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COMES A HORSEMAN
Charming western score is not typical of its composer, but a real treat all the same
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1978 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
Alan J. Pakula was at the height of his career when he made Comes a Horseman in 1978 - that decade, he had already made Klute, The Parallax View and All the President's Men. A conscious change of pace, he left the paranoid thriller behind him and instead made this slow-paced western starring James Caan, Jane Fonda, Jason Robards and Richard Farnsworth. Robards is the bad guy who forces Fonda to sell her farm to him, then he gets up to no good while she and Caan try to fight back, falling in love in the process. Pakula, as he did most of the time, turned to Michael Small for the music - and it was also a welcome change of pace for Small, who made his name on Pakula's paranoia thrillers and then got typecast in them for the rest of his career.
This was Small's first western, and his aim was to write musical as traditional as it comes. I guess in the grand pantheon of film music for westerns, it's probably closest to Jerry Goldsmith's slightly sparer scores (in particular Wild Rovers) than the more freely expansive efforts of others, but it certainly has its broader moments. There are two main themes - the main title presents the folksy first one, with guitar and harmonica, though this is slightly deceptive since there is a more orchestral feel to the bulk of the score, beginning with the terrific "Ramuda" with some rousing music which couldn't possibly be more evocative of horse-riding across the great open plain. There are occasional dips into darker territory, such as the dense, claustrophobic "Oil vs Cattle", which is a very fine piece of action scoring.
The other major theme is first heard in "Stargazer" (and later forms the basis for the end title) - a really lovely string piece, memorable and moving, used several times throughout the score from that point forward. With such rich melodic writing, some great little pieces of action music and some really moving material for the more emotional passages, this is a very strong western score. I guess it's a risk releasing a score like this, for a film which is well-regarded but which few remember, by a composer who probably doesn't sell many albums based on name alone, so well done to Intrada for continuing to take such risks. Comes a Horseman is easily one of the most impressive of their 2008 releases (which is saying something), and comes very highly recommended.