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Stagecoach / The Loner
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • La-La Land Records / 2012 / 53:21

Not many people have many bad things to say about John Ford’s iconic 1939 western Stagecoach.  Generally considered to be one of his best, the film won a couple of Oscars (including one for its folk-based score) and was nominated for five more.  It was somewhat bold of producer Martin Rackin therefore to publicise his 1966 remake by sending Ford a telegram saying “If you’d made it right the first time, I wouldn’t have to do it again.”  Talk about setting yourself up for a fall.  As it happens, most consider the new film to be reasonable enough; but inevitably, not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as its illustrious predecessor.

Director Gordon Douglas had made the excellent Rio Conchos in 1964, marking the start of a collaboration with composer Jerry Goldsmith that would last four films over five years.  Goldsmith was so good at every type of film, his music for westerns is probably not given the credit it deserves; they vary wildly in terms of style but when he was writing his own brand of bucolic Americana there’s a warmth there which is pretty hard to resist (that particular style of Goldsmith western reached its zenith with the outstanding Wild Rovers).  Stagecoach is one of those scores – extremely pleasant from start to finish, channelling Copland (of course) but always sounding like 100% Goldsmith.

A youthful Jerry Goldsmith

A youthful Jerry Goldsmith

The delightful main theme is introduced in the main title – Jew’s harp, banjo, harmonica, guitar and accordion feature alongside the orchestra.  The melody is vintage Americana, conjuring images of the wide open plains, broad-smiled guys and gals having a whale of a time.  Goldsmith is rightly lauded for his complex action music, but in truth he was the cinematic master of getting inside the human psyche – all aspects of it – and this gentle, good-natured music shows that he got the lighter side just as well as he did the darker strands of life.  He left much of the action unscored in the film – the score’s perkiest moment comes in the rambunctious “A New Passenger” – and while it’s a short score (just over 20 minutes), it’s one that can be listened to repeatedly thanks to its consistently pleasant demeanour and gorgeous main theme.  There is one way that the 1966 Stagecoach beat the 1939 one – its score.

The album also features music from a tv series starring Lloyd Bridges, 1965’s The Loner.  Created by Rod Serling, it only ran for one 26-episode season, and Goldsmith scored the main title and two episodes, the music for all of which is featured here.  The excellent main theme is actually plucked from Rio Conchos (where it plays a supporting role) and the composer makes good use of it in the two episode scores, “An Echo of Bugles” and “One of the Wounded”.  It’s a very different character to Stagecoach – this time Goldsmith balancing a complex mix of emotions as he gives musical voice to the hero, veering from tragic reflection to dogged determination with consummate skill.  It’s amazing how much a skilful composer can get from a small orchestra.

It has been a time of plenty for film music fans over the last 15 years or so – not in terms of new scores (which have reached deeper and deeper levels of banality) but in terms of the preservation and release of older ones.  I think it would be fair to point to May 1998 when this time of plenty really hit the mainstream – efforts from Nick Redman at Fox in particular had been going on for several years beforehand, but it was when Lukas Kendall’s Film Score Monthly started releasing albums that the craze really picked up, and other labels quickly followed in the wake, and other studios jumped on board.  Kendall’s first release was a pairing of Stagecoach and The Loner.  For all the quality of the music, there were issues with the sound – but technology has moved on and this new release from La-La Land features a quantum leap forward in sound quality.  Things have gone so far, we have seen one or sometimes even more re-releases of titles that have appeared during this period – some of them undoubtedly less worth than others.  When there’s a difference in sound as marked as this, nobody could complain about double-dipping.  There’s slightly more music here too, brilliant liner notes by Julie Kirgo and great artwork from Jim Titus.  Stagecoach isn’t one of Goldsmith’s more celebrated scores, but it’s a very fine one, and something of a revelation on this album thanks to the improved sonics, which reveal details hidden on the previous release.  **** |

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