“YOU WANT THAT GUN, PICK IT UP!”
“The Shootist (1976)“
9 Tracks/Disc Time: 24:55
“The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)“
14 Tracks/Disc Time: 32:02
Music By Elmer Bernstein
La-La Land Records LLLCD1254
23 Tracks/Disc Time: 57:04 Grade: B-
When 1976 rolled around, John Wayne was near his final stages of his life and had one last hurrah left in him in the genre he excelled and is fondly remembered in. The Western film genre was also really reaching its’ end theatrically, but still had some success with another 1976 film “The Outlaw Josey Wales” which starred and was directed by Clint Eastwood, who along with Wayne were the masters of the genre and Clint would bring it back for one last major hit in “Unforgiven”, which would win Best Picture for 1992. “The Shootist” was a film that was directed by Don Siegel, who was a close friend of Eastwood and directed him in “Dirty Harry”, “The Beguiled”, “Coogan’s Bluff”, “Escape From Alcatraz” and “Two Mules For Sister Sara”, where Wayne plays a dying gunfighter named J.B. Books, a Marshal approaching his 58th birthday, finds that he has rectal cancer and two months to live. He rooms with Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son, Gillom (“Happy Days” and Academy Award winner and future director Ron Howard) to wait until death comes. However his very presence starts off events in the town, as he’s prepared to die in a shootout, any shootout. Realizing that he will die in greater pain than he figured, he comes up with an idea to go out with a bang to keep his pride and dignity in tact in a painless way he only knows how. The film also featured the very last on screen appearance of the great James Stewart, who did the film as a favor to Wayne who had personally requested him.
“The Sons of Katie Elder” was another Wayne western that came out in 1965 and directed by Henry Hathaway. Wayne played John Elder, one of four brothers that include Tom (Dean Martin), Bud (Michael Anderson, Jr.) and Matt (Earl Holliman) who have returned to Clearwater, Texas for their mother Katie’s funeral. John the eldest is a well known gunfighter that has trouble follow him wherever he goes. The boys try to get back their ranch from the town’s gunsmith who won it from their father in a card game in which he was shortly murdered there after, but not before getting through the troubles that come with the Elders name. The film also featured George Kennedy and future star, Dennis Hopper as part of its’ cast.
What both films had in common was that the music was written by one of the more prolific composers of his time and practically the grand master of the Western genre the late Elmer Bernstein. What the films also have in common as well is that Bernstein would go on the write the music for eight of John Wayne’s film and it was very fitting that it would be Bernstein that would write the final film score to his final on screen appearance. Bernstein’s music for Wayne’s films were of the highest quality and especially memorable and in particular, “True Grit” which was the pinnacle of the Wayne/Bernstein connection. “The Shootist” is one of Bernstein’s better scores from the 1970’s and a surprisingly sparse and highly effective one at twenty five minutes. The music is an homage to the relationship and Bernstein has fun with the material as he had grown very tired of the genre as he would comedies by the late 1980’s. However, he would score one final Western, the debacle “Wild Wild West”, that was based on the TV series of the same name in 1999 with his son, Peter and delivering a rousing, hip score. “Main Title (Theme From The Shootist)” is a militaristic sounding opening but switches gears to a lighter, flavorable pop style opening before shifting back to the militaristic march. “”D” / Prognosis” is a delicate and tender track that is very dramatic and melancholic that plays out in a similar way later on in “Pain / Promise” and “Farewells” with Bernstein’s deft musical touch. Bernstein does provide action in the aggressive “Shootout” with its’ thunderous percussion hits, as well as “Attack” with its’ trademark Bernstein rumbling percussion that would be heard in the “serious” comedic score to “Airplane!” years later. “Decision /Epilogue” ends this portion of the album with a reprise of the score’s tender material.
“The Sons of Katie Elder” was a more adventrous and rousing score that features Bernstein’s melodic Western material as evidenced in the catchy “Main Title (Theme From The Sons Of Katie Elder”, with fun brass licks and sweeping strings which would develop into even more rousing and enjoyable material in the almost comical shenanigans of “The Elders Fight”, the expansive and melodic “Dangerous Journey” that features a cool guitar solo, the tender “Hastings Ranch” and “Rebuked” and the musically nostalgic “Memories Of Clearwater”. There of course rousing Western action in “Sheriff Ambushed”, “Trouble In Town”, and “Return To Town”, which features the deft Bernstein action touch. Two vocal renditions of “The Sons of Katie Elder” performed by the late great Johnny Cash and Ernie Sheldon round out the album.
La-La Land’s album is nice double feature featuring two solid Western scores from a great composer who really mastered and reinvented the genre starting with “The Magnificent Seven”. Sadly, the original film tracks for “Sons of Katie Elder” have been lost to time, but the LP master did survive and it’s definitely something to savor from a important score from Bernstein’s career. A nice production as always by La-La Land and gets a Thumbs up for solid restoration of Bernstein’s music.