The score by Dominic Frontiere,1 who was also responsible for the music in Hang ‘em High, Color of Night, Velvet, Who Is the Black Dahlia?, and Cleopatra Jones, is accessible to anyone and is an unalloyed joy, perfectly complementing the movie’s action without overwhelming it. I finally tracked down and purchased the soundtrack (available only on vinyl) and, after playing well over a hundred times, still find it enchanting.
The Music, the Movie, and Your Hit Parade
The score of The Stunt Man consists of several songs with similar musical elements. Of the ten tracks2 at least seven are easily identified as musically related. My personal recommendation for your consideration as an exemplar song is a heroic piece with the somewhat uninspiring title of Film Caravan.
Film Caravan: Musical Features
Film Caravan is an exuberant, sly, grandly joyous instrumental with an ominous, almost menacing introduction and a simple fade-out ending.
Watch Film Caravan
Film Caravan In Context
While it’s not necessary to have seen The Stunt Man to appreciate the music of Film Caravan, it may be helpful to place the music in its native setting.
The following screenshots depict the action on the screen taking place while Film Caravan plays:
The opening bars ominously portend – a parade of children on bikes. It’s one of many musical jokes in the movie. The can in the lower right quadrant is a recurrent motif extending from the first frames of the movie. In this scene, t he earliest indication of the oncoming caravan is the trembling of the can, much like the glass of water shaking with the approach of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.
The children are followed by a disparate caravan of cars, trucks, an RV, a crane, and, of course, a huge truck carrying a Dusenberg built in the 1920s.
The Stunt Man is a happily heterogeneous, joyfully jumbled occasion – and this is its parade. The modern, overwhelmingly massive truck carting the old Dusenberg guarded by World War I German soldiers is just another float.
From the impressive and anachronistic truck loaded with an automobile and individuals from another era, the movie returns to the modern hodge-podge necessary for movie making.
And back to a guy riding a phallus. (Note the fellow reclining on the crane in the lower left quadrant.)
With everything in place for the final scene, the music fades out.
Again With The Multiple Viewings
In fact, the movie itself is so saturated with movement, irony, and nuance that it may require two or more viewings to appreciate what is obviously a labor of love. This is that rare movie that can be watched three times with the audience feeling more entertained and interested than they were after the first viewing. The strengths that make The Stunt Man stand up to repeated shows, however, are likely the same reasons it was never a box office hit.
Regardless, The Stunt Man has a wonderfully literate and funny script, good to great actors, and intriguing directing. It is witty, nuanced, and cerebral but also suffused with action.
It is no surprise that the quote that best summarizes the essence of the movie belongs to Peter O’Toole’s Eli Cross:
Do you not know that King Kong was just three foot six inches tall? He only came up to Fay Wray’s belly button! If God could do the tricks that we can do he’d be a happy man!
- Dominic Frontiere: accomplished accordionist, great composer of movie scores, failed criminal.
Dominic Frontiere was a first known as a jazz accordionist, soloing at Carnegie Hall at age twelve and then playing with a number of big bands. In the mid-1950s, he came to Las Angeles, working his way into the musical directorship of 20th Century Fox. He produced scores for several movies there while also recording jazz. He may be best known for creating the part-music, part-sound effects theme to the Outer Limits. He composed music for numerous television shows, including the Rat Patrol, Branded, and The FBI,
Frontiere became head of Paramount’s music department in the early 1970’s, where he again worked on a combination of television and film score, while concurrently orchestrating popular music albums for, among others, Chicago. He won a Golden Globe for the score to the 1980 film The Stunt Man. He then embarked on a series of movie soundtracks, beginning with Hang ‘Em High and including On Any Sunday, Brannigan, and Chisum, which led to his work on The Stunt Man, for which he won a Golden Globe. He has since composed the music for many other TV and movie presentations.
He also spent nine months in a federal prison in 1986 for scalping 16,000 1980 Super Bowl tickets he obtained through the owner of the Las Angeles Rams, who happened to also be his ex-wife, Georgia Frontiere. He was convicted of failing to report his $500,000 profit to the IRS, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, three years probation, and a $15,000 fine. [↩]
- The songs from the Stunt Man Soundtrack follow:
1. Film Caravan
2. The Chase
3. Bits & Pieces
4. Southern Belle
5. The Stunt Man-End Title
6. Bedroom Horns
8. The Stunt Man-Main Theme
10. The Stunt Man-Main Title [↩]