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302 066 663 2

Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Strong main theme dominates comedy score


Unlike many of the top film composers, Elmer Bernstein's career is peculiarly cyclical - he went through phases scoring generally very similar types of film for a few years, then virtually abandoning the genre and moving onto something else.  It was only really towards the end of his career that he mixed things around in the way one might expect of a composer of his ability and standing in the industry.  Of course, from the end of the 70s through much of the 80s was his comedy phase, initiated by Animal House, in which his straight music introduced a new way of scoring comedies and made him become the main man for the genre for so long.  Of course, several of the films are still highly-regarded today (Airplane! is still the funniest film ever made for my money), though others are pretty much forgotten.  Certainly not forgotten, but not really very good, is Stripes, Ivan Reitman's military comedy about a pair of savvy new recruits into the US Army, played by Bill Murray and Harold Ramis.   

Bernstein's score is centered around his famous "Stripes March", a piece as rambunctious as they come.  While many consider it to be a Bernstein classic, it sounds just too much like a parody to be put in the same bracket as his very finest music.  Indeed, this is a problem which seems to dog the score as a whole: for all the music's qualities, Bernstein was so skilful at making the music sound like a parody that it ends up sounding like someone else is trying to write music which sounds like Bernstein, not helped by the fact that one of the things so obviously being parodied is The Great Escape.  

Much of the album's first half sees a rather gentle combination of light jazzy music for Bill Murray's character and variations around the main theme; things only really come to life for the excellent second half of the album, beginning with "Graduation March", a standalone piece with all the life of the celebrated main theme.  There is actually some fine dramatic writing after that, such as the action-packed sequence "Captured", "Into the Fire" and "Rescued"; and later, "Freeze Frames", a witty presentation of the main theme coupled with some mock-heroic stirring string moments.  The disc ends with the two-minute trailer music, which is actually one of the highlights.

Fun though it is, Stripes is some way from being top-drawer Bernstein and I must say I find the clamour with which people demanded a release to be a little strange - there are stronger Bernstein comedy scores than this which have never seen the light of day, led by Animal House and Airplane!  Still, it's a good example of the composer's style in the genre which so dominated his output for so long (far too long) and certainly fills a gap in the collections of many.  Let's hope it's not too long before those other gaps get filled.

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  1. Stripes March (2:18)
  2. Winger (1:28)
  3. Depression (:41)
  4. Push-Ups (2:11)
  5. Hair Cut (2:38)
  6. Training (1:52)
  7. Escape (1:35)
  8. Cops (1:24)
  9. Missing (1:42)
  10. Home (:47)
  11. Graduation March (2:22)
  12. Italy (1:15)
  13. Gone (2:27)
  14. Captured (1:29)
  15. Into the Fire (2:54)
  16. Rescued (1:48)
  17. V-J-R (2:31)
  18. Freeze Frames (3:32)
  19. End Credits (1:32)
  20. Stripes Trailer (2:07)