CD: Stagecoach (1966)

March 8, 2013 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: La-La Land Records / Released: LLLCD-1215

Tracks & Album Length: 20 tracks / (53:28)


Special Notes: 20-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 2000 copies.


Composer: Jerry Goldsmith




Julie Kirgo’s CD liner notes regarding Fox’ decision to undertake a remake of John Ford’s classic 1939 western are much kinder to the over-ambitious filmic endeavor, but it’s not unreasonable to say Jerry Goldsmith’s music evokes the emotional and dramatic spectrum director Gordon Douglas and his awkwardly chosen cast tried to capture in the dud that was ultimately produced.

The years have been much kinder to Goldsmith’s music, and with only slightly contemporary elements within the score’s instrumental DNA (the occasional electric bass line, the rhythm of the semi-comedic mouth harp twang), it’s a solid western score that draws only sparingly from the genre’s musicological lexicon.

As Kirgo observes, Goldsmith avoided scoring the action scenes, and the music’s focus is on bridge material for the characters, punctuating the aftermath of an event, or presaging what may lie ahead for the group travelling in an overly bouncy stagecoach. It’s an unusually mellow score by the genre’s standards, and contains few big cues, but every once in a while Goldsmith brings up the orchestra for a forceful, sudden statement. It’s a unique approach when compared to the Big Sound typical of his peers (The Big Country and Giant scream Epic), and when the emphasis of the era was to match big screen ratios with big screen stereophonic sound.

Fans of the composer will appreciate the scaled-down style and emphasis on the consequences of events and actions, and the little dramatic dark spots which showed how Goldsmith was so distinct from his peers and contemporaries.

“Aftermath” is an ideal example where a boisterous opening switches to grimness when the group find slaughtered soldiers, and Goldsmith plays with low reverberating tones (a great blend of wooden and thick-stringed timbres), and he creates contrast with a Native American recorder and undulating timpani. The cue’s also goosed with a little reverb and the high-pitched warble of a keyboard, but neither component takes away from the period setting; it’s just another ideal example of the way Goldsmith applied modern instruments to create the right dramatic effect rather than striving to achieve period accuracy. His finesses in fusing so much musical matter doesn’t date the score, and his approach provides a bridge so contemporary audiences can identify with characters without arcane, musical clichés.

La-La Land’s CD (sporting gorgeous art direction derived from the film’s original campaign materials) features a ‘B-side’ made up of three bonus cues from The Loner, a short-short lived TV series about a wandering character who tackles political and social conflicts, as conceived by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling.

The approach this time was to inject a more contemporary sound into the score via electric and bass guitars, as was typical of the composer’s sound in the mid- to late-sixties (witness the Flint films). Counter-punctual rhythms are prominent in the title theme (not to mention a ticking motif that was oft-used in suspense scores like The Satan Bug), but again the uniqueness of his scoring style lies in the details: Goldsmith may have been a rhythmic whiz – one of several chief reasons he excelled in the action genre – but he was extremely adept in creating dramatic contrasts, such as trumpet and flutes rising above somber guitar, under which strings and brass grinding uneasily below in a dirge.

The represented scores are a short but engaging set of suites which boil over with Americana (and perhaps a wistful trumpet solo somewhat reminiscent of Elmer Bernstein’s own genre efforts), and some of the instrumentation – especially the use of marimba and heavy percussion hits – are reminiscent of his mini-masterwork 100 Rifles [M] (1969).

LLL’s CD features newly remastered cues from Stagecoach, taken from fresh 35mm sources, with additional instrumental layers not present in the older CD release from Film Score Monthly (which happened to be their first CD production, back in 1998).

The new mix features finer details and greater aural scope, plus some bonus source cues (3) and alternate takes (2). The Loner is derived from the same mono sources used by FSM and sounds fine, if not a little bit muted (perhaps due to the original recording having a bit too much hiss and dryness in the high frequencies). The last Loner cue is the final mix of the main titles, featuring the original narration.

Julie Kirgo’s liner notes are more broad than Lukas Kendall’s FSM track-by-track notes, but the latter also acknowledged the prior Mainstream LP which was the official soundtrack album in 1966 – a terrible re-recording which, when reissued on CD in 1991, was paired with themes from Goldsmith’s The Trouble with Angels (1966).



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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