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The Salamander
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Prometheus / 2013 / 58m

It seems an awful shame that if I say “1981 Euro-thriller, bad reviews, low box office, big-name Hollywood composer” then just about everyone would automatically assume the composer is Jerry Goldsmith, a man who worked on so many occasions on films that were so far beneath him it’s scarcely believable.  I’ve not seen The Salamander so perhaps it’s some unheralded masterpiece – but it seems unlikely.  The film is about an attempt in the early 1970s by a right-wing group to seize power in Italy and stars Franco Nero, Anthony Quinn, Martin Balsam and Christopher Lee.

I remember a wave of excitement many years ago when Prometheus Records announced that it had acquired the rights to Goldsmith’s score and a release would be forthcoming; but hopes were soon dashed when it was discovered the tapes were lost.  The label’s owner Luc Van de Ven has eventually got his wish however, commissioning James Fitzpatrick and Tadlow Records to make a new recording of the complete score, a herculean effort given no scores existed – Leigh Philips had to reconstruct the whole thing based solely on viewing the film.

Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith

The score opens with a dynamic main title typical of Goldsmith at the time – fast-paced, hard-hitting action music is heard right at the front of the film.  As usual, it’s all built around a small rhythmic motif – four notes in this case – which weaves its way through much of the score’s action material.  This is immediately followed by the unexpected choral grandeur of “Funeral: Requiem for a General”, an incredible cue clearly based somewhat on Mozart’s Requiem but with Jerry Goldsmith’s distinctive touches heard throughout.  There’s a beautiful love theme, too, first heard in “Dante and Lili” in an accordion solo before being taken up in sweeping fashion by the strings.  The few bars at the end of the track suddenly see things take on a darker mood – but it’s an exquisite melody, welcome whenever it appears.

Action’s the king here, though, and nobody has ever done action like Jerry Goldsmith.  “The Car Chase”, with its Capricorn One-style opening rhythm, develops into an extraordinary thrill ride, brilliantly performed (as is the whole score) by the Prague musicians, and it also highlights one of the more remarkable things about the recording – the authentic sound of the synths used to provide rhythmic colour, which sound exactly like Goldsmith’s own.  As challenging as it must have been to recreate the orchestral score, I imagine there was an equal – if obviously very different – challenge in recreating the sound of the synthesisers.  Most of the electronics are just percussive hits but in “Torture”, the composer creates an unsettling ambience with a heartbeat pulse and a series of dissonant orchestral textures mixing with ambient synths.

“Photographs / Steffi’s Abduction” is another wonderful action piece; “Phone Call to Lili” perhaps the loveliest exploration of the romantic theme, with particularly florid string writing.  Things all get wrapped up in a terrific end title piece, all of the score’s themes coming together in typically sweeping fashion.  Hearing The Salamander was a revelation to me – really fine music, full of course of Goldsmith’s distinctive touches, as bold and exciting as this composer always was – it’s a great score.

The Salamander runs for a shade under 45 minutes, and as a bonus the album features recordings of two new concert suites created from underrated 1970s Goldsmith action scores.  The Cassandra Crossing is a stylish, exhilarating score for another very silly film; the suite here presents the sexy main theme and later brooding suspense of the main theme and then dynamic action of “The Climber”.  Ransom is a growling, aggressive action score – the fantastic main theme heard first on trumpet and then strings in “Sky Chaser” a real highlight.

This is a fine album showcasing short highlights of two lesser-known – but wonderful – scores and presenting in its entirety a first-rate Goldsmith action score that very few people have ever heard before.  Performance is good, liner notes by Frank K. DeWald interesting and informative – and really the highest praise must be given to Leigh Philips for the extraordinary job he did with the reconstruction of the score.  This is a must-have release for Goldsmith fans.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Craig Richard Lysy (Reply) on Friday 21 June, 2013 at 20:11

    I was supremely happy when this was finally released. I agree fully with all your points. Nicely done James.

  2. MPC (Reply) on Monday 19 February, 2024 at 23:50

    This score is a real gem. It feels like Goldsmith is conducting the score, both Leigh Phillips and conductor Nic Raine nailed the tempo and feel of his orchestra writing (as well using the same era synths he did). It’s stunning how they were able to do it just by listening to the film and reconstructing the score like that.