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"I'm Your Huckleberry": The Music of Bruce Broughton

by Jason Comerford

I find it ironic that people immediately recommend Tombstone and Silverado as initial scores from Bruce Broughton. Sure, he's taken Western scoring in a prominently traditional direction with these two scores (separated by eight years and plenty of other scoring assignments), but there's much more to Broughton than retreading and reinventing the sagebrush opus.

What I find most interesting about Bruce Broughton is that his talent isn't something that has developed by a factor of ten in the past twelve years since he's been writing for the big screen. It's been in development ever since the late '60s, when he began scoring "Hawaii Five-O" for television. Broughton scored many episodes of that long-running show, and went on to score "Barnaby Jones," "Quincy, M.E.," "How the West Was Won" and "Dallas". He took home two Emmys for his work on the latter show and also capped Emmy nods for "Killjoy," and two miniseries, "The Blue and the Grey" and "The First Olympics--Athens 1896."

By the time he was signed to score Silverado for Lawrence Kasdan in 1985, Broughton had amassed an impressive list of television credits. But taking the challenge of bringing freshness to a stalwart genre that not only celebrated its cliches, but reveled in them, proved a daunting task. Kasdan's sprawling film encompassed nearly every element of the traditional Western and then some, delightfully rolling in its own cleverness and craftsmanship. Broughton's score captured the film perfectly. What would reveal itself in later scores as a trademark Broughton technique of innovative orchestration and flowing lyricism was perfectly manifested in his maiden theatrical effort, and it was really something to behold. The score capped Broughton's to-date only Oscar nomination. Silverado's uniqueness stems from Broughton's zest for the unusual. It takes the familiar elements of a Western score, the lyric moments for the ladies and the dark moments for the corrupt, and tweaks them, injecting into them a vitality that remains as deft and surprising today as it was in 1985. The orchestrations cleverly avoid the Western-score cliches, and at the same time, remain adept within the framework of the film, and Broughton's thematics are solid and well-thought-out.

But it's somewhat surprising to see that Broughton didn't even score another Western for the big screen until Tombstone in 1993. It was perhaps the strength of Broughton's other 1985 effort, Young Sherlock Holmes, that contributed the composer's being typecast as the new Western music slave. Following Young Sherlock Holmes, Broughton tackled the comedic. Harry and the Hendersons (1987) is a prime example of Broughton's deft comic style. A bouncy, sweet theme for strings is introduced as the main theme, which through the course of the film becomes the theme for the beleaguered Bigfoot, Harry. Broughton's deftness with the medium is well exemplified, with the speed of his ideas being well-translated into a fully-fleshed-out orchestral score that buttresses the film's action and lends it life. (The score was released on LP to coincide with the film's release, but never on CD.)

Following Harry and the Hendersons, Broughton became somewhat less in demand. He scored lame comedies through the late '80s (The Monster Squad, Big Shots), to the '90s (Betsy's Wedding, All I Want for Christmas), and also tacked the drama (Jacknife) and the action film (The Presidio). Broughton's keen dramatic sense, however, was as sharp as ever through these years. He's no slacker, and he lent the films Carried Away (1995) and Infinity (1996) two gorgeously restrained, simmering scores which complemented both films' understated dramatic executions. Broughton's long-standing relationship with Intrada Records has resulted in the release of these and many other Broughton scores that would otherwise not have been given a chance for public release, and it's a testament that those who still say the soundtrack enthusiast is in a bad way are gravely mistaken.

Bad films or not (Broughton seems to have caught a case of Goldsmith Syndrome), he can still write some of the best film music out there, and his 1992 score to the delightful Honey, I Blew Up the Kid is a good example of what smart composers can still do for a film. The deft, clever, extremely well-played music (performed by the indomitable Los Angeles session musicians) takes two central ideas, that of a quirky jazz-based theme for the bumbling Wayne Szalinski character and a soft, lullaby-like "pastoral" theme representing the family, shakes them up and rolls them like dice. Mickey-mouse scoring it is indeed, but it's the smartest and funniest film music to have come out of Hollywood in a long time. (Broughton's clever nod to Copland in the cue "Clear the Streets!" still gets a chuckle out of me every time. )

Broughton's comic sense is indeed as sharp as his dramatic sense, but in 1993 he returned to the genre that began his career in film music with such a bang. Tombstone, the flawed-but-fun take on the Wyatt Earp legend, began as a collaboration between director George P. Cosmatos and his friend and frequent collaborator Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith, due to a scheduling conflict, had to bow out of the scoring duties for Tombstone and recommended Broughton for the job. The result was a stellar, exciting work, full of the bag of Broughton tricks that have exemplified his style: expansive thematics, clever orchestrations, and a dynamic orchestral performance. The film's surprising endurance as a popular film is no doubt a result of the flamboyant, endlessly quoted career-performance of Val Kilmer as the tuberculosis-ridden Doc Holliday ("Why Ed Bailey... we cross?"), but can also be accredited to Broughton's equally flamboyant score.

Broughton's most recent career move: Disney. He scored The Rescuers Down Under in 1990 with a lot of effective, albeit anachronistic, ethnic percussion, and is currently working on "transitions" for the planned 1999 release of Fantasia Continued. He's also doing more comedies (this summer's effects-laden flop A Simple Wish), and action films (Cosmatos' early-spring dud Shadow Conspiracy, for which Broughton wrote one of the better action scores of his career, a tight, mean work incorporating loads of percussion and dynamic orchestrations). Broughton's impressive body of work is musically sound, with few if any duds (notably the dull, tacky The Boy Who Could Fly from 1986) among the gems. He's definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Thanks to Lorna Freeze for providing valuable research materials.

Jason Comerford can be reached at For comments for the FSM mail bag, write

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