Elmer Bernstein made it onto the A-list of Hollywood composers after he took over from an ailing Victor Young and scored director Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments (1956), starring Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston. But he was widely typed as a jazz-influenced composer because of his Oscar-nominated score for The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) and attracted more work in that vein rather than in the lushly orchestral style of The Ten Commandments. Being hired for DeMille's 1958 remake of his 1938 film The Buccaneer, the story of pirate Jean Lafitte in the battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, brought him back to scoring on a big scale; he was again called upon to accompany the larger-than-life exploits of Brynner as Lafitte and Heston as Andrew Jackson. But The Buccaneer had a troubled production, with DeMille -- ailing and, as it turned out, working on his last film -- turning directorial duties over to his son-in-law, Anthony Quinn, while retaining only the title of executive producer. Bernstein did not have the year he was able to spend on The Ten Commandments, and he wasn't working on a film nearly as good. Nevertheless, he gave it a better score than it deserved, one full of stirring themes and strong battle music that responded to what the picture could have been rather than what it turned out to be. He used period styles, accompanying the British in "Battle at New Orleans" with a bagpipe-and-drum march, and if the "Polka" used in a ball scene wasn't entirely original, it was entirely charming. The Buccaneer is not a score people recall much when they discuss Bernstein's career, but that's only because the film wasn't a success. It deserves to be considered one of his better orchestral works.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|The Buccaneer, film score|