DARK OF THE SUN.

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Composer Jacques Loussier is not primarily a film music composer, he is rather a jazz pianist/composer/artist that has from time to time entered the film scoring arena and I am glad to say on each occasion has been successful in creating memorable and effective scores for the projects he has been associated with. One such cinematic assignment was released in 1967 and to this day remains popular amongst film buffs and film music devotees of a certain age group. THE DARK OF THE SUN or THE MERCENARIES as some may know it, was a violent and fast paced war movie set in Africa and based upon the novel by Wilbur A Smith. Directed by Jack Cardiff the movie focused upon a band of Mercenaries who were fighting alongside government forces to stop rebels taking over the country and also acting as part of an escort to a train filled with civilians who were fleeing the carnage caused by these blood thirsty rebels known as the Simba’s, there were also uncut diamonds involved, which made even more interesting.

 

The movie had a somewhat international cast and starred Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, Kenneth Moore, Peter Carsten, Andre Morell, Oliver Depraux and an attractive leading lady in the form of Yvette Mimieux. The movie although filled with violence and intense action in my opinion was an effective one which had audiences engrossed and on the edge of their seats, it influenced several productions that would follow in later years, WILD GEESE for example. One of the films many plus factors was its musical score composed by French Jazz artist Jacques Loussier. It may come as a surprise to many that Loussier worked on well over fifty movies and contributed music for TV series and documentaries both inside and outside of his native France. Loussier had come to the attention of music lovers all over the world via his recordings of his musical adaptations of J.S. Bach which he arranged and presented in jazz styles. As Loussier was already a respected jazz musician many assumed he would produce a score that reflected this genre of music, but the composer was chameleon like in his approach to the project not only fashioning a soundtrack that supported and punctuated the film but at times even produced haunting melodies that became popular away from the images.

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DARK OF THE SUN is in many aficionado’s opinion one of Loussier’s finest scores for cinema and I agree with this consensus, the composer fuses both symphonic styles with that of jazz themes and gets the balance right. The soundtrack received a release in 1967/68 on an MGM LP record (MG 1 4544) which soon became a rarity. The album was on many collectors wants list and became something of a holy grail for some, there was however a collective a sigh of relief when finally, it was issued onto a CD by Chapter lll Classics in 2000 paired with Ennio Morricone’s western score GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTEIN, maybe something of an unusual double bill, but nevertheless welcomed by all. Both scores were represented by the same tracks that had been available on LP in 1967/68.

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The audio quality was at times somewhat distorted with the Morricone score suffering from a fuzzy sound on a handful of cues, but many collectors were just pleased to be able to listen to Loussier’s excellent score after it had been deleted from the catalogue so quickly. There were four cues available before the Chapter lll release on a compilation of the composer’s film and TV music on the French Playtime label (pl 9415), which is also a must have if you are a fan of this composer’s film music, and on this compilation there is a cue from THE DARK OF THE SUN entitled FINAL which is not on the CHAPTER lll release. That runs for four mins, but this could be an editing of two cues CURRY KILLS HENLEIN and the slower version of the Main Title which was used as the films end credits. Then of course we have the 2008 Film Score Monthly release that included twenty-seven cues, and has superb sound quality, this if you can get hold of it is the best edition of the score and includes a lot of extra music compared with previous releases, with alternate takes etc.

 


The Main Title sequence for DARK OF THE SUN is an impressive one musically as well as visually and sets the scene perfectly for what is to follow both in the movie and on the score as it develops, the images on the main titles sequence are taken from the movie, so we see certain snippets of the action before the film has begun, accompanied by Loussier’s driving and dramatic theme. Loussier created a lumbering almost laboured sounding piece to open the movie, its dramatic and dark percussion was punctuated by an ominous sounding piano, which was in turn augmented by organ, this was the foundation for the ensuing theme which builds as the cue progresses performed by strings that generate a macabre and uneasy sounding waltz like theme, the mood and atmosphere created was one of darkness and uncertainty, with the underlying percussive elements being supported by the apprehensive sounding piano throughout.

 

 

 

This is a theme that weaves in and out of the proceedings during the movie and is arranged in varying tempos or maybe the composer just utilising the piano part to create a sense of tension.

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The score does contain a few cues that can be described as jazz or lighter sounding music, these are mainly used as source music or when the main character Curry (Rod Taylor) is in the company of Claire (Yvette Mimiuex) as in CURRY’S DRIVE WITH CLAIRE, THE DOCTOR IS FOUND, CLAIRE AND CURRY and CURRY KILLS HENLEIN. The latter playing over one of the final scenes where we see Curry and Claire driving along a road in a jeep in silence. DARK OF THE SUN is a classic score from the 1960’s and maybe a soundtrack that in recent years has been overlooked or ignored by collectors new to film music, I hope that I have convinced you to investigate the score and I am confident once you have you will return to it many times. Recommended.

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