CD: 100 Rifles (1969)

June 12, 2013 | By

Rating: Excellent

Label: Film Score Monthly/ Released: March, 1999

Tracks & Album Length: 31 tracks / (76:33)


Special Notes: 16-page colour booklet with liner notes by Doug Adams and Lukas Kendall / Limited to 3000 copies.


Composer: Jerry Goldsmith




Although Jerry Goldsmith had already scored several prominent westerns, it’s this upper-tier B-movie directed and co-written by the underrated Tom Gries that arguably resulted in the composer writing his most inspired western score, and like the film, it’s filled with rebellious bravado, the rage of a ruthless military villain, and the hot and bothered tensions between an unlikely trio of heroes and one heroine.


Main Title: Laying Out the Grid work

The score’s main rhythm is specifically tied to the clacking sounds of a moving train, and from such a simple motor Goldsmith constructed a slew of thematic spin-offs, variations and derivations which provide a whirlwind of drama.

The title track begins with the rhythm of a clacking train motor accompanied by mocking brass – both of which are a residual elements from Goldsmith’s Warning Shot [M] (1967) theme – after  which there’s a rapid switch to the Spanish-flavoured heroic theme from which specific rhythmic components are used throughout the score to deepen the emotional states of specific characters, and cover the power struggles between the film’s warring Yaqui Indians and egotistical Mexican military & their German ‘advisors.’

The theme’s melody ripples and swaggers in grand gestures before a fast-moving, Mariachi-styled B-section that’s specifically used to punctuate scenes where the heroes have successfully escaped from the military goons. A return to the swaggering section closes the “Main Title,” and the closing fanfare ends with just a slight tonal resolution, neatly punctuating the animated image of a cocked revolver that, unlike the final shot of Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903), doesn’t fire at the audience. (The title sequence is very much an imitation of the staggered animation style from Italian spaghetti westerns where high contrast black & white images are mounted onto deep primary colour plates.)


The Score Proper

“The Hanging” may have been intended to deepen the tragedy of gun-runner / rebel Sarita (Raquel Welsh), but it’s where the score clearly defines the rhythms that Goldsmith will apply to specific levels of tension. Here the main theme is spun into a minimalist, tragic variation, under which a snare drum hammers out the main motor for the score. As Sarita’s father is prepped for the hanging tree, Goldsmith has almost carte blanche to colour the largely dialogue-free scene, and it’s indicative of the many sequences where director Gries emphasized action, gestures, and actor reactions in place of verbal cues.

The cue is also indicative of perhaps the one area where Goldsmith had few rivals: layering three streams of intersecting rhythms. 100 Rifles is essentially built around a waltz, and within the emotionally searing cue we have a rippling, circuitous snare rhythm; a slowly dragged 4-note bass line; and the arching melodic line where low brass perform the main chords, and trumpets engage in a jazzy counterpoint. The low brass repeats the same 4 notes with intense dread, while each bass line is accentuated with reverberations from clusters of piano wires. As Sarita jumps and hangs onto her twitching father, Goldsmith’s characterizes the soldier’s contempt for the rebels with grungy low chords – a sonic quality that remains permanently affixed to the film’s main villains.

Most of the audio in subsequent scenes – the introduction of bounty hunter Lyedecker (Jim Brown), wanted bank thief / Yaqui rebel sympathizer Herrera (Burt Reynolds), sadistic General Verdugo (Fernando Lamas), U.S. railroad executive Grimes (Dan O’Herlihy), and stoically scummy German advisor von Klemme (Eric Braeden) – is comprised of dialogue, source music, and sound effects, but the sudden escape and convergence of Lyedecker, Herrera, and Sarita in the desert as they flee from the collective villains marks the beginning of Goldsmith’s revolving chase music.

“Escape and Pursuit” begins with galloping rhythms, heavy brass, and fat bass hits, but the cue really gets interesting in the second half when the two factions are in close proximity, and Goldsmith bisects the orchestra into very distinct colours: grungy bass (especially from deep-bowed strings set against clacking rhythms) cover the snarling villains, and high-range melodic material is reserved for the heroes.

The best section occurs past the cue’s midpoint, where Goldsmith just layers in his rhythms with incredible dexterity: a locked, spiraling bass line performed by extremely low strings; the circular march with thickening percussion; mid-level brass playing a scaled-down version of the main theme with slightly jazzy twists & turns; and the breathy, plaintive flutes adding to the desperation of the heroes as they start to lose ground.

A return to the pre-hanging music starts “The Church” with marimba textures, and Goldsmith presents a more stark iteration of the bass line’s 4 notes, hammered out on muted drum hits, and a quirky, almost demented waltz variation. The following “Journey to the Fort” offers a more robust version, with beautifully strained notes on celli. Goldsmith’s rhythms are fast, clipped, bass swirls, and the return of the snare drum and screeching harmonics in “Journey” are very reminiscent of Alex North’s own blend of discord for emotionally strained scenes (of which a classic example is the otherwise slow-moving montage where Cleopatra makes an offering to a deity, and senses the eventual death of her son as Julius Caesar is knifed to death).

The cue’s dramatic structure is exceptionally taut and direct, and typical of Goldsmith never wasting a moment nor indulging in excessive instrumental ornamentation, and the searing emotional build from subdued rhythms to a layered, high-pitched, thematic statement is contrasted by a switch to orchestral grunge using low brass, muted trumpets, and hard-hitting piano keys.

A little jazz makes its way again into the dreamy opening of “Our String Has Done Run Out,” where Goldsmith shifts colours to punctuate the mood as the two male heroes await their fate with the firing squad, and the changes in instrumentation advance from a more free-form, minimal theme version to a rhythmic line featuring thickening guitar and percussion clusters. Goldsmith also adds a little sitar (or what may be a processed electric guitar) near the end of “I Want Their Heads,” and plucked electric guitar dominates “Cliff Fight,” which also includes some of the metallic pot hits Goldsmith used in Planet of the Apes (1968).

“Downhill Ride” was written for yet another chase sequence amid many in 100 Rifles and should be redundant, but the reason the sequence works is both the visual cutting, the dusty visuals as each group carefully avoids the slope’s weak gravel patches, and the score which just amps up the harmonic tension. Like Bernard Herrmann’s ominous music for The Garden of Evil (1954), it’s one of several ‘on the movie’ scenes that admittedly pad out the narrative, but the music nullifies any monotony or redundancies.

The 4-note bass line forms the skeleton of this amazing cue where Goldsmith engages in a vivid array of colours and off-beat rhythms to cover levels of danger, the fear of the descent, and the separate descents of the rebels and villains.

The cue’s prelude sets up the architecture – rhythmic figures and a recap of the main theme – and after a short Spanish-flavoured trumpet rendition, Goldsmith just piles on the details: the bass line is accentuated by a muted (if not satirical) trumpets which mimic the militaristic snare rhythm; burst of full orchestra are counter-balanced with short thematic statements on woodwinds, under which Goldsmith has fat bunches of string bass almost grunting; and the waltz time signature is also lightly enhanced by a chugging rhythm that perhaps foreshadows the heroes’ climactic capture of a train which decides the victors of the film’s regional natives vs. colonialists battle. The cue’s finale recaps the circular ‘descent’ material with a sudden injection of celli previously heard to searing levels in “The Hanging,” and although the heroes’ evasion gets a buoyant theme recap, the villains receive another grungy variation as they manage to barely succeed the slope’s descent.

Like “Downhill Ride,” “Burn and Pillage / Retribution” runs a fat 5 minutes (the cue’s an edit of two main sections), and Goldsmith plays with fast piano lever hits, muted thumps, South Asian percussion, and woody, resonating marimba strikes which the composer used prominently in The Satan Bug (1965).

It’s an almost purely atmospheric cue, and having already thrown the orchestra’s volume at the audience in the prior “Downhill Ride,” Goldsmith goes for loose, almost impressionistic sounds that flow back & forth to cover the rebels’ unawareness of the advancing military. It also places an uneasy sonic calm before the orchestra slams back into action in “Burning the Stronghold / New Morning,” although the bulk of the nearly 4 minute cue consists of muted instrumental solos before a chromatic crescendo. The cue’s finale also contains a great little melodic section where muted trumpets play the main theme while a Spanish harp offers a minor, almost improvisational version as counterpoint.

The score’s remaining music is more strategic in design and length, and the brevity of the cues offer sharper moods with tighter dramatic arcs. The playful “Lyedecker and Sarita” underscores the odd teasing / taunting / titillating montage which almost veers into rape but weirdly shifts to a sudden consensual union; a cantina styled theme version with harp makes up “Across the Plains”; snare drum, thunking piano, sitar sounds, and flutes make up the suspenseful “Ready for Ambush”; and after the gunfire and train crash, the last cues wrap up the states of the surviving heroes: “Eulogy for Sarita” replays a scaled-down theme with heavy marimba and discordant trumpets, and warm chords lead into an optimistic theme statement with marimba and castanets.


The Soundtrack Album

FSM’s CD is divided into three sections: the surviving stereo tracks (which sound pretty good); two bonus mariachi source cues (one stereo, one not); and the full score in a mono mix-down with significantly different touches towards the bassy sounds. As writes in his liner notes, the two mixes are ‘apples & oranges’ and offer their own unique benefits, and some listeners may prefer the mono mix-downs, especially since that section includes 3 cues unavailable in stereo.

100 Rifles was previously released in Germany as a grey level / bootleg release in a slightly bullshit stereo incarnation from ‘Delphi’, and while FSM’s CD has the superior sound (and excellent liner notes), this is a 14 year old mix, making the score ripe for the La-La Land treatment.

100 Rifles is the most fun of Goldsmith’s westerns, and it relies on a crazy fusion of jazz, modern classical, Spanish, and 99% full organic orchestra. As much as the film was meant as a modestly budgeted cash-in on the spaghetti western, unlike Bandolero! [M] (1968), Goldsmith almost junks formal melodies, stays away from poppish influences, and went for pure colour and rhythm. It’s not his boldest work, but it represents the total professionalism and pure creativity for which he was known and admired, and why contemporary composers will (if not should) examine his canon. The ideas and cohesive narrative within 100 Rifles is near-perfect.

Goldsmith’s scores for director Tom Gries include the feature films 100 Rifles (1969), Breakout (1975), Breakheart Pass (1975), and the TV mini-series QBVII (1974).



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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