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June 22, 2007

The Film Music Blog-a-thon: Invitation to a Gunfighter

invitation to a gunfighter.jpg

Richard Wilson - 1964
MGM Region 1 DVD

David Raksin will probably be firmly linked with the title song and movie Laura. What has me wanting to investigate his music further though is seeing Invitation to a Gunfighter. Raksin scored three films for former Orson Welles' associate Richard Wilson. Of the three films, only Invitation to a Gunfighter is available on DVD. Al Capone shows up on television once in a while. I have yet to see Pay or Die which seems to be hidden in someone's vault.

Based on the two films I have seen, it would suggest that Wilson, more than any other director Raksin worked with, was given greater freedom in composing his film music. There was a time in American film when composers were able to incorporate the influence of such contemporaries as Aaron Copland or older avant-gardists as Nadia Boulanger. Raksin had worked with Stravinsky and studies under Arnold Schoenberg. Raksin's music for Wilson's films is more idiosyncratic, breaking away from conventional film music.

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More specifically, Raksin has a score that uses minor chords, as well as occassional dischordance, particularly in his main themes. Rather than use music as illustration or as background, Raksin scores for Wilson's films are meant to evoke the psychological and emotional conflicts of the characters. The music fits in with a period primarily in the early Sixties with film scores by Alex North (The Misfits, Elmer Bernstein (The Caretakers) and David Amram (The Manchurian Candidate).

Invitation to a Gunfighter is a post-Civil War parable with Yul Brynner as the gun hired to shoot returning rebel soldier George Segal for the benefit of town boss Pat Hingle. Being produced by Stanley Kramer, the film tries to justify itself by being a statement about racism and hypocrisy. What the film is really about is how the Russian born, faintly exotic, Brynner was always the coolest looking guy in a cowboy hat. Not only does Brynner out shoot everyone, but he's always much better dressed.

For those more interested in David Raksin's career in music, he spoke at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

For more film music, go to Windmills of my Mind.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 22, 2007 01:28 AM


Great post, Peter. I have long been a David Raksin fan. Not just because of his immortal "Laura" theme (one of the most hauntingly beautiful and sad pieces ever written for a film) but also because he wrote a wonderful score to one of my personal favorite films Danny Kaye's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." Anyway, thank you for your contribution. :)

Posted by: Damian at June 22, 2007 03:42 AM

I saw Raksin speak at a conference once. He was prickly and irascible, keenly intelligent. Some nerd (well, technically, we all were) stood up and started to question Raksin's claims of involvement with Charlie Chaplin on the "Modern Times" score. Raksin cut him off and replied: "I'm not easily offended. On the other hand, I'm not easily NOT offended, either." The nerd, duly chastened, sat down. I totally enjoyed that moment.

Posted by: the shamus at June 22, 2007 03:18 PM