Again, I am so jazzed by the upcoming GSPO Elmer Bernstein concert that I am going over the incredible list of scores in his career and to talk about some that simply don't get the attention they des erve.
Before Elmer Bernstein told his agent “no more westerns” around the mid 70s and after being offered everything under the sun based on scoring his landmark MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, he cherry picked from a whole variety. He did modern (HUD, THE REWARD), John Wayne (TRUE GRIT, THE COMANCHEROES, CAHILL), comedic (THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL) and all those MAGNIFIENT 7 sequels, but one of the most interesting was THE SCALPHUNTERS. One of the earliest films directed by Sydney Pollack, who spent his life making very offbeat movies. Even his biggest successes were indeed offbeat but always well acted (TOOTSIE, OUT OF AFRICA, THE WAY WE WERE). His films didn’t make money until THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY, and yet, THE SLENDER THREAD, THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, CASTLE KEEP and THE SCALPHUNTERS were all unheralded gems. THE SCALPHUNTERS was about an unlikely alliance between a Bible spouting mountain man (Burt Lancaster)and a runaway slave (Ossie Davis), and I thought it was much funnier than the similar hit film THE SKIN GAME a few years later (which came off more like a sitcom). It's crossplots and reversals keep it surprising and immensely entertaining. It is a wonderful western, comedy and great story whose twists and turns wears down our two protagonists, who hate each other, until they end up on an even playing field at the end.
How Elmer keeps all these balls in the air in his score is fascinating. He gives us plenty of his traditional action stuff but his main theme is for the folksy mountain man. Here is that theme in a slightly pop version done for the soundtrack album:
He also integrates a slight jazz thread here and there to represent the ex-slaves’s spirit and cunning. Odd ball characters abound and Elmer gives them each their due. Unique and different from all the other westerns he did. This is an absolutely winning!
This is really classic EB having fun - love it! I remember being delighted and snatching up the UA LP when it was issued - even though another UA re-recording. And again thrilled recently when it finally made its way to CD.
Morricone, love these Elmer topics. Keep it up. There is a lighter touch to this music when compared to Commancheros or The Magnificent Seven. He has a sense of comedy in places as well as some serious moments. He still uses his "signature western rhythms" in the score, and I love that.