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FSM Vol 5 No 12

Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Turner Broadcasting Co.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Engaging, uplifting drama score

The late John Frankenheimer's film The Gypsy Moths concerns a trio of daredevil skydivers and follows their escapades one Fourth of July weekend, featuring Burt Lancaster and Gene Hackman.  Frankenheimer worked with some great film composers and The Gypsy Moths was the second of two collaborations with the legendary Elmer Bernstein (the other being the better-known The Birdman of Alcatraz); Frankenheimer also worked with Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Alex North, Maurice Jarre and the great Elia Cmiral.

Bernstein's score is just what you might expect.  Seasons change, fashions come and go, governments rise and fall, but one thing that has always remained constant has been the style and quality of Elmer Bernstein's film scores.  Since the 1950s he hasn't really changed his approach one bit, and the reason is simple: he didn't need to.  His music is so timeless (a very rare quality in a film composer) that you can rarely guess the era of the film whose score you are hearing by listening to its Bernstein score.  (For the record, The Gypsy Moths was released in 1969.

The score comes in, essentially, three different styles.  There's the propulsive, uplifting main theme, around which several cues are based, which can't go down as one of Bernstein's more memorable entries but still has most of the qualities that come with his very best work.  There's also some larger-than-life circus-style music that pops its head around the corner every so often.  Then there's probably the score's finest parts, the straight dramatic underscore, permanently tinged with a hint of melancholy, that's in the usual Bernstein style: chamber music centered around woodwind and strings, evoking all sorts of colourful images and eliciting all sorts of vivid emotions.  While Bernstein will forever best be known with the public for his rambunctious western themes, the most brilliant gift he has brought to the world of film music has been his poignant dramatic scores, in every decade from the 1950s onwards.  People always point to To Kill a Mockingbird, but in truth there are countless other works that are just as brilliant.

Also on the album are two suites of source music, one for nightclub scenes (some of it composer by Shorty Rogers) and one of various marches Bernstein wrote.  The album benefits from excellent sound and the customary excellent liner notes, by Lukas Kendall and Jeff Bond.  The Gypsy Moths is a magical score, well worth seeking out for all those who get pleasure from Bernstein's work.  Copies are still available at the time of writing from Film Score Monthly's website.


  1. Trio's Tricks with Banner (:59)
  2. Main Title (3:45)
  3. Talk / Bridgeville (2:18)
  4. Reunion (1:31)
  5. Contact (1:55)
  6. Sunset / To the Flame (2:16)
  7. Into the Night (4:55)
  8. And Later (2:29)
  9. Big Stunt (3:22)
  10. Mourning (1:12)
  11. Malcolm's Feat / Going On (2:11)
  12. Nightclub Rag (1:19)
  13. Nightclub Rag (alternate) (1:51)
  14. JB No 2 (1:23)
  15. JB No 3 (1:59)
  16. The Grind (2:27)
  17. Crazy Browdy (1:14)
  18. Tassle Time (1:30)
  19. Swampy Funky (1:20)
  20. Funky Paradise (2:02)
  21. Water Wings (2:26)
  22. Soaring March (1:28)
  23. PA Waltz (2:10)
  24. March of the Moths (1:36)
  25. PA No 4 (:49)
  26. PA No 5 (2:24)
  27. That Old Black Cape of Mine (1:54)
  28. Da Capo (2:29)
  29. Main Title (alternate) (2:51)