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THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY
Delightful caper music from Goldsmith's richest year
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1979 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Michael Crichton's most atypical novel and film, The Great Train Robbery sees the man usually associated with high-tech thrillers tell a high-fictionalised account of the 19th century robbery of a trainload of gold. Full of wit and charm, and with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland perfectly cast as a pair of Victorian rogues, the film is a highly-entertaining caper, making one wish Crichton tackled this kind of lighthearted fare a little more frequently. (It's also a reminder of what a fine director he is, and makes it all the more of a pity that he hasn't directed anything for so long.)
It was his second collaboration with the man who went on to score most of his films as director, Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith's output in 1979 was truly incredible - along with this came Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien (and Players, one of the best Goldsmith scores yet to be released) and The Great Train Robbery is certainly not embarrassed to keep such company. While clearly not as complex or demanding as those scores, it is an absolute delight, one of the most charming of Goldsmith's long career. Unusually for the composer, it is distinctly monothematic, with every cue being based around the main theme - and what a theme!
A brilliant scherzo, the main theme is rambunctious and witty - and extremely catchy. It bounds along with endless energy and great pace, and is one of Goldsmith's very finest themes. The pace is slowed for a while after this as the heist itself is planned, but the light sense of Victorian bounders remains, and every cue is derived from some element of that main theme. Sometimes it's all from a little fragment, and there is easily enough variety to stop the music outstaying its welcome. Additionally, there is plenty of other material Goldsmith weaves around the theme to keep things fresh and interesting.
This is a very fine little score, which propels itself along at such a pace that the 36 minutes seem to go by in no time (but represent virtually the whole score). This CD was released in 2004 by Varese Sarabande, featuring a small amount of music not on the original (very rare) CD release on Memoir Records, and absolutely stunning sound - it's easily the best-sounding film score from the period I've heard. It's even a hybrid SACD, so if you're one of the three people worldwide who invested in SACD technology then you're in for an even bigger treat. Great stuff!