Tip on a Dead Jockey

M-G-M’s Tip on a Dead Jockey (1957), an adaptation of a short story by Irwin Shaw, stars Robert Taylor as pilot Lloyd Treadman, a veteran of World War II and Korea who is plagued by fear and guilt. Haunted by the deaths of pilots under his command in Korea, Treadman leaves the service unable to fly—or to resume normal life with his wife, Phyllis (Dorothy Malone). She travels to Madrid to learn why Treadman requested a divorce, only to find him lost in a world of gambling and booze. When Treadman goes broke betting on a disastrous horse race, he is forced to conquer his fears by accepting a dangerous business proposition, and in turn preventing his war buddy from suffering the same fate as the pilots who died under his charge. The assignment, which has Treadman flying British currency—and, unbeknownst to him, drugs—out of Egypt, proves to be the jumpstart he needed to rediscover his courage, his ability to fly and to love. As a result, he is able to mend his relationship with Phyllis and forgive himself for his troubling past.

Under the direction of Richard Thorpe, the bulk of Tip’s running time consists of dialogue scenes that probe Treadman’s psyche. Only during the climactic aerial chases does the film come to life as an action picture. Reviews, such as A.H. Weiler’s in The New York Times, singled out the film’s “long-winded, introspective scenes” as problematic but Variety commended Taylor’s turn as the lead, noting that he had overcome the script’s deficiencies with a “solid” performance. The Hollywood Reporter praised the technical credits such as the cinematography (during the flying sequences), the sound and the score.

Miklós Rózsa’s music provides urgency to the story with an aggravated main theme for Treadman’s unresolved pain. Addressing his fear of flying, the melody continually struggles to ascend, its tragic second half particularly weighted down even as it reaches new heights. Phyllis receives a soothing love theme that evokes the comfortable marriage Treadman has left behind, while a playful bassoon motive identifies Treadman’s loyal comic-relief houseguest, Toto (Marcel Dalio). The score captures the essences of the principal characters but clearly underlines the emotional climax of the film in an extended cue as Treadman faces his demons and finally pilots a plane. The score isolates this sequence as the resolution of Treadman’s internal struggle, with the film’s concluding chase scenes left unscored.

This premiere release of the complete score to Tip on a Dead Jockey is mastered from the original monaural 17.5mm scoring masters.

1. Main Title
A snarling introductory figure plays through the M-G-M logo, before a jittery brass ostinato appears for the main title cards. Rózsa introduces his aggressive main theme, set imitatively against itself over an otherwise placid cloudscape. Strings and horns take up the love theme for Phyllis, triumphing over the preceding angry material. A majestic fanfare on horns and a subsequent clarinet solo begin the story proper in Reno, where Phyllis (Dorothy Malone) discusses her impending divorce with her attorney. Wishing to understand more clearly her husband’s reasons for requesting the divorce, she resolves to find her answer in Madrid.
2. Madrid
Rózsa scores establishing shots of Madrid with an exotic melody, similar in shape to Phyllis’s theme, over a light rhythm of strings and castanets. A smoky jazz line for clarinet and saxophone sets a naughty mood for Lloyd Treadman (Robert Taylor) awakening in his villa next to Sue Fan (Joyce Jameson), who passed out after a wild party the night before.
Good Riddance
Rózsa briefly reprises and extends the jazz material when Treadman asks his friend Toto (Marcel Dalio) to drive Sue Fan home, yielding to the warm Madrid music when the pilot visits his neighbor Paquita (Gia Scala), the wife of his best friend, Jimmy Heldon (Jack Lord).
3. Crash
Treadman travels to a movie set for a job interview as a technical advisor. An aerial stunt gone awry triggers painful memories; a panicked, fearful rendition of the main theme sounds as Treadman struggles to maintain his composure. The film’s director (Frank Wilcox) offers Treadman a job replacing the injured stunt pilot, but he declines, warning the filmmaker against the dangers of playing with peoples’ lives; the score continues under their dialogue with a bitter development of the main theme.
4. Phyllis Arrives
Sinister Burt Smith (Martin Gabel) introduces himself to Treadman with promises of a different job offer, the specifics of which remain a mystery. Rózsa characterizes the villain with a grunting theme for low strings before the scene transitions to Treadman’s villa, where Phyllis arrives in a cab. Gentle woodwinds take up her theme until Toto (Marcel Dalio), Treadman’s houseguest, answers the door and flirts with her, a playful bassoon theme over pizzicato strings reflecting his good-natured charm. Phyllis’s theme returns as she waits in the living room while Treadman—blissfully oblivious to her presence—enters through the back door.
5. Double Talk
Toto becomes embarrassed after accidentally revealing to Phyllis that Treadman was celebrating his divorce the previous night; the bassoon theme plays as Toto excuses himself. Phyllis’s theme offers warmth when she gently prods Treadman in an attempt to understand why he requested the divorce. He assures her that the situation is not her fault—his ennui resulted from the pressures of his mission in Korea. The main theme eats away at his conscience as he blames himself for the ruined marriage, but Phyllis—suddenly angry—does not want to hear his double talk. The love theme resumes as they make peace and Phyllis agrees to have dinner with him that evening.
6. Accident
Treadman loses all of his money at a racetrack when his horse and its rider take a fall—caused by a rival jockey. Rózsa scores the fatal spill with hysterical strings and brass that outline the main theme, which frantically searches for stability. Unsettling dissonances sound on horns and tremolo strings as doctors pronounce the fallen jockey dead, giving way to a reprisal of Smith’s theme as the criminal presses Treadman to accept a smuggling job. A tension-filled development of the main theme plays for Treadman squaring off against Smith, the pilot suspecting that Smith rigged the “accident.” Smith’s theme intrudes on pungent low brass when Treadman punches him in the face; the sinister tune continues to spar quietly with the main theme as Smith collects himself and departs.
7. Short Story
Treadman and Toto are unable to pay their rent, so Phyllis offers to rent their villa and host the two men as her houseguests. Carefree, imitative woodwind writing plays for Treadman and Toto relaxing after dinner. Toto, accompanied by his bassoon motive, asks Treadman to light his cigarette, but he notices that the pilot’s hands are trembling the way they used to when he first arrived in Madrid. The main theme captures the aviator’s anxiety over the impending smuggling job and his discomfort with his current living situation: he feels trapped in “an old French short story.” The cue subsides with a muted trumpet on the first five pitches of the main theme, crying out from the depths of Treadman’s past.
8. Worried
Jimmy departs on the smuggling job, much to the disapproval of Treadman, whose trepidation Rózsa emphasizes with a melancholy clarinet line set against the main theme in quiet counterpoint. Paquita, oblivious to the danger the assignment poses, is backed by a warm reprisal of the Madrid theme as she asks Treadman to be happy for Jimmy, but he cannot get the dead jockey out of his mind—even hinting at a connection between the accident and Jimmy’s new job, to the accompaniment of his guilt-ridden material. Sensing Paquita’s concern, he quickly apologizes and the score optimistically transitions back into the Madrid material as Paquita forgives him and takes Phyllis to visit her baby.
The main theme alternates with the Madrid theme to underscore Treadman informing Phyllis of his decision to move out of the villa. She laments not knowing who he is anymore, but he implores her to let him go, with a duet setting of the love theme for violin and cello speaking to their mutual despair.
Toto arrives at Treadman’s hotel, backed by a string rendition of his unmistakably Spanish theme. The score takes a dire turn when he informs Treadman that Jimmy is three days late returning from his assignment and requests Treadman to do what he can to help. Conflicted repetitions of the main theme sound as Treadman’s fears threaten to materialize.
9. Accusations
Treadman returns to the villa and Paquita berates him for not telling her about the true nature of Jimmy’s assignment. She storms off and Phyllis seizes the chance to address Treadman’s cowardly behavior, admitting that she has not yet actually granted him a divorce. Her theme unfolds somberly on low clarinet and wrenching strings while she charges him not only of being afraid to fly, but also of intentionally falling in love with a woman he cannot have—Paquita—and of wanting to murder Jimmy so that he can claim Paquita for himself. Rózsa emphasizes the concluding phrase of the main theme in a tragic manner as Phyllis verbally eviscerates him—until he finally slaps her and threatens to kill her. A lonesome cello takes up the love theme when Treadman asks her how it feels to be God; she replies, “It hurts.” The tension is broken when Jimmy suddenly shows up outside the villa, having returned from his flight unscathed.
10. Farewell
Before Treadman can leave to find Smith and take over Jimmy’s next flight, Phyllis attempts to apologize for her hurtful words. Treadman cuts her off and concedes that everything she said was true, with a painful development of the main theme’s final bars accentuating his acknowledgment. She offers him her cheek, but he turns her face and kisses the side that he hit, with strings taking up a bittersweet version of Phyllis’s theme; she watches him leave, with love in her eyes.
11. Take Off
Treadman and his loyal Toto arrive at a Madrid airfield, but the pilot is visibly disturbed: haunted by portentous statements of the main theme, Phyllis’s and Jimmy’s emasculating words ring in his head. Rózsa explores the theme’s concluding figure over fluttering, undulating woodwinds until Treadman finally forces himself to board the plane. The bassoon material lightens the mood when the distraught pilot sits down in the cockpit and Toto offers him a drink. Treadman declines and tells his friend to save it for later.
Treadman is hesitant to take off and the score’s principal material is dressed with taunting runs for woodwinds and harp. The plane is given clearance to leave but the pilot is frozen, the score illustrating his internal struggle with a series of oppressive variations on the main theme over a twitchy bed of chromaticism. A heavy, low brass development of the material comes to the fore as Treadman, shaking and sweating, musters his courage to pilot the plane down the runway. The theme builds sequentially into furious, overlapping statements that reach a cathartic climax when the pilot conquers his fear and just barely clears the airfield. The Madrid theme offers gentle relief over a three-note descending accompaniment culled from the main theme’s concluding figure.
Toto nervously jokes about the plane crashing into the Mediterranean, to a fleeting statement of his theme, before the scene transitions to Cairo, where Treadman lands and has his papers stamped. The score evokes the locale with a darting harmonic minor woodwind melody over propulsive percussion.
12. Finale
The film’s climatic action over the Mediterranean unfolds without music: While evading the authorities, Treadman and Toto discover drugs mixed in with the package they are delivering. After they finally air-drop the box down to Smith, they arrange for the authorities to show up and arrest the unsuspecting criminal. Having overcome his guilt, Treadman returns to the villa, where Phyllis is waiting for him. At first, he is playfully aloof and goes to his bedroom to sleep, with an affectionate but tentative version of the love theme on clarinet and bass clarinet underscoring Phyllis’s perplexed reaction. When he suddenly re-emerges from his bedroom and invites her in, she takes off after him and the score follows with an excitedly optimistic variation on the introductory material from the “Main Title.” The score closes with a victorious fanfare setting of the love theme over the end title cards.

Bonus Tracks

13. The Happy Idiot Waltz
This lilting waltz for strings and piano plays as source music in a restaurant where Treadman introduces Phyllis to Paquita and Jimmy. The women discuss the nature of Phyllis’s divorce, with Paquita offering that Treadman is not interested in other women. The cue title references a line of dialogue from earlier in the film, with Treadman referring to Jimmy as “a happy idiot.”
14. Madame Bovary Waltz
A more romantic source waltz plays as Jimmy details his financial troubles and how he met Paquita. Smith sends a bottle of champagne to the table and takes the opportunity to further explain his job proposal to a seemingly receptive Treadman. Toto is immediately aware of the potential threat Smith poses and leaves the table in a huff. This was the fourth and final film in which Rózsa recycled this waltz since its first appearance in Madame Bovary (1949).
15. Improvisation
Treadman sits at the piano with Phyllis and they share a moment of levity by play-acting, speaking with accents as Treadman improvises; he incorporates various famous tunes into his riffing, all the while sounding distinctly like Miklós Rózsa. (The first piece in the montage is, specifically, the opening theme from Something of Value, which Rózsa had recently scored; Phyllis even references “Mau Maus” in her dialogue as Treadman plays the tune.) According to M-G-M’s scoring logs, Max Rabinowitz performed at the piano, under Rózsa’s supervision.
In the film, the piano improvistation segues into a performance of “You Found Me and I Found You” (by Jerome Kern and P.G. Wodehouse, from the 1918 revue Oh Lady! Lady!!) by Malone and Taylor. The song was not found on the score’s master tapes, and hence is not included on this CD.
16. Red Chips
This nonchalant, shuffling jazz source piece plays while Jimmy’s friends celebrate his safe return over dinner. The cheery aura of the music becomes ironic when Jimmy reveals that his job is only half done: the trip he just took was a dry run. Paquita’s threat to leave her husband only makes Jimmy angry; when Treadman resolves to go on the assignment in his stead, Jimmy will not hear of it, pointing out Treadman’s shaking hands. Treadman responds by knocking him out and leaving to find Smith. This cue was composed by Hans J. Salter for the 1950 M-G-M film Please Believe Me (scored by Salter and Bronislau Kaper); it was re-recorded by Rózsa for Tip on a Dead Jockey.
17. Take Off, Part 1 (alternate)
The opening of this alternate cue for the Madrid airfield features slight differences in orchestration, omitting a muted brass stinger, and the subsequent rendition of the main theme in upper-register strings—as Treadman forces himself to board the plane—is more urgently conceived. —