Noir detective fiction doesn't get much noirer than the novels of James Ellroy, who takes all the conventions of the genre -- a troubled, brooding protagonist who drinks too much but tries to do what's right while being pursued by rich, beautiful, but deeply flawed women and working at the margins of a society that wears a happy face to hide its brutal and corrupt heart -- and distills those elements down until they resemble the crud at the bottom of a coffee pot left too long on the burner. When you turn an Ellroy novel into a movie, the right music is absolutely essential: They take place in the 1950s, of course, so there must be jazz from the period but also an assortment of pop songs. Some of the pop songs should demonstrate the frantic cheerfulness that listeners, in hindsight, consider to be typical of the 1950s, while others should hint more directly at the violence that lurks beneath the facade. The soundtrack to L.A. Confidential includes all the necessary elements, from Johnny Mercer's snappy "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive" and Dean Martin's heavily orchestrated "Powder Your Face With Sunshine" to a dour instrumental rendition of "Makin' Whoopee" by Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker and a rather surreal orchestral arrangement of "But Not for Me" conducted by Jackie Gleason. A pair of Jerry Goldsmith miniatures bracket the program, but are not terribly effective -- an opening miniature entitled "Badge of Honor" sounds like a caricature of film noir music, and the closing "L.A. Confidential" is anonymous pablum obviously designed to accompany the rolling of credits. Recommended overall.
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AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson