CD: Shootist, The (1976) / Sons of Katie Elder, The (1965)

June 12, 2013 | By

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Rating: Excellent

Label: La-La Land Records/ Released: April 9, 2013

Tracks & Album Length: 23 tracks / (57:04)


Special Notes: 12-page colour booklet with liner notes by Jeff Bond / Limited to 2000 copies.


Composer: Elmer Bernstein




Elmer Bernstein’s approach to scoring what became John Wayne’s final film is part military, part elegy for a warrior approaching the end of his game. Even without the knowledge that Wayne, like his character, was dying of cancer, there’s a grim mood to the score which stems from the desperation within the recurring cluster march (itself later appropriated by the composer for the stalking motif within 1981’s Saturn 3), and the delicate, slightly broken piano piece within the appropriately titled “”D” / Prognosis.”

To add rare tenderness and slight humour to the score, Bernstein composed “Ride,” which is filled with the energy and verve of a young man, but it also possesses the slightly gilded quality of an aging hero who must ultimately confront danger on his own.

The Shootist is very short – 25 mins. tops – but it’s one of Bernstein’s best western scores, because it benefits from his maturity, having scored energetic action films with youthful characters almost invincible from tumbles and bullets; and years of writing delicate themes which always get to the heart of a character’s quiet, personal suffering. “Pain Promise” is performed by a small chamber orchestra, and the alternating between piano and strings gives Wayne’s character dignity, and a sense of tragedy for this worn-out man, and the loss he feels in never fulfilling his desires to woo the right woman.

Within its brief running time, Bernstein very neatly maps out the drama, moving from a portent of the film’s final confrontation within the main title, and the small moments where Wayne’s character is essentially bidding goodbye to his friends. Cues like “Sweeney” work in slowly the danger element, and Bernstein uses opposing colours – a low ostinato on piano, and almost grunting chords on woodwinds – to slowly shift the film’s tone towards action.

Whereas Bernstein was able to evoke the wild west within Shootist without any echoes of his genre masterwork, The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Sons of Katie Elder definitely reflects the conventions he was obliged to follow, scoring a multitude of westerns within the sixties (including the Magnificent sequels).

Elder is more lighthearted, and the Irish component (starkly declared in the swirling “The Elders Fight”) gives the score a less action-oriented tone. (One can even argue Bernstein was paying a slight homage to Victor Young, who incorporated a strong Irish component for the John Wayne-John Ford classic The Quiet Man.) “Dangerous Journey” is written for adventure rather than danger, and the colours – light woodwinds and a sixties electric guitar – have a swagger that reflects the film’s mix of youthful and older characters.

There’s some lovely pensive chords in brief Americana-tinged “Trouble in Town,” where Bernstein incorporates whirling figures which are later pared with low brass, and a revolving rhythm that glides from woodwinds to heavy kettle drums. Also of note is Bernstein’s gentle addition of Spanish-flavour in the waltz-like “Memories of Clearwater,” with acoustic guitar, marimba, brass, and resonant strings.

La-La Land’s CD features the complete (and previously unreleased) score for The Shootist, a recording that features a more severe division of miked instruments. The slightly odd stereo image has slightly greater resonance (perhaps due to the heavier percussion and bass rumbles) than Katie Elder, but the latter offers a more balanced stereo image that has the orchestra fully enveloping the listener. To augment the contents of the original Capitol album (itself divided into two acts by a Johnny Cash vocal), LLL’s added a rare single alternate sung by Ernie Sheldon. (The album’s original closing cue, “Texas is a Woman,” still contains the brief narration by Wayne.)



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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