“Now listen up … I don't like white people!”
The early 80's was a boom-time for films of every breed, and for the scores that embellished them. Trends were different and the style for more dramatic, more violent and explicit material was unstoppable. High-concept was in, and measured character study was out. The dawn of the buddy-cop genre was upon us and, whether you liked it or not, it was here to stay. For good. Mismatched team-ups had been going since the silent days, with Laurel And Hardy and their ilk, and then on through each decade, tackling comedy, romance, “bromance”, historical romp, the Western and much more. But the predilection for thrusting two initially hostile and irredeemable opposed characters together to undertake a particular mission, and to work out their differences and ultimately unite as they go along was a peculiar fixation of the cop drama. We had good cop, bad cop. We had white cop, black cop. There was retirement cop with suicidal cop (no prizes for guessing which one that was). We even had human and alien cops, cyborg law enforcers with perky blonde female rozzer sidekicks and, pushing the idea to its inevitable limits, we were even on the beat with live cops and their undead partners.
But here we got the frazzled cop and the jive-talking con!
So, Walter Hill was at the forefront of this tidal wave of reluctant bonding with 48 Hrs. which paired Nick Nolte's burned-out detective, Jack Cates, with Eddie Murphy's wise-cracking jailbird, Reggie Hammond, as they hit the mean streets of San Francisco to root out escaped cop-killer Albert Ganz, played by one-time Hill regular James Remar. The two have just 48 hours to track down Ganz before Reggie is banged-up again with Cates, if they are unsuccessful, probably right in there alongside him. The film was a smash-hit for Paramount, cementing Nolte's craggy leading man status and finally transplanting Murphy from TV's Saturday Night Live to box office superstar status, with the likes of Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Places, which followed on directly from his debut here, setting him down a path that, barring a few problematic years in the creative wilderness, has since seen him reliving some glory as, of all things, the jibber-jabbering jive-ass Donkey in the Shrek films.
Combining tough action with comedy was something that was new to the game. You could plainly see how difficult a juggling-act this sort of mash-up would be … which is probably why it had never really been attempted before. Horror-comedies were one thing. In that case, it was often a lot easier and, in some memorable cases (An American Werewolf In London, say), absolutely necessary. And the caper-cum-adventure with action, smarts and inherent contextual amusement was something that Alfred Hitchcock made his own. But to mix verbal jousting and slapstick with ferocious gun-play and brutality wasn't such a simple trick to pull off whilst still maintaining the pace and the tension and keeping completely in-character. 48 Hrs proved that it could be done … with the right alchemy, of course. And this meant having actors who took the situation seriously, even when it was going riotously off the wall, a director who trusted a couple of loose-cannons in the lead roles to do their thing, furious set-piece mayhem to suddenly pull the rug out from under you, a truly volatile and scary duo of villains (in this case, the nasty Ganz is very imposingly aided by the great Sonny Landham as his redskin henchman, Billy Bear) … and, of course, a score that drove the momentum with dynamite cues of punchy percussion and deliriously addictive street-wise motifs, and a total refusal to even recognise the verbal-sparring comedy elements. All of this ran like clockwork and 48 Hrs became one of 1982's biggest hits, a perennial favourite on home video and even lead to a much less successful sequel in the not entirely unexpected Another 48 Hrs. (1990), also from Walter Hill and reuniting the same two leads, and the composer.
So let's look at Intrada's wonderful limited edition release of James Horner's oft-requested but, until now, never released score for 48 Hrs.
Although he captured the imagination with his rousing and heroic scores for Star Trek II The Wrath Of Khan and Battle Beyond The Stars, sent icy shivers down the spine with Wolfen, Humanoids From The Deep and Deadly Blessing, composer James Horner would also usher in a fabulous new vogue for contemporary urban thriller scores that would rattle the senses and set the pulse racing in a way that hadn't been done so effectively since the days of Lalo Schifrin's gritty, funked-up themes for the Dirty Harry series and Starsky And Hutch. With 48 Hrs, the Moscow-set police mystery Gorky Park and, perhaps most famously of all, his Arnold Schwarzenegger hits with Commando and Red Heat, James Horner would take the macho posturing of testosterone-fuelled thugs and cop-killers, the valiant but grizzled bravery and bravado of the men tasked with taking them down, and the adrenalised and edgy beat of the streets and stir such aggressive flavours into wild and memorable musical scores that have been both cherished and long sought-after. With added percussion and keyboards, the orchestra is compelled to dig in, and to turn severe and dark. It was the sort of deep and deadly sound that would also form the basis for Trevor Jones’ relentless score for Runaway Train, amongst other things, but it was one that reverberated with effortless cool at the same time.
The Main Title sets in motion the themes, the instrumentation and unique sound that will pummel and bludgeon across the rest of the score. We are in the land of deep, dense layers of low down, grungy percussion, toiling tuba and trombones that churn way, way down in the musical dungeons of a corrupt soul, and mocking, deceptively laconic soprano sax and harmonica wailing that depict the sweat, sleaze and seediness of a prison chain-gang out banging-in the rails on a dusty train-track. We can feel the heat, and we can sense the rage and violence that hangs in the air. The bass guitar slowly sizzles, baking in the heat-haze lifting from the bumpy country road running through the fields. Horner has long been a master of crunching, metallic anvil-like bashes of angered brass that bruise the senses. We heard them with tribal severity in Star Trek II to depict the vengeance of the renegade Khan. We would hear them in Aliens, Commando and a whole host of other scores. Horner incorporates them here as jolting punctuations that act as suspenseful stepping stones towards the inevitable violence that we know will soon consume the scenario. As Billy Bear drives up to the chain-gang in a beat-up truck, we know that deep trouble is brewing from the intimidating low register barrage that Horner unleashes beneath the lazy, teasing drawl of that clarinet. Drums pound away, the clustered low brass surges gaining more confidence. The harmonica takes over from the sax in the latter section of this first half of the cue, light percussion shimmering as things seem unusually calm. The lull before the storm as Billy Bear picks a fight with a Ganz as part of the ruse to spring him.
Pretty soon, gunshots ring out, prison guards fall under the pressure of big splashy blood-squibs, and Ganz is on the run, freed by his granite-faced cohort. It becomes clear that such lurching brass/metallic blurts are the musical equivalent of the shots being fired – Walter Hill likes his bullets to sound like cannon shells roaring, which is another fantastically over-elaborate 80’s thing! The “threat” motif from Wolfen makes a brief appearance. Spine-tingling strings and ghostly piano flutter like dragonflies disturbed by the chaos of the escape. This is a powerful set-piece opening from the composer.
Another wonderful facet of James Horner is his willingness to adopt ethnic and avant-garde instruments into his compositions. Thus, as well as all manner of weird percussion, we find that this score's most unusual and offbeat component, which commences in this first track, was the steel drums. Performed by Robert Greenidge, Andy Narell and Jeff Narell, this unique and highly distinctive sound lent the score an exotic vibrancy and a shimmering percussive gleam. We may not often hear steel drums playing as we walk the city streets, but there is, nonetheless, an urban frisson to them, despite the Afro-Caribbean connection. They sound “ghettoised” and rebellious, and their soft rippling cadence in 48 Hrs comes to enhance the opportunistic underdog attitude of both the hunted and the hunters. Importantly, they don't signify any one character, but rather the story and the mood, as a whole.
He would employ the steel drums, and continue this maverick and decidedly original action stance further in Gorky Park, Commando and Red Heat and so would begin the love/hate campaign that Horner would experience from fans and detractors that rages on to this day. There is no denying that this quartet of film scores hail from the same super-charged, incredibly deep and urbanised stable as one another. But, for me, this has them come across as a deliberate chapter in the composer's career, and one that sees him delivering a serious treatment on the modern thriller. Yes, much of this is echoed in Commando which, by extension, apes many of the themes heard in Gorky Park, but the sound proves to be a bracing and bone-jarring catchment that finds the perfect voice for these gritty, knuckle-mashing thrillers of men out on the ragged edge.
Walter Hill didn't have much time for the ladies in his films. If a woman did happen upon a scene, she would invariably be beaten and abused and put in her place by both the bad guys and the good guys, or else she would be a hooker or act at least as violently as the blokes. Hill makes movies about men. Big, tough men. Hard-as-nails. Quick with a put-down, quicker with their fists, or a gun. He sees the world in shades of grey. His bad guys are thoroughly ruthless, vengeful and frequently indiscriminate in the chaos that they bring. Hang on, that's just described the good guys, as well. The 80's suited Hill right down to the ground. Single-minded, obsessive action dramas that pushed the boundaries of the moralistic crusade were the meat ‘n’ potatoes of this more modern cinematic child of Sam Peckinpah. The Warriors saw us fighting alongside, defending and rooting for a vicious street-gang who were only the heroes of the piece because we'd actually seen them being blamed for something that they didn't commit … this time. The Long Riders placed us in love with the mythical charm of Jesse James and his extended family and entourage of bank-robbers, murderers and outlaws. Southern Comfort marched us into trouble with a gaggle of racist, sexist, antagonistic, and downright stupid National Guardsmen, whose own idiocy gets them, and us, into some severe hot water with the Cajun locals. In Extreme Prejudice, we met a whole host of despicable, money-grubbing lowlifes all presided over by a Texas Ranger and a drugs kingpin who also happen to best friends, and a rogue military commander for whom the lives of his own men mean absolutely nothing. And in Red Heat and 48 Hrs we meet vicious criminals hell-bent on causing anarchy, and the dregs of the police force who are only about one-step removed from such behaviour, themselves, yet are determined to get the job done regardless.
As such, Horner does not deliver any of the swooning strings, heart-tugging horns and lush, sweeping woodwinds that would become a trademark for him … as there is absolutely no scope for romance in this story – unless you count Reggie’s overriding urge to get a little female company after being banged-up behind bars. Which is great, because it means that his score is linear, pared-to-the-bone and resolutely masculine. Only the slight deviation to a softer Jamaican funk/orchestral fusion in Track 4's Aerobics – which sees Horner supplying a source cue for steel drums, saxophone and bass guitar that is heard coming from a fitness routine on TV in Billy Bear's girl's apartment – and the smoother rendition of the main theme which we hear in Track 2 after we have been introduced to Jack Cates emerging from a night in Annette (Superman III) O' Toole's bed, lessen the sweaty tension and iron-grip that the musical narrative has over the proceedings. The lazy soprano sax supplies that washed-up, cynical attitude of the cop who's seen it all. It is the type of thing that Michael Kamen would lend Martin Riggs in the first Lethal Weapon, but Cates is no suicidal depressive … as the pleasantly meandering jumble of the steel drums makes clear.
But this upbeat phrase soon fades away when we reach Track 3, The Walden Hotel, and Jack tags along with some grumbling coppers who are about to make an unwitting and, indeed, very unfortunate connection with the escaped con. This is the score at its most icy and tense. Commencing with dissonance, Horner ratchets up the suspense as strings and synth, timpani and a jumble of cracking, creaking sounds then coalesce into the deep funked-up beat of streetwise hostility. Wood-taps issue from the left that jerk your attention during the early section, and there is an incredible clarity to this that I guarantee will catch you off-guard. Then we find ourselves in a stretch of the cue that is recalled in Commando, as the house in the mountains belonging to Arnie’s super-soldier comes under attack and the retired Colonel Matrix finds a villain inside issuing threats about his kidnapped daughter. The atmosphere of dread and rage is heightened by searing strings, and possibly backed by synthesiser, with a long piercing note that slides and plateaus making a sound like a cyborg cat mewling in the middle of an electrical storm. It is scintillatingly unnerving. Something about this glistening, incredibly sharp effect makes you think of distant police sirens gathering in the neon-fugue. Listen to the little scurrying notes from the harp and the piano, the glacial violins and the shivering spasms from the celli. Terrific low rumbles from the keyboard make the blood freeze. Horner proved that he could do horror and unbearable, nerve-fraying suspense with Wolfen, Aliens and The Missing, but you wouldn’t have expected to hear such motifs here. I think it is probably prudent to note that there is a definite similarity that can be heard in this unsettling passage to what Billy Goldenberg did with his equally funky and jazzed-up action score for the Elliot Gould/Robert Blake cop drama Busting (CD reviewed separately) during some of its more unpredictable and knuckle-whitening moments.
This, then, is possibly my favourite track of the score. It is cold, demented and frightening. Long before the film moves into the more humorous side of things – Cates has not even met Reggie Hammond yet - and Horner has delivered a piece of haute tension that needles the mind with absolute dread and trepidation. In the film it is expertly woven into the intense sequence of a police investigation that violently backfires and leaves the hotel splattered with blood, two executed cops and Jack Cates, his own gun stolen and used to murder a colleague, with some serious retribution in mind.
Apart from the Aerobics track, Horner pretty much leaves the film alone for a considerable time now, as Cates gets Reggie Hammond, a con who knows Ganz and should be able to aid in his apprehension, out of the slammer and the two argue and scuffle their way through a good half hour of tough talk and antics, only reappearing again when the action hots up and the chase gets under way with some serious leads.
A light and urgent synthesised beat taps its way like neon-wrapped Morse Code at the start of Track 5, Subway Station, the point at which the film and the score enter into their most exciting phase. Covertly pursuing Luther (David Patrick Kelly), another of Ganz's former associates, as he makes off in Reggie's decrepit, dust-covered car, in the hope that he will lead them to their quarry, our boys travel across town and wind-up in the subway. The first section of this lengthy track is a steady, rhythmic version of the main motifs, full of steel drums and percussion, and as catchy as ever. But once Luther, who's girlfriend is being held hostage by Ganz and Billy Bear, gets underground into the busy terminal, the pace becomes harder, the bass tighter and more forceful. The sax hoots its way in, trilling with brazen jazzy impetuosity, and the remaining section of the track is battered and kicked about with flurries of brass. The sax continues to taunt the events as Luther's ransom drop – with Reggie's secret stash – goes badly awry, another cop is blown away and panic fills the subway, spiralling over the top, as little cymbal clashes shiver with frustration and anger and the steel drums unceasingly warble and undulate.
Subway Chase, Track 6, carries on with the frenzied attempts to capture Ganz. Cates goes after the cop-killers and the hostage girl, whilst Reggie charges after Luther. The steel drums fold and roll, percussion hammers away. The chase comes to nothing and Ganz gets away again … but listen out for the terrific piano jingle that mocks the defeated Cates as he stands on the platform, pinned down by other cops who don't know who he is, and their quarry escapes on a train, laughing at him through the window. Horner imbues the moment with humiliation of having lost, but is able to add to it the agitated tingle of Cates' intense urge to get even.
With the film then dovetailing into nightclub territory and poor Reggie's valiant, but curtailed, attempts to get laid, Horner is brought back into service when Luther is spotted, once again trying to make the ransom drop and get his girlfriend back. Ganz and Billy Bear have hijacked a bus. That precocious little piano jingle nudges its way through the battery of percussion and competes with those stabbing lurches of crunchy brass coils. Drums and cymbals rattle around the swaying bus as Ganz takes the gun away from the girl's head … and rather ungratefully murders Luther after he has first obtained the money from him. The steel drums return as Cates and Reggie chase after the bus and a running gun-battle ensues. The sax curls around the deep brass surges, a shimmering surround of cymbals keeping the music agitated. Of course, staying true to form, Cates manages to lose the bad guys again when the bus forces them off the road and speeds off into the night.
But with James Horner spurring the boys on, the cop and the con, find the edge and follow their instincts all the way to Ganz's hideout. In Track 8, The Alley, which is actually the last of Horner's score, we enter into the same tense mode as in The Walden Hotel earlier. Strings quiver and warped plucking of the cello combine with glistening cymbal palpitations. The violins see-saw and then, when Billy Bear foolishly brings a knife to a gun-battle, the score accelerates and brings back all the vigour of Horner's main motifs for the final shoot-out. More glass shatters, and more door-frames get blown to smithereens, and more nude women get violently shoved out of the way as Ganz, with his money, makes another run for it. Horner matches the ballistic explosions with guttural brass, the frenetic physical action with caterwauling sax and pirouetting strings. Ganz drops down into the alley outside and melts into the smoke and darkness of the shadowy back-streets of Chinatown. The music then shifts into a spectral and uneasy mode with tense strings and a snuffling tuba that conjures up images of misty docks and mournful foghorns. There are hints of ideas that will later segue into the suspenseful passages for Aliens, particularly the nerve-wracking start to the intense action of the famous Futile Escape. Bass drums pound in sudden heart-clutching aggression, hissing synth adds a serpent-like thrill. The activity gets more crowded, closer together, rapidly driving towards the tense climactic stand-off in which Ganz, once more, appears to have the upper hand. With a gun to Reggie's noggin, he calls Cates' bluff and … as Horner's score gradually fades away in cold and distant remorselessness … finally gets his long-overdue comeuppance and bows out on a benediction of lead.
Horner's music for 48 Hrs is something quite unusual for the composer, in that it is actually a score lasting only twenty-nine minutes. When we consider the massive scores that he would go on to create - leviathan compositions for Avatar, Titanic, Braveheart, Legends Of The Fall, Aliens and just about everything else that he has been tasked with – this seems almost like a bonus selection of cues. Yet what he did, with brutal economy, was to provide a wallop of catchy, well-spotted action to a dynamic film, and invest it with a lean and mean momentum that not only encapsulated the violent hunt for Ganz, but the burgeoning “brothers-in-arms” bond that is reluctantly forged between Cates and Hammond. He doesn’t pad the score out with anything unnecessary, and every cue helps to drive the flow of the action - although this intentional lack of coverage could just as well be something that Walter Hill had insisted upon. But then the score for 48 Hrs isn't just remembered for the dynamic contributions of James Horner. The soundtrack is also justifiably applauded for the energetic songs from The Busboys who provided the raucous, good-time bar-room broadsides that play during some of Reggie's more outrageous moments, and Intrada's excellent release thoughtfully provides fans with all of the cues that featured in the film. Placed after Horner's score , these boisterous songs run from track 9 to track 13, and come courtesy of Arista Records.
Most famous of all is The Boys Are Back In Town, which became the unofficial theme tune of the film, totally embracing the fun side of the Cates/Hammond double-act and dominating the end credits. The perfectly apt 48 Hrs, heard in Track 10, is a fine piece also, and most of their contributions hail from the sequence in the nightclub when Reggie almost has his wish for horizontal dancing come true. The Busboys, with their rogue synthesis of hip R&B and toe-tapping honky-tonk, would achieve massive recognition for their music in 48 Hrs, to the degree where they, alongside Horner, were the recipients of the Best Music/Score award from the LA Film Critics Association.
For those of you who want to hear the Country and Western ho-down from the classic scene in the redneck bar when Reggie becomes the “new Sheriff in town” - you've got it! Track 13, Torchy's Boogie, by Ira Newborn, will give you all the boot-stompin', spittoon-rattlin' fun you crave. And, no, we don't get to hear Eddie Murphy's delirious version of The Police's "Roxanne"! Although that would have been nice.
This recording comes from the original ½ '' 15 ips three-channel session masters, recorded and mixed by Dan Wallin, and the resulting quality is astounding in its crisp and dynamic range. The steel drums sound exquisite, but those suspenseful passages in Tracks 3 and 8 are simply terrific in their separation and clarity. The songs, by the way, are mastered from the original ¼ '' two-track stereo masters and sound wild, warm and detailed. Overall, this is a superlative presentation.
Intrada's excellent package includes an illustrated 12-page booklet with notes on the film and the score from John Takis, and informative tech-talk about this release from Douglas Fake.
An 80's classic, this score comes highly recommended. Oh, and look out for my review of the Blu-ray ... coming soon!
Full Track Listing
Main Title 5.09
Jack Leaves Elaine's Apartment 1.06
The Walden Hotel 4.10
Subway Station 5.38
Subway Chase 1.50
Luther's Bus 1.57
The Alley 5.20
The Boys Are Back In Town* 2.35 (by The Busboys)
48 Hrs.* 3.13 (by The Busboys)
Love Songs Are For Crazies** 3.44 (by The Busboys)
New Shoes* 3.32 (by The Busboys)
Torchy's Boogie 2.55 (by Ira Newborn)
Total CD Time 46.00
* written and produced by Brian O' Neal, supervised by Ira Newborn
** written and produced by Kevin O' Neal
One of those quintessential 80's action scores, 48 Hrs. marked James Horner out as being one of the most diverse and talented new composers in Hollywood. He proved that he could write for horror, SF, fantasy, drama, whimsy and intense thriller … and all this by the end of 1982, well before he would become highly lauded and award-festooned for his work on some of the most successful movies ever made, and alongside some of the most acclaimed directors of all time.
His main themes are deep, percussive and pulsating with suspense and hard-edged, gut-felt tension. In a way, he hearkened back to the funky action scores of the seventies, especially those from Lalo Schifrin, but he added that delicious and addictive appeal of the steel drums, which lent a unique sound to the otherwise wholly urbanised music. 48 Hrs. would also mark the beginning of a series of scores that would, collectively, come to denote his “take” on the modern thriller, as seen through the 80's vogue for steroid-enhanced mayhem and machismo – Gorky Park, Commando, Red Heat swiftly following suit.
Long-overdue for a release, Intrada put the icing on a glorious cake with the inclusion of the songs from the film by The Busboys and by Ira Newborn, providing fans of Reggie's and Jack's blazing two-day adventure with everything they could wish for to musically recreate the sizzling atmosphere of the man-hunt and its little pit-stops for R & R. Limited to 5000 copies worldwide, this release comes very highly recommended, folks.
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