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The List of Adrian Messenger
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2014 / 39m

A quirky little film from John Huston, The List of Adrian Messenger is a mystery film starring George C. Scott with a bizarre gimmick, having a few big names in fairly ridiculous “disguise”, with the audience supposed to figure out who they are before the big reveal at the end of the film.  Kirk Douglas appears in numerous different disguises and Robert Mitchum has a decent role; Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra are part of the reveal at the end but didn’t actually appear themselves during the film itself.  It’s an oddity of a film, but an enjoyable one which certainly makes for entertaining viewing.

It was an important film in the early career of the great Jerry Goldsmith.  He had recent scored Lonely are the Brave – generally considered his big break – and snagged his first Oscar nomination (for Freud, also directed by Huston).  The List of Adrian Messenger was the first real “event movie” he scored and he acquitted himself very well, providing in my opinion his finest score to that point.  Frustratingly, for over half a century the music remained unreleased and was only available on an awful-sounding bootleg; finally in 2014 the Varèse Sarabande CD Club filled the most notable gap remaining in the Goldsmith discography with the first-ever release of the score.

A youthful Jerry Goldsmith

A youthful Jerry Goldsmith

The composer gets a great deal of mileage from his fantastic main theme, which unusually is a tango.  It gets a wonderful treatment in the opening titles piece, smoky and mysterious, perfectly befitting the film.  In the earlier portions of the score the composer sends the theme through a set of variations focusing on the lower registers of the strings and winds, most notably in “Cat and Louse” where it has been transformed into a dark suspense theme (throughout his career, Goldsmith would play around with main themes in such ways, melodically linking different aspects of films in brilliant ways).  A little different is the brief “Lost Love” which offers a beautifully lilting Celtic-flavoured romantic melody, absolutely lovely.

After the murky, suspense-laden “The Gypsy” comes the absolute highlight of the film and of the composer’s early career, “Beagles and Fox”, a spectacular fox hunting cue beginning with (of course) the clarion call of horns and then trumpets before building into the most delightful gallop, hugely memorable and exciting and guaranteed to be finding its way onto numerous people’s self-made Goldsmith compilations now it’s finally been released on album.  Even if the rest of the score weren’t up to much (which fortunately it is) the disc would be worth buying for this one piece, three minutes of Jerry Goldsmith at his absolute best.

There’s still time for plenty more fine music.  “Baiting the Trap” is a wonderful action cue, the main theme getting one of its brassiest workouts, and it’s part of a sequence of action cues which close the disc, leading into “It’s a Drag”, one of the most exciting pieces of all (even in 1963, nobody did action music quite like Jerry Goldsmith); the jolly “End Cast” makes a delightful conclusion.  The List of Adrian Messenger is a very good score, as mentioned my own favourite of Goldsmith’s early works and I’m delighted to see it on CD at last.  The sound quality is good (better than I expected) and while this release will probably not be the last ever of a previously-unreleased Jerry Goldsmith score, we are surely getting near that point and I doubt whatever is to come will quite match it.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Jens (Reply) on Saturday 3 May, 2014 at 20:58

    Lancaster and Sinatra absolutely appear in the movie before the reveal. Lancaster is a lady protesting the fox hunt, Sinatra is the gypsy who gives the horse to the young heir.

  2. James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 3 May, 2014 at 21:00

    That isn’t actually Lancaster and Sinatra, is it? They just dress up in the same outfits for the ending. (So I thought, anyway.)

  3. Jens (Reply) on Saturday 3 May, 2014 at 21:12

    Just checked my Universal Vault Series copy and by God, you’re right! They totally cheat with the last two cameos! For a movie where the whole gimmick is to SPOT THE FAMOUS ACTOR that kind of trickery is just appalling. It’s not like back then you could rewind the movie to compare.

  4. Yavar Moradi (Reply) on Sunday 4 May, 2014 at 03:17

    Great review James! Can’t wait to see what you write for the new complete QB VII…as I’ve been telling my friend Jens for years, I think it may be Goldsmith’s magnum opus (if anything is). It’s just got so much variety and emotional power. I’m glad now people can here the whole thing rather than the brief album rerecording which is superbly conducted of course but has so-so sound and is truncated and woefully out of order.

  5. Jens (Reply) on Sunday 4 May, 2014 at 06:21

    I’ve seen the QB VII mini series a few times, but its sound is often tinny, warbley and distorted. Hearing a pristine, clean recording of the complete score is revelatory. The Tadlow re-recordings of The Salamander and QB VII became two of my most treasured albums almost immediately.

    Speaking of Goldsmith, I listened to the new La La Land of Dennis the Menace for the first time today. I’m super happy they brought in Botnick and didn’t mess with the mix. These days specialty labels like Intrada or La La Land all too often just can’t leave well enough alone and change the mix or sequencing for no discernible reason. Not so with Dennis the Menace, which sounds fantastic! Since I’ve never seen the movie the added material was completely new to me. Hearing Goldsmith I’d never heard before is as amazing a feeling as it is increasingly rare. I’m still buzzing from the excitement.

  6. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Sunday 4 May, 2014 at 17:55

    GOLDSMITH created some of his most memorable & exquisite themes for films with Islamic North African & Middle Eastern settings. His music for JUSTINE & THE WIND AND THE LION are evocatively seductive while THE MUMMY’S primary love theme [that spans timelines between Ancient Egypt & the late 20th Century] is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a pity that the love theme & other exotic cues were never developed for the album’s release > the CD’s final track features a lush SYMPHONIC version of the love theme, consequently loosing the exotic sensuality that we only hear snippets of due to the film’s structural architecture & editing. The Middle Eastern sound GOLDSMITH created for THE 13th WARRIOR, parts of RAMBO 111 & LIONHEART transports one to that geographical region… as do his scores for THE GOING UP OF DAVID LEV, QB VII and MASADA. According to Prometheus Records’ liner notes for the complete recording of QB V11, GOLDSMITH (in an interview with the Jewish Journal) states: “…nobody else could have written this music {for QB V11 & MASADA} and done what I did. There’s some gene or something particularly Jewish or, at least, that I’m Jewish that I have this affinity for this kind of music that only a Jew can do. It seems like a ponpous & arrogant thing to say – I think only Jews can relate to this kind of feeling.” And what GOLDSMITH composed was music that is marvellous. Hearing the “Kadish for the 6 Million” years ago, when QB V11 was first released on Vinyl, had me in tears – the music was so potently emotive! I’d love to read your reviews, James, of both ‘MASADA – The TV Scores’ & the complete ‘QB V11’ recording in future postings…you’ll be overwhelmed by their “emotionally direct” [to quote JERRY ] beauty. And hopefully a music producer will feature a “GOLDSMITH IN THE MIDDLE EAST” CD with THE MUMMY’s exotic themes expanded.

  7. Yavar Moradi (Reply) on Monday 5 May, 2014 at 01:30

    Sadly James never picked up the complete Masada…perhaps Intrada will reissue it MAF one day and include the superb LP rerecording as well (mastered corrected this time of course). I completely agree that Goldsmith’s “middle eastern” scores are among the best work he ever did, certainly including the “Jewish trilogy” of Masada, QB VII, and David Lev.

  8. Jens (Reply) on Monday 5 May, 2014 at 07:04

    André, thanks for sharing that interesting quote. I can understand why Jerry would feel that way. Frankly, despite my German heritage I relate more to Masada or QB VII than I do to The Blue Max or The Boys From Brazil, marvelous though they are.