Miklós Rózsa

Miklos Rozsa: Film Music, Vol. 2 (Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid)

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Miklos Rozsa's final soundtrack never had an official release from MCA Records, but Prometheus Records of Belgium has released this fine 45-minute CD of the complete score for the Carl Reiner-directed film noir parody, starring Steve Martin. Rozsa was well into his seventies and in declining health when this project came along, and by all accounts -- including the evidence before our ears -- it was an invigorating experience, enjoyable and challenging all at once. Asked to return to his mid-'40s film noir style, the composer revived the dark orchestral timbres and the violent rhythms from that period in his writing; in the process, he proved once again that a great score can make a good movie distinctly better, in this case both funnier and yet more reverential to its source of inspiration. The one thing that Rozsa couldn't do was reuse his old material directly (which was especially funny since some of the old movie clips used in the Reiner film had been scored by Rozsa in the first place, 35 years earlier), and he rose to the occasion by recreating a sound and a style without quoting directly from any specific score; in the main title theme, he managed to mimic his old '40s style and even give a nod to his contemporary, Max Steiner, as well. As listening material, the music holds up very well -- one of the reasons that Rozsa had so much respect from the musical community (apart from the academics who resented the fact that he wrote "archaic" tonal music) was that his music for films stood well on its own, separate from the movies themselves. This soundtrack is always moving forward, carrying the listener through a series of moods as well as musical passages that hold together extremely well, sustaining themselves for the full running time of the piece, which is all one can ask. The material is dramatic and atmospheric, but it's also distinctive and complex music, with room for jazzy and comic interludes ("Walking Down 5th Street," "Rigby Reardon -- Cross Dresser") that hold up equally well. The recording quality is excellent, with good presence and a particularly gorgeous tone on the strings (solo or massed), and the transfer is very clean. The annotation could be more thorough and the price is steep (around $23), but this is a very entertaining and musically illuminating CD.

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