Elmer Bernstein had been typecast in such
genres as the great westerns and biblical epics, and his move to scoring comedy
was a coincidence thanks to the persistence of producer John Landis, whose best
friend turned out to be Bernstein’s son, Peter. The film they made was the frat
house comedy Animal Farm, whose smashing success caused an unlikely
rejuvenation in Bernstein’s career. Stripes marked the third
installment in a trilogy of genre comedy films by director Ivan Reitman, who
with films such as Airplane, Meatballs and later Ghostbusters
would bring a revival to the genre, and to Bernstein’s flagging career.
The premise of Stripes is simple.
Bill Murray plays a low life taxi cab driver who tries to turn his life around
by enlisting in the army. Naturally the life of the armed forces turns out to
be more than he had bargained for with oddball characters played by Harold
Ramis and John Candy. The army is never the same following their misadventures.
Elmer Bernstein's score for Stripes
is a classic. Bernstein’s most memorable cue for Stripes is the
energetic martial theme, almost an homage to The Great Escape. Make no
mistake about it, the march is in every bit as memorable as the one he wrote
for The Great Escape. The thing that makes this comedy score work is
that the composer treats the material with great sincerity and straight
forwardness and therefore what results is a tremendously exciting action score
with a nod of parody towards the seriously intended The Great Escape.
Not that there aren’t moments of sincerity either. In the film’s smaller
moments, the composer uses a minor key piano rag to deftly color the
bittersweet humanity beneath Bill Murray’s sarcastic loser character John
Ringer. Both these martial theme and piano rag alternate and play each other
off throughout the score without overstaying their welcome.
The album highlights are in tracks like
‘Haircut’ and ‘Training’, which build upon the march with great gusto and
hilarity. Meanwhile, ominous suspense bars provoke snickers in ‘Rescued’, while
‘V-J-R’ adds relief as the tension eases and a triumphant crescendo peaks with
the title march. Another spin-off march called ‘Graduation March’ works well as
a recurring gag in the film and on album.
There is even an interesting homage to
Miklos Rozsa sailor song: ‘Abu’s Song’ from The Thief of Baghdad that is
used as a melancholy gag in ‘Gone’. Rounding the disc is a special bonus: ‘Stripes
Trailer’ cue composed by the composer.
artwork coincides with the DVD release, and the production values are good. The
release features very informative and interesting liner notes by Jerry
McCulley. Sound recording is all right, but Dan Wallin’s engineered sound field
is too narrow for my taste. Thankfully the Varese Sarabande’s release of the
album is a boon to fans for whom this has been a Holy Grail for over twenty
years. It’s not an album that necessarily has a hugely emotional impact on the
listener, but the themes are so catchy you can’t get them out of your head.
(Meaning you might not be able to wipe off that silly grin on your face.)