Monstrous Movie Music’s production of this little-known Ernest Gold score is mastered from near-pristine stereo elements, bringing out all the nuances of Gold’s skillful writing for what CD producer David Schecter characterizes as a character film wrongly marketed by AIP to the youth market as a take of hot & bothered southern spoiled brats.
Written, produced & directed by Max Baer, The McCullochs / aka The Wild McCullochs was a deliberate tribute to The Quiet Man (1952) and Giant (1956), and although set in 1949, Gold’s score only lightly evokes the period, mostly through jazzy source songs, and rather boisterous cues like “Drag Race,” with its furious march and mocking brass eruptions redolent of fifties comedies.
The score isn’t a western, per se, but its central theme deliberately harkens back to the sweeping western musical landscapes of the fifties, and that gave Gold direct license to write in a modern style, easily crafting striking theme variations for opposing moods, and source cues spanning jukebox music, church organ solo, and bits of Americana (most of which are collected in the Bonus Tracks gallery).
The most striking aspect of the score is the sheer finesse which bleeds from every cue. Obvious melodrama in cues such as “It’s Your Life” are earnest and affecting instead of clichéd, and while the CD does feature apparently every note of music (including short-short bridge cues), the standout material is where Gold infers emotional grandeur and seething conflict through rich orchestral colours.
In a way his rousing main title theme is perfunctory – it’s the core fulfillment to Baer’s request for a melody recalling the film’s aforementioned cinematic inspirations – because the richest material lies in the grey-coloured cues which add subtext and dramatic anchor points towards the finale’s character clash. Even with no knowledge of the film, “Arrest” is filled with details and portent, whereas the two montage cues glide between militarism, tenderness, angst, and gentility. The intricacies within the deceptively simple “Montage 2” are always astonishing – particularly the peculiar effects by elliptical flutes – and it’s unsurprising Gold was writing concert and classical music in between scores during the seventies. The details within his writing are exceptional, yet each cue follows the emotional progression of the characters without verbatim theme restatements.
MMM’s CD is a real treat, and Shecter’s liner notes give a full overview of the film’s genesis, theatrical release, Baer’s aspirations, and the film’s failure at the box office. Gold’s cues receive specific breakdowns, and the composer also receives a compact bio sketch for those unfamiliar with the marginalized composer. Gold’s best-known score remains Exodus (1960), if not scores for films by his longtime collaborator, director / producer Stanley Kramer (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World [M]), but because so few of his scores were released on LP during his lifetime, it’s easy for CD producers to forget his substantive C.V.
The McCullochs isn’t a long score – separated from the bonus source cues, it runs just under 29 mins. – but it features an easy sampling of Gold’s brilliance as composer, orchestrator, and arranger (including bouncy jazz cues). The tight cue sequencing maintains a relatively smooth flow in spite of there being a number of short-short cues, and the only complaint lies in the rapid denouement, perhaps tied to the film’s structure, and tight budget.
MMM’s CD was also released in tandem with Gold’s Ship of Fools (1965).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan