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Sudden Impact - The Original Score Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Jun 18, 2008

  • Movies review

    806

    Sudden Impact - The Original Score Soundtrack Review
    Although there is still one more movie in the franchise after Sudden Impact, Aleph Records - composer Lalo Schifrin's own album producing company - have not released it yet. Thus, we still await the score for The Dead Pool. So, for now, this little series looking at the music of Dirty Harry ends with the score for 1983's Sudden Impact and the return of Lalo Schifrin to the fold after being unavailable to work on The Enforcer.

    “Inspector, your methods are unconventional to say the least. Oh, you get results. But often your successes are more costly to this department in terms of expenses and physical destruction than most other men's failures.”

    Sudden Impact, actually directed by Clint Eastwood this time around, was a much darker and sombre affair than the previous two entries in the series, Magnum Force and The Enforcer, at times even more nihilistic than the original Dirty Harry. The notion of serial killing as an act of justified retribution was a powerful and controversial one and neither Eastwood nor Schifrin shied away from the potency of such a concept. The film has many moments of dark, sinister psychosis and the score perfectly reflects this dangerous imbalance. Likewise, it manages to convey the dogged determination of the now clearly older Harry Callahan, huffing and puffing as he tries to keep up with a steady stream of killers, mobsters and robbers, and wheezingly slugging it out with various ne'er-do-wells. But the times had changed since Harry's last adventure, the beat on the street was now more synthetic and the mood was faster, more vibrant. The opening Main Title encapsulates both of Harry's world and the new vogue - its catchy, percussive beat emphasised by a drum-machine and the glitzy DJ-scratching of the likes of Gloria Estefan And The Miami Sound Machine. They don't appear on the soundtrack, I hasten to add, but the feel and the sound of the up-tempo title sequence - with sampled-in messages from police radios and an ebullient carnival-esque atmosphere - is very akin to their style of performance. Ironically, of course, this moving-with-the-times has only resulted in dating parts of the score firmly in the 80's - which, depending on your viewpoint, can either be a good thing or a terrible thing. For my money, the opening track is fast, lively and thoroughly entertaining. No main title in the series beats that of Magnum Force, but this does a fine job of hauling Dirty Harry into a new era.

    “So ... the bitch is back!”

    The unease and sense of dread that permeates much of the score is also introduced early on. Murder By The Sea begins the slow unwinding thread of grim recollection and revenge from the twisted and scarred point of view of Sondra Locke's Jennifer Spencer as she commences her killing spree. Schifrin's music shimmers with cold rage, in a way dislocated and yet psychologically piercing, perfectly capturing the fractured mindset of Jennifer When he scored the theme for Scorpio in the original Dirty Harry, Schifrin made it edgy but infectious, dark but exciting. For Jennifer, there is both melancholy and violence intermingled. He does not intend to set the pulse racing, but rather to chill the blood with noir-ish disquiet. She is not a vicious killer of innocents - she is a righteous avenger who is only punishing and damaging herself still more with each justified slaying that she commits. Schifrin brilliantly conveys this complicated and unpleasant mood with music that creeps in and out of many other cues, rippling like a fantasia of shadows. To accomplish this wider and deeper aural spread, he expands his orchestra this time around to create a much more symphonic environment that emphasizes woodwinds, horns and a larger string section. Trumpets and trombones become more excitable and the violins, violas and celli even more agitated than before. But if the trusty old Fender bass sounds a bit more worldly and distinguished, perhaps this is in-tandem with Clint's older, wiser, maybe even slower Harry Callahan, that distinctive thrumming-growl not quite as hyper as it once was.

    The vital jazz ingredients that denote Harry and the urban life he responds to are still in evidence - dressing up tracks such as Murder By The Sea, You've Come A Long Way and San Francisco After Dark, but the score, so much more of which is presented here than was ever actually featured in the film, is more in-tune with the atmosphere of the story to allow incidentals and source music too much free reign. Rock interludes poke into several tracks, nothing spectacular - quite restrained, actually - but they are there to add colour to the main roster of bad guys prowling around the otherwise sleepy coastal town of San Paulo. But this is still a powerful orchestral score no matter how much eclectic spice Schifrin sprinkles across it.

    Murder By The Sea gently funks it up with a moment of lazy lounge before the tension of a pre-meditated killing is heralded by a pensive keyboard and chilling woodwinds. The mood is then carried on into Track 3, Too Much Sugar, as furtive strings begin to probe the malevolent atmosphere until a sustained and piercing climax then blends slyly into a string-led climb-down, like a knife being slowly drawn back out of a victim. Shivers and shakes brush through all these early tracks until we reach the classic The Road To San Paulo. Covering a lot of ground, thematically speaking, this surprisingly brief track brings in both Harry's and Jennifer's themes and a little funky jive smack-bang inbetween them. Who else but Lalo Schifrin could get away with that?

    “And where was all this concern for my rights when I was being beaten and mauled? And where were my sister's rights when she was being brutalized? There is a thing called justice Callahan, and is it justice that they should all just walk away?”

    A tremendously eerie theme is struck up when we reach Track 7, Remembering Terror, in which Jennifer recalls the horrific abuse that she and her sister suffered down under the boardwalk (and I don't mean listening to Bruce Willis' rendition of the song, Under The Boardwalk, either!!). He commences with the carnival jangle of a carousel ride, all pipes and organs, and paints a somewhat grotesque image in the mind of a jarringly out of place setting - something akin to a musical clown, say - that masks the macabre beneath an absurdly false face. The sound is truly garish and quite rogue amongst the rest of the music, but it is worth noting that the composer had once based an entire score around such a motif for the seventies thriller/disaster movie Rollercoaster, starring George Segal and a young Timothy Bottoms as a mad bomber at a theme park. The lengthiest track on the album, this pitches a few diverse elements into the pot. We have the fairground attraction riff, some sleazy rock to denote the sweaty, mad-eyed abuse from the gang and the simmering undercurrent of Jennifer's primal anger as all this bleeds out of her subconscious. The uncanny cadence of the waterphone lends the track a unique flavour of helplessness in the grip of depravity. Suddenly, Schifrin's Dirty Harry music seems to come of age. There is a definite nod to Bernard Herrmann's ominous strings and surging emotional torment here as that candyfloss ditty ebbs into the background and the shivery violins step in ... and that is always welcome.

    Track 10, Ginley's Bar, is another hefty set-piece that loiters through a variety of guises. We get a Warriors-style disco groove, followed by an oboe-led take on Jennifer's theme, with muted strings and a wayward keyboard chopping up the mood. Finally, the track embraces dangerous bass strings and a piano as the music swells menacingly back into the land of dark dementia.

    “They're not gonna stop, they're gonna keep comin' after you!”

    “Good. That way we'll know where they are.”

    You're incredible Callahan!

    Harry's own melancholy theme - such an unusual signature for a heroic pop-culture icon - is given a few little returns across the score, but most prevalently and evocatively in the wistfully foreboding The Road To San Paulo and then again in the final track, San Francisco After Dark, when it gathers lusty strength from a tenor sax. But various cues along the way add a snippet here or there of the themes begun for the character in the first film. There is a little touch of jazzy romance, too, in Track 12, You've Come A Long Way, but Schifrin then does the decent thing and snuffs it out with a Cape Fear-like slide during the cue's final stretch.

    Action is not forgotten by all this brooding redolence, either. Several cues are standout Schifrin, incorporating sizzling guitars, deep percussion and a dynamic energy hell-bent on delivering short, pulsating and brutal shockwaves. He teases us with a tremendously fast-paced denouement to Track 2 that you wish would go on for just a bit longer, but then takes us for a riotous ride with the super double-hitter of Tracks 8 and 9 - Cocktails Of Fire and Robbery Suspect, respectively. Cocktails Of Fire especially brings on the big guns of the Fender bass and punishing percussion as Harry takes out a goofball gang of pseudo-punks out to run him down, the track deliciously performing one of Schifrin's celebrated spiralling build-ups and then rising to a note of sustained hysteria. Robbery Suspect - a jokey, possibly ill-fitting scene in the movie when Harry commandeers a tour bus to pursue an opportunist thief, changes the instrumentation from Cocktails but keeps up its pace with great warbling brass and percussion before dropping a gear into - dare I say it - Jerry Fielding territory for a pure jazzy second act. Delirious discord and a furious flurry of plucked strings convey Harry's vicious beating by the gang Jennifer is tracking down and his subsequent plunge into an unforgiving sea in Track 15, Hot Shot Cop. But Track 17 serenades his survival and grim determination to stamp out this vermin once and for all as he opens the case that holds The Automag. Nice echoing chords of string bass and glacial electronics signify that he is now beyond angry.

    “I saw the commotion the other day - you're either a cop or public enemy number one.”

    “Some people might say both.”

    We then reach the emotionally taut and highly suspenseful Unicorn's Head. Bringing back the merry-go-round vibe in an even more un-harmonious and sinister treatment, this cue covers Jennifer's recapture by the gang who intend to take her back to the scene of the original crime and repeat her abuse all over again ... for old time's sake. Giddy sadism is filtered through the relentless cue by an organ that actually sounds as if it is grinning with wicked delight. In the film, the scene seems to go on forever - Sondra Locke getting smacked and thrown about, then escaping for a moment or two, before being caught again and then beaten in an almost “operatic” fashion - but, on disc, the track plays out with fantastic pace and a measured, rising build-up that really gets the adrenaline flowing.

    Yet despite all this great stuff, the album drops the ball severely - for me, at least - with its presentation of the one sequence that I was most looking forward to, a musical cue that I have always loved and was literally itching to hear on this disc. The cue in question is for the awesome showdown on the pier when a battered, but wrathful Harry strides down to meet the surviving gang members who have an equally cut and bruised Jennifer at their mercy. A percussive heartbeat, some industrial groaning and screeching, a twisted harmonica, the relentless pace quickening as Harry nears his targets and the whole thing building up to a terrific crescendo that, in the film, is topped only by the ferocious blasting of his .44 Automag. Well, the disc certainly has this piece in it - bolted onto the start of Track 19, A Ray Of Light - but just as it gets going, the pace beginning to build and the excitement rising, it then segues very suddenly into an altogether brighter, more over-the-top cue that could have been dropped in off the back any number of more light-hearted, family-friendly action-fests from the period. This is a truly odd omission for a release that is reputed to be to the complete score. In fact, there is actually another omission too - the song “This Side Of Forever” sung by Roberta Flack that plays over the end credits is also shorn. Although the excision of a song from an official score release is not unusual - commonplace, in fact - it is strange in that the tune is actually from Schifrin (collaborating with Dewayne Blackwell) and is already heard, sans lyrics, in Track 21 San Francisco After Dark, once Harry's theme has petered-out. Then again, we do get that sultry sax by way of compensation.

    Sudden Impact, as an album, is a wonderful experience, nonetheless. It may not have the hard-edged cool of the first score, or the cheeky, wild thrills of the second but, as Schifrin's third score in the series, it is probably the most accomplished. It moved with the times and also became far more symphonic. Schifrin's themes are greatly pronounced and have a stronger relevance throughout the score. As a bonus, we also get an Alternate version of the Main Title which, although hardly that dissimilar, plays out as a shorter, slightly funkier take, which is great to have, but I would have taken the full Ray Of Light (as heard in the film) over this any day.

    Once again, the album has been remixed from the original multi-track masters and, as usual, Nick Redman provides useful and entertaining liner notes in the accompanying illustrated booklet.

    Full Track Listing -

    1. Main Title 3.20

    2. Murder By the Sea 2.32

    3. Too Much Sugar 1.36

    4. Frisco Night 2.52

    5. Target Practice 1.35

    6. The Road to San Paolo 1.46

    7. Remembering Terror 6.50

    8. Cocktails of Fire 2.20

    9. Robbery Suspect 2.15

    10. Ginley's Bar 5.56

    11. Another Victim 1.21

    12. You've Come a Long Way 3.46

    13. Darkness 4.12

    14. Crazy 1.44

    15. Hot Shot Cop 1.23

    16. Alby And Lester Boy 2.03

    17. The Automag 1.39

    18. Unicorn's Head 3.03

    19. A Ray of Light 1.02

    20. Stairway to Hell 1.01

    21. San Francisco After Dark (End Titles) 3.24

    Bonus track: 22. Main Title (Alternate) 2.49

    Total Time: 58:29

    Verdict

    Schifrin's score for Sudden Impact once again gives voice to the danger and excitement of Dirty Harry. All the hallmarks of the series are there - the percussive action licks, the cool jazz riffs and the little reminders to what has gone before - but the evolution of both the character and the series is also hugely prevalent in the haunting theme for retribution that comes to dominate the score and the sense of things turning full circle. Harry's world is forever downbeat and stippled with death and tragedy. It is only the fact that he can deal with all this with a sarcastic quip and a healthy disrespect for the rules that keeps the adrenalin flowing and Schifrin, more than anybody else, understands this, painting his scores with pulsating combinations of tension, pathos and excitement. With some terrifically orchestrated moments of spine-tingling tension, splashes of frightening discord and hauntingly gothic carousel ditties, a liberal dose of early 80's colour and some great action dynamics, Sudden Impact comes alive on disc with a startling and diverse intensity. Despite truncating my favourite cue from the movie, this album gets a well-deserved 9 out of 10 from me.

    Schifrin would go on to score The Dead Pool but, until that soundtrack is eventually released, we will have to say goodbye to Harry Callahan for awhile. But, for those of you who have been keeping up with this series of reviews, I can testify that this CD collection is immensely rewarding and showcases some wildly exciting and inspired film scoring from a true master of the urban thriller genre. Jerry Fielding's contribution takes a slightly more jazzy turn, but, taken as a whole, Schifrin's Aleph label have done a wonderful job of producing these scores in ultra clear, awesome stereo, great packaging and kitted-out with illuminating notes from Nick Redman. I can only recommend them whole-heartedly.

    Now ... make our day and bring on The Dead Pool and let us complete the set.

    The Rundown

    Movie

    9

    Overall

    9

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