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 FSM VOL 6 NO 19

Artwork copyright (c) 1974 Warner Bros., Inc.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Funky cop score


The 1970s were not in general a good time for film composers, until Star Wars came along at least.  The Golden Age composers, some of whom were still alive and actually still relatively young, were frozen out virtually entirely - there were still a few scores from Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann, but very few.  Even the composers who sprang up afterwards like Alex North, John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein had to bide their time on generally unsatisfactory films, because they were the only ones that actually wanted original scores (in the traditional sense) in the wake of things like The Graduate and Shaft.  One consequence of this is that composers moved into areas you wouldn't necessarily have expected to find them a few years earlier - sometimes the results were somewhat disastrous, but other times it seemed to inspire a new kind of sound that the respective composers had never particularly explored before.

One such example is Elmer Bernstein with McQ.  It was John Wayne's attempt to move into Dirty Harry territory (and was released about the same time as Brannigan, another Wayne movie in which he plays a cop - and, coincidentally, Dominic Frontiere's score was released at the same time as McQ in 2003).  Sadly it turned out to be one of the Duke's final films, doing reasonable business.  Of course, Bernstein was renowned for his scores for Wayne (though in truth there aren't as many of them as people think) - none better than the beautiful The Shootist, a gorgeous movie which was Wayne's last - but he'd never scored anything quite like this before.  A rather gritty cop thriller (by the standards of the day, at least) directed by frequent Bernstein collaborator John Sturges, Bernstein blended his own familiar action style with Lalo Schifrin's grooves of scores such as Dirty Harry and Bullitt.  It works quite well, though it does sometimes sound just a little unnatural coming from Bernstein.

Of course, there's a great main theme (it's difficult to think of a Bernstein score which doesn't have one).  It's introduced fairly gently in "In Seattle", but gets some full-blown workouts later on, such as in the terrific, action-packed "Dirty Laundry", the score's standout piece.  There's a bit of action elsewhere, at its best when quoting the main theme ("Rosey"), time for some romance ("Myra") and a little bit of fun source music ("Garden Party"), but for the most part the score is suspense music.  It's quite effective but, in common with most suspense music, doesn't make for the most enthralling of listens away from the film.  "Santiago", for example, is a piece full of menace and threat but it doesn't really work too well away from the film.

This is a score that somehow seems less than the sum of its parts.  At its best it is funky and exciting, but sometimes it just seems to be dragging along slightly aimlessly.  Bernstein's not written much that's very similar (the nearest I can think, at least from his released output, is the middle section of the opening cue from Wild Wild West) and so it's worth having for his fans, but nevertheless is just slightly disappointing.  The packaging is as good as we have come to expect from Film Score Monthly, with informative liner notes, and good sound to boot.


  1. In Seattle (4:42)
  2. Badge / Exit / Break In / Hospital (4:43)
  3. To the Dock / Plots / Lighter Santi (2:29)
  4. Rites / Lois Plans / Sign Up (3:27)
  5. Garden Party (3:10)
  6. Ginger / Rosey (alternate) (2:49)
  7. Sal / Myra (2:51)
  8. Narco / Funny Laundry (2:56)
  9. Dirty Laundry / Fooled (4:15)
  10. Lies (1:43)
  11. Santiago (2:27)
  12. Rosey (2:24)
  13. Anger / Olive and 23rd / Break Out (4:35)
  14. Toms / Sea Chase (5:11)
  15. End Credits (1:14)