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The Public Eye
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith

Starring Joe Pesci in a rare outing as a leading man, The Public Eye sees him playing a crime photographer in the 1940s who finds himself tangled up in a murder investigation after he gets involved with the widow of a nightclub owner (Barbara Hershey). With supporting turns from Stanley Tucci and Richard Schiff, the film certainly had a lot going for it, but despite reasonable reviews was a box office disaster. It was Howard Franklin’s second movie as director and he only made one more, though he did get a few more screenplays filmed.

Franklin couldn’t believe his luck when Jerry Goldsmith agreed to score the film – and then seemingly couldn’t believe his ears when he heard the score being recorded, because he decided to toss it out and engaged Mark Isham to write a new one (and I have to say that Isham’s score is excellent, one of his best). For a long time very little was known about Goldsmith’s music for the film (indeed many adamantly maintained that he never actually got as far as recording it) – but, nearly three decades later, here it is on album courtesy of Intrada.

Jerry Goldsmith

If you expect it to sound like LA Confidential – as I did – well, don’t. It’s got a nice main theme, like a more low-key version of the composer’s theme from The Russia House. Interestingly, the theme from The Russia House had featured in two rejected scores before Goldsmith finally found a home for it (Wall Street and Alien Nation) and this theme suffered exactly the same fate (it was also in the rejected score for the boxing movie Gladiator – which I think was recorded very shortly before this – and obviously The Public Eye, before being shoe-horned in over the end titles of The Vanishing a year later).

I say it’s a nice theme – it’s quite romantic, a bit smoky, featuring a haunting quality thanks to its clarinet solo and shimmering strings (in fact the score features no brass at all) – but you’d better be a fan because it’s all over the place on the album. A secondary idea, a kind of rising two-note figure that gets repeated (often with synth accompaniment) is distractingly similar to a little motif from Gremlins 2 to my mind and I can rarely shake off its association with that score.

There are subtle variations on the themes which generate different feelings at times, but there’s no escaping that this is a very repetitive 41-minute album. When the music occasionally goes much darker, the composer seems to be holding back – he still generally infuses those moments (like “Snapshots”) with elements of one or other of the two primary thematic ideas – I don’t know if these subtle variations all sitting firmly within a very singular world were some sort of attempt to musically reflect the monochrome photographs of Pesci’s character, but whatever the reason, the album does seem to go on a bit.

As extraordinary as it seems that the great Jerry Goldsmith could have had various scores rejected (especially in the final 15 years of his career), now that a number of them have been released on album, they are generally not actually all that interesting. While The Public Eye sits above Gladiator and Alien Nation, to be honest I would imagine the main title track featuring the main theme in its fullest outing would be sufficient for most people – and if you’ve already got The Vanishing then you’ve actually got a better arrangement of it there. It’s still Jerry Goldsmith – so there’s still great music here – but for my money, late-career Goldsmith in noir mode is much better experienced with either the particularly-underrated City Hall or LA Confidential. (As a Goldsmith fanatic, I am of course delighted to have the opportunity to hear it all the same.)

Rating: ***

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  1. Cool Kid #6 (Reply) on Monday 30 August, 2021 at 16:55

    Schiff is in the movie for like 2 seconds! Jared Harris, however, is in much more and is also still famous! Also, I think the sneaking around music ended up being repurposed for Dennis The Menace, too.

  2. Svarex (Reply) on Monday 30 August, 2021 at 23:39

    Ha, did not expect this to be reviewed here. Sadly, as a big fan of Goldsmith, I must agree that most of these rejected scores are rather dissapointing.

    Do you plan on reviewing Murphy’s score for The Suicide Squad? It’s worth a listen.