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CD: Magnum Force (1973)
Review Rating:   Excellent
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Aleph Records
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July 12, 2005

Tracks / Album Length:

22 / (51:13)


Composer: Lalo Schifrin

Special Notes:

Comments :    

Between 1968-75, Lalo Schifrin basically scored almost every conceivable genre: alongside the straight jazz albums, there were TV series (Starsky and Hutch), TV movies (Earth II), science-fiction (Planet of the Apes, THX 1138), documentaries (The Hellstrom Chronicle), Medieval Romanticism (The Four Musketeers), genre fusion (Kelly's Heroes), kung fu (Enter the Dragon), historical operetta (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich), and angry experimentalism in his rejected Exorcist score.

Magnum Force is kind of the apex of his beloved funky, bass-heavy sound, beautifully exemplified in the film's "Main Title." Rippling percussion, strings, and keyboards immediately return us to the electric, urban jazz world of the original Dirty Harry (1971), and perhaps borrowing a bit from Jerry Fielding and his iconic Wild Bunch theme, Schifrin adds a disjointed snare drum march that holds for a few bars, and maintains an unresolved bridge before the electric bass and fuzzy guitar start the film's revised Harry Callahan theme.

In the cue's centre, a dual female chorus sings the melodic, wordless parts of the middle brass; it's an audacious approach that has the vocalists bending their voices to mimic a vengeful army of maligned crime victims, while full brass and strings amp their grievances to a sanguine interpretation. Schifrin then closes the cue with a variation of the march - a kind of hop-and-skip wrap-up - that ends abruptly, and sets up the next cue.

"The Cop" is one of several on the CD that were partially or completely left out of the picture. Here, Schifrin uses an electronic organ to play an eerie sustained note that gradually forms the film's main theme, as if dimly heard from the bowels of a dank well; it's a clever effect that was previously used by Ron Grainer in his superb score for The Omega Man (1971). The same interpretation also appears in "Magnum Force," and is later overtaken by a brief recap by female chorus, but the cue demonstrates early and highly selective use of synths instruments that add vital character without overtaking the qualities of the other instruments.

One of Schifrin's greatest skills - tied to his impeccable jazz instincts - is coloring a cue within the economical restrictions of a specific scene. In the "Main Title," it's passing a phrase from one instrument to another before the big theme rendition; the effect adds tension, minimizes straightforward repetition, and within the jazz framework, gives individual players or sections a bit of business within a cue's otherwise limited running time.

The Dirty Harry theme also pops up in the brief "Harry's Ostinato," with South Asian percussion, string bass, synth, and keyboards; and in "Stakeout," reaffirming Harry's character and his rebellious stance within the rigid police department. "The Bullet" briefly reprises the sad theme (subtly played on keyboards) which underscored Harry's disgust with the world's ugliness in the first film, and links the character's unwavering fury when confronted with criminal sadism.

The sporadic integration of prior and new thematic material is also well-balanced in the Magnum score and CD, and both show the composer's careful use of themes to avoid repetition and regurgitation; it's a danger every composer has to confront when producers, star, or director want a popular theme; it's part of the franchise, and the pressure or danger to repeat a successful musical formula may also have been a key reason Schifrin chose to leave the scoring chores for The Enforcer to Jerry Fielding, although a scheduling conflict may also have been the reason Schifrin was unable to score the first sequel.

Unlike Bullitt, the original source cues written for Dirty Harry and Magnum Force are stylistically easy listening; they demonstrate the gradual erosion of straight jazz (which encouraged more intense, free-style improv) to more a straightforward, genteel style. Source cuts are admittedly throwaway cues designed as faint background muzak while characters make whoopee, pet, or flirt on their first meeting, and "Harry's New Friend," written for a deleted scene, encapsulates a style that probably most listeners will skip in the CD's program. Dirty Harry means action, brutality, and hard sounds, and often these fluffy cues interrupt the anger flow that the films showcase; it is a respite between onscreen nastiness, but the attraction to the series' scores is primarily a 'cool anger' sound, which rapidly shifts from mean rhythms and atonal digressions to a groovy bass, guitar and exotic percussion.

Another source, "Recreation," is a samba version of the film's main theme, and shows a ploy few composers use today: plopping idiomatic interpretations of a main theme all over a film. (In a two hour movie it might work, but on album, as with John Barry's Ipcress File, the platter is just one monotonous record of the same material done big band, cool band, jazz combo, romantic, etc.) Source songs for the 'music from and inspired by' albums have taken over that role, and the few source variations in Magnum Force illustrate the infrequent use of this once-standard practice.

With no vocal source cues, Magnum Force is a bit more satisfying than Aleph's Dirty Harry CD, and through its continuing series of rare Schifrin scores, the label has reaffirmed the composer's stature as one of the most dynamic jazz pioneers in film. It's easy to dismiss an action score as mostly kinetic cues with heavy bass and rhythm, but as Schifrin continues to re-record and release original and complete material from his long unavailable work, fans can rediscover the craftsmanship that's made scores like Magnum Force immortal.

The Magnum disc comes with a foldout booklet featuring appreciative cue notes from Nick Redman, and the album was remixed by Sharpline Arts' Michael Matessino. (A 1983 LP and cassette release on the Vivo label, Sudden Impact and the Best of Dirty Harry, contained only the "Main Title." That mix emphasized - perhaps more precisely - the two female choruses, but with less emphasis on the strings and electric bass. The channel orientation of the wacka electric guitar was also reversed on the Vivo album.)

Fans of the score should also take note of Motor's 1996 Schifrin compilation CD, Mission: Impossible... And More! which features a rocking single version of the Dirty Harry theme.

Aleph's other titles in the series include Lalo Schifrin's Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool, and Jerry Fielding's music for The Enforcer.


© 2006 Mark R. Hasan

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