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VCL 0403 1020

Artwork copyright (c) 1976 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Somewhat frustrating score has moments of brilliance, moments of boredom

Of all the scores released by Varese Sarabande on its "second generation" CD Club, the one that has attracted the most attention, the most praise has probably not been Hawaii or The Sand Pebbles or The Fury, but rather Laurence Rosenthal's The Return of a Man Called Horse.  Having never seen the film nor heard any of its music before, my expectations were therefore very high.  While it would be far too harsh of me to say they were completely dashed, I was certainly left wondering exactly what all the fuss is about.

Well, it's clear that the main theme is worth making a fuss about - expansive, incredibly beautiful, it's a stunning piece that could easily stand alongside the finest western themes.  It's more Dances with Wolves than The Magnificent Seven - and, indeed, that's not where the Dances with Wolves comparisons end.  Some of Rosenthal's more indigenous-type action music certainly seems like a precursor to John Barry's later efforts.  Where the two scores do differ is that whereas Barry brought a wealth of moving melodic material to the table, Rosenthal doesn't especially and relies instead on timbre and short snippets of melody.  There are, of course, exceptions - "The Yellow Hands in Despair" is really good, even though it sounds incredibly dated (and bear in mind, it was already 1976 when it was written) - but by and large I don't think this can compare with the numerous themes in Barry's later opus.

What does impress me is the more dissonant material heard in several tracks.  Never quite as harsh as something say Alex North might have written, it's very strong material all the same.  A good example is the very early "The Massacre".

While I seem to be saying nothing but good things, there are clear problems, not least the score's unevenness.  The fact that within a single track we can go from solo, subtle percussion to a massive burst of dissonance to a traditional Indian folk song back to the percussion just doesn't do it for me.  I've always felt that the best film scores have overcome sudden shifts in mood on-screen by offering a continuous musical commentary that takes one step back in order to maintain flow, but this score certainly doesn't do that.  Additionally, several cues just seem to plod along doing very little of anything, and these certainly grate.

The package is just as good as you might expect.  About 25 minutes of new music has been added to what was heard on the original LP, and sound quality throughout is excellent.  Michael McDonagh's liner notes include a short essay which is somewhat controversial (it claims Dances with Wolves is essentially the same movie with a different title and slates Costner's later film) and track-by-track analysis which features contributions from Rosenthal himself.

The music, though, really does underwhelm.  The opening cue is simply magnificent, a classic piece of film music - but the rest, I could take it or leave it.

Interestingly, the composer of the original A Man Called Horse was Leonard Rosenman, and jokey rumours persist that Rosenthal got the call for the sequel because someone had confused him with Rosenman. 


    1. The Return of a Man Called Horse (4:54)
    2. The Massacre (2:21)
    3. Morgan Haunted by his Memories (2:37)
    4. The Yellow Hands in Despair (3:14)
    5. Gifts for the Yellow Hands (3:03)
    6. The Hilltop (1:39)
    7. Preparation for the Ordeal (4:31)
    8. The Sun Vow (6:26)
    9. Raven's Sacrifice (1:35)
    10. The Benediction (1:42)
    11. The Buffalo Hunt (4:45)
    12. Buffalo Spirit Gone (2:44)
    13. Training for War (3:01)
    14. Portents (2:46)
    15. Battle at the Fort (6:35)
    16. The Young Chief / The New Life (7:08)