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CD Reviews: Caveman and Magnum Force

by Nick Joy

Caveman *** 1/2


Aleph 032

10 tracks - 56:02

"Fun" is the key word when describing Lalo Schfrin's score to Carl Gottlieb's fantasy dinosaur comedy. Released in 1981, this prehistoric caper featured former Beatle Ringo Starr, a very young Dennis Quaid and an even younger looking Shelley Long as they tackled prehistoric creatures, in the vein of One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. The movie was slight yet enjoyable, and kudos to the composer's own record company, Aleph, for unearthing another worthy curiosity from his music vaults.

Jon Burlingame's authoritative liner notes shed a few tasty background facts on the production, not least being that the producers initially hired Lalo to predominantly score the movie's dinosaurs with "weird sounds" (like The Hellstrom Chronicles). But the final product was a more conventional slapstick comedy, leading to a more conventional slapstick score.

The ten- and-a-half minute main titles are a great, lengthy introduction to the score, though don't be fooled into thinking they're one single epic piece; the track is actually a series of joined cues beginning with the jaunty, rhythmic main melody. The suite finishes with the amusing scene where the cavemen discover music by accident. This marks the genesis of the theme that we heard at the beginning of the track, complete with Neanderthal vocal "ugs" and groans. This opening sortie is a great taster of what's to follow: a symphonic score that makes dramatic bold statements with action cues, and then throws in comedy antics to soften the tone.

This might sound like it's a patchy listening experience, but it's not. Plodding dinosaur motifs are followed by tribal rhythms, and then a variation on Ravel's Bolero or the William Tell Overture is thrown in to the mix. It shouldn't work, but it does. The inevitable variation on 2001's Also Sprach Zarathustra and the Colonel Bogey march from Bridge on the River Kwai are also integrated into this eclectic brew.

Caveman is one of six scores credited to Schifrin in 1981, and yet there is no suggestion that this was either production-line or rushed into an already tight schedule. The musical references are well-chosen and appropriate, and it's intriguing that the obvious Hammer targets for mimicry (Nascimbene's When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and One Million Years B.C.) are avoided.

While unlikely to sell in Magnum Force numbers, Caveman will inevitably be on the shopping lists of any Schifrin fan, and it's also a rewarding experience for the casual soundtrack buyer who wishes to experience a well-rounded symphonic score, fully-laden with affectionate homages and clever classical influences. For years, Caveman has been predominantly remembered as the movie where Ringo and Barbara Bach got it together (and are still married 20-something years later). With Aleph's release we now have another lasting reason to remember the film.   

Magnum Force ****


Aleph 033

22 tracks - 50:40

A big thank you to everyone who picked up Aleph's expanded Dirty Harry release last summer, because without those sales we wouldn't have this expanded score for its sequel, Magnum Force, and the news that the third in the series, The Enforcer, is in the works. Lalo Schifrin's own record label has again delivered the goods with a CD that features not only expanded cues, but those that were written for the movie and never made the final cut.

The main title music is arguably one of the '70s most memorable themes -- an explosion of driving percussion, female voices chanting violently, jamming guitars and big brass; surely the definition of '70s cop flick cool. While still violent, Magnum Force is not as sadistic a film as its predecessor, and this (relatively) lighter tone comes through in some of the loungier/ jazzy cues ("Warm Enough?" and "Last Dance in Sausalito"). In Dirty Harry, Schifrin set up two of Harry's themes: an action motif and a sad lament. They both reappear in Magnum Force, though expanded and integrated into other cues, thus providing musical continuity to bridge the movies, particularly in "Harry's Ostinato and Finale."

One of the most effective musical devices in Dirty Harry was the use of haunting vocals over dissonant wails to represent the killer's deranged mind. Callahan's opponents in this sequel are a death squad from within the LAPD, and they are represented musically by militaristic drum rolls and electronic sampling. Another highlight of the first film was the way that some of the cues started off as calm underscore before kicking into gear as Scorpio struck ("Floodlights" and "The School Bus"). The same effect is used here in "The Crooks," "The Pimp" and "Palancio," with the cues blazing in to life mid-cue, to spectacular effect.

Nick Redman's liner notes are useful in highlighting which cues are new or were cut in the movie, and we should be grateful to Schifrin for holding on to the full recording tapes for the last 30 years -- the transfer is nice and crisp. Add some packaging that complements last year's Dirty Harry and you've got the second in an ongoing collection of Harry discs that should appeal to not only the serious collector and Schifrin-philes, but anyone with a passing interest in '70s action music. Schifrin truly was at the top of his game, and it's a shame that he was unable to score Magnum Force's follow-up, The Enforcer (he was tied up on Voyage of the Damned, and passed the scoring duties to Jerry Fielding). However, The Enforcer is still a cracking score in it own right, and a worthy addition to the canon. Start lobbying now for Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool.

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