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Hour of the Gun
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Original: Varèse Sarabande / 2005 / 32m
  • Re-recording: Prometheus / 2012 / 70m

Hour of the Gun was the legendary John Sturges’s 1967 telling of the old Wyatt Earp / Doc Holliday story, featuring James Garner and Jason Robards in the lead roles, though this time instead of culminating in the gunfight at the OK Corrall, the film opened with it and then concentrated on the events which followed.  (Sturges himself had of course helmed one of the most famous versions of the more well-known story, Gunfight at the OK Corrall.) The film was released ten years after a rather more obscure western, Black Patch, remembered today for only one thing – being the first movie scored by a certain Jerry Goldsmith.  Westerns were already becoming thinner on the ground at the time, though Goldsmith found a fair few to score during his early years as a composer for films, eschewing both the thigh-slapping, singalong style employed by Dimitri Tiomkin and generally the wide-open-spaces style of his nearest American contemporary in the genre, Elmer Bernstein.  Goldsmith’s western scores were mostly considerably more gritty and, in a way, realistic portrayals of life in the old west, not concerned with over-romanticising the period.

This score does have a catchy main theme but – apart from the slightly incongruous pop arrangement designed to satisfy easy listening tastes of the time – it’s fundamentally a dark piece, always in a minor key, without a hint of romance.  Goldsmith employs it through the score almost as a binding piece, linking various segments together, taking fragments of it to form his action music (a technique he employed throughout his career), which reaches its peak in the terrific “Ambush”, the album’s standout cue, offering a great contrast in styles between the main theme and some harsh, uncompromising writing for brass, and this starts a sequence of four terrific pieces on the original album programme.

Jerry Goldsmith in the 1960s

Jerry Goldsmith in the 1960s

Second among them is “Whose Cattle?”, a piece of remarkably florid detail in the orchestration, with an extended percussion section adding intensity and colour to the furious action music, which contains just a hint of Mexican folk music employed to such great effect by Goldsmith’s friend and colleague Alex North in his western scores.  The piece has a moving coda, a sorrowful and mournful string figure that is brief, but highly memorable.  Also memorable is the colourful “Painted Desert” featuring a lovely duet between flute and bassoon before the larger orchestra joins in; it’s a remarkably vivid tone poem to the desert, though emphasises its uncompromising nature rather than its beautiful expanse.  “The Search” is quite beautiful (but not romantic), with winds and guitar providing a wistful version of the main theme.

hour_gunHour of the Gun is a fine western score; not perhaps one of Goldsmith’s very best, but it does feature many of the trademarks that make some of his scores in the genre so outstanding.  For sure, it’s a particularly gritty score, but is highly-listenable from start to finish, and Goldsmith’s technique of constructing thrilling action music and beautiful pastoral pieces from the same thematic material is as evident as it so often has been.  It was released in the early 1990s by Intrada and was actually (I believe) the first of the composer’s westerns to reach CD; that long out-of-print album was repressed in 2005 by Varèse Sarabande with identical content (but new packaging and liner notes).

At the end of 2012, Prometheus Records surprised a lot of people by releasing the score as the first volume in what is promised to be a series of re-recordings of Goldsmith scores produced by James Fitzpatrick.  The City of Prague Philharmonic performs very well under Nic Raine’s baton – while this composer’s pops-friendly concert arrangements of various main themes have been recorded by many people over the years, this is the first time anyone (other than himself, in re-recordings for both Intrada and Varèse) has attempted a re-recording of a whole score.  I’m surprised by just how good it is – in particular I imagined the distinctive sound the composer got from orchestras over the years on his trademark action music would be hard to replicate, but Raine and Fitzpatrick have done an admirable job.

Detailed notes on the film and score by Frank K. DeWald and on the recording by James Fitzpatrick are definite bonuses to the Prometheus release; add to that the half-hour of previously-unreleased music and the fact that the score is performed by the fuller orchestra as written for by Goldsmith for the film (rather than the reduced one he used for the original album, which was itself a re-recording) and – sacrilegious though it may seem to some – I think the new release is actually the definitive recording of this score.  A considerable further bonus is the presence of the five-moment concert suite from The Red Pony – it’s a wonderful score which works well in this condensed form, though in this case it’s a nice addition to, rather than replacement for, the full score which was released fairly recently by Varèse.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Mike (Reply) on Friday 19 April, 2013 at 20:36

    Nice review…I found the intrada cd in a 5 dollar bin at Circuit City many years ago, and it has remained one of my favorite Western scores. Love that groovy pop version! Haven’t picked up the rerecording yet.

    Do the fonts change throughout this review for a reason? Or is that something weird on my end?

  2. Chris Avis (Reply) on Friday 19 April, 2013 at 22:03

    The re-recording is well worth picking up. James is right… it’s replaced the OST as the definitive recording of the score for me.

    I’m less enthralled by Tadlow / Prometheus’ follow up: The Salamander. Their performance of this is fine and the packaging is great, but it’s simply not a great score in the Goldsmith pantheon. The Chairman is coming up soon too apparently and that’s a considerably stronger score. Looking forward to that one.


  3. James Southall (Reply) on Friday 19 April, 2013 at 23:21

    Surprised you didn’t like The Salamander, Chris – I really enjoy it!

    Not sure what’s going on with the font – will try to fix that..

  4. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Saturday 20 April, 2013 at 01:50

    The team that have given us this magnificent re-recording of Goldsmith’s HOUR OF THE GUN & THE RED PONY SUITE [producers James Fitzpatrick and Luc Van de Ven with Nic Raine wielding the baton for the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra] must be congratulated for receiving a prestigious award. They re-recorded Miklos Rozsa’s exotic, spiritual & epic score for QUO VADIS – MGM’s recreation of Nero’s lavish Rome contrasting with a restrained, incipient Christianity. The International Film Music Critics Association { IFMCA } honoured 1951’S QUO VADIS as BEST Archival Re-Recording of an Existing Score. // And, yes James, I agree > this Prometheus CD of HOUR OF THE GUN is the definitive presentation of the score…with sound reproduction & a stellar performance from the orchestra elevating it to a level of excellence. Luc Van de Ven stopped publishing SOUNDTRACK Magazine in the winter of 2002 > he created PROMETHEUS RECORDS and is now (co) producing wonderful scores. Thanks Luc – we’re looking forward to many more.

  5. Yavar Moradi (Reply) on Thursday 25 April, 2013 at 17:47

    Thanks for this review, James! I look forward to your review of The Salamander….and did you manage to pack up the fantastic complete Masada before it sold out?

  6. James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 27 April, 2013 at 00:23

    Hi Yavar. I never did get Masada (despite your frequent advice!) I’ll probably regret it one day, but I love the old album so much.