Dirty Harry - The Original Score Soundtrack Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review

Dirty Harry - The Original Score Soundtrack Review
Following on from my review of the mighty Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector's Blu-ray boxset of all five films in the series, I think it only fair to take the time to assess the powerful and influential scores that helped propel the franchise and, more importantly, the wrathful, no-nonsense character of Harry Callahan, himself, to supreme cult status. When Eastwood and director Don Siegel took the project on board, there was really only one name in the frame for a composer to bring the violent and downbeat saga to musical life. Buenos Aries-raised Lalo Schifrin had already worked with both of them before on Coogan's Bluff and The Beguiled and even scored Eastwood's free-wheeling WWII caper Kelly's Heroes. But the effortless melodies that he had composed for these films were not the cusp of what star and director were after for this more primal outing. With the classic Steve McQueen cop thriller Bullitt, from 1968, Schifrin had found a sound that absolutely conveyed the mood, angst and edgy, uber-cool mechanics of contemporary street-life in San Francisco and, since Dirty Harry would be patrolling the mean streets of the same city, it seemed pre-ordained to have him score their picture as well. The result was a kaleidoscopic score of jazz-funk rhythms, angry atonal inflections, ghostly vocalisations and wanton percussive overdrive that got beneath the skin and made the blood run cold - yet kept the foot tapping and pulse pounding.

For more information about the film and its hunt-for-a-killer plot, please refer to the Blu-ray review, sufficed to say that Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) is the cop who takes it upon himself to track down and destroy a vicious serial killer calling himself Scorpio, played by Andy Robinson.

The score is essentially three-tiered. We have Harry's melancholic theme - a piece that is derived from Callahan's absolute disillusionment with society and the law's inability to keep it under control - Scorpio's material, which is the overriding and dominant aspect of the score, cueing us into his warped mindset and providing the main impetus all the way through, and the era-evoking snatch-jazz riffs that not only fill the gaps but inveigle their way into the main themes as well. Schifrin loves his jazz alright, and his previous experience as an arranger for no less a prime mover and shaker on the scene than Dizzy Gillespie ensured that his passion for it impregnated the pace and tempo of a lot of his music. This is an element that I will admit loses a lot of people almost immediately. Now, the thing is this - Schifrin was grounded in the urban city-beat of the times and if this crucial scene-setter wasn't employed, then many of the films and TV shows that he scored - especially the Dirty Harry series - would not have worked anywhere near so well. Now, I'm no fan of jazz either - but the clever, actually inspired thing that Schifrin does so well is to fuse his jazz licks with the contemporary funk that was also vying for supremacy in the night-clubs and on the streets during the late sixties and on through the seventies and, in doing so, create a sound that is both surprisingly infectious and totally unique. I should point out that the composer could also be highly symphonic as well, with the Oscar-nominated score for The Amityville Horror and the likes of The Eagle Has Landed and Rollercoaster to his name.

Things start off with lovely echoing church bells, sonorous chiming and a slight evangelical jangle on an organ that, insidiously, then gives way to a series of snaring electronica, bizarre sounds like metal grating and the plastic-thrubbing of the teeth of a comb with a thumb-nail riding against them, all backed by stuttering percussion. And then Sally Stevens' famous cloud-lulling voice wafts in from the heavens, somehow intensifying the horrors to come with her beguiling innocence. With all this going on, the album kicks in splendidly.

The Main Title (Track 2) is punchy, up-tempo urban jazz featuring drums, keyboards, craftily strummed electric guitars and a rising synthesiser snare. The excellent bass guitar grounds the score with an energy not unlike machinery humming beneath the earth. In the film, Harry, bedecked in shades and trademark sports jacket locates the sniper's vantage point, a spent shell-casing and an ominous note left behind, threatening the city of San Francisco with more death should they refuse to meet his demands. The exciting meld of instrumentation dips and dives all over the place, perhaps hinting at Harry's own unpredictability, as well as the killer's. Yet this upbeat and energetic approach is a stark contrast to how things will ultimately pan out for him.

The camp gets split down the middle with the next track, Harry's Hot Dog, which is pure comedy-jazz that, for some reason, conjures up images in my mind of David Schwimmer doing some stupid dance in Friends. In the film, however, this plays as source music beneath the scene of Harry advising the guy behind the counter in the deli to call in the robbery that he has spotted in progress at the bank over the road. Track 4 is the complete version of the song that can be briefly heard coming from the radio in the getaway car parked outside the bank. With lyrics written by Donna Schifrin, the composer's wife, and sung deeply by Bernard Ito in pure-blues, this provides a smooth transition from the breezy environment we have just left. But things are going to change again in the very next track as the album moves back into Scorpio's fragmented psyche.

Indeed, the power of this score lies in its pounding heart of darkness. Scorpio's theme is double-laced with a brilliant percussive beat that just piles on the bravado and the danger with insistent electric bass guitar and edgy, grunge-tipped drums and the swirling, ethereal vocals of Sally Stevens that evoke a distorted miasma of insanity and haunting victimisation. This latter motif is very sixties in its lilting harmony, yet bolted onto Schifrin's darker, demented beat and stabbed through with sharp, unyielding blades of funk, it becomes something else entirely - something timeless, aggressive and spectral. Stevens' angelic vocals soar through Track 1, Prologue/The Swimming Pool, as the poor unsuspecting bather in a sunlit rooftop pool takes one of Scorpio's bullets in the back. But Track 5, Scorpio's View, brings her spellbinding voice back as Andy Robinson's sinister psycho seeks out a new target on the streets below. Those angular metal groans and squeaks grate on already jangled nerves, the drums kick in and those distracting vocals float through it all, bathing the danger with deceptive calming sensuality. Sporadic dissonance and a peculiarly attractive atonal quality are the name of the game - a direct line into the warped chaos within Scorpio's mind. But the track becomes genius when Scorpio finally acquires a fitting target and Schifrin's percussion ups the game and that powerful electro-bass sizzles in a crazed live-wire undercurrent like some monstrous bee caught in the microphone, the pace becoming more determined and heavier as the beat builds up and up, gathering speed and rising in pitch as, onscreen, a police chopper whirls into view and spots the killer before he can fire. It is a standout moment in the film and a definite highpoint on the album, too.

Track 6 is an interestingly evocative interlude. More contemporary nocturnal jazz fuels the first half of the track, as a soft ballad entitled “Small World” paints a curiously off-kilter entrance into the nest of seedy strip-joints that Harry and partner Chico (Reni Santoni) are cruising past in their search for Scorpio. The second half of the track is a great merging of backroom jazz with a sensuous ethnic flavour, almost Haitian-voodoo in tone. The sound is not run-of-the-mill sleazy, but a strange, fantastical shaping of the laidback lust of the locale.

Track 7, Scorpio Takes The Bait, centres around a great suspenseful action scene as the police leave a trap for the sniper with one roof unlocked in his killing-zone and Harry lining him up in his sights just across the street. Once again, the soft, musky, sex-tinged jazz returns during the earlier section as Harry spots some steamy goings-on through his binoculars. Then, Scorpio's deep bass fury arrives for a rapid-fire declaration of war between himself and Harry just before guns bark and ricochets take over from Schifrin's music in the movie.

The famous sequence when Harry, as the ransom drop-man is bounced all over town by a cackling Scorpio - “Hubba, hubba, hubba!” - is not scored until Harry makes it to the big stone cross in Mount Davidson Park and the two finally meet. The Cross, Track 8, unsettles, and then the following cue unleashes Scorpio's rage and violence as he takes pleasure in beating Dirty Harry almost unconscious. The music simply rises in intensity, eschewing harmony or motif and just devolving into a lengthy hiss of insanity. The Stadium Grounds and then Floodlights both offer pensive underscoring to potent imagery and tension on screen as Harry tracks Scorpio down to his lair. More insanity, akin to that heard in The Cross, comes to the fore during the final part of Floodlights as a gleefully enraged Harry stomps on the stricken Scorpio's wounded leg, blissfully ignoring the sicko's claims that he has rights too.

Schifrin now nudges-in the wretched sadness of the aftermath of all this machismo. The mournful, disconsolate and melancholic strains of both Track 12 and then Track 18 are the emotional counterpoints to the blasting jive action and suspense that course through the rest of the score. Fittingly, they sum up Harry's bleak and saddened outlook when the courts and the shackled legal system they serve fail to put a stop to Scorpio's reign of terror. Dawn Discovery, Track 12, is the musical pain of seeing the raped and tortured Mary Ann Deacon, only 14 years old, being hauled nude and dead from the drain into which she had been stuffed by Scorpio. Harry overlooks the grim scene from a cliff and his anger at the senselessness of it all is acutely conveyed with Schifrin's lost and lonely lament. Track 18, End Titles, returns this blighted cue to us as, in the film, Harry, forlorn at the outcome of having been forced to break the law, himself, and kill Scorpio in order to save yet more innocent lives, famously tosses his police badge and star into the same river that will never be able to cleanse Scorpio's Magnum-blasted corpse, that is sinking just beneath the surface.

Whilst Off Duty, Track 13, starts off with a children's music-box lullaby to catch us off-guard, it then segues into the complexity of wailing, traditional jazz-blow to capture, once more, the hectic, unconcerned activities of the sex clubs that Scorpio frequents. But Track 14, The Strip Club, is the kind of the thing that gets the toe-tapping almost immediately. This is a pure seventies sleaze-cum-jive-fest called “Go With It”. The song was actually a source cue that Schifrin wrote exclusively for the scene in which Harry has tailed the still-limping Scorpio into the titular strip club and proceeds to unnerve him by simply making his presence felt by the creep. Daftly infectious and deliberately fake, the fluid melody and ribald sax make this a curious highpoint of the score for me. In the film, we actually heard a very brief rendition of the cue much earlier on as Harry and Chico cruise past the less-salubrious part of town and the song can be heard issuing out from an establishment of ill-repute.

Liquor Store Hold-up coerces the score into its final act, the tone changing again and losing the free-wheeling jazz now as Scorpio takes the war back to the city. A simple version of the killer's theme plays out amidst twisting percussion and throbbing bass chords. City Hall, Track 16, is again pensive. There is a neat little guitar twanging going on in the background of what is, ostensibly, a mere mood-building cue that is definitely reminiscent of Eastwood's western alter-ego, the Man With No Name, and is possibly a deliberate homage to those earlier days - signifying that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Scorpio's hijacking of The School Bus, Track 17, sustains his theme in a rock rendition, urging menace and a driving sense of the ultimate showdown coming our way. Yet, this inevitable showdown will not actually be scored - the bullets, cackles and closing taunts of the two bitter enemies becoming the music of the finale, until those haunting, tragic End Titles drift sadly alongside the camera as the blighted figure of Harry recedes into the distance.

The CD then provides us with four Bonus Tracks, though it must be said that these extras only differ slightly from the finished versions, either in length or in the emphasis of certain instrumental components. What is great to hear, though, is Sally Stevens' fluffing her vocals right at the end of the recording and having a giggle about it before carrying on and nailing that ethereal high note, much to Schifrin's audible satisfaction.

Whereas the music of madness had been enormously well-crafted in the past by such glorious composers as Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rosza, Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone, Schifrin was fairly radical in that he delivered his interpretation of such a dangerously deranged condition by imbuing it with the very sounds of the environment in which the killer lived and preyed on his victims, becoming a reflection of the very world that spawned and shaped him. Although edgy and infused with ultra-dark menace and intimidation, Scorpio's theme and much of the material concerning him and his murderous antics was instructed and informed by the streets and establishments in which he circulated, his own mania infected with the pace and beat of an era he could never fully fit into. The score is a classic of its kind and cemented Lalo Schifrin's position as one of the top urban thriller composers of the seventies. He had already had tremendous success with his TV theme for Mission Impossible and the likes of Starsky And Hutch was still to come, but Schifrin wasn't finished with Dirty Harry just yet ... with Magnum Force just around the corner.

This CD release is the first and only one to contain the full score as composed by Schifrin, and both he and album producer Nick Redman went back to the original multi-track, multi-take session masters. As Redman points out in his informative notes accompanying the release, the score was designed to be “folded-down” into the film's monaural mix but, thankfully, the original stereo intentions are brought vividly to life with this crisp, warm and dynamic production that captures every nuance of Schifrin's eclectic and unorthodox instrumentation. Redman provides notes for the album and a small essay on the film, as well. As with the other scores in the series, the CD is produced by Lalo Schifrin's own record label, Aleph Records.

Full Track Listing as follows -

1. Prologue / The Swimming Pool 1:31

2. Main Title 3:29

3. Harry's Hot Dog 2:00

4. No More Lies, Girl 2:43

5. Scorpio's View 2:37

6. Red Light District 2:58

7. Scorpio Takes The Bait 3:30

8. The Cross 0:49

9. Goodbye, Callahan 1:46

10. The Stadium Grounds 0:58

11. Floodlights 1:34

12. Dawn Discovery 1:01

13. Off Duty 3:15

14. The Strip Club 1:46

15. Liquor Store Holdup 1:21

16. City Hall 1:19

17. The School Bus 2:04

18. End Titles 1:21

Bonus tracks

19. Floodlights (Take 1) 1:43

20. City Hall (Alternate) 1:24

21. The School Bus (Alternate) 2.06

22. The Swimming Pool (Original Version)/ Scorpio's View (Parts 2 and 3 - Alternate Vocal Take) 1.41Fabulously moody and often tremendously dark and exciting, Schifrin's seminal first score in the Dirty Harry series presented the world of action/thrillers with a distinctive new voice. This was a voice that was building upon the modern urban milieu that Schifrin, himself, had started with Bullitt and, without losing a shred of that score's unflappable cool, was bold and experimental enough to venture into eerie and compulsive territory that the genre had not explored before. The themes are exquisite - from Scorpio's deep-bass, fast-paced violent funk to the haunting, mysterious vocals of the almost orgasmic Sally Stevens, to the atypically tragic melancholy of Harry's signature cue. The score complemented the film perfectly and set in motion one the most popular and indivisible music-and-movie relationships that the genre has known. Aleph's presentation of the full score is wonderfully produced in dazzling stereo and from incredibly sharp multi-track masters. Lalo Schifrin's further scores in the series would take Harry into new dimensions, but all would retain that integral urban-jazz fusion alongside strong new thematic personalities, voices and motifs.

Well recommended.






Our Review Ethos

Read about our review ethos and the meaning of our review badges.

To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

Related Content

Day of The Dead Soundtrack
  • By Chris McEneany
  • Published
Mad Max - OST Review
  • By Chris McEneany
  • Published
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome OST Review
  • By Chris McEneany
  • Published
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior OST Soundtrack Review
  • By Chris McEneany
  • Published
The Warriors - Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack Review
  • By Chris McEneany
  • Published

Latest Headlines

BBC licence fee to be scrapped in 2027
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
What's new on Netflix UK for February 2022
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Tesco ending DVD and CD sales by Feb 2022 report claims
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Sky Italia launching Sky Cinema 4K in January
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Top 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2022
  • By Casimir Harlow
  • Published
Top Bottom