Just when you thought Elmer Bernstein
western scores were just a little too close to The Magnificent Seven
on occasion, you get the somewhat more off the wall Big Jake. Not a film about which I know anything, other than (I am informed by Mr Southall's useful and extensive liner notes) it starred an aging John Wayne as Jake, whose grandson is kidnapped and the action is more centered around a battle of wits than a physical one. The opening cue does not sound promising in all fairness and reminded me of a wild west version of the theme from Steptoe and Son (an antique British sitcom for those not au fait with it), but Bernstein introduces his superb western stylings and things start to take flight.
With the Massacre, the music turns from the fairly light tone it adopts at the outset into something more bracing with tense string writing and some splendidly chaotic brass. It is unfortunate that the sound tapes haven't survived well enough to give the dynamic range and depth that the music really needs to truly shine. The track lengths are curiously mixed with a handful being quite lengthy, notably the excellent eleven minute finale, while the majority are in the couple of minutes range. Some, like the brief and boisterous wild west carnival styled Motorcycle are great musical vignettes unto themselves. There is an element of fun running through all but the most intense passages, but many of these surrounded and tempered with almost subliminal moments of lightheartedness.
As with all Prometheus releases, the package is excellent with the aforementioned liner notes plus the inclusion of the source music Bernstein penned. It's not especially thrilling stuff, but there is something fascinating about hearing the little bits and pieces of music from a film that are usually sidelined. As mentioned earlier, the mono sound isn't quite as good as it might be. Curiously, it's aged less well than the older Magnificent Seven which itself was in mono, but the detail is still more than acceptable, even if it renders the orchestra sounding somewhat smaller than it probably actually was. Not quite a lost classic, but still a typically inventive and entertaining Bernstein album.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad