One Little Indian - Original Motion Picture Score Soundtrack Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Shows Review

One Little Indian - Original Motion Picture Score Soundtrack Review

Whilst it is, indeed, a horrible shame that Intrada's limited edition release of this brilliant and rare score from Jerry Goldsmith for Disney's equally overlooked Western adventure, One Little Indian (1973), sold out within a day, I find it impossible not to write about it and urge those fans of the composer out there to seek copies out from Ebay or other sellers who may still have some in stock. Quite simply, it is that good and I would encourage score-lovers and Goldsmithians to beg, borrow or steal a copy.

The little-seen James Garner yarn centres around the rascally star's US Cavalryman, Corp. Clint Keyes, accused of desertion after refusing to fire on innocent Native Indians and sentenced to hang, escaping custody with a young Cheyenne boy - the One Little Indian of the title - and a camel named Rosie, and their subsequent bonding and flight from persecution across the stunning Utah landscape. Arriving at a curious moment when the conventional Western genre had all but dried-up and sombre re-inventions like Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid and Eastwood's grimly satirical allegories such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josie Wales were approaching the subject in more violent and reflective ways, One Little Indian, directed by genre veteran Bernard McEveety, fell between two audiences - the family of Disney aficionados who found the film too much of a Western, and the core lovers of horse operas who couldn't cross the moralistic, kid-friendly divide - and never really came up for air. The film wasn't a success and has rarely been aired on television. The tale, itself, is exciting, moving and charming, offering a tremendously vigorous and delightfully offbeat saga of redemption, heroism and humour. Garner lends the same ruggedly likeable appeal to the film that he brought in spades to his role of TV alter-ego Maverick and his Western heroes in the great Duel At Diablo and Hour Of The Gun. As the reluctant saviour and moral custodian of the story, he is excellent at combining charity with begrudging conviction, easygoing wit with irascible pragmatism. His dependable charisma is supported by cosy favourites like Pat Hingle as the compassionate Capt. Stewart yet met head-on with gruff-but-tame villainy from Morgan Woodward as Keyes' nemesis, Sgt. Raines.

When the little Native American boy is discovered to actually be white, he is christened Mark by the Fort's chaplain, played by drawling Texan dependable Andrew (Grizzly) Prine. Clay O'Brien, who plays the boy, is one of those typically plucky Disney stalwart child actors, as seen in many of their live-action outdoor yarns, but he manages to convey a touching sentimentality and a fierce loyalty, both to Garner's rough 'n' ready soldier and to their unusual steeds of Rosie and her own cute offspring, and eventually to the frontier family of Vera Miles' widow Doris McIver and her daughter Martha, played by Disney hot property Jodie Foster, whom they encounter along the way. The film has moments of violence, as evidenced in the tough themes of deadly pursuit and the vicious treatment of Native Americans, yet it is resolutely a family movie, first and foremost, that contains all the required elements that made the studio such a reliable and prestigious cinematic mentor.

And ... it had a truly unforgettable score from Jerry Goldsmith.

The prolific musical genius had worked on Westerns many, many times already when the opportunity to score One Little Indian came along. And, in actual fact, this early seventies period, despite being a lean time for many classical composers - what with the onset of contemporary pop, soul and jazz artists now colouring movies in their place - was one of Goldsmith's greatest periods. Commencing with 1968's Planet Of The Apes and proudly encompassing the likes of Patton, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Papillon, Chinatown, and then the wildly influential and experimental The Omen and Logan's Run double-act in 1976, he would create a simply bewildering assortment of cross-genre masterpieces unequalled by any other composer except John Williams and his triumphant run from Jaws to Raiders Of The Lost Ark. A great shame amongst fans of his instantly recognisable and inimitable style was that this terrific score never received any sort of official release. Until now, that is.

Intrada's new deal with Disney - which enabled them to bring us James Horner's Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (reviewed separately) and, wait for it, his awesome score for Something Wicked This Way Comes (review coming soon), amongst what will, hopefully, be a slew of other previously locked-away classics - gave them the opportunity to raid the studio's archives and carefully transfer the 2-inch 24 analog tape on which Disney had stored the original four-track 35mm magnetic source and, with today's cutting edge equipment combined with ToddAo samples from the scoring stage, breathed new life, spatiality, depth and echo into the original recording. Which means, folks, that, without exception, this is the best the score has ever sounded - and, man, does it sound good! With such clarity of instrumentation, full atmospheric warmth and tremendous reverb and echo, One Little Indian becomes a truly majestic and sweeping aural experience that must surely serve as the greatest testament to such a neglected gem.

Taking elements from his earlier Western scores - the lively, detailed and non-condescending colour of tribal thematics from 100 Rifles, Rio Conchos and Bandolero, the staggeringly character-bled wailing of solo trumpet from Lonely Are The Brave and the heartbreaking guitar plinking and almost reverential scratcher-comb rhythms from Wild Rovers - and adding to them with pockets of Planet Of The Apes-style tonal texturing, the jagged piano, brass and percussion flurries that would make their way into First Blood, bassoon and oboe eloquence that would rip through Alien and, believe it or not, a cheeky little snatch of Maurice Jarre, manipulated and transformed from Lawrence Of Arabia's magisterial music. He would also stretch his ethnic wings with some sitar, boobams, mallets and drums to blend in a simply beautiful quasi-Eastern taste of India. To say that this all sounds like an eclectic mix of influences and motifs is surely an understatement, yet Goldsmith manages to present all of it from beneath a devoutly Americana-based umbrella that is, quintessentially, as Western as they come. Well, it couldn't really be otherwise, could it? Goldsmith had already taken the genre staples from the likes of Dmitri Tiomkin, Max Steiner and Elmer Bernstein and fused them into his own evocative voice for the horse opera in such a successful way that every oater worth its beans carried something of his creation along with it for the ride.

There are three themes coursing through this score. The first, and most prominent one, is that for Keyes. This is a pure gold five-note leit motif that strikes out in various instrumental guises throughout. The signature can be heroic and bold, searing with desert heat and the character's desperate plight, as heard in Tracks 1 and 12. It can also be softened, more reflective and sentimental - played on strings and guitar as heard in Tracks 2 and 14. Then there is the comical take on the theme. Played jauntily, but with a hint of pathos floating beneath its easygoing melody at the same time, this whimsical rendition can he heard in Track 3. All of these flavours are able to absorb Mark's theme, as well, in one of those typically Goldsmithian traits of cross-pollination. The music for the little almost-Indian is melodious and soothing, its innocence suffused with a delicate melancholy. Cleverly, it is actually an expanded and more complexly written variation of Keyes' own theme, signifying the inevitable bond between the two. Making impressions on Tracks 5, 10 and 11 amongst others, this becomes the soul of the score. And then there is the theme for Rosie, the camel, which is a playful five-note tune for the sitar, heard comically in Tracks 4, 6 and 7 and, tragically, in 15.

Track 1, “Escort The Prisoner”, contains both the ambient, landscape prowling heard in early cues from Planet Of The Apes as well as the much more conventional-sounding scratcher-combs and lively twang of an electric guitar that come in with broad zest and a bombastic clash of cymbals, treating the material to an epic sound. Ethnic shakers, tabla and cowbells deliver us into the arid frontier and that electric guitar, reminiscent of Neal Hefti's excellent score for Garner's Duel At Diablo, marks sizzling time in the background. Hints of Goldsmith's later action scoring style can be heard too, with some sharp motif switches and abrupt militaristic drums. Track 2, “He's White”, on the other hand, strays into string-led tribal territory, softly embracing the Little Indian and then beautifully cocooning his theme with warm woodwinds, alto flute and clarinet painting clouds of fragile innocence. Track 3. “Thirsty Boy”, takes the Indian theme a little deeper, with snares and rattles, exotic percussion and bassoon warbling with spiritual density until Mark's graceful theme assumes its full expression with breathtaking solo trumpet, chimes and 12-string guitar. As a capper, Rosie's trans-located Far Eastern theme enters the piece for a finale of clownish mysticism.

More comedy-cum-situation-setter from tabla and Gamelon, electric sitar and xylophone follows in Track 3, “Camel Trouble”. But Goldsmith bolts on some choppy horn-play, elegant triangle, woodblock, trumpet and bass accordion noodles and a sense of fun that captures the typical Disney shtick of animal shenanigans, however, and this is the mark of Goldsmith's fine and rare talent, none of this slapstick stuff sounds in any way out of place. He brings these diverse sounds together with devilish aplomb, retaining the atmosphere and colour from earlier, but infusing them with deeper texture. A terrific track then follows with “Outwit The Posse” which is composed of nothing but distinctive Goldsmith hallmarks from start to finish. Not essentially an action cue, but one of suspense, tension and mounting excitement that is brilliantly bounced around staccato piano, bass accordion, scratcher combs and bleating trombones that crash their way in around the halfway mark, after a sensitive string and woodwind rendition of Mark's theme that just happens to incorporate what sounds like a partial component of the genesis of Rambo's lyrical character theme. His use of percussion, a martial beat and queer muted fanfare for the electric moment when Raines and his squad discover that Keyes has them in his sights is a terrific voicing of their thwarted authority.

The camel version of horse-play ensues in Track 6, “Thorny Landing”, which commences with more twanging sitar, Boobams, mallets and tabla hand-drums, bringing in the humorous, but very eclectic sounding music of the Indian bazaar. You could, in a cynical frame of mind, almost assume that Goldsmith had become mistaken as to exactly what kind of Indians this story was about, but the damnedest thing is that he makes this stuff work. Only lasting for 58 seconds, this boisterous cue then segues directly into another similar, if slightly more comical composition as a “Saddle Sore” (Track 7) Keyes is forced to limp behind his uncomfortable hump-backed mount. A mocking alto flute joins the thick patter of ethnic percussion. “A New Friend”, still maintaining the camel's exotically tainted instrumentation supplies a gorgeously mellow incarnation of Mark's theme, the pace easing off in favour of a much-needed rest-stop for the weary travellers. “What He Needs” folds some Copeland-esque Americana around Mark's theme, snuggling it in tenderly. Glistening chimes tinkle quietly at the end, Goldsmith perfectly evoking the peacefulness at the end of the day.

The longest track on the album, “No Choice”, comes next. Accompanying a crucial set of events in the film - once the pair have stumbled upon the McIvers, Keyes tries to convey to Mark that it would be best if he stayed with them but, after a painful disagreement-cum-understanding, the boy awakens the next morning to find that the soldier has gone and determines to set out after him - this has the function of expressing hope, sadness, romance (for Keyes and the widow) and the shock and tension of the posse's inevitable arrival on the scene. The bitter-sweet core of Mark's theme undulates throughout much of the track, but a very pleasant and nostalgic melody for strings and harp satisfies during the middle section. Sombre trails of Mark's signature sadly fluctuate as he sits dejectedly in the barn, and then piercing violins highlight his emotional turmoil and fear when he discovers that Keyes, who he now sees as a father-figure, has deserted him. Dark chords on the guitar signpost his decision to go after him, whilst swirling strings and a distant cymbal, subdued and futile, is heard echoing with the arrival of Raines and his men.

Typically for Goldsmith, the action is fast, propulsive and dynamically written for trombones, English and French horns, a strenuous string section and rhythmic, driving percussion. This always rewarding style is coming up over the next few tracks. “End Of The Line” has the exotic and quirky tabla hand-drums describing Keyes' flight atop Rosie and then his attempts to drive her away before the posse catches up with him. His theme then cuts loose with full Western flourish. A beautiful peal of bells punctuates it and the tabla resume their pitter-patter. The scratcher-comb and the bass accordion signal the bad guys looming on the horizon, energising the track before high strings and electric sitar twang nervously in anticipation of a forthcoming confrontation. “Hot Fire” begins with strings and mandolin playing Mark's theme in a quiet, slightly pensive mode, before Keyes' simpler, more mature theme briefly takes over as the two meet up once more. Then, in a frenzied burst of activity, the tranquillity is shattered by hefty violin slashes, drums and lurching brass as our two friends are pounced-upon by Raines and his men after sharing a camp-fire reunion and a settling of differences. Swift and energetic, the track ducks and dives with cavorting strings and pummelling trombones, the music fast becoming a bruise-fest as poor Keyes is overwhelmed and re-captured.

Track 13, “Necktie Party”, is a sombre melting pot of both Mark's and Keyes' themes as the latter, a prisoner back at the fort once more, waits for his date with the hangman's noose. Harp and chimes perform a glassy, ethereal serenade, diluting the heroism of Keyes' theme and layering-in the more vulnerable, heart-aching notes of Mark's theme, Goldsmith emphasising their connection. But things turn a little darker and more remorseless as military snare and timpani, bass accordion and bass electric guitar slowly grind away the minutes until Keyes' execution. Twisting the knife ever so slowly, the track then culminates in a shivering of strings and an anvil-clanging bass-line.

But, in “Go After Him!”, with one of his customary whiplash about-faces, Goldsmith then unleashes a full barrage of the now-conjoined Keyes and Mark themes - given a wild orchestral swagger as they crash together - as the Little Indian stampedes cattle to allow the condemned man a chance to escape in the confusion and chaos that they cause. The track is an outstanding splash of kinetic colour and diverse multi-layered orchestration and is clearly a forerunner for the composer's most adrenal action cues of the 80's. The second half of the track edges into suspense as Keyes, riding Rosie makes his bid for freedom once more, leading a furious Raines on a chase into the hills.

A bullet rings out and takes the camel and rider down, but only the rider gets up. In the final track, “A Free Man”, the electric sitar soothes the dying Rosie as Keyes says goodbye to his loyal steed. Those crazy exotic sounds return, but the comedy is gone, the melody falling into a poignant and hauntingly beautiful rendition of Rosie's five-note theme. A lush curl of notes from the harp slide like tears down a tender swell from strings, and then a solo trumpet echoes Mark's theme against the curious twang of the sitar in a gloriously impassioned reading that won't leave a dry eye in the house. It is unbelievably affecting, and yet Goldsmith then persuades all the main themes to return and the tone to become optimistic once more. Keyes cannot be hanged for the same crime twice and Pat Hingle's Cavalry Commander allows him to go free. Goldsmith, too, allows us to go free from his score with the knowledge that even though Rosie has been killed, her baby still lives and that Keyes and Mark have new adventures to go on and a family waiting for them. The interwoven themes take on a gentle acceleration, rising towards a warm and glowing finale of pure Western flair, even finally bowing-out on a drum-flurry reminiscent of the ending of Little House On The Prairie's end title theme. Disney crack it again, although this time it was a much more unusual route that they took. Without Jerry Goldsmith, the film would probably still have been a good one - but with him, it becomes an entirely different entity, and one that is genuinely emotional, funny and dynamic.

Goldsmith's music finally gets the respect it so thoroughly deserves, the best part of forty years later.

Without a single idle moment, his score for One Little Indian delivers a knock-out experience that totally captures the reason why he was, and remains the greatest and most versatile movie composer of all time. That is a sweeping, grandiose statement, I know - and we all have our favourites, of course - but there can be no doubt in anybody's mind that the man was an absolute genius and a true master of his art. This is the kind of music that instantly hooks you and carries you on its journey, depositing you at the end of it like a small child who has just received a piggy-back from Dad - eager to climb aboard again. Exhilarating, evocative, boundlessly lyrical and deeply affectionate, One Little Indian ticks all the boxes and then signs off with the flourish of having turned full-circle. On the day I received this disc, I played it almost continuously, and I'm hankering for another spin of it right now. And, get this, it was today that I received the disc!

I've said before in these score reviews that collectors of movie soundtracks have simply never had it so good. Whilst it is proving very expensive for people as smitten by the medium as me to keep up with all the classic stuff coming out from the likes of Intrada, FSM, Varese Sarabande and La La Land, at least it means that, finally, awesome scores such as One Little Indian, that had been denied album releases for what seemed like forever, or were truncated in some way by a lacklustre release, can now be looked forward to and savoured in tip-top clarity, complete form, and usually with terrific accompanying booklets chronicling their genesis and evolution.

And, on that note, One Little Indian comes with a marvellous 16-page booklet of notes on the film, the score and the process of dusting it down and making it sound so good.

Full Track Listing -

1. Escort The Prisoner 4.32

2. He's White 2.26

3. Thirsty Boy 4.32

4. Camel Trouble 2.51

5. Outwit The Posse 5.30

6. Thorny Landing 0.58

7. Saddle Sore .059

8. New Friend 1.21

9. What He Needs 1.31

10. No Choice 7.22

11. End Of The Line 3.17

12. Hot Fire 3.24

13. Necktie Party 4.14

14. Go After Him! 2.19

15. A Free Man 5.30

A stunner, folks.

I know many of you will not have heard of this one, or possibly not for a very long time, at any rate, but this is so damn good, and so well treated by Intrada that it deserves every bit of kudos it can get. Goldsmith never failed in his musical integrity, his passion, or his inexhaustible scope and variety. His never-ending inventiveness and symphonic dexterity are gorgeously displayed here. One Little Indian stands proud and tall beside his best work, making its relative obscurity utterly perplexing.

Combining classic Western motifs with profoundly moving eulogies for character and theme, and peppering their addictive stew with dazzling comical asides and thunderous action cues, this just demands to be played over and over again. This recording also allows for a great study of Goldsmith's surprisingly complex orchestration with its incredibly clean, bright and detailed presentation. Great notes from Jeff Bond and fine colour illustrations are the icing on the cake. With Goldsmith's name attached to it and a limited run of only 3000 copies, this was bound to sell out quickly, and I only wish that I could have brought its release to your attention sooner. As it is, other suppliers and sources may well be able to supply it. My advice is ... get searching.

A classic, all round.






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