May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Retrograde Records FSM 80124-2 * (39:52)
Purchase from: Crotchet  Amazon UK

Deadfall occupies an interesting niche in John Barry’s long and impressive resume. Composed at the height of his most creative period, the middle to late 1960s, the score includes what must be the longest single setpiece Barry’s ever written: a 14-minute cue composed especially as a concert work. ‘Romance for Guitar and Orchestra’ is   performed on film before an audience while two thieves engineer an intricate break-in and safe-robbing at the home of a couple attending the concert. The movie cuts back and forth between the concert (Barry conducts his work on screen) and the thieves at the home, with Barry’smusic doubling as the background music for the break-in.

And, if director Bryan Forbes’ notes are to be believed, Barry wrote his ‘Romance’ before filming started and with virtually no reference to a script, leaving Forbes to shoot the scene and pray that, in the end, the visuals and the music would fit. Frankly, that hardly seems likely, if for no other reason than that it also seems so unnecessary. Why wouldn’t Barry have had an outline of the scenario with at least a rough timing of the break-in’s choreography, thus helping him to construct his music with some sense of where dramatic highpoints were appropriate?

In any event, the result is unique in film music: an original work along formal lines (Barry demurred from calling it a concerto, though he well could have), heard in its entirety as background to an unrelated event. And as a formal work, ‘Romance for Guitar and Orchestra’ stands up fairly well. The instrumentalist, on screen as well as on the soundtrack, is Renata Tarrago, who attractiveness no doubt made her a popular choice here. Barry opens ‘Romance for Guitar and Orchestra’ with an andante movement, displaying the gently ascending theme in various sections. (Is it my imagination, or is a solo guitar especially suggestive of stealth? One can easily envision the music working with the concurrent scenes of a thief scaling walls and scrambling across rooftops.) The second movement, marked largo, also opens quietly with strings but steadily grows more intense as the heist begins to come apart. Orchestral climaxes occur at several points throughout the "romance," corresponding to moments of daring or high frustration in the heist scenes. Near the end, as the thieves chisel the safe out of the wall, Barry returns to his main theme with full orchestra augmented by small percussion, itself suggestive of the intricate tool work. The cue ends with the thieves lugging the safe out of the house as Barry and Tarrago take their bows in the concert hall. (I’m indebted to Jon Burlingame’s liner notes which help track the music and screen action.)

How well any of this actually works on screen is difficult to say, as Deadfall is virtually lost today. Reviews when the film premiered in 1968 apparently were unkind, although one wonders how bad it could have been. Forbes was a talented film writer-director and he surrounded himself with decent talent, in this case actors Michael Caine and Eric Portman, producer Paul Monash — and Barry, who scored six of Forbes’ films including King Rat, The Wrong Box and The Whisperers. By itself, Barry’s ‘Romance’ is a significant piece of film music. Although coming relatively early in Barry’s career, it displays a maturity that’s largely lacking in his recent The Beyondness of Things.

The rest of the score to Deadfall is unrelated to ‘Romance for Guitar and Orchestra.’ It consists primarily of a main theme introduced in the main titles in the song ‘My Love Has Two Faces.’ It’s serviceable and used seemingly to some effect in the cue ‘The Last Deadfall.’

This 1999 Film Score Monthly CD, one of just three so far on its smaller Retrograde Records label, includes two additional versions of the song. Neither is nearly as satisfying as the main title version, sung by Shirley Bassey, whose previous collaborations with Barry on Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever were truly memorable. Lightning, alas, did not strike a third time.

As with all of Film Score Monthly’s CD releases, this one has excellent sound and informative liner notes which, in addition to Burlingame’s contribution, also offer insights by producer (and FSM editor) Lukas Kendall as well as director Forbes’ comments from the original LP soundtrack.


John Huether


John Huether

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