- Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
- Varèse Sarabande CD Club / 2012 / 49:47
John Steinbeck’s partially autobiographical stories of a 12-year-old boy growing up on a Californian ranch in the early 20th century was first adapted into a film (by Steinbeck himself!) in 1949; that acclaimed version of The Red Pony featured one of the few film scores by probably the century’s foremost American composer, Aaron Copland. In 1973, a new version was filmed, this time for television; it featured an excellent cast led by Henry Fonda (a friend of the author) and featuring Maureen O’Hara, Clint Howard, Jack Elam and Ben Johnson. Following in the footsteps of Aaron Copland and not disgracing yourself would be a challenge for most film composers; fortunately Jerry Goldsmith was no ordinary film composer.
His music for westerns was, until Film Score Monthly came along in 1998, with a couple of exceptions almost entirely unrepresented on CD. Then, slowly but surely, they all started appearing – the gritty action scores like Bandolero! and 100 Rifles, the more expansive crowd pleasers like Take a Hard Ride and Rio Lobo, the more traditional Americana of Wild Rovers – and all the rest. But The Red Pony never came, except on a risible bootleg… until now, at last, almost 40 years after the film premièred on NBC, it has been released by the Varèse Sarabande CD Club.
There is wonderful diversity between the composer’s scores in this genre; this score’s incredibly rich, warm Americana is probably closest in spirit to Wild Rovers. While he certainly treads a road that was first laid by Copland himself, Goldsmith does go his own way – as Robert Townson notes in the liner notes, his brand of Americana was very much about characters and emotion rather than land – and the result is music that is simply wonderful. There are two main themes – a strong, almost heroic theme for Fonda’s character Carl Tiflin; and a particularly warm, sentimental theme for his son Jody and his relationship with his pony, which is at the heart of the story.
Two lengthy cues in the score represent Goldsmith at the peak of his masterful powers – “True Love” is an astonishing piece of emotional writing, so delicate and yet so powerful in its musical representation of complex relationships – especially, of course, love. The finale, “The Foal”, is a quite wonderfully warm summary of the two main themes. I particularly love the gentle piano figures that weave their way in and out of the themes. The score doesn’t often venture into darker territory – the most notable example is “The Buzzards”, which features the only real action music, and what brutal action it is.
This is a magnificent album, representing a master at work, and must rank as one of the finest soundtrack releases of the year. It should prove to be quite a discovery to those not familiar with it through the bootleg (or the now rarely-seen film itself). Jon Burlingame’s liner notes offer interesting takes on the film and its music (including a couple of quotes from Goldsmith, who was especially proud of his work here – which won him his first Emmy). It’s the sort of film music that will make most listeners grin from ear to ear, soaking in its great, great charm. *****