Magnum Force - The Original Score Soundtrack Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review

Magnum Force - The Original Score Soundtrack Review
The game may have changed on the streets of San Francisco, but the successful team behind the great Dirty Harry remained the same. Clint Eastwood was back with Magnum Force (quite literally, in fact), the action-packed sequel to the darker, more demented original cop thriller. And right alongside him, providing the ever-cool soundtrack to his zero-tolerance crime-fighting once again, was Lalo Schifrin. The pair raised the stakes this time out with Harry's on-screen exploits far more riotous and trigger-happy and Schifrin's score rocketing over the top more vigorously than before. Everything was in place - the wailing female vocals sending shivers of excitement up and down the spine, the percussion overkill and insane drum-lines that inject so much testosterone into the pot and the rib-rattling electric bass that grounded the impact of the action like a lightning-rod. But, this time out, Schifrin added more brass, more strings and more emphasis on the helter-skelter plight of our hero as he waged a one-man war on the platoon of renegade killer-cops haunting the lowlifes of a sunny San Francisco.

And this sunny aspect is perfectly apt, as it turns out.

For, not only does Magnum Force take place predominantly in the day-time - very few murky, intense night-time scenes a la the first film - but Harry, this time out, is even afforded a little bit of off-duty nookie, courtesy of Adele Yoshioka's delectable Asian neighbour, Sunny. Thus, Schifrin's score is brighter, tighter and more elaborately staged with an emphasis on Harry's often cavalier approach to danger and based around some startling set-piece action.

The opening Main Title is one of the all-time greats. On-screen we see, against a blood-red background, the mother of all six-shooters, Harry's .44 Magnum revolver. Musically, Schifrin brings out the big guns, too. After the sad denouement to the previous film and Schifrin's lonely lament leaving Harry forlorn and despondent, he begins the sequel with a totally brazen, in-yer-face, ballsy blast of thunderous bass, percussion, wailing vocals and a strident martial drum-beat that can't fail to bring a grin of high-calibre proportions to your mush. The vocals here differ from Sally Stevens' haunting cadence first time around in that whoever it is that reaches those shrill and giddy heights on this occasion is going for an altogether wilder effect. The glorious “Wah-ooh-wah-ooh-wah-whaaaa!” bridge is something special indeed, really dynamic and exciting. There is also a magnificent brass section that literally roars into the act, wasting no time and taking no prisoners with the track's proclamation that Dirty Harry is, indeed, back ... and packing heat. You couldn't ask for a more infectiously thrilling main theme.

Track 2, The Cop, introduces the martial drums that will come to signify the cops-on-a-crusade who have taken it upon themselves to rid the city of the un-catchable criminal element that plagues it. A sound not unlike a valve letting off steam adds a nervous intensity to the piece that plays out here, on disc, in its entirety for the first time. Sinister and powerful, this sets the tone for the showdown to come, as a gaggle of mobsters are slain in their limousine, whilst Track 2, Harry's Ostinato, has fun revisiting material for the main character from the first score with bass, electric piano and pattering tables. Magnum Force, Track 4, returns that steam valve and the drums as another hit is about to made, this time with a bomb in a crowded swimming pool and a submachine-gun. After a lengthy set-up of nervous threat with discordance and muted brass, the track ends with a delirious recollection of those awesome vocals as things go haywire.

Tracks 5 and 6 are the classic double-act that scores the convenience store shootout. Lying in wait for the hoods that they know will show up are Harry and a rookie cop behind a one-way mirror. Outside, behind the counter and posing as a shop assistant is Harry's partner, Early Smith (played by Felton Perry). After the tension-building of Track 5, Stakeout, in which the music smoothly evolves from light and breezy to tremolo strings and piano as Harry arrives at the store and takes up his position. “There's three salty looking dudes,” he says, sizing-up the suspicious trio who enter and draw guns on the staff and the customers. When the vicious leader of the gang forces Early to his knees with a sawn-off shotgun in his face, Harry takes aim through the glass and Lalo Schifrin lets rip with the most energetic cue of the entire score as things go ballistic. I've spoken in other reviews about those terrific moments in a score when the composer just seems to let his musicians go hell-for-leather with breakneck abandon. Ron Grainer in the track “Neville Breaks Through” from The Omega Man; Hans Zimmer's awesome “Tribal War” track from Black Hawk Down, Nick Glennie-Smith with “The Final Day” for We Were Soldiers and Tyler Bates' shatteringly adrenal attacks “For Victory” from 300 and “No Rules Of Engagement” from Rambo have all proved their frenzied mettle, and here we have Schifrin's composition of chaos. The build-up is tense and surprisingly swift, jangling strings, elongated notes from the bass, a slight brush against the cymbal, and then when the .44 roars, the full ensemble comes in with a scintillating rush of percussion, savage bass and, in a piece de résistance, a trumpet flurry that follows the main riff with an exhilarating fanfare. The bass guitar literally burns. Awesome stuff. But Schifrin isn't finished there - after the gunplay is over and the store is reduced to bloodied rubble, a less severe rendition of Harry's lamenting theme sees the track out with a reflective poignancy that also seems to have its tongue in its cheek.

The next clever thing he does comes with another two-piece in Tracks 8 and 9. In the film the recurring Albert Popwell “pops” up as a violently vengeful pimp who attacks and kills one of his girls on the backseat of a cab for holding out money on him. The pure sleaze blaxpoitation motif bubbles with seething arrogance and as the pimp goes through the motions before melding into the martial drumbeat of the rogue cops, the Magnum Force, as one of them tails the murderer in his horrifically pink Cadillac and summarily executes him. Tension is wrought with skittering cymbal and keyboards and a long sustained chord from the bass guitar. The cue then ends with a sly riff on the pimp's own theme, serenading his death-throes.

After a couple of tracks of warm, background jazz - think late-night, early hours lounge - depicting Harry's R&R with Sunny, Schifrin produces one of his lengthiest tracks in Palancio, an exactingly constructed set-piece for when Harry stalks a big time hood he believes may be courting the wrath of the rogue cops. Cut down in the film, this track is complete on the CD. Effectively combining the driving cool of Bullitt with several motifs heard in the first Dirty Harry, Schifrin has fun with the track. The pace is relentless, kept in check with strong electric bass and an insistent drumbeat. Several little false climaxes appear throughout before the actually quite neatly-wrapped finale. More soft jazz follows in Last Dance In Sausalito, but the easy drawl of the track is interrupted in the film by the arrival of The Faceless Assassin (Track 14). Tense snares, little First Blood-like scurries on the keyboard, the martial drums of the bad guys and a prolonged line of edgy warped electronica beneath it all signifies that another execution is about to take place. Halfway through, the pace quickens as David Soul's sour cop bursts in on a mobster having some fun with a nude couple on a waterbed, his gun roaring and their deaths punctuated by that irresistible female vocal wailing from the Main Titles. A girl plummets to her death as, expertly edited in the movie, cops on stakeout over the road realise that a hit has gone down right before their very eyes. Schifrin excellently sets the pulse racing here with his cue electrifying the visual mayhem.

More funk-fuelled jazz follows, mellowing the events that have just occurred, but the track Potrero Hill, is for a scene that was eventually cut from the film, so is heard here for the first time. The tragic theme from the first score's Dark Discovery - for when the teenage girl is recovered from the drain - is repeated here as the body of Harry's friend is loaded onto a plane in a coffin. The track then segues into some edgy underscore as Harry retrieves the titular Bullet from the shooting range to confirm his suspicions that it is a cop, or cops, who are committing the murders. Deep, reverberating chords and hissing jangles on the keyboard score the moment in an underground car park when Harry is finally confronted by the rogue Execution Squad. The great little snatches of martial drums hover with menace deep within the music.

Electric keyboards and bass guitar sidle up against each other in Track 18, with soft timpani reinforcing the easy-does-it nature of the first portion of the cue, before ending on a wild sizzle of ominous danger as Harry realises that his Mailbox has been rigged to explode. The culmination of this threat reaches a clock-ticking crescendo of shivering violins, muted brass and the urgent strings of the bass guitar in the next track as Harry desperately tries to warn Early of the danger. But “Early Is Late” and the second half of the piece fades out on a note of suspicion as yet more warning bells ring in Harry's head.

Track 20, Briggs, is a big, bold cue of heavy percussion, militaristic drums and broad menace. Bleating trumpets and thunderous bass announce that Harry's chief, played by Hal Holbrook, has been behind the Magnum Force all along and now with Harry at gunpoint, intends to lead him to his own execution. Confrontation, aptly, scores the final battle between Harry and the four rogue cops - three of whom tear after him on their motorcycles - in and around the eerie setting of a deserted ship in the dockyard. The track is multi-faceted and brings in the signature cues for the Magnum Force as well as some nice little reminders of Scorpio's theme from the first film. Starting off with a frenzied rush of activity, the track then breaks down into strangled effects and atmospheric twangs for bass, swirls of colour from keyboard and strings and hushed cymbals as Harry takes out his hunters one by one. An eerie piano and something that sounds like a bizarre ship's piping give us a haunting version of the Magnum Force Main Titles, before the next and final track, Finale, dovetails with pensive and melancholy flute solo and then electric piano as Harry's downbeat theme returns to see out the film and the album. Thus, the ending is a sister in sound to the first score, once again leaving Harry alone and bewildered at how the law just can't cope anymore. Having now been forced to slay his own, just where does Dirty Harry Callahan fit in with the scheme of things anymore?

Don't worry ... he'll be back.

As I said in the review for Dirty Harry's score, I'm not fond of jazz, but Schifrin is able to imbue it with such vigour and dynamism that the action cues he crafts come to life with a sizzling intensity that even I am smitten by. Whereas more orchestral-inspired composers such as the two Johns, Williams and Barry, also had their roots in jazz-bands they had, more often than not, chosen to eschew the style in favour of the more conventional sweeping strings and broad brass, Schifrin had a magisterial way with smaller, more intimate orchestras that embraced his contemporary rhythms, gave them strength and a wild versatility that literally surged when his blood was up. You can really tell that the musicians are having a ball with this stuff ... and if they are, then so are you. The smart thing about the Harry scores that Schifrin did is that each of them possesses its own identity whilst still delivering and building upon the trademarks that he had crafted in the first instalment, making them a solid body of work that can be heard to evolve as the series goes on. Magnum Force is one of the most strenuous and creative of the scores, but its delicious new themes meld brilliantly with what had gone before, ensuring a pattern of mood and excitement that, to my mind, place the first two at the top slot of the series.

Nick Redman once again provides a short essay on the developing saga of Dirty Harry Callahan and detailed track-by-track notes in a well-illustrated fold-out booklet accompanying the disc.

Full Track Listing -

1. Main Title 2:11

2. The Cop 2:21

3. Harry's Ostinato 1:01

4. Magnum Force 2:00

5. Stakeout 2:29

6. The Crooks 1:36

7. Harry's New Friend 2:21

8. The Pimp 2:45

9. Rogue Gun 2:34

10. Recreation 2:08

11. Warm Enough? 1:11

12. Palancio 4:21

13. Last Dance in Sausalito 3:38

14. The Faceless Assassin 3:57

15. Potrero Hill 3:08

16. The Bullet 1:47

17. Execution Squad 1:43

18. Mailbox 1:36

19. Early is Late 1:56

20. Briggs 1:03

21. Confrontation 3:13

22. Finale 2:04

Total Album Time: 51:03A very worthy follow-up score that ups the action quotient whilst retaining the infectious funk that made the first one so appealing, Schifrin's music for Magnum Force is not as dark as its forebear. Those trademark female vocals would not return to the series after this - which is a shame as they added so much eerie personality to the mix - and Schifrin, himself, would not be back in front of Dirty Harry's orchestra until 1983's Sudden Impact. The late, great Jerry Fielding would take the baton for Harry's next immediate adventure and we shall take a good look at what he brought to the table in the next score review. But, for now, the scores for Dirty Harry and Magnum Force were indisputable proof that contemporary jazz-funk could be applied with power, guile and innate skill to dark adult action-thrillers and, under the commanding hand of Lalo Schifrin, add a whole new dimension to the genre. Complementing the movies perfectly, it is great to hear their fuller versions on disc in bolstered, cleaned-up stereo and boasting excellent fidelity.

Highly recommended.






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