The idea of using a waltz for the main theme of The Boys from Brazil is credited to the film's director, Franklin J. Schaffner (Planet of the Apes), an astute filmmaker who probably knew a fat dose of black humour was the only way to pull off the film's outrageous plot: adoptive fathers of Hitler clones are murdered en masse to facilitate the same fractured household wherein the real Hitler grew into a monster.
Like the Omen films (three of which Goldsmith also scored), Ira Levin's novel was transformed into a glossy body-count film which used a sleazy backdrop (Nazis hiding out in South America ) against which people are creatively exterminated (thrown off dams, crushed by subcompacts, or shot) for some deranged grand plan involving control of the world.
In the first three Omen installments, it was Satan's son Damian trying to gain control of Man and the Nazarine; in Boys, it was exiled Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) overseeing his genetic schweinerei with meticulous detail to ensure at least one of the 94 boys scattered around the world will group up to become Adolf Hitler.
Goldsmith was already familiar with black humour and sleazy subject matter, having scored the morally slimy The Detective (1968), the morosely amusing Shock Treatment (1964), and smaller-scaled dramas and shockers in Thriller and The Twilight Zone series, but alongside the Omen films, Boys is among his most luxurious portraits of grisly, bad behaviour.
What better way to encapsulate a demented plan for world domination than a regal waltz that bounces and strides with melodious beauty, and sways into clouds of furious brass and lush strings before shifting to the score's potent, clipped march that forms the prelude and underscore for every crazy killing?
Boys is filled with deftly drawn nuances, and it's arguably one of the composer's best orchestrated scores because each sound adds colour and character to the film's eloquent snarling tone. The dancing trumpet solo in the opening titles harkens back to idyllic Austro-German culture, while low brass (particularly the tubas) add a contrasting pomposity to the aging Nazis; the title theme is about delusions of grandeur, and an acrid rot kept hidden by pageantry and eloquence.
When Mengele's agents set their sights on their targets, Goldsmith takes his march and reconfigures it in a series of threadbare snarls that are marvels of elliptical textures. In “The Killers Arrive,” there's the basic seven beat statement; the use of fragmented sections whose loose tones reconvene into complete quotations amid source snare drums in the finished film mix; and a periodic use of a spinning pattern (initially on strings, and later brass) that gives extra momentum to the march.
“Killers Arrive” is a long cue, but Goldsmith alters the march's intensity to match the sequence's own sense of tempo, and imply ‘evil on the move,' as Nazis arrive and converge at Mengele's estate to discuss putting the clone plan into second gear action. The cue is also important for introducing the first statement of Goldsmith's Wagnerian theme (the Hospital theme) for the grand plan – initially on trumpets, and soon after on guttural brass.
Goldsmith was extremely clever with brass, coordinating tones and rhythms to craft nail-biting tension, as well as setting up sonic shocks that not only intensified a specific film edit – say cutting to the Nazi goons as they race down the street in their mini-van in search of Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) – but slamming audiences after an aural cheat.
In “Killers Arrive,” we're lulled into a passive state with those low brass tones that don't seem glued to a specific tempo, and by abruptly cutting to the march in a post-haste tempo, the high brass and full strings changing the mood from brooding to intense angst.
The Wagnerian theme later appears in its most rapturous version in “The Hospital,” as Mengele wanders into his fetid jungle hospital, looks through the moldy rooms, and has flashbacks of a nurse clapping her hands like a drill sergeant, and large blinds rolling up to drench hospital patients – expectant mothers bearing baby Adolfs - in bright sunlight.
What's important to the cue's success – it's a short sequence, but utterly riveting – is its sincerity. The black humour that dances about in the waltz is completely absent here, because it's a scene where Schaffner shows Mengele as a vulnerable man: we have an ambitious, 40-year plan the mad doctor created in the middle of the jungle at a time when he was written off as a lunatic and hunted by the international community, and it's what he now lives for because he knows one day the film's Nazi hunter, Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), will be at his doorstep, ready to drag him to justice for war crimes.
“The Hospital” is about an insane dream clutched by monsters, and Goldsmith scores Mengele's cherished memories as something pure and magnificent. There's no reason to mock them because the decrepit hospital says it all: like the jungle elements, there are other factors that will ensure the dream flames out.
When the compound is ordered destroyed (“Jungle Holocaust”) by Mengele's superiors, the Wagnerian theme reappears in a shrill prelude before Goldsmith switches to a sorrowful lament, cresting in a massive upsurge of strings, and drenching the montage of the burning compound as a grand tragedy.
In Boys , Goldsmith's themes are always evolving, and that's sharply evident in cues like the second half of “Jungle Holocaust,” where the march is reconfigured to a kind of pulse; the rhythm implies Mengele-on-the-move, and the four-note spinning pattern, played by strings in “Killers Arrive,” punctuates Mengele's last-ditch effort to save his plan by flying to the U.S. and seeking out the last family he can reshape.
“Old Photos” is the next ‘on-the-move' variation, and it's also an example of where Goldsmith layers three dynamic rhythms with pristine clarity: there's the four-note pattern on strings, evoking danger; there's an off-kilter quotation of the waltz' beats on timpani, and a demented dialogue between a snarling trumpet, and a set of strings that glide through a repetition of three eerie little notes. The instrumentation is economical, but the cue's dramatic impact is powerful.
Intrada's limited 2-CD set finally makes available the entire score, a good chunk of which was previously available on the old Pioneer laserdisc through an isolated mono music track. While there was some bleed-through from the mixed track, the laserdisc offered a wealth of music not present on the original LP and rare CD releases of the original soundtrack album, which Goldsmith edited from his score cuts.
That album was similar to Goldsmith's Alien LP wherein cues where shortened, repositioned, or cross-mixed with other cues, including some not used in the finished film. It's a different listening experience; it has its own tight dramatic flow. Like Intrada's CD release of Inchon, the complete Boys score comes with the original album version, plus all the source cues (including classical) and two alternates: “The Hospital,” minus the full brass tracks, and “The Killers Arrive,” without the snare drum bits between formal score.
Within the nearly 56 mins. of unedited score cues (including those cut or dialed down in the final mix) are some pleasant surprises: deleted cues either not used in the film, or dropped when scenes were trimmed down. (The Pioneer laserdisc includes a promo reel that features a montage of scenes, some featuring takes and footage dropped from the finished film.)
The deleted cues include “”Kill Him,” a slow build suspense cue that makes use of the bass pulse heard in “Old Photos” before closing with a brief waltz quotation; “Do Yours,” featuring impassioned strings for a scene transition (some of the film's scene transitions are a bit abrupt, suggesting some hurried deletions); and “You!” which was written for the scratch-and-claw fight between Mengele and Lieberman at the last household, and features some harsh brass sounds reminiscent of Poltergeist (1982).
There's also “s29,” that mysterious cue edited into the album's “Frau Doring” suite which even Intrada's producers couldn't place in the film. (For a prior article on the score, I tried to find some scene where it may have played, but the possibilities were offset by scene pacing and edits.)
Also included is the longer film version of “We're Home Again,” the lone song in the film with Hal Shaper's lyrics sung by Elaine Page. The tune played in the background when one of Mengele's henchmen lures a landlord (poor Michael Gough) upstairs to his death by upsetting him with clamorous, rough sex with a bimbo on the second floor.
Jon Burlingame's solid liner notes provide some important film facts, composer details, and track summaries, and the booklet reproduces the album's arresting poster art (which is unsurprisingly absent on the lackluster and bare bones DVD).
Along with Saturn 3 (1980), The Boys from Brazil marks another complete score release from an ITC production. Intrada's relationship with Granada Ventures is a positive sign that perhaps little by little, all that music languishing in the ITC vaults is finally making its long-overdue appearance on CD.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan