I’ve never participated in a fox hunt for a couple of reasons—1) It’s now banned almost everywhere, 2) I’m afraid of horses, and 3) it requires me to be outdoors. Though I’m fully aware of the animal cruelty issues, there’s still something appealing about the time-honored tradition of a good old-fashioned hunt. Plus, I think I’d look damn good in a pair of jodhpurs. So I live out these admittedly romantic notions through the movies, where the hunt usually brings out the best in a composer.
One of the most memorable fox hunts on film, from 1963’s TOM JONES, features no music at all. I would have liked to hear what John Addison would have added to his Oscar-winning score for that particular scene.
Shattering the time-honored traditions of the hunt is Rosalind Russell’s delicious performance as AUNTIE MAME (1958). In this comic delight, Roz’s wacky Mame Dennis tries to impress the Southern family of her soon-to-be-husband Beau by agreeing to ride side-saddle. When jealous young filly Sally Catoe gives Mame the most dangerous horse in the county to ride, Mame charges out of the gate on a wild chase across the plantation, over stone walls (“She’s passing the fox!”) and through Mother Burnside’s prize bougainvilleas. Bronislau Kaper’s energetic music stays in the saddle every step of the way as the cue’s freneticism gives the scene added humor.
In the climactic hunt from the 1963 crime thriller THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER, Jerry Goldsmith gives his French horns a real workout. The horns trades triplet motifs in a call-and-answer session with the trumpets, woodwinds, and timpani. The instruments pass musical lines back and forth in a rousing musical set-piece, scored in the style of Goldsmith’s early TV work, setting the stage for a darker fox hunt decades later.
THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981) was by far the weakest in the OMEN trilogy. Sure, the killings were still there, with some of them truly horrific. (I’ve never looked at an iron in the same way ever since.) But Sam Neill’s adult Damien, now fully aware of his powers, robbed the Antichrist of any menace and sleepwalks through the film in a somnambulistic performance. Jerry Goldsmith’s music, however, had only matured since his Oscar-winning score for the original film five years earlier. In addition to the horrific music for the death scenes, Goldsmith scored a glorious finale when Damian comes face to face with Christ in the ruins of a country church. The scene is ridiculous, mainly due to Neill, but Goldsmith’s music caps the trilogy with a majestic ending worthy of the series.
Goldsmith’s cue for this fox hunt is understandably far darker than that for ADRIAN MESSENGER. As the French horns and low strings gallop along in their triplet rhythms, Goldsmith sets two against three, mixing the beat subdivisions between duplets and triplets. The menacing theme for Damian rises above the fray in the trombones, punctuated by frantic woodwind figures. The tolling of bells ends the cue in a somber death knell.
As befitting the period of the American Revolution, John Corigliano’s stunning fox hunt for the 1985 flop REVOLUTION is more classically orchestrated. In what Corigliano called a “jaunty” scherzo, the syncopation gives the impression of mixed meters, keeping the listener slightly off guard, and the cue later ironically underscores a haunting war threnody as Al Pacino’s American soldier is attacked by British soldiers and their dogs.
These four set pieces are musical highlights of their respective films, and I beagle-bray in appreciation every time I listen to them.