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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

CD REVIEWS - Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School and Escape to Victory

Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School
Music score by Mark Adler
Milan M2-36160
19 Tracks (score element 6) 58:41 mins (score 18:50)

Randall Miller's star-studded film is about a widowed man's life being turned upside down when he goes on a quest to find a dying man's long lost love, at least that's how it is described in the publicity but, judging from the title of the film, the stills featured in the booklet and the nature of the soundtrack album, it seems a lot to do with dancing. And this is one of those frustrating albums. OK the dance tracks are a bit more my speed. After all, with familiar numbers like "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," Begin the Beguine" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street," one can't go far wrong, even if the performers are unfamiliar, save for the late, great Louis Armstrong. It's just that between these numbers are Mark Adler's score tracks. Now, I'm not overly familiar with the composer's music, but this is certainly the best that I have heard from his pen. It truly is a wonderfully emotional score, with a nice Irish lilt and some sensitive piano and violin playing, as well as gorgeous massed string work. It's just such a pity that a) there's not more of it, and b) that what there is has to struggle to be heard between the dance numbers. If only the score tracks had been grouped together, they would have made for a much more satisfying listening experience.
Still, this is undeniably quality film scoring and I shall certainly be seeking out this film, firstly for the music and, secondly for its brilliant cast, which includes Robert Carlyle, Marisa Tomei, John Goodman and Mary Steenburgen.

Escape to Victory
Music by Bill Conti
Prometheus PCR 520 (Belgium)
14 Tracks 42:57 mins

Bill Conti is one of the most underrated of Hollywood composers, with so little of his great music being available on CD. Thanks goodness that at last this oversight is being recognised by at least a couple of labels. Firstly, Varese Sarabande, through their CD Club, have issued his scores for Broadcast News and a compilation of his music for The Rookie, Jimmy Reardon and Bushwhacked; and now Prometheus, whose releases have been sadly few of late, have issued one of his most sought-after scores for 1981's Escape to Victory, which starred Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and a host of then famous footballers including greats like Bobby Moore and Pele.
The film followed the fortunes of a team of POWs being paraded in Berlin against an elite German team during WWII, who determine to turn the tables and not only win the match but escape in the process. It's all complete hokum of course, but what a terrific score Conti gave it, with a thrilling march theme for the prisoners, a menacing but versatile theme for the Germans and plenty of fugue-like action along the way.
It's quite a short score though, and three of the cues presented here are actually alternate takes of some of the best moments.
The album is limited to 3000 copies, so you'd better hurry if you want one, as I'm sure they're selling like hotcakes.
Now come on, let's be having CD releases for The Right Stuff, That Championship Season, Bad Boys, A Prayer for the Dying, Private Benjamin, Gloria, The Terry Fox Story, North and South, The Fourth War, Spy Hard and all the Karate Kid films. All feature great music that deserves to be heard.


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