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Superb moments highlight a short North score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1969 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
A barely-remembered Fox film from 1969, Hard Contract is about a hitman, played by James Coburn, who falls in love and starts wondering whether his chosen career is really the way he should be living his life. Of course, all this is played out against one last hit... The film may have faded into obscurity, its director (S. Lee Pogostin) may never really have left obscurity in the first place, yet miraculously the soundtrack for this film few people will ever have seen is now available, forty years on. The reason it's now available is pretty obvious - the composer was the legendary Alex North.
North's breakthrough was, of course, A Streetcar Named Desire, in which he introduced jazz to the world of film music. That kind of sleazy, bluesy jazz would serve him well over the years - even when writing his thunderous orchestral masterpieces, those roots were never left far behind. It's a much softer kind of jazz which opens this score in the brilliant main title - a more relaxed west coast feel for the theme which, inevitably, everyone will compare with Jerry Goldsmith's Chinatown (which followed five years later). Perhaps it doesn't stick around in the memory quite so long - perhaps the relative fame of the two films has something to do with that - but it's certainly cut from the same cloth, and very impressive.
North gets good use out of the theme during the relatively short score, sending it through a number of different guises. There's a decent amount of other material too - a lush, romantic feel to "Sheila" (which North was able to accomplish even though the orchestra contained no strings). "Number One Man" is an exceptional piece of music. The liner notes say that it is based on the same melodic phrasings as "Moon Rocket Bus" from the composer's recently-rejected 2001 - and I would never have noticed had I not read it there, such is the extreme reworking done. It's a highlight of the score - the orchestral/jazz fusion is something North did better than anyone else in film music, and this is a prime example.
There are some wonderful North moments here, and given that few of his fans will have heard this music before, they will bring much joy. But the album is not without its flaws - most of the cues are generally very short, and some of them leave little impression; and the score as a whole is a very short one. It's presented on the album twice - first, the suriving stereo parts, then the surviving mono ones (and while most of the music appears in both, some parts only survived in stereo and some only in mono). It's a no-brainer to recommend this to North fans; but for those yet to really explore his genius, there are a great many other places to start first.
Surviving Stereo Mixes