Latest reviews of new albums:
The Red Pony
  • 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.

Jerry Goldsmith conducting

Jerry Goldsmith conducting

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.  ***** |

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  1. Roman Martel (Reply) on Monday 24 December, 2012 at 16:54

    I was really on the fence about picking this one up, but I think your review has convinced me. I haven’t delved into his scores for Westerns. Sounds like this might be a great place to start.

  2. André - Cape Town. (Reply) on Saturday 12 January, 2013 at 11:14

    James, after reading yr enthusiastic RED PONY reviews [for both the bootleg & legit CDs], I immediately ordered my copy. I found it bizarre that Screen Archives were not promoting this Emmy Award winning score by providing samples > luckily the samples for Prometheus’ new expanded re-recording of HOUR OF THE GUN + RED PONY SUITE CD included 2 cues from the latter. My first reaction was one of confusion – the music didn’t sound Goldsmithian Americana/Western?? Eventually my CD arrived > I’ve listened repeatedly for evidence of Goldsmith’s Americana template: the sumptuous melodies, evocative orchestrations and exciting rhythms. THEY’RE NOT THERE. Granted, there are fleeting references to 100 RIFLES & WILD ROVERS, but RED PONY is unlike any score for this genré. Was Goldsmith trying to channel Aaron Copland’s earlier Red Pony? >consequently subdueing his inherent style? In addition, there were no emotive resonances that always accompanied films with youthful characters viz: RUDY, A PATCH OF BLUE, THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS et al. My expectations for RED PONY being a memorable Goldsmithian Americana score remain frustrated, but it’s only one disappointment from a composer whose brilliant talent & output continues to give me so much pleasure.

  3. Roman Martel (Reply) on Monday 14 January, 2013 at 16:37

    Andre – Wow I had the opposite reaction. I haven’t seen the film, but it doesn’t really sound like a typical Western, more like a drama set in the old west. As such, I think Goldsmith approached it from a different angle, creating a more character based score. James actually points that out in his review as to the liner notes on the CD. Yes it is pretty Copland-esque. But it’s also very much Goldsmith. In fact my wife heard a track from it, and not knowing what I was listening to asked which Goldsmith CD it was. 🙂

    I didn’t find it to be a disappointment at all. It was a side of Goldsmith I don’t have in my collection and I’ve been enjoying listening to it for a couple weeks now. Thanks for the recommendation James!