Soundtrack Collection: Dirty Dozen to Dragnet

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen (Frank De Vol, 1967): The 1967 hit The Dirty Dozen was an early example of the more edgy, revisionist approach to war movies that would eventually largely dominate the genre.  The film is an all-star action/adventure about a squad of hardened criminals that are sent on a suicide mission during World War II. 

Composer Frank De Vol, who is probably better known as a songwriter (including the famous “Brady Bunch” theme) provided a very upbeat, traditional war movie score that was intentionally designed to be somewhat in conflict with the film’s very violent, and even cruel, depictions of war.  Separated from the context of the film, the score loses its ironic component and, instead, simply plays as a fun, old-fashioned war movie action score.  I consider it to be a fascinating and impressive aspect of this score that it plays so differently in the film and on an album.

Central to the score is a fairly simple, 4-note motif that sounds like it could easily be matched to the four syllables of the movie’s title, although De Vol fortunately avoids that temptation.  Surrounding that motif is a score full of marches and largely dominated by brass and percussion.  The tone of the music remains generally light throughout much of the score and even occasionally takes amusing turns, such as the big band sound first heard during the cue “The Builders / Train Time”.  On occasion, De Vol also incorporates familiar melodies such as “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “You’re In the Army Now” in a few cues.  The score also has some fairly traditional suspense cues as well, such as “The Wire Cutter / Posey’s Fight”.

The soundtrack also features two original songs that were written by De Vol for the film.  These include a German folk-style song entitled “Einsam” and performed by Sibylle Siegfried and the pop song “Bramble Bush” performed by Trini Lopez.  The latter is pretty firmly steeped in the popular style of the late 60s and is the one part of the film’s music that does tends to date it.

Film Score Monthly released a limited edition CD (still available) of the complete score in 2007.  This CD release more than doubles the running time of the original LP release, which had received a couple previous CD releases paired with other scores.  The limited edition CD also contains the first releases of the versions of the two songs as used in the film.  It does also include the album versions of the songs as bonus tracks, along with a few pieces of source music and score alternates.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Miles Goodman, 1988): Miles Goodman was a prolific film composer during the 1980s and 1990s (until his untimely death in 1996 at age 46), although very few of his scores have been released to CD.  Goodman tended to specialize in comedies, many of which also contained a number of songs, which is likely the main reason for the relative lack of score soundtracks.  His frequent collaboration with director Frank Oz was a particularly fruitful one.

In 2010, La La Land Records put out a limited edition CD of Goodman’s score to Oz’s big comedy hit Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  While the release was a limited edition of only 1200 copies, it is still readily available at the time that I’m writing this.  The film was a farce starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as con-men competing to woo a mark played by Glenne Headly.  The setting is a small coastal town in France, which provides Goodman with the opportunity to provide a lively, European sounding score.

The score is consistently upbeat, with an often jazzy style to it.  Strings and horns dominate, particularly in the fast paced, swinging main theme, which debuts in the opening cue “Prologue/Dirty Rotten Theme” and then figures prominently throughout the score.  The rest of the score continues in a similar style, with the string composition particularly conveying a European classical feel to much of it.  The aptly named “Ruprecht Tango” is a particularly strong example of the European influences.

The soundtrack also includes Goodman’s instrumental arrangements of a few well-known standards: Jerome Kern’s “Pick Yourself Up”, Irving Berlin’s “Putting On the Ritz”, and Harry Warren’s “We’re In the Money”.  Stylistically, these arrangements fit in very well with the rest of the score.

Doctor Dolittle

Doctor Dolittle (Leslie Bricusse, 1967): The 1967 big-budget (for the time), musical version of Dr. Dolittle was, at the time of its release, a notorious box-office failure that was also pretty widely savaged by critics (although the film was surprisingly nominated for the Best Picture Oscar).  While it isn’t quite right to say that the film has become a classic, it has played reasonably well on TV and home video over the years and some of the songs have endured fairly well. 

The most famous and enduring of Leslie Bricusse’s songs is “Talk to the Animals”, which was performed by Rex Harrison as the title character.  That catchy song won the Academy Award for Best Song that year and is now something of a standard that is likely to be recognizable even to those that don’t really know the film.  This familiar song is fairly typical of the lyrical style found on all of Bricusse’s songs for the film and the overall score does have a very coherent sound with the songs all fitting together well.

Harrison, who was best known as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, was the central performer and dominates the song score.  The songs are written to be well-suited to his distinctive style of speak-singing and he does bring a fair amount of charm to his songs.  Besides “Talk to the Animals”, he also is solo performer on “The Vegetarian”, “When I Look In Your Eyes”, “Like Animals” and “Something In Your Smile”.

The other prominent performers on the soundtrack are Anthony Newley as the doctor’s friend and Samantha Eggar as the love interest.  Newley was a very popular singer at the time and lends his expressive voice to  several solos, including “My Friend, the Doctor”, “After Today”, “Where Are the Words” and the title song.  He also duets with Eggar on “Beautiful Things”.  Eggar has the solo “At the Crossroads” and duets with Harrison on two songs: “Fabulous Places” and “I Think I Like You”.

The soundtrack was originally released on LP with the film and has been issued on CD a couple different times.  The content of all releases has been the same, with the full set of songs from the film, including “Where Are the Words” and “Something In Your Smile”, which only were used in the early road-show version of the film.  The only instrumental piece is the overture that opens the album.

Dolores Claiborne

Dolores Claiborne (Danny Elfman, 1995): In the 1990s as Danny Elfman became a more established film composer, he started to stretch quite a bit beyond his original comfort zone with quirky comedies and fantasy/superhero films.  This included taking on more serious, dramatic films such as Delores Claiborne, a Taylor Hackford directed adaptation of a dark drama written by Stephen King.  Scores like this one tend to avoid Elfman’s quirkier, more playful tendencies (which often are his trademark), while still reflecting his strong compositional skills and his excellent sense of mood.

The score for Delores Claiborne is darkly atmospheric and often emotionally tense.  It is mainly dominated by strings and piano, with some often fast, somewhat harsh string playing frequently countering more gentle piano melodies, such as in the cue “Vera’s World”, in order to build tension and create impressions of emotional turmoil.   Elfman also adds bursts of faster tempo music and the occasional minor key piano, as in the cue “Getting Even”, to strong effect as well.

The soundtrack CD was released by Varese Sarabande and, as was typical of many of their releases during that time period, it only contains slightly over a half hour of score.  The film was not overly popular and the soundtrack can often be found at heavily discounted prices.  Still, it would be nice to see this score re-visited for an expanded release as there is much more music in the film than was included on the album.

Dr. Kildare

Dr. Kildare (Jerry Goldsmith & Various, 1961): Jerry Goldsmith wrote the familiar main title theme for this popular 1960s medical-themed TV series starring Richard Chamberlain.  He also scored five episodes, including the series pilot.  Film Score Monthly released a 3-CD set that contains the music that Goldsmith composed for the series as well as a representative sampling of scores by other composers.  Other than a handful of bonus tracks, the music is all presented in monaural, but the sound quality is otherwise quite good for the age of the recordings.

Disc 1 opens with the End Title music from Season 1, which is essentially the most familiar instrumental version of Goldsmith’s theme for the series.  The theme opens with a brassy fanfare before transitioning into a very melodic primary section.  The other two discs contain alternate versions of the theme, including other season’s titles as well as various bumpers and transitions.  Disc 3 opens with “Three Stars Will Shine Tonight”, a pop song that was based on the series’ theme with lyrics performed by Chamberlain.  The song was actually a fairly big hit on the pop charts during the height of the series’ popularity.

The rest of the disc features Goldsmith’s 5 episode scores.  Goldsmith periodically incorporates the main theme into his scores and also builds on the theme stylistically for the rest of his scores.  His music tends to be very melodic, with a definite emphasis on emotional dramatic impact.  The music is recognizably Goldsmith’s and tends to reflect his usual musical approach for that time period.  As is typical for a TV series, the music can vary quite a bit depending on the content of the episode.

Some parts of the scores include some effective use of brass and lower strings to build suspense, such as in the tense cue “The Motel/Discovery” from the episode “The Lonely Ones”.    On the opposite end of the spectrum is more upbeat, almost bouncy music as heard in the opening part of “Early Curtain/Julie’s Symptoms” from “Shining Images”, although that cue later shifts in a darker direction. Other cues from that same episode do pick up the lighter tone again.  Another difference in style is the jazzier approach Goldsmith takes for the episode “A Million Dollar Property”, which features a lot of saxophone and piano.

After Goldsmith moved on, the most frequent composer for the series was Harry Sukman and disc 2 and 3 both feature a sampling of his scores for the series.  Sukman style is recognizably different than Goldsmith’s, although his approach still emphasizes the mix of drama and suspense.  Sukman didn’t make use of the series’ theme the way that Goldsmith did in his scores, instead choosing to create a new central theme for each episode score. 

Sukman’s scoring approach varies from episode to episode, as the storyline demands.   A couple examples: Sukman provides a jazzy, horn-driven theme for the episode “The Soul Killer”, while a much folksier melody is used for “The Gift of the Koodjanuck”.  Another particularly notable style is the 60s pop sound for the episode “Tyger, Tyger”, which includes a surf-guitar style main theme.

Also on disc 2 is a short medley from one episode scored by Richard Markowitz.  Disc 3 includes scores composed for the series by Morton Stevens, Lalo Schifrin and John Green.  Stevens compositions tend to be very fast paced and dynamic, with a definite action-oriented style.  Morton’s score for the episode “Rome Will Never Leave You” incorporates a love theme that was written for the episode by Burt Bacharach.  As you might expect from his typical scoring approach, Schifrin’s scores are strongly jazz influenced.  The Green scores are very melodic.

Disc 3 ends with several stereo cues from the score to an unused pilot for the series.  This score was by Alexander Courage, based on the main theme that Bronislau Kaper wrote for the 1956 film The Power and the Prize.  It would have been a very different approach, going for much bigger, broader composition, very heavy on the piano and soaring strings.

Dr. No

Dr. No (Monty Norman, 1962): The soundtrack album to the first major James Bond film doesn’t much resemble the others from the series, other than the inclusion of the famous main theme.  Most of the album is a collection of calypso music, some vocal and some instrumental.  For the most part, the included music was source music written for the film.  Some of the cues were not even used in the actual movie.  The album doesn’t feature the orchestral action and suspense cues usually associated with a James Bond movie or the jazzy instrumentals that were often associated with the movies.

Even the actual score tracks tend to have a tropical, exotic sound to them.  “The Island Speaks” and “The Boy’s Chase”, for example, are very percussion driven, highly rhythmic cues, with guitar providing a bit of a melodic line.  “Dr. No’s Theme” has a somewhat more swing style with electric guitar and percussion.  Late in the album there is a cue called “James Bond Theme” that is another percussion and guitar piece with no connection to the famous theme that opens the album.

Of course, the famous James Bond theme opens the album in its most familiar rendition.  The theme is credited to the John Barry Orchestra and it is very widely known that Barry’s arrangement played a substantial role in creating the theme’s familiar sound.  The true extent of his contribution continues to be debated and has even resulted in a couple court cases over the authorship of the theme.  The producers obviously valued Barry’s contribution as he would go on to score 11 of the subsequent films in the series.

Most of the vocals on the album are performed by the group Brian Lee and the Dragonaires.  A couple of the vocals were reportedly performed by Norman’s wife, Diana Coupland, who is uncredited. 

Dragnet (1987)

Dragnet (Ira Newborn, 1987): The soundtrack to the 1987 Dan Aykroyd/Tom Hanks spoof of Dragnet features 20 minutes of Ira Newborn’s score as well as five songs from the film.  Newborn (who appears to be retired from film composing) most frequently worked on comedies, which typically had a lot of songs, and his scores were pretty rarely released.

Dating back to the original radio (and later television) productions, Dragnet has one of the most familiar and iconic musical themes.  The distinctive opening motif and the march were originally created by composer Walter Schumann, although the opening so closely resembles a cue from Miklós Rózsa’s score to The Killers (1946) that Rózsa is now routinely credited as co-composer.  The theme is heavily incorporated into Newborn’s score and is also given an electronic pop arrangement (including dialog samples) by 80s synth group The Art of Noise.

Newborn’s score is very upbeat and fast-paced.  Brass and percussion are front and center throughout, with an authoritative sound that does bring to mind the film’s police setting.  Newborn definitely takes his stylistic cue from the familiar Dragnet theme and even his original compositions readily bring the theme to mind.  Although the film was a comedy, Newborn’s compositions are kept serious. 

Most of the score is orchestral, although Newman does use electronics prominently at some points, particularly in the opening portion of the cue “Dairy Apologies”.   A distinctive jazz-influenced component is heard with a strong saxophone solo in the cue “Joe Gets Fired”.  The “Dragnet End Credits” presents a particularly dynamic march although, oddly, the album closes with the cue “Kill me Instead”, which starts out suspenseful before transitioning into a repeat of the solo saxophone and finally a more pop-styled electronic instrumental.  I believe that swapping the last two cues actually provides the best listening experience.

The pop songs are pretty typical for an 80s soundtrack, although they did tend to connect more directly to the film than was often the case during that era.  The album opens with “Just the Facts”, which is performed by Patty LaBelle, a frequent contributor to soundtracks around that time.  The title of the song obviously refers to one of the best known Dragnet catch phrases and also contains samples of Aykroyd reciting the line.

The most straightforward of the songs on the album is “Helplessly in Love”, a ballad that is performed by pop group New Edition.  This is the one song on the soundtrack that doesn’t really include any direct references to the film itself.

“City of Crime” is a rap song that is actually performed primarily by Aykroyd and Hanks with Glen Hughes and Pat Thrall joining in mainly for the choruses.  This is an amusing oddity, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the two actors would rather it be forgotten.  Aykroyd and Thrall teamed again on the fairly strange song “Dance or Die”.

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