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The Missouri Breaks
1999 Rykodisc

2004 Varèse

Composed and Conducted by:
John Williams

Produced by:
Ian Gilchrist

Labels and Dates:
Rykodisc USA
(June 8th, 1999)

Varèse Sarabande
(August 31st, 2004)

Audio Clips:
1. The Missouri Breaks (Main Title) (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

3. Love Theme from The Missouri Breaks (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

4. The Train Robbery (0:32):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

6. Celebration (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Both albums are regular U.S. releases, although the 2004 Varèse album was more readily available in stores as of 2007.


The Missouri Breaks

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Buy it... only if you are trying to complete a John Williams film score collection and are fully prepared for perhaps his most eccentric and dysfunctional genre-bending effort.

Avoid it... if the idea of 70's pop rhythms and instrumentation in conjunction with comical Western honky-tonk elements seem like a recipe for disaster to you.

The Missouri Breaks: (John Williams) On paper, The Missouri Breaks certainly seemed like a good idea. While director Arthur Penn had never delivered a truly critically embraced film in the mainstream, his Bonnie and Clyde was a phenomenal cult success. Actors Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson were both extremely popular as well. Spaghetti Westerns were becoming quirkier by the year. Composer John Williams had just won the Academy Award for Jaws during his long run of mega disaster scores. Together, all of these elements came together to create The Missouri Breaks, commonly considered to be one of cinema's most baffling mega disasters in and of itself. The film would mark the only time that longtime friends Brando and Nicholson would work together, and their egos (and particularly Brando's immense presence on location) would be credited for pulling Penn's film in directions suiting their own whims and devastating the sensibilities of the script (which was weak to begin with). Brando played an Irish assassin hired to stop an outlaw group of horse thieves led by Nicholson; their unconventional behavior bordered on nonsensical at times, making The Missouri Breaks a fun character study at the most. The quirky nature of the film extends to John Williams' score, which resembles very little of the composer's other works. Williams, for being identified so much as the top American composer of the modern age, has produced surprisingly few Western scores through the years. After The Reivers and The Cowboys early on, Williams would only dabble in the genre in less obvious fashion, including The Missouri Breaks. Undoubtedly, 1976 was a year of general understatement for Williams, with few high points compared to the lengthy series of classic scores immediately to follow. For The Missouri Breaks specifically, Williams would shed the orchestrally vibrant approach of his earlier Westerns and adapt the style of more modern bluesy works like Conrack and The Sugarland Express into a score almost as curious as the film's two leads. The score is, in short, a hip 1970's bastardization of the Western genre, infusing jazzy and pop rhythms and instrumentation into a genre that very well could have done without it.

Some Williams collectors will say that the reason The Missouri Breaks sounds so awkward today is because the score is extremely dated, hopelessly tied to its era. In the 1970's, you could get away with a combination of wild harmonica and honky-tonk piano with electric bass, electric harpsichord, and other modern elements. Now, it seems so cheesy that The Missouri Breaks is a potentially unlistenable experience. The eccentric score opens with a blues and jazz theme that defies Williams' career and features a very small ensemble of expected Western instruments in conjunction with a modern band. A handful of orchestral players, mainly tied to timpani, harp, and piano, occasionally contribute. A secondary love theme receives lengthy treatment in the score, and is an extremely poppish affair consistent with Williams' song writing at the time. Its performances on solo guitar and harmonica survive the test of time much better than the electric harpsichord and chimes, both of which are difficult to swallow. Even more awkward are the many explosions of hony tonk action cues in The Missouri Breaks, beginning with "Arrival of the Rustlers" and exploding with full comical force in "The Train Robbery." There's no doubt that these cues were meant as a tongue-in-cheek accompaniment to the ridiculously bumbling actions of Nicholson's gang of thieves, but for some reason, Williams' take on this style doesn't feature the same listenability as Jerry Goldsmith's many similar ventures into the same realm at the time. Even less interesting are the darker tones for deep bass harmonica and other menacing sounds that Williams conjures for Brando's character. There are singular moments of intriguing instrumental use by Williams, especially involving deep range piano accents during the few suspenseful moments, but for the most part, the pop rhythms, both subdued and with their frantic banjo accompaniment, define the score. Overall, you can completely understand what Williams was trying to accomplish with his humor in The Missouri Breaks. But the result is still too dysfunctional to withstand the test of time. On album, a 1999 Rykodisc release expanded upon a previous version from the same label, this time adding three cues of the original film versions (Williams re-recorded most of his scores for album at the time) to the product. Of the label's great re-issues of classic 60's and 70's scores in the late 90's, this one's among the weakest. A 2004 reissue from Varèse Sarabande adds no new content. ** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 338,055 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.99 Stars
Smart Average: 2.98 Stars*
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 Track Listings (All Albums): Total Time: 52:15

• 1. The Missouri Breaks (Main Title) (2:47)
• 2. Arrival of the Rustlers (2:03)
• 3. Love Theme from The Missouri Breaks (2:56)
• 4. The Train Robbery (2:17)
• 5. Bizarre Wake (2:39)
• 6. Celebration (2:15)
• 7. Confrontation (3:17)
• 8. Love Theme (Reprise) (3:42)
• 9. Crossing the Missouri (2:12)
• 10. The Chase (3:26)
• 11. Remembrances (2:25)
• 12. The Horse Rustlers (2:16)
• 13. Love Theme (End Title) (3:25)
• 14. Main Title (Film Version) (2:32)
• 15. Train Robbery (Film Version) (2:17)
• 16. Jane and Logan (Film Version) (3:46)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The Rykodisc album contains extensive notes about the film and each cue. Unlike other Rykodisc albums of the era, this one contains no bonus materials. Below is a copy of the the label's original 1999 press release for the album:

    "The Missouri Breaks is without a doubt one of the oddest Westerns ever committed to film. Despite an impressive pedigree [directed by Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde, Alice's Restaurant), scripted by Tom McGuane (Rancho Deluxe, 92 Degrees In The Shade), and starring Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando], the film is a classic example of 'too many egos spoiling the broth,' and was a commercial and critical disaster when released. Nicholson stars as the rather hapless leader of a gang of incompetent horse thieves, and Brando is the Irish assassin hired to hunt down and kill him and his gang. The film includes such memorable moments as Brando in a dress and sun bonnet (who is that strapping lass?), and Brando reading poetry to his horse. It is quite clear that Mr. Brando was calling the shots on this one, much to the detriment of the film, but it does have its fun moments!

    The score for the film was done by the man who is possibly the most famous living composer of film music, John Williams. His credits are too numerous to mention, but some of his more memorable work includes Jaws (Oscar Winner Best Score), The Towering Inferno, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Superman, Star Wars (Oscar Winner Best Score), and Saving Private Ryan (Oscar Nominee 1998 - Best Dramatic Score). Williams began his career as a jazz pianist before moving into TV scoring in the late '50s and film scoring in the early '60s (who can forget his score for I Passed For White (1960)?). He has also composed works for the concert hall and has conducted the Boston Pops. In short, he's the King of Movie Scoring."

  All artwork and sound clips from The Missouri Breaks are Copyright © 1999, Rykodisc USA, Varèse Sarabande. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 6/13/99 and last updated 10/16/07. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1999-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.