A to Z Challenge: K (John Williams’ film scores)

*Read John Williams’ biography here

The Killers
Based on a 1927 short story by Ernest Hemingway, The Killers is a 1964 film where two professional hit men try to find out who hired them and why when their contract victim didn’t try to run away from them. Directed by Don Siegel it stars Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Regan in his final film role.

The Killers was supposed to be a made-for-TV movie, one of the first to do so, but it was decided it was too violent so the film was released to cinemas instead

The main title theme (in the clip below) contains cues that were taken from Henry Mancini’s Touch of Evil (Mancini also wrote a composition for a love scene in The Killers).

Williams’ music for this film is a gritty jazz style, but I don’t think it’s a touch on his later scores. Another of his movies I haven’t seen, but the music doesn’t encourage me to watch it. There are a few elements that characterise the era (for example the trumpets and their repetitive use of the mute to give a “wah” sound). The movie does showcase what has become a particular skill of Williams’, and that is to leave race scenes unscored until the pivotal dramatic moment, instead leaving the car engines alone to provide the sound.

The music definitely evokes the thriller/crime genre, but I don’t find it aesthetically pleasing. I guess not all scores have to be lovely to listen to, but I definitely prefer them that way. What do you think…should scores be aesthetically pleasing while evoking the scene?

6 comments on “A to Z Challenge: K (John Williams’ film scores)

  1. Giggling Fattie

    April 12, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    Hmms – definitely different than the other ones you’ve posted so far. I like the contrast. But I can totally get what you’re saying that it’s not really something that I would want to listen to for longer than that short little clip. Like even then I was getting a little “meh” over it, ya know?

    I just also want to point out the absolutely horrendous screen acting HAHA the fake slaps, the over the topness. Classic hehe

    • Oh yeah, the acting is quite bad! And with the action the music fits, but to just listen to…nope.

  2. I think it depends on the movie, whether the score should be aesthetically pleasing or not. I wonder if not scoring race scenes is his choice or the choice of the director. Usually, the director discusses the score with the composer. A temp track is used. I could see Williams having that conversation and urging one way, but I think I would attribute it to the director first.

    • I think with his earlier stuff he would have followed the director, but my understanding is that over time that changed and he began to have far greater control (in fact, there is one movie, and I can’t recall which at the moment, where the director – pretty sure it was a Steven Spielberg movie – didn’t really get to hear it as they were in another country at the time).

  3. I haven’t heard of this one, but you might consider the film King’s Row. The composer was Erich Korngold, but there have been some discussions and arguments about whether or not its score influenced the main theme from Star Wars.

    • It’s funny how often that happens (that a secondary source is believed to have been the influence). I’ll check it out.

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