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An article by JAMES SOUTHALL

The great Jerry Goldsmith has been at the very top of the film music world for forty years as he reaches his 75th birthday on 10 February 2004, scoring for every conceivable style of film, numerous times.  No other composer has mastered the art of writing high-quality music for film to such an extent; none has so consistently written such fine music; none has added such dramatic weight to so many films.

Goldsmith's film music career began in the 1950s when he was hired as a typist by CBS television and gradually began to force his way into composing.  He did something that seems so difficult that it would be unthinkable today - he wrote scores for live television, working on such shows as Studio One and Hallmark Hall of Fame, conducting his music live as well.  His break into feature films came in 1957 with the obscure, long-forgotten western Black Patch, followed a couple of years later by City of Fear and Face of a Fugitive.  His first really important score was as early as 1960's Studs Lonigan, a jazzy and impressive work in the vein of his friend and colleague Alex North.  So impressed was Alfred Newman, then the most influential man in film music, that he recommended the young Goldsmith for Universal's western Lonely are the Brave starring Kirk Douglas, and the composer never looked back.

His first Oscar nomination came for 1962's Freud (directed by John Huston); countless others were to follow, though the fact that the composer has only ever won one of the coveted statuettes is a surprising and glaring error by the voters of the Academy.  Another Huston film, 1963's The List of Adrian Messenger, was probably Goldsmith's first real classic - the film is a little silly but the score is beyond reproach, featuring a stunning fox hunting cue.  The same year also saw Goldsmith's first work with the late Franklin J. Schaffner, his most important directorial collaborator, with The Stripper; it may be forgotten today, but the six scores that followed in their partnership were all classics, with the director getting the absolute best out of the composer.

Despite his ever-expanding reputation as a film composer, Goldsmith still found time to return to his roots and work in television, on such shows as The Man from UNCLE and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  The same year, 1964, he worked with John Frankenheimer for the first time with his legendarily sparse music for Seven Days in May, showing that - unlike most film composers of that day and this - he was happy to go against the grain, compose what was not expected and certainly not be afraid to experiment; the same year's Shock Treatment furthered that point, likewise the following year's The Satan Bug.  1965 saw the composer cement his reputation still further with scores for three epic war movies, In Harm's Way, Von Ryan's Express and Morituri, all of which are as far from the typical war movie score as could be.  His reputation for sensitive scoring for serious drama was also enhanced with A Patch of Blue (another Oscar nomination) and the stunning prologue music for The Agony and the Ecstasy.

As the 1960s drew on, Goldsmith seemed to work constantly on a great many projects; in 1966 alone he scored ten.  A talent for comedy was unearthed in the Bond spoof Our Man Flint; another collaboration with Frankenheimer on Seconds; and his first great epic work, The Sand Pebbles, one of his masterpieces, and still one of the best films he was worked on.  A couple of years later came the second collaboration with Schaffner, Planet of the Apes, still one of the most remarkable pieces of scoring - remarkable for being great music and for supporting the film beyond imagination, sure, but also remarkable in its unflinching modernity - far more modern than any film score written in the 1980s or beyond.  There were also various western scores in the late 1960s, showcasing an entirely different approach to the western, a much grittier one than the wide-open-spaces music favoured by the majority of Goldsmith's colleagues.

The 1970s couldn't have opened in better fashion for the composer - his first score of the decade was Patton, a great score for a great film.  There are only thirty minutes of music in it, but those thirty minutes are as intelligent a film scores as has been written.  The westerns The Ballad of Cable Hogue (his only collaboration with Sam Pekinpah) and Rio Lobo (his only one with Howard Hawks) as well as the quirky The Travelling Executioner and war epic Tora! Tora! Tora! all came in the same year as well.  Next year came probably the composer's best score for a western, Wild Rovers, as well as the funky The Last Run and avant garde The Mephisto Waltz, among several others.  For some reason Goldsmith found himself scoring more and more tv movies during the early 1970s, most of which have of course been completely forgotten today, but this didn't stop him squeezing in a few classic scores for films, none moreso than 1973's Papillon, a moving and important score for Schaffner's great film.  The most important tv movie score of the time was QB VII, whose climatic track remains one of Goldsmith's most impressive; and that same year, 1974, brought his classic noir score Chinatown, sadly his only collaboration with Roman Polanski (who the composer never actually met).  Another epic action film was to follow in 1975 with The Wind and the Lion, still a candidate for the composer's best action score, and "Raisuli Attacks" is probably the single most thrilling piece of film music ever composed.  That year, the composer also wrote his most experimental score, the avant garde The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, full of weird experimental effects; but he still found time for another pair of westerns, Take a Hard Ride and Breakheart Pass.  

1976 was probably the start of the most fruitful period of the composer's career, featuring two bona fide classics itself - the brilliant Logan's Run and Oscar-winning The Omen.  The latter is probably the composer's most effective score in that it turns an entirely ordinary-seeming movie into something really very special - it turns an OK film into a very good film - I can't think of another score that does that.  1977 brought his most personal and beautiful score, Islands in the Stream, also one of the most beautiful movies he's worked on.  1978 saw another classic collaboration with Schaffner, The Boys from Brazil, the seminal science fiction score Capricorn One, the first Omen sequel, the busy and exciting The Swarm, the clever and affecting Magic and the classic bit of suspense scoring, Coma - not a bad year!  1979 was to prove just as good - the tongue-in-cheek, marvellous The Great Train Robbery; bone-chilling, extraordinary Alien; and the first score in a series with which the composer would become more identified than any other - Star Trek: The Motion Picture, arguably his greatest work.  After such a busy, and extraordinary, end to the 1970s, the opening of the 1980s was surprisingly quiet, with only Caboblanco coming in 1980; but, of course, Goldsmith more than made up for this shortly thereafter.  The Final Conflict may be a ridiculous, stupid film but the music is a masterpiece of operatic proportions; and the very same year he worked on the epic tv miniseries Masada (another Goldsmith classic), the giant turkey Inchon, the beautiful Raggedy Man (a lovely and affecting piece of music), the boistrous Night Crossing, and also Outland and the unreleased The Salamander.  1981 was probably the best year of his career.

1982 wasn't half bad either - it produced Poltergeist for a start, an epic and terrifying orgy of a score - and also The Secret of NIMH, the composer's first score for an animated feature (and a great score at that), First Blood, which really began his period of action movies that has never ended, and the final collaboration with Frankenheimer, The Challenge.  The composer risked his reputation by scoring Psycho 2 in 1983 but came out unscathed, and also found time to surprise everyone with a classic score coming from a most unlikely source, the political thriller Under Fire.  Then, along came Joe Dante, who had been impressed enough with the composer's music for Twilight Zone: The Movie that he hired him for Gremlins, which produced the most mad-cap and fun score of the composer's long career (and marked the beginning of a most fruitful collaboration with Dante).  In many ways, 1985's Legend was a turning-point for the composer.  He wrote his most remarkably bold and beautiful score, working tirelessly on it, and was so disenchanted that all of the effort he put in ended up going to waste because the studio removed his music from the American release of the movie, I don't think he ever really tried to push the boat out again - of course, he went on to write many more great scores, but never ones quite so daring as before.

The sports movie Hoosiers got a fine score in 1986, and the following year came the final movie for Franklin Schaffner, the little-seen Lionheart, yet another magical score.  The decade's end was probably quite frustrating for Goldsmith as he struggled to find particularly good films to score, and allowed electronic pop elements to come through into his work in disappointing scores like Rent-a-Cop and Warlock, and also his first rejected score - Alien Nation.  Among this, however, he did find time to return to the world of Star Trek for the first time with his barnstorming score for the fifth entry in the film series, The Final Frontier.

The 1990s began in fine fashion with Total Recall, a wonderfully clever science fiction score, and the beginning of an important relationship with Paul Verhoeven, and the jazzy The Russia House, the beginning of one with Fred Schepisi.  Goldsmith generally shifted between highly romantic movies and action thrillers during the decade, rarely scoring much of note, but always writing good music.  Medicine Man is a beautiful evocation of the rainforest and features a pair of great themes; the same year, Love Field and Forever Young both have wonderfully moving and beautiful themes; and Basic Instinct, again for Verhoeven, is a classic score.  1993 saw Rudy, one of the composer's most popular scores, and one that has been ripped off more times than most in the years since; and also the beautiful and intelligent, if brief, score for Schepisi's Six Degrees of Separation, an excellent film.  One last western was to come, the composer's first in almost 20 years, the much-maligned Bad Girls; any criticism of the film cannot be applied to the score, though, which is fresh and exciting.  1994 also brought The Shadow, a fine and exciting score.  The next year he wrote the epic First Knight, which has never really got the attention it deserved, but which contains many great highlights and a particularly moving finale.  As time goes by it is more and more difficult to find films of any real quality in Goldsmith's filmography, but City Hall of 1996 is certainly one, as is the following year's LA Confidential, and they both produced great scores. 

1998 saw the seminal US Marshals, a fine action score - but who would have thought at the time that it would form the basis for virtually all of Goldsmith's action music since?  The year also saw Mulan, the best score he had written in many years, dynamite stuff whose official release is sorely lacking.  1999 brought a great pair of action scores in The Mummy and The 13th Warrior, both of which are tremendously exciting, as well as the underrated chiller score The Haunting.  Bad health would plague the composer after the turn of the century, but he would still write one or two scores a year, beginning with a third for Verhoeven, the exciting Hollow Man; 2001 brought the disappointing Along Came a Spider and effective-but-not-thrilling The Last Castle.  2002 saw a return to form with The Sum of All Fears, a fresh score that is brilliantly effective in the (surprisingly good) movie, and his best Star Trek score since the first one with Nemesis.  2003 was frustrating, with the score for Timeline (which vaguely resembles Lionheart and First Knight but has far more in common with Nemesis and US Marshals) being replaced, and so only the frenetic Looney Tunes Back in Action was released.

Goldsmith has written more great scores than anyone else in his long and glorious career - and here's hoping they continue.  Happy birthday, Mr Goldsmith.

Most photos courtesy of - a great resource for Goldsmith news and reviews, with an active messageboard.

Goldsmith filmography (with clickable review links where reviews are available; only key tv projects are included)

Black Patch

Face of a Fugitive
City of Fear

Studs Lonigan

Dr Kildare
The General with the Cockeyed Id
The Crimebusters

Lonely are the Brave
The Spiral Road
The Expendables

The List of Adrian Messenger
The Stripper
A Gathering of Eagles
Lilies of the Field
Take Her, She's Mine
The Prize

Seven Days in May
Shock Treatment
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
The Man from UNCLE
Fate is the Hunter
Rio Conchos

The Satan Bug
In Harm's Way
Von Ryan's Express
The Loner
The Agony and the Ecstasy
A Patch of Blue

Our Man Flint
The Trouble with Angels
The Blue Max
The Girl from UNCLE
The Sand Pebbles

Warning Shot
In Like Flint
The Karate Killers
The Flim-Flam Man
Hour of the Gun

Planet of the Apes
The Detective
Nick Quarry

The Illustrated Man
100 Rifles
The Chairman
Room 222

The Ballad of Cable Hogue
The Brotherhood of the Bell
Tora! Tora! Tora!
The Traveling Executioner
Rio Lobo

A Step out of Line
The Mephisto Waltz
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Wild Rovers
The Last Run
Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate
Homecoming: A Christmas Story
The Growing Up of David Lev

The Culpepper Cattle Company
The Other
The Man
The Waltons
Anna and the King
The Adventurer
Lights Out

Barnaby Jones
Hawkins on Murder
The Red Pony
Police Story
Ace Eli and Roger of the Skies
One Little Indian
The Don is Dead

Indict and Convict
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Winter Kill

The Wind and the Lion
A Girl Named Sooner
Adams of Eagle Lake
Medical Story
Take a Hard Ride
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud
Breakheart Pass

Logan's Run
The Omen

The Cassandra Crossing
Twilight's Last Gleaming
High Velocity
Islands in the Stream
Contract on Cherry Street
Damnation Alley

Damien: Omen II
Capricorn One
The Swarm
The Boys from Brazil

The Great Train Robbery
Star Trek: The Motion Picture


The Final Conflict
Raggedy Man
The Salamander
Night Crossing

The Secret of NIMH
The Challenge
First Blood

Psycho II
Twilight Zone: The Movie
Under Fire

The Lonely Guy

Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Amazing Stories
King Solomon's Mines

Poltergeist II: The Other Side

Extreme Prejudice

Rambo III
Criminal Law

The Burbs
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Total Recall
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The Russia House

Not Without My Daughter
Sleeping with the Enemy

Medicine Man
Basic Instinct
Mom and Dad Save the World
Mr Baseball
Love Field
Forever Young

The Vanishing
Dennis the Menace

Six Degrees of Separation
Bad Girls
The Shadow
The River Wild

Star Trek: Voyager
First Knight

City Hall
Executive Decision
Chain Reaction
The Ghost and the Darkness
Star Trek: First Contact

Fierce Creatures
LA Confidential
Air Force One
The Edge

Deep Rising
US Marshals
Small Soldiers
Star Trek: Insurrection

The Mummy
The 13th Warrior
The Haunting

Hollow Man

Along Came a Spider
The Last Castle

The Sum of All Fears
Star Trek Nemesis

Looney Tunes Back in Action

Game of their Lives
Empire Falls

At the podium with the LSO, London, 2003
With longtime orchestrator and friend Arthur Morton, early 1970s
Conducting at the recording sessions of Mulan, 1998
At the recording sessions for The Last Run, 1971
With Lalo Schifrin, Henry Mancini and others, 1980s
At the Wild Rovers recording sessions, 1971
With wife Carol and son Aaron in London, late 1970s
With the producer and director of Supergirl at the recording sessions, 1984
At the premiere of Hollow Man, 2000