Lawrence of Arabia

9 Favorite Film Scores of Maurice Jarre

In celebration of the imminent release of Tadlow’s new re-recording of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, I’m devoting this month’s “9 on the 9th” post to three-time Oscar-winner Maurice Jarre. I’ve always had a love it/hate it relationship with much of Jarre’s music. I often put him in the same category as Dimitri Tiomkin. When he’s good, he’s very good. But at times the music overwhelms a scene or seems completely out of place, drawing unnecessary attention to itself.

I can do without most of Jarre’s purely electronic output in the ’80s. much of which (WITNESS, for example) would have benefited from more acoustic instruments. Still, there’s still no denying Jarre’s inimitable style. His unique use of percussion and his woodwind writing are particularly noteworthy. And few composers have the same facility with a melody. Like it or not, a Jarre score sounds like no other. Here are nine examples that show off Jarre’s strengths (and occasional weaknesses).

9. A WALK IN THE CLOUDS (1995)

mauricejarre 9 Favorite Film Scores of Maurice Jarre

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Keanu Reeves stars as a married man who poses as the husband of a young pregnant woman (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) who must face her domineering father (Anthony Quinn). While the Mexican-American ethnicity is largely missing from Jarre’s music, it’s a lovely score with a memorable main theme. The score won Jarre his fourth Golden Globe.

8. A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984)

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I’m of two minds about this score. Adapted from an uninvolving novel by E.M. Forster, I find David Lean’s final film to be a pompous, turgid, overrated waste of celluloid. And I think Jarre’s music, especially the main theme in its dance band arrangement, is entirely wrong and anachronistic, and the score was undeserving of its Oscar. (Wouldn’t this have been a wonderful chance to honor Alex North for UNDER THE VOLCANO or Randy Newman for THE NATURAL? I guarantee you if Ennio Morricone’s people hadn’t missed the filing deadline, he would have won for ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.) Yet, I have to admit Jarre’s music is catchy, and I enjoy the score on its own, even though it dredges up memories of the excruciating film. As you can see, even after 25 years, I still waffle back and forth on this one.

7. RYAN’S DAUGHTER (1970)

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Sarah Miles gives a lovely performance as a young woman who, bored with her marriage to humdrum schoolteacher Robert Mitchum, has an affair with a dashing English soldier in World War I Ireland. Long and leisurely paced to say the least, the film contains some of the most beautiful cinematography you’ll ever see. You’re never not aware of Jarre’s music, but the score deserves inclusion for that infectious main theme.

6. SUNSHINE (1999)

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This epic, muilti-generational tale of a Hungarian Jewish family through the 20th Century was positioned as prime Oscar bait. With three Golden Globe nominations–Best Picture (Drama), Director (István Szabó), and Jarre’s score–the film’s international story obviously made an impression on the Hollywood Foreign Press. But U.S. audiences weren’t interested and neither was Oscar. I’ve never seen the film, but this lovely, classically tinged score deserves more notice from film score fans.

5. THE BRIDE (1985)

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Jennifer Beal’s talents in FLASHDANCE were more evident in her dancing stunt double, while Sting’s screen charisma in DUNE proved that he should stick to singing and songwriting. So casting these two acting dynamos in this modern remake of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN probably doomed the project from the start. Yet, the Gothic environment allowed Jarre the opportunity to write one of his lushest, most romantic scores, with a soaring main theme. The Varese Sarabande release a few years ago was snapped up quickly (not PREDATOR quickly, but still relatively fast for the good old days). If you can ever find a reasonably priced copy on eBay, grab it. You won’t be disappointed.

4. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)

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Sure, Julie Christie suffers through the Russian Revolution in beautiful ’60s white lipstick and eyeliner, but this adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s far superior novel is still entertaining thanks to David Lean’s storytelling skills and Jarre’s memorable score. You’ll probably get sick of “Lara’s Theme” a third of way into the film, but don’t blame Jarre. It was Lean’s idea to cue up the famous melody at every turn. The film practically defines “sweeping epic,” and Jarre’s Oscar-winning music–with that insistent balalaika–has a great deal to do with its success. The male voices of the Russian chorus give the music a proper dramatic heft.

3. LION OF THE DESERT (1981)

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For my tastes, Jarre seems to be most inspired when he’s baking in the desert sun. This time it’s the African desert as Anthony Quinn stars as Omar Mukhtar, an Arab Muslim rebel who fought against the Italian conquest of Libya in World War I. I’ve owned this score for years, but usually only listened to the score it’s often paired with, THE MESSAGE. But Tadlow’s excellent release of the expanded LION score reveals new riches buried in the sand, in particular a haunting French horn main theme that burrows under your skin. And like sand mixed with sweat, this is music you just can’t shake it off.

2. MOHAMMAD: MESSENGER OF GOD (1977)

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It’s odd to make a film in which your main character cannot be seen or heard on screen, but such is the case with this surprisingly interesting film about the birth of Islam. (By Islamic law any physical depiction of the prophet is considered a sin within the faith.) The film, more commonly known as THE MESSAGE, contains one of Jarre’s strongest, and yet least known, scores. With its prominent use of percussion, zither and Ondes Martinot, the music owes more than a little debt to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Yet it’s a strong entry in the Jarre canon on its own, and a surprise (and worthy) Oscar nominee.

1. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

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What else could occupy the top slot? The film is the perfect match of director, actor, scriptwriter, cinematographer, and composer. With a famous main theme that practically screams “film music,” this is a film and score that need to be seen and heard on the big screen to be truly appreciated. Jarre’s use of percussion and ethnic instrumentation give the music a flair that still excites nearly 50 years later. This is Jarre’s masterpiece.

What are some of your favorite Maurice Jarre scores?

About Jim Lochner

Jim has been writing about film music for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Texas at Arlington and a Master of Music from The University of Texas (Austin), both in Clarinet Performance. He has written soundtrack CD liner notes for Intrada, Varèse Sarabande Records, Film Score Monthly, La-La Land Records and Disques Cinemusique. Jim has been a bimonthly guest on BBC-Kent’s Drive Home at the Movies radio program and has been interviewed by a number of online and print outlets, including The Toronto Globe and Mail and the Los Angeles Times. Jim served as the managing editor of Film Score Monthly Online (FSMOnlineMag.com) and is currently writing a book on Charlie Chaplin's film music. For more information, visit JimLochner.com.

29 comments

  1. Robert Keith Mundorff
    Reply

    I grew up in the late 70s and the first time I remember seeing Maurice Jarre’s name up on the big screen while viewing Witness. I still listen to that synth score every now and again. But my favorites of his from the 80s would have to be his scoring for The Mosquito Coast and Mad Mad Beyond Thunderdome. Simply love the Main Theme and Allie’s Theme from The Mosquito Coast and what a great saxaphone sound in Thunderdome!

  2. I’d definitely rank LAWRENCE as one of the top ten film scores of all time – so it’s great to see you analyze some of his work this month. His prolific output was really varied and comparing him to Tiomkin was right on. I can’t help but be a big fan of the “mighty Maurice”.
    I’ll mention additional Jarre in the sixties with what I like to call his “Nazi quartet”: IS PARIS BURNING?, THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, THE TRAIN and Visconti’s THE DAMNED (LA CADUTA DEGLI DEI). All these scores have the overtly aggressive martial themes and sinister lullabies that seemed to be Jarre’s distinctive trademark during the silver-age years.

  3. Nice to see Sunshine on here. A really lovely score. I too never cared for Jarre’s electronic output; have you heard the great orchestral interpretations of “Building the Barn” from Witness? Jarre did one himself on the compilation album The Emotion and the Strength (which is a really nice overview of Jarre’s career), and Bruce Broughton did one for the spectacular Music for Murder album. It proves your point that the music in these scores would have been far better served with a traditional symphony.

    Other Jarre highlights for me are The Man Who Would Be King, sections of The Dead Poet’s Society, and, if this counts, his concert tribute to David Lean, “Remembrance.”

    I think Jarre is just such a master of elegance and big old-fashioned “movie music.” He also had a real knack for dressing his music with exotic, ethnic decoration. I agree that his scores often draw attention to themselves, but in a day when film music is either buried so deep under the surface, or itself so indistinguishable from the roaring sound effects, it’s nice to watch a film where the music gets such front-and-center treatment as his did (at least for us hopeless film music lovers).

    • I don’t know those albums. I definitely need to check them out.

      I agree that it’s often nice to see the music so front-and-center, but it wasn’t always the best choice for certain scenes. Then again, he wasn’t the first or the last to do that, so I’ll cut him some slack. :)

  4. Great list, as always!

    Enemy Mine is a personal favorite of mine. It features a very strong main theme and a wide spectrum of musical choices: from abstract synth textures to epic, symphonic writing; from atonal mayhem to tender melodic ideas.

  5. How lucky that Benjamin Britten, William Walton, and Malcolm Arnold all turned down Maurice Jarre’s first big assignment. If ever a score captured the essence of a film in all its facets, it’s LAWRENCE. I’ve read that people who had known T.E. Lawrence considered the movie – dramatic licence and all – an accurate representation of how he saw himself. And Jarre seems to channel that vision.

    But now I read a statement from Gerard Schurmann, who was orginally hired as co-composer but ultimately settled for orchestrator credit, to the effect that Jarre had intended a different feel for the music – when he communicated any intentions at all. I wonder. Jarre is so identifiable. Could so many of his scores have followed a style originally established by Schurmann?

    Anyway, I listened to the end title from RESURRECTION recently, and will have to hear that score again (if it’s even available). Also, in a different vein, MOON OVER PARADOR is funny and lovely at the same time. I’ve always resisted his other “Middle Eastern” works, figuring they’d pale in comparison to his first, fortuitous collaboration with Lean; but following your recommendations, my resistance will probably crumble – after I’ve enjoyed what promises, from the excerpts available, to be the first really satisfying recording of LAWRENCE.

    • Can you imagine what the score would have sounded like with any of those British giants at the helm? I have no doubt they would have done magnificent jobs. But it wouldn’t be LAWRENCE without Jarre, that’s for sure.

      In my interview for FSMO with James Fitzpatrick of Tadlow, he said that Jarre and Schurmann definitely did NOT get along. I doubt we’ll ever know the full drama of that story.

      Give those other Middle Eastern scores a try. They’re great!

    • Thanks for these clips, Charles. I’ve seen ISADORA but it’s been a long time. I don’t remember the film or the score, so this whets my appetite. Haven’t seen THE PROFESSIONALS, but that’s an energetic main title (I assume). May have to check this one out too.

  6. Never been a major fan of Jarre (particularly after he discovered synthesizers), but only score I own by him is an all-time favorite: William Wyler’s “The Collector.”

  7. Lawrence is certainly a class by itself. I wonder what he would have done with Bridge Over the River Kwai, given Malcolm Arnold’s limited range as film composer. I would include The Train as a favorite because it worked so well in the film (with a nod to Arthur Honnegger’s Pacific 231)and, unlike some of the others in your list, the film was good as well.

      • Hi Katie, thanks for commenting. I can’t say that GHOST is one of my favorite Jarre scores. In fact, while I think the electronics are somewhat appropriate the otherworldly atmosphere of the story, I think it makes the music sound cold and distant. Outside of the love theme, I don’t think there’s much there. What it is about the score that appeals to you?

  8. I am absolutely apalled by Roger Reed’s comment in respect to Malcolm Arnold’s “limited range” as a film composer. What a stupid comment.

  9. One of the best scores of Maurice Jarre for me is JESUS OF NAZARETH, being Jarre my favorite composer here is my list of the 9 best scores of him:

    9 – The Bride
    8 – Villa Rides!
    7 – Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
    6 – Mohammed, Messenger Of God
    5 – Doctor Zhivago
    4 – A Passage To India
    3 – Jesus Of Nazareth
    2 – Lion Of The Desert
    1 – Lawrence Of Arabia

  10. Great list.. the message soundtrack always gives goosebumps. and lawrence of arabia has a priceless score.

  11. Having big trouble finding Jarre scores that I like. Listened to 5 so far and only Arabia stood out, but here’s my very poor top 5 ;)

    1. Lawrence Of Arabia
    2. Prancer
    3. A Passage To India
    4. Solar Crisis
    5. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

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