CUSTER OF THE WEST.

 

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Released in 1967 CUSTER OF THE WEST was met with mixed reaction from both cinema audiences and critics alike, the movie attempted to show how the native American Indians had been treated by the government at the time, but also at the same time portrayed George Custer as a hero. The conflicting views within the story confused and also mislead watching audiences. The movie almost did not get made, in fact 20th Century Fox had wanted to make a faithful rendition of the life and times of Custer, but the costs spiralled and the studio decided to pull out of the project. It was at this point that Philip Yordan decided to step in and cast Robert Shaw in the role of Custer. Yordan’s movie was far from a faithful version of events, in fact it was no better than the Errol Flynn movie THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, which too strayed from the truth and added bits and pieces that were pure fiction. Historians had numerous issues with the films storyline and were intensely critical of certain factors including the BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIG HORN sequence which occurred at the end of the movie. For all its faults and criticisms however the movie was an entertaining enough production, and for me was a fusion of the earlier THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON and elements of THE SON OF MORNING STAR. One of the most enduring things to do with the movie was its vibrant and action filled soundtrack which was written by Brazilian born composer Bernardo Segall and although to a degree the soundtrack was cliched and not exactly original the music worked so well in the context of the film, supporting and underscoring many of the scenes that would have fallen flat without the musical support.

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Segall created a fully symphonic score and also provided the movie with a rousing song. The score was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the composer utilising to great effect the orchestras brass, string and woodwind sections and underlining these with thundering martial sounding percussion. There are a number of stand out cues on the soundtrack recording which I think I am right in saying has never had an official compact disc release, the only one being on a bootleg release which contained fifteen cues from CUSTER the remainder of the compact disc being given over to Nelson Riddles score for the western EL DORADO. I for one have the original LP on Stateside records (it was also issued on ABC and a single was available with a picture cover) The original LP release sports a wonderfully illustrated front cover. The score includes an alluringly poignant and emotive LOVE THEME which can be heard being performed by the orchestra in various guises throughout the soundtrack or more effectively being deployed over the end scene via a fragile sounding solo piano performance as we see Custer’s 7th cavalry laying dead in a circle falling where they fought, and Custer’s horse standing alone in the middle of the circle. I suppose one could say that CUSTER OF THE WEST was a fairly typical western score from the period and is sadly overlooked by many, but listening to it now it is obvious that this is a polished and quality score. My opinion for what its worth is that this deserves a compact disc or a digital release as it contains so many wonderfully stirring and emotive themes. The battle scene is scored in a forthright and commanding fashion, but the music never overpowers or acts as a distraction to the action that is unfolding on screen, the composer supports underlines and elevates, giving the scene an even greater depth and sense of despair and hopelessness as Custer makes his last stand against overwhelming odds.
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Segall worked only on a handful of films and TV projects, these included THE FISHERMAN AND HIS SOUL, THE JESUS TRIP, COLUMBO, AIRWOLF and MOON OF THE WOLF. He was not only a talented composer but was also a respected and gifted concert pianist. All I can say is surely there is a record company somewhere that would do this score justice with a CD release. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.