The latter half of the Sixties was truly a time of great productivity for Schifrin. This 1967 Oscar nominated work was immediately preceded by the likes of The Cincinnati Kid and his Mission: Impossible TV theme, and then immediately followed by Bullitt. It says something about the experimental climate of filmmaking that he was able to make the impact he did at the time, but 35 years later the quality of the music still speaks for itself.
In the film, Paul Newman is a convict working on a hard labour chain gang who has a seeming physical invulnerability and indomitability of spirit. There's both a Greek mythological and Biblical allegorical subtext going on in the script, which was great material for a composer to get stuck into. Schifrin's method of encompassing time, place, and character was a solid backbone of orchestral drama supporting the soothing qualities of blue grass. In the Sixties this was a surprise to audience's ears to say the least. Even if you can't stretch your mind back to imagining how a new cinematic sound might have made an impact, once again the quality of the music constantly keeps you enthusiastic.
Featured throughout are the talents of Ray Brown on bass, Howard Roberts and Tommy Tedasco on guitars, and Tom Morgan on harmonica. It's their contributions that make the listening experience so upbeat. After the calmly lulling "Main Title", we're straight into the first fantastically excitable use of harmonica and Schifrin's bold sense of rhythm in "Tar Sequence" (which actually features a passage that sounds like the Sesame Street Newsflash - I couldn't resist mentioning!) "The Chase" is an example of the score's hard-hitting dramatic chops underpinned by harmonica and soothing guitar strums. The contrast is something like "Egg Eating Contest" which is great high-spirited fun. Schifrin's trademark jazziness pervades either mood, often sitting underneath the harmonica. At the centre of the album, the breeziest of such moments is "Ballad of Cool Hand Luke".
Rounding out the album is a sourced piece called "Plastic Jesus" by Ed Rush and George Cromarty, which fits seamlessly into the whole. Then, after the dramatic finale to the "End Title" is a 7 minute suite of "Symphonic Sketches of Cool Hand Luke", which is a very interesting collection on the principal themes in development. Finally comes "Down Here On The Ground (Symphonic Version)". There's no song of the theme within the film, but this came later with lyrics by Gale Garnett (not featured here).
It's fantastic to hear this music so bright and flawless, and is yet another superb release from the composer's own label which might otherwise remain forever unavailable.
Ian Lace is equally enthusiastic:-
Cool Hand Luke (1967) gathered an Academy Award for George Kennedy and four Academy Award nominations - including one for its star Paul Newman and for this brilliant jazz-based score by Lalo Schifrin.
The Main Title theme that was developed into the song, 'Down Here on the Ground' (not used in the film but fully developed in the cue 'Ballad of Cool Hand Luke') is one of those unforgettable melodies that spins around in your head for days. It perfectly captures the sweetness and truthfulness and vulnerability of Luke. The whole score pleases - potently mixing the dramatic and the comic (listen to the risibly evocative 'Egg-eating Contest' for instance.) Another stand-out cue is Tar Sequence'. This underscored the most difficult task the convict chain gang had to perform. With his sense of fun, Luke managed to lighten their load and put a smile on their faces when their work was done. Schifrin brilliantly captures the essence and meaning of this moment. Rounding off the 20 cues, are two very satisfying and substantial tracks: 'Symphonic Sketches of Cool Hand Luke' and 'Down Here on the Ground (Symphonic Version)'
Lalo Schifrin writing in the sleeve notes recalls, "The idea of mixing "blue grass" and symphonic music in a graceful way was a challenge but also an opportunity for a wonderful artistic experience. I should mention some of the great musicians who contributed to enhance the different scenes: Ray Brown on bass, the late Howard Roberts and Tommy Tedesco on guitars, and Tommy Tedesco on harmonica. Cool Hand Luke is one of the most satisfying of my works…"
…I can testify to that. One of the most charming scores of the 1960s