And it was a miracle when Dave Grusin won the 1988 Oscar for THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR. The film was Robert Redford’s second project behind the camera after winning the Best Director Oscar for ORDINARY PEOPLE eight years earlier. MILAGRO was a disappointment to those who expected Redford to pull another Oscar winner out of his hat, and it fizzled at the box office. Grusin’s nomination came as a surprise, and the win was a total shock and an even greater pleasure.
Based on John Nichols’s novel, the movie is a charming tale of a small New Mexico town that fights back against a land development company that wants to buy out the land and build a country club.
The film is directed with a light touch and bathed in what seems like a soothing permanent orange sunset. Slight but charming, the story dances nimbly along the melodic strains of Grusin’s joyful score.
The main titles begin with high string harmonics and a concertina waltz as the ghostly “Coyote Angel” (Robert Carricart) blows in on the desert wind and dances through the dusty, empty streets. The theme reappears throughout the film as the angel works his magic to help his old townspeople.
The soundtrack was never released but Grusin compiled an all-too-brief eleven-minute suite of most of the themes for his album, Migration. The suite won a 1989 Grammy for Best Arranging On An Instrumental. This is one of my 9 Oscar-Winning Scores In Need of a Release. I have no doubt it will happen someday.