CD Review: Villa Rides! – The Western Film Music of Maurice Jarre

Legendary Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa has always been a colorful presence in film, even appearing as himself in some early silent films. From Wallace Beery’s portrayal in the Oscar-nominated VIVA VILLA! (1934) to reports of Johnny Depp in the upcoming WILD ROSES, TENDER ROSES, the larger-than-life bandit seems made for the big screen. But nowhere has Villa had such a rousing musical accompaniment as that of Maurice Jarre‘s score for VILLA RIDES! (1968).

The film doesn’t take itself seriously and the actors—featuring a surprisingly understated performance by Yul Brynner and fine supporting performances by Charles Bronson, Robert Mitchum, Herbert Lom and Alexander Knox—seem to be having a good time. While the film isn’t quite as colorful as its lead character, the same cannot be said of Jarre’s evocative Mexican-flavored music. A new recording of the complete score arrives from Tadlow, VILLA RIDES! – THE WESTERN FILM MUSIC OF MAURICE JARRE, and the CD is a beaut.

Jarre wrote four themes for the score, many of them employing a huapango rhythm of alternating 6/8 and 3/4 bars (most memorably used in Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story). Villa’s theme is a folk-like melody for whistler (no doubt a nod to the popularity of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti Westerns) that takes on a rousing heroic bent when voiced by the trumpet and full orchestra.

[audio:villarides1.mp3]
Click Track: The Battle

The joyous Mexican theme—representing the land, the people and the revolution—again uses the huapango rhythm, mixed with a mariachi flavor. Mitchum’s Texas mercenary pilot gets his own theme in the odd meter of 7/8, while his love interest, Fina (Grazia Buccella), is given her own gentle waltz. Jarre weaves this quartet of memorable themes throughout the score. But the real stars of the score are the infectious rhythms and Jarre’s lively and unique percussive sensibilities in the orchestrations.

Bonus tracks from other Western films scored by Jarre round out the album. As with most of the extras found on other Tadlow releases, what could have easily come across as padding to round out the CD running time instead becomes a lively introduction to more great music from this beloved composer. Tracks from THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, EL CONDOR, RED SUN, THE PROFESSIONALS, and especially the theme from TV’s CIMARRON STRIP show off Jarre’s distinctive style in a quintet of memorable scores.

[audio:villarides2.mp3]
Click Track: Cimarron Strip

After massive reconstructions like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and TARAS BULBA, VILLA RIDES may seem lesser material. Instead, the music is a welcome change of pace from those major dramatic works. The score is quite effective in the film and it makes for equally enjoyable listening on its own. Nic Raine and the musicians of The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra take to the Mexican rhythms like South of the Border natives. Producer James Fitzpatrick displays his customary expertise in balancing the various instruments, from chamber ensembles in the source cues to the full orchestral complement in the full-bodied action cues. Liner notes by Frank K. DeWald give readers valuable insight into the various films and scores.

Throughout the disc, Jarre shows an affinity for the Western genre that may surprise some film music fans. Most importantly, Jarre’s dramatic flair, unique command of the orchestra, and distinctive musical style are on full display in this disc of thoroughly enjoyable film music.

Film Score Click Track [rating:4.5/5]

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: http://cmp.ly/2

2 comments

  1. Many thanks for the review. I really like the theme from VILLA RIDES!, and even though I have the new Universal/France CD with the original soundtracks for VILLA and EL CONDOR, these samples have convinced me to go for this new TADLOW recording too.

  2. i enjoyed the BATTLE track very much

    i was not familiar with this part of MJ’s oeuvre – reminded me a little of his much later Mexican flavored score to “A Walk in the Clouds”

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