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Indecent Proposal
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Intrada / 2015 / 74m

I remember that Indecent Proposal was somewhat controversial when it was released in 1993.  Adrian Lyne’s film chronicles what at the time was considered a shocking moral dilemma – a married woman offered a million dollars to have a one night stand with a billionaire.  (Since the billionaire in question is played by Robert Redford, there was predictable joking that most people would happily send the money the other way for that arrangement, though that does rather undermine the apparently serious message the film was trying to convey about the impact of such things on relationships.)  Critics weren’t convinced but back in 1993 Demi Moore’s star power was high and the film made a lot of money.

Film music has changed an awful lot in the 22 years since and if something like this were made today, there’s no way it would feature a score anything like John Barry’s, but actually Barry’s contribution is absolutely critical.  It’s languorous, sexy, sad – very much in keeping with the style he used throughout the later years of his career – importantly it gives heart to Redford’s character, creates sympathy for him, it blurs moral lines – it’s a great film score.

John Barry

John Barry

It’s based around three main themes, plus other less-repeated ideas.  All three are simply gorgeous.  The main title theme with its delicate piano over a bed of strings and horn chords is just so beautiful – full of love and romance but with that trademark Barry sadness on hand.  It’s oft-repeated throughout the score, perhaps my favourite version coming in “The Run to the Heli-Pad” which is scored completely (so cleverly) against picture, with a great intensity.

The second major theme is that from the Barry-penned Lisa Stansfield song “In All the Right Places” (the last really successful song he wrote, though by no means the last good one).  It does sound like an orchestral arrangement of a song (some of the melodic line is obviously set to accommodate the lyric, so it’s a little incongruous when heard without the vocal) but there’s no denying what an attractive melody it is.  It appears in a handful of cues, most notably “Diana Returns”, the fullest arrangement within the body of the score, the melody passing from piano to soaring strings.

In some ways the third theme is actually the most impressive, though it’s easily the least-heard.  It’s what Barry uses for Redford’s character and is introduced in “Dress Shop” – a heartbreaking piano solo, melancholy and sympathetic.  Later it’s given a kind of light jazz arrangement in “Subway Story and Dance”, enlightened by the great Mike Lang’s effortless piano playing.  There are a few other little ideas in the score also worth mentioning – the gorgeous Peggy Sue Got Married-style guitar of “Kitchen Floor” and the tight, almost Bondian suspense of “Helicopter to Yacht”, the heightened drama of  “SCI-Arc” – and it’s impressive how Barry weaves all his themes together into this wider tapestry, with none of them feeling overused.

The MCA Records album at the time of the film included 25 minutes of Barry’s score – including most of the highlights – but was bizarrely edited together into a single track, alongside various songs.  Intrada’s 2015 album sequences the whole score but frustratingly for them (and us) they weren’t able to licence the Stansfield song.  That’s easy enough to resolve (few Barry fans are likely to be without the old album anyway) – and I guess so too is the other thing, more an oddity than an annoyance, with Barry’s preferred (and superior) versions of no fewer than five cues that he included on the MCA release being relegated to the 23-minute bonus section, replaced in the main programme by the film versions.  I know people complain either way about these things so it’s probably a no-win situation for the label, but quite why anyone would presume to know better than John Barry which version of a cue should be given priority on the album I don’t know.  (It’s a common curiosity when it comes to these expanded releases – are there really people so obsessed and so familiar with the movie Indecent Proposal that they will moan if a more musically-satisfying arrangement of a handful of cues is used rather than strictly adhering to film takes, which almost certainly came about for non-musical reasons?)  Anyway, the most important thing is that all the versions are here so it’s not difficult to sequence yourself the way it should have been done, and add in the song from the old album while you’re at it (it’s a really good pop ballad).  While for casual listeners the 25 minutes on the MCA release are probably enough, for Barry fans it’s great to have the opportunity to explore the music in more depth thanks to the Intrada album.  It’s just beautiful music, luxuriously romantic John Barry.

Rating: ****

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  1. Stephen Ottley (Reply) on Tuesday 11 August, 2015 at 23:45

    I agree with everything you say but I would award this five stars, not only because it is such beautiful music but because Intrada has done a great service to John Barry fans. I used to be satisfied with the twenty-five minute suite, but now I have this album I doubt I will ever listen to that version again.

  2. Chris Avis (Reply) on Wednesday 12 August, 2015 at 15:11

    Agreed – this is a 5 star score in my book too. I was completely unfamiliar with this work prior to the Intrada release and it’s just gorgeous. I actually find it a very nice mood album to put on when I need to relax – not what you’d expect for a score for a movie about marital infidelity!

  3. Stephen Ottley (Reply) on Wednesday 19 August, 2015 at 22:41

    As you especially compare part of this score with Peggy Sue Got Married, and lament in that review the brevity of the album generally and the lack of John Barry music in particular, it seemed appropriate to draw your attention to the recent expanded release of PSGM from Varese Sarabande.

    https://www.varesesarabande.com/products/peggy-sue-got-married-deluxe-edition

    At almost 63 minutes duration it responds to all your criticisms of the original release in grand style and probably warrants an update to your review.