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The Blue Max
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • La-La Land Records / 2014 / 123m (score 51m)

Jerry Goldsmith had already cemented his reputation as a film composer of note when he scored the high-profile World War I film The Blue Max in 1966.  Starring George Peppard, James Mason and Ursula Andress, it tells the story of a German pilot trying to earn the coveted Blue Max medal for reaching twenty enemy kills – a Hollywood movie telling the story from the German perspective was a bold move at the time, and would indeed be pretty unlikely even today.  Director John Guillerman worked with many fine film composers in his time (John Barry on King Kong, John Williams on The Towering Inferno, Nino Rota on Death on the Nile) but The Blue Max is surely the best score for one of his movies.

It wouldn’t perhaps be too much of a stretch to say that this music is amongst the most thrilling musical evocations of aerial combat ever composed, and inspired several imitators (arguably including Williams himself, whose music for the dogfighting scenes in Star Wars perhaps owes a debt).  The main theme is soaring, thrilling – one of Goldsmith’s finest.  The action music is first-rate – “First Blood” is the first example, with the composer making fine use of a wind machine to add a further evocative touch, and building it all from a thrilling fugue.  This material is later pushed to an even higher level in the lengthy tracks “The Attack” and “Retreat”, which are as exciting as any music Goldsmith has written (praise indeed).  Another action highlight is the stirring “The Bridge”, which sees Goldsmith making full use of an extended brass section.

Jerry Goldsmith in the 1960s

There is a lovely waltz variation on the main theme in “A Small Favour” and, later, “Nothing Needed”, which are delightful, lovely little breaks from the bold music surrounding them.  The theme is heard in more traditional form many times (and even more in the film, where the main title was tracked in at various points, the filmmakers liked it so much).  “The New Arrival” introduces a theme for Peppard’s character Stachel, related melodically to the main theme but its minor key lending it a darker, at times psychological feel.  “The Cobra” is a particularly deep variant, musically impeccable and emotionally distinctive.  The triumvirate of main themes is complete with a love theme underscoring the burgeoning romance between Peppard and Andress’s characters; touching stuff.  This is a score of numerous highlights.  Goldsmith collected most of them together in a magnificent extended concert suite which he performed regularly, but hearing the entire score as composed (some of it was dropped from the film) is a thrill ride from start to finish.

This release from La-La Land Records marks the score’s fourth appearance on compact disc (Varèse Sarabande, Sony Legacy and finally Intrada had earlier put the score out).  It has better sound than the previous releases and while it doesn’t offer any additional score (though there is some more source music – does anyone listen to source music!? – and some tracks which were previously separate have been combined – and some tracks that were previously combined are now separate) the album does feature a remastered, reassembled version of the original album programme.  This is a great score – it’s the composer’s most expansive for a war movie and one of the finest scores in the genre.  The main theme is so memorable and in “The Attack” and “Retreat” come two of the finest action music constructions ever done by the composer who did them better than anyone.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Jens (Reply) on Sunday 5 January, 2014 at 19:25

    The thing that’s truly remarkable to me about The Blue Max is where it sits in the Goldsmith filmography. To me it’s always sounded stylistically like his much later, more lush works, rather than the 60s scores that surrounded it. Kind of like if the Beatles had released Revolver between the Second Album and A Hard Day’s Night.

  2. Pieter (Reply) on Sunday 6 April, 2014 at 10:45

    Did you know he lifted a phrase or was “inspired” by a phrase in Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome – Fountains of Rome – Roman Festivals in the Attack or Retreat cue? I don’t remember exactly which cues it was.
    My favorite cue in t he blue max is “the brigde”. I feel The Blue Max was still Goldsmith on the up and he did even better with the Sand Pebbles. Note that for the overture of the “Sand Pebbles” he equally lifted/ was inspired by a short phrase in the same Respighi tone poems.
    Anyway , I like the rerecording of the Sand Pebbles by Goldsmith an awful lot, even if there is a small problem with sound levels.

    Best regards


    Pines of Rome (Italian: Pini di Roma) is a symphonic poem written by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi in 1924. It is the second orchestral work in his “Roman trilogy”, preceded by Fountains of Rome (1917) and followed by Roman Festivals (1926)

  3. Jens Roth (Reply) on Saturday 7 October, 2017 at 22:38

    Great review to a realy great and outstandig music! Will there be a review about the splendid Tadlow-recording of that music? I realy hope for it!

    • James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 8 October, 2017 at 16:12

      That’s a really splendid album. Hopefully some day.