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MAX DUGAN RETURNS and
I OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES
Two sweet-natured scores make for highly entertaining album
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Max Dugan Returns composed by
I Ought to Be in Pictures composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Intrada's latest Special Collection release pairs the scores from two little-remembered, related films from the early 1980s - both were written by Neil Simon, both directed by Herbert Ross, and both about similar topics. While they didn't have the same composer, the two films' composers were also linked in some way - both having cut their chops in film music in the late 1960s and early 70s before moving off to Broadway for parallel careers in writing musicals.
The headline release here is David Shire's music from Max Dugan Returns. It is interesting to note that he somehow manages to provide a very light air while writing music of real substance. I guess it would be easy to listen to the tuneful score and dismiss it as being lightweight - but pay attention and the detail and craft here is obvious for all to enjoy. For starters, it contains one of the most infectious main themes you'll hear - one listen and you'll be struggling to get it out of your head. It is so deftly done, with a touch of class - and that brilliant tune - it is easy to see why Shire chooses to use it as an overture when he conducts concerts.
The surprising thing - given what the film is, and how brief (27 minutes) its score is - is how much more there is to the music than just that theme. For starters, there's the secondary, romantic theme heard in the various "Max and Nora" selections; a delightful, jazzy little theme introduced early in the score and then developed in the "Finale"; a madcap comic romp in "Candy House / Baseball Galop"; and even some cheesy 1980s source music opening "After Dinner". The whole score is a delight, and is at just the right length that when it finishes, it's hard to resist the temptation to just go back and listen to it all over again.
However, don't do that just yet - because there's a whole other score on the album first! It's an even shorter one - a shade under 15 minutes - but a very appropriate companion piece, even if it is a rather more disposable effort. You'd better contact your local dairy before listening because chances are you won't be needing any more cheese in quite a while. Most of it is provided by the opening song, written by Marvin Hamlisch and his then-wife Carole Bayer Sager and sung by Randy Crawford. It's a typical Hamlisch pop song, which is to say it is charming in its own way, but it doesn't stick in the memory like his best efforts, and is very much a product of its time. Hamlisch takes the song melody as his main theme for the score (or perhaps it was the other way around?) and "Pictures Opening" is a lovely little piece for solo piano, indeed easily the highlight of the score. The rest is inoffensive and not without appeal, but you might keep nervously making sure you're not in an elevator when you listen to it.
The album is in keeping with Intrada's usual high standards, with liner notes from Julie Kirgo and also a little note from David Shire about his memories of working on Max Dugan Returns and with Herbert Ross in general. The music is not exactly scaling the heights of film scoring, but it is still worthwile, charming and very easy to listen to, making this yet another welcome release from the label which has been having a remarkable time just lately.