Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold

Disc two of this set features the premiere release of Dominic Frontiere’s complete score to Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975), remixed and remastered from the original ½″ film mixes recorded at The Burbank Studios (as Warner Bros.’ studio facilities were known at the time) by ace engineer Dan Wallin.

Although no soundtrack LP was ever released for this film, an album mockup was prepared, consisting of the following tracks:

  1. Side A
  2. Playing With Fire (disc 2, track 1)
  3. Downtong (disc 2, track 5)
  4. Pool Hall Rock (disc 2, track 13)
  5. Hoe Down Car (disc 2, track 10)
  6. Alley Rock (disc 2, track 16)
  7. Banjo Bike (disc 2, track 14)
  8. Here Comes Cleo (disc 2, track 3)
  9. Cleo Leaves (disc 2, track 4)
  1. Side B
  2. Main Title (instrumental) (disc 2, track 24)
  3. Les Orgie (disc 2, track 7)
  4. Catch Cleo/Car Crash (disc 2, track 20)
  5. Casino Fight (disc 2, track 21)
  6. Dead Dragon Lady (disc 2, track 22)
  7. End Title (disc 2, track 23)

The “End Title” would have been the instrumental version presented on this CD, not the vocal version heard in the film (for which no master survives).

1. Playing With Fire
A bold brass groove creates excitement for an illustration of an Oriental dragon before the main titles unfold over a busy Hong Kong harbor, accompanied by the song “Playing With Fire” (with music by Dominic Frontiere and lyrics by Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise). Featuring seductively funky doo-wop female vocals, the tune will serve as a main theme for Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson). A mostly instrumental rendition of the song follows the vocal arrangement as the Johnson brothers, Matthew (Albert Popwell) and Melvin (Caro Kenyatta), arrive at the harbor posing as dope dealers.
2. Oynia
Morgan (Eddy Donno), a low-level hoodlum, transports the brothers to a shipboard drug operation run by his boss, Soo Da Chen (Shen Chan). Tension escalates when Chen discovers that the brothers’ suitcase contains stacks of $100 bills cut in half as a precaution. Frontiere plays through the hostile exchange with a sinister three-note motive for flutes, surrounded by pulsating electronics, shrill string sustains and grunting low brass. The cue climaxes just before the arrival of Bianca Javin, the Dragon Lady (Stella Stevens), who seeks revenge against Chen for trying to cut her out of the drug deal. An unscored gunfight ensues, resulting in the capture of the Johnson brothers and the escape of Chen.
3. Here Comes Cleo
As the Dragon Lady and her henchmen speed off with the Johnson brothers, Frontiere’s score returns with a bang as Chen’s ship explodes behind them. Afterward, the swinging, optimistic bridge from “Playing With Fire” marks a transition to Cleo arriving via helicopter in Hong Kong. The primary tune takes shape as the helicopter touches down, as a smiling Cleo emerges to greet her boss, Stanley Nagel (Norman Fell).
4. Cleo Leaves
Cleo resolves to find Chen and her missing agents—and her good friends—the Johnson brothers. A funky rhythm section introduction leads to a carefree setting of the main theme as she turns down a ride from Stanley and sets off into the city on her own.
5. Downtong
As Cleo travels by taxi through the streets of Hong Kong, an Asian-inflected setting of her theme emphasizes xylophone, portamento string effects, bass and gamelan. The tune alternates with shimmering pentatonic material as she exits the cab and searches a crowded market for Chen.
6. Room of Mirrors
A tough street girl, Mi Ling Fong (Ni Tien), arrives to help Cleo out of a jam after Chen’s gang ambushes the American agent. Afterward, Mi Ling brings Cleo to her bike shop hangout; broken chords surround mysterious strings and sparkling textures (including wind chimes and tree bells) as they arrive in the back room, a gymnasium doubling as a storeroom for guns and assorted martial arts weapons. As Cleo unsuccessfully tries to ascertain the identity of Mi Ling’s employer—she claims to be a private detective—an unused passage (0:27–1:25) features a meandering, exotic melody over a static woodwind pedal. Subsequently, Mi Ling and her biker cohorts agree to help Cleo with her mission.
7. Les Orgie
The Dragon Lady hosts a lesbian orgy in the private quarters at her casino. Frontiere subtly heightened subtly heightens the lovemaking with an exotic tune over a tranquil sustain, punctuated by bass marimba, bells and water gongs. A knock at the door draws Bianca away from her lovers, with droning, shimmering textures sounding while her chief henchman, Mendez (Christopher Hunt), provides an update about Chen, Cleo, Mi Ling and the Johnson brothers.
8. Fatman Stomp
A bluesy jazz source cue plays as the Dragon Lady brushes off a portly gambler while passing through her casino.
9. You Must Believe Me/My Regulars
The Dragon Lady meets with three of her associates; when she accuses one of them, Mr. Han (Rich King), of aiding the traitorous Chen, a low, four-note figure repeats ominously as he pleads his innocence. The cue builds to a stinger when Mendez shoots him from behind, with the four-note figure dying down as Bianca dismisses the other two men. Aggressive brass and pop percussion launch a reprise of the main theme for a transition to a Hong Kong street, where a group of children— Mi Ling’s “irregulars”—report for duty. (Frontiere’s cue title misidentifies the kids as “regulars.”)
10. Hoe Down Car
The Dragon Lady’s henchmen shoot at Cleo and Mi Ling, leading to a destructive car chase between the women and their would-be assassins that Frontiere scores with a jaunty hoedown of sawing strings, vibrant brass fanfares and outbursts of “washboard piatti.” The cue reaches a playful finish when the villains crash and their car explodes.
11. Mi Ling’s Apartment
A shimmering suspense cue develops a mysterious call-and-response figure for Mendez and his men sneaking into Mi Ling’s apartment while she showers. The score swells with tension as the girl steps out of the bathroom before one of the intruders binds her arms with a belt. When Mendez moves to strike Mi Ling, she dodges and he accidentally knocks out his own man. As Mi Ling (her arms still bound) proceeds to dispatch Mendez and his goons with her martial arts skills, the cue explodes into a reprise of the main title fanfare amid racing pentatonic lines and syncopated brass accents. The intruders collect themselves and flee just as Cleo shows up and kicks in the door.
Enter the Studs
Frontiere composed this (ultimately unused) cue of brawny, brass-driven funk for the Johnson brothers entering the Dragon Lady’s casino dressed in gaudy suits; while they remain her prisoners, she treats them as guests and places them under the care of her beautiful young servant, Madalena (Chen Chi Lin).
12. She’s My Mother
A light piece of lounge jazz plays as the Johnson brothers relax at the casino with the Dragon Lady’s women; Madalena shocks the brothers when she reveals that the Dragon Lady adopted her at age 12.
13. Pool Hall Rock
Cleo and Mi Ling track down Chen at a pool hall, where a hip rock source cue spotlights wah-wah guitar, brass and saxophones. When the drug dealer sees the women approaching, he draws his gun and initiates a shootout.
14. Banjo Bike
Chen escapes from the pool hall and runs through the city while one of Mi Ling’s biker friends gives chase on his motorcycle. Frontiere composed this banjo-driven hoedown cue to accompany the pursuit, but the finished film tracks in “Pool Hall Rock” in its place.
15. Juke Box Blues, Part 1
Once Chen loses the biker, a funky, jazz organ source cue plays as one of Mi Ling’s young irregulars tails the villain through a market.
Juke Box Blues, Part 2
A second source cue of electric guitar-laden funk sounds as the boy continues to follow Chen to his hideout, where Mendez and his goons capture the gangster.
16. Alley Rock
A mellow jazz-fusion source cue underscores the arrival of Cleo and Mi Ling outside Chen’s hideout.
17. Turn Him Loose
The Dragon Lady holds Chen captive in a private chamber at her casino, where she prepares to put on a special show for the Johnson brothers. A fleeting quotation of the mysterious Mendez motive from “Mi Ling’s Apartment” (the first half of the call-and-response figure) gives way to a suspenseful, rising ostinato as Mendez retrieves two swords, one for the Dragon Lady and one for Chen. After Mendez releases Chen from his shackles, the cue swells to a climax as blades suddenly spring up from the ground, encircling Bianca and her adversary.
18. Chopped Meat
The majority of Bianca’s ensuing duel with Chen is unscored, but as the Dragon Lady overwhelms her opponent, Frontiere mounts suspense, mixing nasty muted brass with tuned percussion and accented outbursts. A low, dread-ridden chord closes the piece, with Madalena screaming out in horror as Bianca impales Chen on two of the blades.
19. Casino Source
Frontiere intended this suave arrangement of “Playing With Fire” to underscore Bianca’s testy first encounter with Cleo and Mi Ling at the casino. (For a subsequent scene outside the casino, in which Madalena confirms to Cleo that the Dragon Lady has captured the Johnson brothers, the film tracks a portion of “She’s My Mother.”)
20. Catch Cleo
Portentous jazz marks a transition to the dark alleys of Macao, where Cleo arrives for a meeting with Madalena. A cool bass line and percussion persist under eerie high strings and a dissonant woodwind ostinato as Cleo proceeds to the rendezvous point: an empty temple at the end of the alley. With Madalena nowhere in sight, a calamitous trill and omninous brass sound as Cleo admires the Oriental artwork that decorates the walls. Once the agent exits the temple, swirling woodwinds and harp glissandi evoke a gust of wind that blows open a window in an adjacent building. Flutter-tongued brass play up Cleo’s horror when she sees one of Bianca’s goons spin Madalena around in a chair—the girl is dead, with a giant chopstick penetrating her tongue. The cue segues to:
Car Crash
The track’s opening bass line returns, mixing with the Mendez motive and pounding timpani as Bianca’s men begin to cut off Cleo’s potential escape routes. When Cleo makes a break for it, the tempo picks up with racing strings, furious winds and xylophone as Bianca’s forces pursue the heroine through various alleyways by car and foot. For the final leg of the chase, Frontiere builds excitement with a shift into compound meter and an aggressive, repeating pattern for strings as a car bears down on Cleo; she shoots the driver in the head, with a raucous trill sounding as the vehicle crashes into a gas pump and explodes. The string pattern struggles over a rising bass line and harsh crescendos as Mendez and his goons surround Cleo in a courtyard, forcing her to surrender.
21. Casino Fight
Frontiere couples the Mendez motive with suspenseful strings and a low pulse as the Dragon Lady’s henchmen lead Cleo and the Johnsons through the casino, where Mi Ling poses as a gambler. When Mi Ling creates a diversion by throwing her playing cards into the air, the composer develops the racing Asian material from “Car Chase” for Cleo and the brothers fighting their way free. Once Mi Ling leads the heroes into an attic, she and Cleo escape through a window; low-key suspense underscores the women making their way down to the street, while a new funk theme represents the brothers fending off Bianca’s men back in the attic. The funk theme continues to build excitement as Mi Ling’s associates arrive outside the casino on their motorcycles and the women jump into a sidecar. The bikers ride up the casino’s steps, the cue climaxing as they burst through the establishment’s front doors, sparking pandemonium inside.
22. Dead Dragon Lady
The first half of the final destructive casino battle plays without music. When Cleo chases after a fleeing Bianca, a funk bass line and percussion join cool flutes (reading the “Playing With Fire” tune) for Mi Ling engaging Mendez and his men in combat. Brass eventually takes over the main theme with flutes delegated to a countermelody as the film cuts back and forth between: Mi Ling’s heroics (she succeeds in killing Mendez); the Johnson brothers carrying their attic fight into the main casino; and Cleo fighting Bianca in the Dragon Lady’s private quarters. Frontiere builds the funk to a grand climax as Cleo and Bianca pulverize one another, the main theme screaming out in triumph as the Dragon Lady desperately lunges for Jones with her sword. The cue ends as Cleo runs Bianca through with her own weapon.
23. End Title
A plucky rendition of the main theme plays through a montage of Mi Ling and Stanley escorting Cleo to her plane, while explaining that Mi Ling and her squad have actually been working for Stanley all along. Frontiere mounts a reprise of the doo-wop arrangement of the main theme as the film freeze-frames on Cleo, who turns back before she boards her plane to flash her killer smile. The bridge of “Playing With Fire” runs its course through the end credits. (The finished film utilizes a vocal version of this track employing the “Playing With Fire” lyrics, but the vocal incarnation was not found with the rest of the master tapes.)

Bonus Tracks

24. Main Title (instrumental)
Frontiere recorded this rousing instrumental of “Playing With Fire” as an alternate version of the “Main Title.”
25. Take Me Away (main title, alternate lyrics, version #1)
“Playing With Fire” actually represents the second attempt at a lyric for the film’s main theme. An unknown lyricist originally devised “Take Me Away” and two versions of that song were recorded at the film’s scoring sessions, using a similar vocal group as “Playing With Fire” (and the same instrumental backing track). This is the first, with the vocal performed by several singers throughout.
26. Take Me Away (main title, alternate lyrics, version #2)
A second version of “Take Me Away” has a solo female vocal carrying the tune at times. —