The Deadly Tower

28. The Deadly Duo
Don Ellis introduces the building blocks of his score during the opening credits as voiceover narration establishes the identities of the key participants. For footage of Officer Ramiro Martinez (Richard Yniguez) patrolling the streets of Austin, Texas, strings outline a rising broken chord answered by a mournful descending motive and militaristic snare drum. When the action cuts to University of Texas student Charles Whitman (Kurt Russell) at his home, the descending figure mixes with the score’s most pervasive idea, a four-note chromatic motive, suggesting the danger posed by the imbalanced young man. The motive dissolves into unnerving material as Whitman rocks in his chair, studying a book on weaponry. Over subsequent shots of Martinez in his car and of the Texas Tower, Ellis foreshadows a hopeful theme that will return in the film’s denouement, before the dissonant material returns—joined by eerie electronics—for Whitman retrieving a hunk of cheese and methodically slicing it with a knife. The fateful descending motive closes the cue over snare drum as Martinez arrives at his police station.
29. Mom
Whitman pays a late-night visit to his mother. When he reveals his knife, low-register strings reprise the four-note danger motive, with electronics and accelerating strings building to a climax as he approaches his mother. The ensuing murder takes place off screen.
After an unscored scene at the police station, Whitman pins a note to his dead mother’s front door, asking that she not be disturbed. Unsettling electronics and strings play as he gets into a pickup truck and drives off. The final 0:20 of this cue do not appear in the film due to deleted footage.
An unnerving wash of swirling electronics, bells, piano and strings underscores Whitman retrieving a sniper rifle from its case and aiming it up at the tower. The cue subsides after a transition to Martinez at the police station.
30. Photos
Ellis reprises the descending motive from “The Deadly Duo” as Whitman polishes his boots in preparation for the massacre. When the camera moves past him and pans across a wall of his family photos—including him as a child and at his wedding—the electronics mix with disturbingly chipper quotations of popular melodies, such as “This Old Man.” The finished film replaces this music with a radio source cue.
(Ellis recorded several nondescript country tunes, some of which were used briefly as source music emanating from radios in this and subsequent scenes, but none of which are included on this CD.)
When Whitman’s wife returns home, she is dumbfounded to find him assembling weapons on their bed. The electronics enter over radio source music when he pulls out his knife and steps toward her, with aleatoric piccolo flourishes and the accelerating repeated chords from “Mom” underscoring her horrified reaction.
31. A Kiss to Build a Dream On
After Whitman lays his wife’s corpse on their bed and covers her with a blanket, a chilling tone pyramid builds on strings and piano as he kisses her hand and weeps. The score continues eerily when the scene transitions to Whitman using a pencil to add a postscript to a letter he previously typed, with his voiceover narration confessing his deteriorating mental state, explaining that “the world is not worth living in.”
32. Couple
After substantial action transpires with no music (during which time Whitman arms himself with more weapons and ammunition and makes his way to the observation deck of the tower, killing some tourists in the process), Whitman eyes various students through the scope of his sniper rifle. Unsettling electronics mix with bells and dissonant strings before the killer settles on a happy couple holding hands as they stroll across the campus. The music accelerates, building to the moment when he shoots the male student.
33. Deadly
Ellis leaves the majority of Whitman’s shooting spree and the resulting response by the authorities unscored. After the sniper guns down numerous civilians, a group of policemen—including Martinez—reach the tower. Distorted suggestions of the hopeful theme from “The Deadly Duo” sound for Martinez and an armed bookstore employee, Allen Crum (Ned Beatty), breaking through a barricaded door and sneaking out onto the tower's observation deck. As they close in on Whitman from opposite directions, statements of the danger motive overlap amid dissonant strings and electronics. The appearance of a second officer startles Martinez, with a crescendo leading to a burst of gunfire from Whitman.
After a brief pause, the music continues to escalate as Whitman becomes unhinged while listening to a radio report that lists the names of his victims. Violent outbursts for strings, piano and electronics sound when the officers surprise Whitman and gun him down in self-defense.
34. Ticket
A comforting string statement of the hopeful theme first heard in the opening cue plays as a policeman drives a shaken Martinez and his wife, Vinni (Maria-Elena Cordero), to their car. The mournful motive returns with a sense of irony when Martinez notes that their car has received a parking ticket. The couple initially finds this humorous but Vinnie’s laughter quickly turns to tears.
End Titles
Whitman’s unsettling material comes to the fore as closing text and narration explain that his actions may have been triggered by a malignant brain tumor, and that Martinez, Crum and two other brave officers received awards for their heroism. Whitman’s material continues to gather strength through the end titles, closing the score with an air of unresolved bleakness. —