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Shock Treatment
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Intrada / 2013 / 55m

A 1964 thriller designed to live up to its name, Shock Treatment stars Stuart Whitman as a man who poses as a patient in a mental asylum in order to try to dupe a fellow inmate (Roddy McDowell) into revealing the location of a $1m loot he stole.  The staff, it turns out, are just as crazy as the patients, and Whitman is in for a harrowing time.  The film got decent reviews but seems to have largely been lost to the mists of time, having never been released on home video and very rarely shown on television.

The 35-year-old Jerry Goldsmith was a composer on the rise at the time, with a handful of bigger movies (and an Oscar nomination for Freud) behind him.  He had already developed something of a reputation as a composer of experimental music when the film called for it, and that’s exactly what Shock Treatment producer Aaron Rosenberg and director Denis Sanders called for, instructing Goldsmith to go as crazy as possible.  It’s interesting to hear the genesis here of some of the styles later heard in the composer’s groundbreaking Planet of the Apes.

A youthful Jerry Goldsmith

A youthful Jerry Goldsmith

It goes without saying that the emphasis isn’t really on melody here.  Jerry Goldsmith was one of the greatest melodists cinema has known, but particularly in his formative years in the industry frequently wrote music where the stimulation is intellectual, not emotional.  Shock Treatment – with its innovative use of early electronics, and its tape-manipulated piano parts, is a challenging and frequently uncomfortable listen.  The composer sets his stall out as early as the main titles, and very rarely eases his foot off the pedal – eerie keyboard sounds permeate much of the score, joining jagged brass and percussion and frequently piercing strings.  Julie Kirgo calls the sound “feral” in her excellent liner notes, and that’s the perfect word.

The effect is chilling, the atmosphere never breaking.  It’s a remarkable show not only of skill but also of confidence from the young composer, a carefully-crafted and hugely effective listening experience.  The piece that will stand out for many is the exceptional “Nelson’s Escape”, the pounding low-end piano coupled with driving string runs a Goldsmith trademark that never went away through his whole career (and the cue is a clear precursor to the most celebrated one in Planet of the Apes, “The Hunt”).

The score isn’t easy listening by any means, but it’s certainly easy to be impressed by it.  It was previously available only on the “Goldsmith at Fox” box set, but Intrada’s new CD improves the sound (it’s still not brilliant) and adds about 15 minutes of extra score music.  Also included is the complete, very brief, score for Fate is the Hunter, some of which was also on the Fox Box.  Even with three bonus tracks it clocks in under fifteen minutes.  It shows off a very different side to the composer – the main theme which dominates every track is sweet, noble trumpet solo introducing it, strings swelling and even a distinctly un-Goldsmithian cooing chorus.  A minor work really, but still a nice listen.  Whether this album is really worth getting for people who have the box set in which the scores previously appeared I’m not too sure, but it’s certainly worth it for Goldsmith fans who don’t.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Saturday 11 May, 2013 at 19:49

    I sampled a few cues on Screen Archives playlist…and loved the twelve tonality that permeated the musical structure. James you correctly indicated that PLANET OF THE APES had its genesis in this experimental score > Goldsmith, in an interview, admitted that twelve tonal writing was a favourite and developed the complete PLANET OF THE APES score in that discipline. I’m sure that SHOCK TREATMENT will attract many devotees as the brilliant APES soundtrack is iconic among Goldsmith’s fan base. I’m hoping that THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD is next in line for digital remastering as the audio on my vinyl recording is atrocious. Trying to appreciate Goldsmith balancing melodic themes with twelve tonal dissonances remains unfulfilled due to the LPs distortion, clicks & scratches. I can’t locate the CD that you reviewed.