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Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Film Score Monthly / 2001 / 71m

In 1973, Jerry Goldsmith did ten scores: tv movies The Red Pony and Indict and Convict; series Hawkins on MurderPolice Story and Barnaby Jones; and features Ace Eli and Rodger of the SkiesThe Don is DeadOne Little IndianShamus and Papillon. Until now, only two of these eight were released (Papillon, obviously, and Police Story) which just goes to show what an enormous proportion of Goldsmith’s work from the period remains unreleased.  The likes of Prometheus and Film Score Monthly are doing their best to redress the balance, however, and so Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies became an entry in FSM’s excellent Silver Age Classics series.

Album producer Lukas Kendall decided to combine Ace Eli with twelve minutes of music (the sum total of Goldsmith’s contribution) from the tv series Room 222, which was apparently very popular at the time though I have to say I’ve never heard it mentioned in any context aside from a Jerry Goldsmith one.  His music is lovely: the main theme has been heard in countless Goldsmith concerts as part of his tv themes suite, and it’s one of the best entries in it.  A charming piece for small orchestra, recorder, guitar and trumpet, it’s certainly nice to have the original recording of it, along with a couple of very short suites from the two episodes Goldsmith also scored.

Jerry Goldsmith in salmon

Jerry Goldsmith in salmon

Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies must be the most cumbersomely-entitled film that’s ever been released. I was astonished to read in the liner notes that it was written by Steven Spielberg, who was even going to direct it until Fox decided he wasn’t experienced enough.  While I am loathe to criticise any film I haven’t seen, I have to say that it sounds awful: an apparent First World War aviator tries to make money by giving people rides in his biplane, and has sex a lot, and falls out with his son.  It amusingly says on the back cover of the album that the film cheerfully endorses “child abuse, child endangerment, arson, manslaughter, prostitution, swearing, alcoholism, gambling, fraud, unlicensed driving, unlicensed flying, cockfighting, underage smoking and littering” – I wonder why Spielberg has adopted a distinctly selective memory about the film (basically disowning it).

Of course, Jerry Goldsmith was never a stranger to scoring films that were woefully beneath him, and so he managed to write a charming, bucolic score.  It doesn’t emphasise the flying itself, like The Blue Max, but has more in common with scores like The Flim-Flam Man – a piece of then-contemporary Americana.  As with Room 222, the main theme is first heard being played by a recorder, and the orchestra is quite small.  But with skilful orchestrations the composer still manages to do plenty of interesting things.  An early highlight is the thrilling “Off to Monument”, a cue surrounded by several others that are considerably lighter.  These light moments are very pleasant and enjoyable, but the real vintage Goldsmith stuff comes towards the score’s end, in tracks 17 through 22.  “Final Flight” is magical stuff, making a wonderful climax.

After the end title come nine bonus tracks, including alternate versions, a couple of damaged tracks and a song, “Who’s for Complainin'” by Jim Grady, which is pretty obviously designed as a “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” cash-in.  Ace Eli isn’t exactly essential listening, but it is a charming and always pleasant way of spending 40 minutes, and certainly a welcome addition to my Goldsmith collection.

Rating: *** | |

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