘kick-ass’ scores and his second for Steve ‘The KID’ McQueen. Here McQueen plays the contrivingly named Frisco detective Frank Bullitt (named Clancy in Robert L. Pike’s original novel ‘Mute Witness’ which was incidentally set in New York) who, like the later Harry Callahan, is a world weary veteran cop who now finds himself not being able to distinguish between the good and bad guys as his case is marred by double dealing within his own department and by corrupt government officials. The movie co-starred Jacqueline Bisset and ex-UNCLE star Robert Vaughan. Ironically, though remembered for it’s great car chase sequence, the sequence itself was un-scored with Lalo’s music simply creating the tense build up to it – the chase itself was actually a release to this tension. Frank Bullitt’s theme is strong, confident, sassy, streetwise, sexy and above all cool with a capital ‘C’ and defined McQueen as never before in the eyes of the moviegoer. This is a magnificent pulse pounding score and the taste of things to come from Lalo in the 70s. This new recording presents for the first time digital recordings of both the original record and movie versions of themes from this classic plus additional cues never before released.

Perpetually in motion, 1969 saw Lalo scoring for TV series like THE YOUNG LAWYERS and MEDICAL CENTER and the movie CHE! The following year came another collaboration with Eastwood, who himself was reuniting with Brian G. Hutton, his director on WHERE EAGLES DARE (’68), for KELLY’S HEROES, which co-starred Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas and which was basically a violent, anti-war, action/adventure caper comedy, and, given that premise, who else would you call upon to score it? Lalo brought all of his skill and experience to play in creating a score that featured dynamic and contemporary action cues; eclectic jazz and country & western themes; a jaunty whistling theme, reminiscent of a jazzed up Colonel Bogey’s March, to encapsulate the Heroes themselves; a paradoxical take on The Battle Hymn of the Republic; a Morricone spoof to accompany Eastwood’s GOOD, BAD AND UGLY style confrontation with a German Tiger tank, and a powerful and menacing mechanistic theme for the tank itself. This release is a must have album, with most of the tracks being released here for the very first time, the original album release being mostly rearrangements and re-recordings. Also included are many cues not used in the film including Lalo’s original opening and closing title themes (the whistling theme mentioned earlier) which were replaced by the song Burning Bridges, and original source music. The album is completed by the tracks re-recorded for the original album release.

Once again though, just when you think you got a guy pigeonholed, Lalo goes off on a tangent. THX 1138 (’71) famous for being the then 25 year-old STAR WARS creator George Lucas’s first major outing, was yet another breakthrough for Lalo. Having scored for such projects as the documentary THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE (a magnified look at insect life), sci-fi TV movies like EARTH II and THE AQUARIANS and Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY, Lalo was being called upon more and more to write avant-garde scores. He recalls “Maybe that’s why the word went round and I got that reputation. It’s funny how things happen because at the beginning I was considered a jazz composer, and then I became the weird composer”. THX is a disquieting score, suitably reflecting the tone of the movie, but which again gives Lalo scope to combine many musical elements and styles, from baroque to electronic and acoustic effects to banal and soulless Muzak, to accompany Lucas’s vision of a future totalitarian society cleansed of any human feeling. This is an example of when a score is more than that – it is the soundtrack to the characters’ very existence and, though bleak, is undeniably intriguing.

1971 also saw Lalo teaming up with Clint Eastwood again on two projects: The post American Civil War western THE BEGUILED and, the movie that finally broke Eastwood out of the cowboy mould, DIRTY HARRY, both directed by Don Siegel. Lalo had also worked with both Eastwood and Siegel on COOGAN’S BLUFF. HARRY was the seminal 70s vigilante action flick and although Eastwood’s Inspector ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan is similar to McQueen’s Frank Bullitt, and inhabits the same Frisco locale, Callahan is literally a loose cannon, much to the chagrin of his superiors and the voter conscious Mayor’s Office. The only thing that makes Harry’s brutal violence justifiable is the much more violent and irredeemable nature of his opponent, Scorpio, an indiscriminate sniper who is not averse to rape or torture as well as cold blooded murder.

1972 saw Lalo and Eastwood together again for John Sturges’ JOE KIDD with Eastwood once more back in a saddle. Also that year came his score for the much underrated TV movie WELCOME HOME JOHNNY BRISTOL which starred Martin Landau as a soldier who has endured his captivity in a Vietnamese POW camp by keeping alive the memories of life in his home town, yet when he is finally released and heads for home, he can find no trace of it. It also starred Martin Sheen, Brock Peters, Pat O’Brien, Forrest Tucker and John Hoyt.

The success of DIRTY HARRY led inevitably to a sequel. Thus in 1973 came MAGNUM FORCE. Intriguingly the concern over Harry’s tactics shown by his superiors and the Mayor’s Office in HARRY seems to have rubbed off on the filmmakers as in MAGNUM FORCE his methods are positively noble compared to those of the members of the ‘Magnum Force’, a group of rogue motorcycle cops who have set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner. Once more Lalo was called on to repeat his magic and does so with aplomb and his score reflects the revised character of Harry. As mentioned at the beginning of this feature this is the premiere release of the entire score from MAGNUM FORCE and features substantial pieces not present in the movie, and is the essential companion piece to the DIRTY HARRY score. MAGNUM FORCE also featured a young David Soul as one of the bad cops, and who would, two years later, achieve worldwide fame as Detective Ken Hutchinson in the internationally successful STARSKY & HUTCH TV series for which Lalo provided both score and theme for the first season. Interestingly Lalo’s S&H theme is very reminiscent of some of the music for MAGNUM FORCE, but like Harry, S&H’s second season showing was toned down and the music and theme lightened accordingly. Lalo would subsequently score a further two DIRTY HARRY sequels: SUDDEN IMPACT (’83) and THE DEAD POOL (’88).As HARRY was the model for many action movies to follow, so was Lalo’s jazzy, sullen and driving score which is presented on this release in it’s entirety, and in stereo, for the first time.

1973 also brought another phenomena, and a phenomenal star, to our screens as ENTER THE DRAGON started a craze of martial arts movies, hitherto unnoticed in the West. The star of course was Bruce Lee. Lalo once stated in an interview that he’d been watching a martial arts movie in a theatre with his older son when suddenly he heard his MISSION theme in the score ‘It was really the theme, not even a paraphrase. And it was not a sample: It was a steal’. He also heard Quincy Jones’ IRONSIDE theme (a common cue in Martial arts movies and a tradition to which Quentin Tarantino doffs his cap in his KILL BILL movies). He left the theatre a little mad and wishing he could score one of these movies and show them how it should be done. Serendipity struck. When he got home that day his agent called to say that Bruce Lee was making his first American martial arts movie and the producers wanted Lalo to score it! The result is one of Lalo’s best loved scores as he blends pseudo Chinese themes, without clichés, with heroic brass, synthesisers, 70s wah-wah guitar, a selection of percussive, wind and string instruments from all over the world including traditional Japanese and Chinese folk instruments, and even uses Bruce Lee’s distinctive yell as an instrument in the main theme which became an anthem of the 70s martial arts generation.

As well as continuing his TV work with themes and scores to PETROCELLI, PLANET OF THE APES (TV), the aforementioned STARSKY & HUTCH, BRONK, and BRENDA STARR, the mid to late 70s also saw Lalo compose scores to many more movies, highlights of which are THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (’74), ST. IVES (’76), VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED (’76), THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (’76), ROLLERCOASTER (’77), TELEFON (’77), THE MANITOU (’78), a stint with Disney for THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE and RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (both ’78), the all-star war drama ESCAPE TO ATHENA (’79) and AIRPORT ’79 – THE CONCORDE (’79).

Also in 1979 Lalo composed the score for THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (Lalo’s choice). Allegedly based on real events recounted in Jay Anson’s bestseller, newlyweds the Lutz’s (James Brolin and Margot Kidder) move with their children into their dream home in Amityville, Long Island, unaware of the house’s gory history and it’s demonic inhabitants. In EXORCIST territory, once more Lalo comes up with an avant-garde, disquieting and diverse score, with it’s opening and closing credits featuring an echoey young voice ‘la-la’-ing a nursery rhyme type melody that is laced with underlying malice. Here again, in keeping with his roots and his earlier works, Lalo incorporates jazz and classical music with a very ominous string laden score reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann. There’s even a psycho style cue in ‘The Ax’. He also features cool funky and playful jazz alongside Bach’s 5th Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings, plus a disco boogie version, ‘Amityville Frenzy’, of his main theme. He would also score AMITYVILLE II: THE POSESSION (’82).

The early 80s brought us, amongst many others, scores to disaster maestro Irwin Allen’s WHEN TIME RAN OUT (’80, with Paul Newman), BRUBAKER (’80, with Robert Redford), THE STING II (’83, sadly bereft of Newman or Redford), THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND (’83), the aforementioned SUDDEN IMPACT (’83), and even when not scoring for movies, Lalo was always phenomenally busy with TV series, mini-series and TV movies, including KUNG FU: THE MOVIE which introduced Bruce Lee’s son Brandon to the screen. Sadly his acting career was to be even shorter lived than his father’s. Some of these shows, it has to be said, were unworthy of Lalo’s talents. 1987 gave us THE FOURTH PROTOCOL with Michael Caine and a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan, ironically with hindsight, as a Russian spy. The final (so far!) DIRTY HARRY sequel THE DEAD POOL came in 1988. In ’91 Lalo scored F/X2 (THE DEADLY ART OF ILLUSION), then followed the movie version of the old 60s classic THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (’93) and a revamp of the old MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE series in ’96, which, whilst not being as popular as the original, at least brought Lalo’s theme to another generation. And there were many more. Major league movie scores though were, for whatever reason, a little sparse in the 90s.

A real and literal ‘kick’ start to Lalo’s movie score career, though of course he never really left it, came in 1998 with RUSH HOUR starring, the latest and probably most popular contender to fill Bruce’s shoes, Jackie Chan (‘The Fastest Hands In The East’) and Chris Tucker (‘The Biggest Mouth In The West’) as two unlikely and reluctantly paired cops. Director Brett Ratner knew that to create an ENTER THE DRAGON for the 90s, one key element was essential – Lalo Schifrin. Lalo obviously enjoyed returning to the musical styles and tools of his earlier ENTER THE DRAGON and plays with them delightfully, especially with the track ‘Lee Arrives In L.A.’ which is basically a reworking of his DRAGON theme, and with which film Bruce Lee actually did. Yet he also knocks it up a touch and gives it a harder edge for the 90s. He also uses his classical training and exposure to French compositional techniques to explore some wonderful chord progressions. A fun movie and a fun score, and of course Lalo would also score RUSH HOUR 2 in 2001.

As I said right from the start of this feature, I’ve had to leave many of Lalo’s themes and scores unmentioned – there just isn’t room, and some of you probably think I’ve gone on far too long already. But where do you stop? That’s the difficult thing about trying to encapsulate a movie legend, and Lalo Schifrin is undoubtedly that. To date, Lalo Schifrin has won four Grammy Awards (with twenty-one nominations), one Cable ACE Award, and received six Oscar nominations. With the MISSION movies still pounding that unforgettable theme into people’s psyche, even more blockbusters like SHREK 2 being comfortably stuffed under his belt, and his scores for X-MEN 3 and RUSH HOUR 3 reportedly still to come, Lalo is set to continue for some while yet. And quite rightly.

At the time of going to press Lalo Schifrin is about to commence a U.S. tour with the Lincoln Center Chamber Orchestra performing his new concert piece ‘Letters From Argentina’. Tour dates and venues follow at the end of this column.

My sincere thanks go to Mr. Lalo Schifrin, and his assistant Brooke Casey, for their help with the preparation of this feature.

Keep listening.

LALO SCHIFRIN’S ‘LETTERS FROM ARGENTINA’ TOUR:

CHAMBER MUSIC NORTHWEST
Portland, Oregon

Sat. July 30—8:00 PM—Performance at Reed College
Sun. July 31-–4:00 PM—Performance at Reed College

SANTA FE CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tues Aug 2 – –8:00 PM– Performance at The Lensic

LA JOLLA MUSIC SOCIETY SUMMERFEST
San Diego, California

Thurs. Aug 4 –7:30 PM—Performance at Spreckels Theatre

Also, while on the first leg of the tour in Portland, they will also be recording the album in a studio. Release should be in the fall, probably October.

ALBUMS FEATURED IN THIS COLUMN:

JERICHO – Lalo’s original soundtrack for the pilot and his unused main theme have recently been released on FSMCD Vol. 8, No. 6 from Film Score Monthly.

THE CINCINNATI KID
– Original Score composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin on Aleph Records 025. This new recording includes extended and additional cues previously unavailable.

COOL HAND LUKE – Original Soundtrack on Aleph Records 022.

THE FOX – Music from and inspired by THE FOX composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin on Aleph Records 017. This new recording includes additional music previously unavailable.

MANNIX – Original Score composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin on Aleph Records 014.

BULLITT – Original Score composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin on Aleph Records 018.

KELLY’S HEROES – Original Soundtrack on FSMCD Vol. 7, No. 20 from Film Score Monthly.

THX 1138 – Original Soundtrack on FSMCD Vol. 6, No. 4 from Film Score Monthly.

DIRTY HARRY – Original Score composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin on Aleph Records 030.

MAGNUM FORCE – Original Score composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin on Aleph Records 033.

ENTER THE DRAGON – Original Score composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin on Wea Records

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR – Original Soundtrack on Aleph Records 026

RUSH HOUR – Original Score composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin on Aleph Records 005

For completists Lalo’s theme for the PLANET OF THE APES TV series can be found as a bonus track on Film Score Monthly’s release CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES on FSMCD Vol. 4 No. 1.

Aleph Records – The Official Website of Lalo Schifrin: http://www.schifrin.com/main.htm

Film Score Monthly – http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/

For a full filmography of Lalo Schifrin’s film and TV themes and scores check out the Internet Movie Data Base at http://www.imdb.com/

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2 Responses »

  1. Dear Max,

    Great overview of Lalo’s career. I look forward to a more indepth analysis of individual scores.

    James

  2. Thank you James. So do I!

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