The Russia House

Score Analysis by Dirk Wickenden
Original version published in Legend #23, Spring 1997
The Official Jerry Goldsmith Film Music Society Journal
Expanded article with new material and commentary expressly for cnmsarchive © 2014

In the age of Glasnost, Russian woman Katya Orlova attempts to pass secret defence information to British publisher Bartholomew Scott Blair. The documents are intercepted by British Intelligence and they use an unwilling Blair to meet with Katya to find out more about the enigmatic Dante…

The Film – Background

The Russia House (1990) is based on the novel of the same name by John Le Carre. It was flawlessly directed and co-produced by Australian Fred Schepisi (A Cry in the Dark, Iceman, Roxanne, Six Degrees of Separation) from a screenplay by playwright Tom Stoppard (Brazil, Empire of the Sun). Top lining the fine international cast are Sean Connery as Barley Blair, Michelle Pfeiffer as Katya Orlova and Roy Scheider as Russell. Ned is played by James Fox and Klaus Maria Brandauer plays the initially mysterious Dante. Among the many other well-known character actors, deserving of special mention, is British director Ken Russell in the over-the-top camp role of Walter – it’s a hoot! The Russia House I believe contains Sean Connery’s most naturalistic, believable performance and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Russian accent appears to be flawless.

The twists and turns of the plot, which jumps to and fro in time especially at the beginning, are handled wonderfully by playwright Tom Stoppard and the cinematography by Ian McDonald is expertly rendered. Schepisi made great use of the location filming (the film was shot at Pinewood Studios and also Lisbon, Moscow, Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg), London and Vancouver). The film was only the second post-glasnost Hollywood film allowed to be shot in the Soviet Republic; the first was the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Red Heat( but only a small portion was shot there). The Russia House was not a great success at the US box office, but did slightly better in its overseas release.

The film employs a perfect cinematic device for showing the intelligence men listening to the tapes of Barley’s conversations in Russia, especially the scene underscored by Cues 11 and 12. The film shows the conversation and cuts briefly back and forth to the Russia House in London. About this part of the film, Fred Schepisi had this to say: ‘In The Russia House, there’s a point where Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer meet in the tower and all those beautiful Russian churches are outside. And you think you’re just watching them but actually, you’re watching five different time zones in the story: you’re watching them and the tensions they’re going through; you’re watching a spy watching them; you’re watching the spy’s report back to his bosses in the form of a tape, a number of days after the event; and then you’re watching two sections of the past, as Michelle Pfeiffer tells a story’. The UK television documentary ‘Right… Said Fred’ (1993) details Schepisi’s working practices.

The Music – Background

The Russia House was Jerry Goldsmith’s tonic after scoring Total Recall, which was a well-regarded score. The film allowed the composer to once again utilise his lyrical sensibilities and the score combines contemporary suspense music within a jazz idiom and also incorporates a Slavic texture. Although Goldsmith had scored virtually every genre of film and been active in television since the 1950s, he had kind of been typecast in science fiction and action films and was looking for a ‘people picture’, a film with a gentler nature and The Russia House contained some of the elements he was looking for. Goldsmith acknowledged it at the time as his favourite score and I believe it is his most mature work. He would go on to compose the music for subsequent films for director Fred Schepisi and indeed, both Connery and Pfeiffer’s own next films – Medicine Man and Love Field (although Love Field sat on the shelf for a while before the film was released).

Featured Soloists

Part of the deal Jerry Goldsmith’s agent Richard Kraft struck, was to use a featured soloist on the score. They secured the services of saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who played not just the soprano sax heard in the score but also dubbed the on-screen playing by Sean Connery. Years later, when this writer complimented Bran on his performance, he said ‘when the music’s that good, it’s easy’. Branford around this time, as well as fronting his own jazz quartet, was also the music director of The Tonight Show and working also with Sting on such songs as ‘An Englishman In New York’. Talking with him about such mutual musical acquaintances as Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin, he said, talking about Hollywood, ‘I don’t know how they live in that hellhole’. Branford’s musical family includes Wynton the trumpeter (whose fame has eclipsed the rest of the family), Delfeayo the trombonist (his brothers) and Ellis the pianist (their father). Branford’s performance on soprano sax is an integral part of the score, orchestrated by then-regular Arthur Morton. Besides Branford, there are two other mainstays of the jazz sound, pianist Michael Lang (it’s a safe bet that if you hear a pianist/keyboardist on a Hollywood film score, most often you’re hearing Mike Lang) and double bassist John Patitucci.

There is another solo instrument that Goldsmith used in his score and that was the Armenian duduk – a double reed instrument that resembles a wooden end blown flute and the entire reed is taken into the mouth, much like an oboe. The scene early on in the film, where the then-mysterious Dante converses with Barley in the writers’ graveyard is underscored with an interesting interplay between Barley’s theme on sax and Dante’s theme on duduk. This is one of the most fascinating examples of how to score a dialogue scene but still keep out of the way of the actors speaking. I believe The Russia House was one of, if not the first Hollywood film to feature a duduk (at least so prominently) but it was the instrument’s use in Hans Zimmer’s score for Gladiator that saw it then used for many other films. As well as the standard orchestra with solo instruments, Goldsmith utilised electronics in the score, providing a synthetic chorused balalaika sound under the acoustic violins and violas and also synthesised various tones and textures to point up the suspense. He was an old hand at incorporating electronics into his scores and they were often played live along with the orchestra, as opposed to overdubbing later.

Theme In Search Of A Movie

Goldsmith actually wrote the main theme that appears in The Russia House for the film Wall Street (1987) but he left the project over creative differences. He then was going to use it for his all-electronic score for Alien Nation (1988) but it was rejected and replaced by one by Curt Sobel (both scores have been issued on disc – Goldsmith’s rejected score twice!). So finally he found a home for it, developed the melody further (as heard on the Alien Nation CD, it sounds embryonic, ripe for development) and it now exists as the wonderful tune for The Russia House. Goldsmith’s tune was given lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman (lyricists on such songs as The Way We Were, The Windmills Of Your Mind and so on) and entitled ‘Alone In The World’, sung not in the film but on the soundtrack album by Patti Austin, with Branford providing more of a pop-inflected solo. Frequent Bergman collaborator, Barbra Streisand, covered the song many years later on her album What Matters Most, where the sax was replaced by another of Sting’s soloists, trumpeter Chris Botti.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

One other attribute of Jerry Goldsmith’s score deserves mention, outside of the cue by cue analysis below. Slavophile (and big fan of The Russia House) David Williams ( suggests thusly: ‘[Regarding] Jerry Goldsmith’s use of the metronome [sound] as a device to create tension, it did make me wonder whether this was simply a device for that purpose or was it a deliberate historical reference to the metronome broadcasts during the siege of Leningrad? I have read that during the nine hundred day siege, the authorities constantly broadcast information and concert performances on the local radio network and over the city’s PA systems on the streets, in order to boost the morale of the starving population. When there was nothing to broadcast or the presenters were too weak to broadcast, the constant beat of a metronome could be heard indicating that the network was still operational. It was symbolic of the city’s continued resistance and was seen as a kind of reassuring heart beat. Uncle Matvey in the film is reminiscing about the Leningrad siege just before Barley’s declaration of love to Katya, so it makes me think that it is more than just a coincidence’. Goldsmith was fond of saying that he approached film from an emotional, reactive perspective, not over-intellectualising his work but David’s hypothesis is erudite and worth considering.

Soundtrack Album Breakdown

The cue titles in the main analysis are a mixture of those on the soundtrack album and my own imagination. Cues 2,7, 11, 13,18 and 29 do not appear on the album; neither do non-Goldsmith source cues 5, 10, 25-27 and 31.

Cues 3 and 4 feature on the album as Track 2, Introductions; Cues 16, 17 (a score cue and source cue) are combined as Track , I’m With You / What is this Thing Called Love?, Cues 20 and 21 are combined as Track 12, Full Marks, whilst Cues 30 and 32 appear as Track 16, The Deal.

This analysis was constructed utilising the VHS video print of the film – it is worth noting that the cinematic print runs at 24fps (frames per second) and a video at 25fps. This accounts for the discrepancies between my timings and those of the soundtrack album (at least that’s my excuse!)

Major Themes and Motifs

1. Love Theme: Presented as the opening of the film, titled Katya, this is a soaring melody initially orchestrated for high strings and soprano sax. The theme serves to describe the relationship between Katya and Barley and also the Russian locales. It doubles as the main theme and is heard in various iterations through the film.

2. Dante: This is the Russian motif performed by duduk, cushioned by a string pad.

3. Barley: The saxophone motif that is cut from the same cloth as the Love Theme. This is often incorporated with the Dante motif.

4. Katya: This is a short cell of high register strings which is sometimes set against the Barley motif.

5. Suspense Motif: A four note cell on cello, supported by the other strings and later synth. The Dante and Barley motifs are at various times linked with this motif.

Source Music

• Featured three times in the film is the Cole Porter standard What is this Thing Called Love?, played twice by the Biair character in an ensemble and once on his own, on the soprano saxophone.

• The character also plays the comb and paper in a rendition of Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Thomas Fats Waller.

• Also featured is The Sheik of Araby by Snyder, Wheeler and Smith, performed by a jazz band at a party plus another composition which the credits do not list and I am unable to identify.

• An authentic-sounding Russian folk melody is featured in one scene, played on the duduk (an end-blown flute – the main proponent of the Dante motif in the score) by Yegueshe Tsurvan, whom the end credits list as Flute Player.

The Score

1. Katya (3:57): Music starts on fade-in to titles, with the first presentation of the love theme orchestrated for soprano saxophone, piano, strings, balalaikas and double bass. The music continues as the film follows Katya to the Moscow audio book fair and then tails out on the cut to Barley’s questioning in Lisbon, which is unscored.

2. Help Me (1:54): Very low in the dub, almost inaudible, soft suspenseful strings underscore the flashback of the dialogue between Niki Landau (Nicholas Woodeson) and
Katya, and also the voice-overs of the Lisbon questioning. The scene features interesting camera work which gives us the impression that they are being watched. The music tails out when the film cuts back to Lisbon and then to a flashback scene in London, which is left unscored.

3. A Lisbon Bank Account, My Dears (0:33): After the cut from London to a search of Barley’s English home, celli enter with the four note Suspense motif, joined by piano and double bass, which halt on cut to Lisbon, At one point, Ned picks up Barley’s sax and a short rendition of the Barley motif would have worked well here, if Goldsmith had so chosen, to link the man and the instrument.

4. Merrydew Introduces Himself (2:56): A continuation of the previous cue, Merrydew (Ian McNiece) talks to Barley Blair in a Lisbon bar, underscored by celli, piano and synth with double bass performing the Suspense motif linked with the Barley motif. Music continues during introductions in the British Intelligence building and tails out for the questioning. Barley at the Soviet writers’ village flashback is also unscored.

5. Ain’t Misbehavin’ (0:35): After a brief cut to Lisbon, the narrative returns to the village flashback with Barley playing the comb and paper, accompanied by the writers on all manner of makeshift instruments – bottles, glasses and so on. This continues across the cut to Lisbon with Barley playing the comb and paper in demonstration. The questioning is then devoid of music.

6. The Conversation (3:56): As the film cuts to Barley and Dante’s talk in a graveyard at the village, the music enters with celli, violins and duduk performing the Dante motif This continues though the cuts between the village and Lisbon and the cue expands to include a fascinating interplay between duduk (the Dante motif) and the soprano sax (the Barley motif); this duet reflects the conversation perfectly.

7. No Such Luck (0:35): The Lisbon scene is again unscored, as is the cut to CIA Headquarters in America. The film cuts back to Lisbon as Barley is being shown slides of various Russians to identify the pseudonymous Dante. Then Katya is shown and Barley, although he has never met her, instinctively knows who she is. The Katya motif on warm strings comment on Barley’s feelings and as he walks outside on the roof overlooking Lisbon, sax, strings, bass and guitar present a variation of the Barley motif. This tails out when Barley says ‘Choose someone else’ to Ned and Walter. The film cuts to an exterior shot of Barley walking back to his Lisbon flat and the conversation between Walter, Ned and Barley is unscored. The following shots of Moscow and Katya in her office are also unscored.

8. Training (1:56): Music starts on the cut from Katya to a London street as Ned says ‘Crowds are good’, accompanied by piano, strings, synth, bass with sax performing the Barley motif. The music tails out on the cut to the CIA in America. Further scenes in London and the take-off of Barley’s plane from Heathrow Airport are unscored, as is the arrival of the intelligence men at the Russia House in London, where they are to monitor the goings-on of Barley’s mission.

9. Katya and Barley (2:20): The telephone call between Barley in his Moscow hotel room and Katya allows the music to start when Ned in London announces ‘We’re off and Katya approaches the hotel. Piano, synth and celli commence the cue and are then joined by sax, violins and balalaikas performing the Love Theme, which tails out when the couple arrive at a restaurant. The music combines suspenseful, cold motifs with warm textures with ease.

10. Russian Folk Melody (1:29); The conversation in the restaurant (overlooked by the British operative Wicklow (David Threlfall)) is unscored, until the camera passes over a Russian musician playing a duduk which tails out, appropriately, as they leave the building. No music is used for the walk to Katya’s bus stop, although a reprise of the Katya and Barley cue would have worked well here. Barley hastily removing the tape recorder from under his shirt in his room with Wicklow present would have benefited from a rendition of the Suspense motif.
Further scenes of Katya going to a hospital, cuts to and from the Russia House and Barley and Wicklow’s visits to a couple of book publishers are all unscored. One scene shows Barley lying in his room clutching the telephone, waiting for a call from Katya, which soon comes. This is also unscored but a piano rendition of the love theme would have served the dialogue well here.
After the above scene, the film cuts to a conversation between Russell in America and Ned in London, then to Moscow and Barley and Wicklow standing in what looks like an art gallery until a train pulls up – it’s a subway. The quiet beforehand works well and music would probably have worked against this scene. The train regurgitates Katya and they go on a tour of some churches and other landmarks – there are numerous cuts between Moscow and London. When they go into a bell tower, Katya and Barley talk as the film cuts to and from the Russia House and the intelligence men listening to the tapes of the conversation.
The above scenes since cue 10 are unscored and this represents the longest absence of music between cues in the film. This makes it more naturalistic.

11. I’m a Friend (1:19): Music starts on Barley’s line ‘I’m a friend’ and features tentative strings, which describe Katya’s reluctance and difficulty in revealing information on Dante, as the film continues to cut to and fro between Moscow and London. Music halts when Barley states ‘That’s worth a drink’.

12. First Name, Yakov (2:41): As Katya – inadvertently – reveals Dante’s real name as Yakov, celli and other strings comment on the cuts between locations and flashbacks to 1968 and Katya’s first meeting with Dante. Music tails out when Katya says ‘He needed my help’.

13. Alone (0:28): Katya has asked Barley some questions of her own, and music starts when he says ‘Never been more alone’, and tails out on the cut from Moscow to London and Walter opening a bottle of champagne. There are brief scenes in Moscow, London and America, all unscored, until we see Barley talking on the phone to Katya, when he reveals he is going to Leningrad.

14. Bon Voyage (2.01): Music starts when Barley says ‘Okay’ and underscores his train journey with Wicklow and travelogue shots of Russia. The cue comprises of piano, balalaikas, strings, synth and saxophone presenting a beautiful extended version of the love theme, which ends on a cut to a Leningrad office, wherein a CIA operative briefs Barley and Wicklow, to which Goldsmith remains silent.

15. The Meeting (3:08): Music starts on the cut from Leningrad to the Russia House and Ned receiving news on Barley setting off to meet Dante/Yakov. Double bass commences the cue and the Suspense motif on cello begins, joined by percussion and piano. Synth then joins the proceedings as Barley arrives at the first of three prospective meeting places, of which there is no sign of Yakov. The sax presents itself in a descending diminished scale as Barley arrives at the second meeting place. The Barley motif is heard on sax with still no sign of Yakov. There is a brief cut to the Russia House and back to
Leningrad with Barley approaching the third site. As he walks past Yakov sitting on a park bench, purposefully ignoring him, we hear the Dante motif on duduk, which continues as he catches up to Barley (he still uses the name Dante) and they begin to talk. Music tails out on the Dante motif as we cut to London then back to Leningrad, wherein Barley reveals that the authorities got hold of his manuscripts. This is unscored, as we see various shots of Leningrad monuments intercut with Barley and Dante walking along.

16. I’m With You (1:09): Music starts on close-up of Barley with a three-note violin motif and the duduk Dante motif as he and Yakov take their leave of each other, which the strings inherit on the cut to Katya and then to Barley arriving at Heathrow. Double bass and piano segue into the next cue.

17. What is this Thing Called Love? (1:22): We hear this tune on sax, piano, and bass with percussion as we see Barley and Ned being driven from the airport, then carries
on through a cut to America, then to Barley performing in a jazz club in London (this scene was actually filmed in a real jazz venue in the King’s Road). Cut to Katya in Moscow, then back to the club. On the cut to the Russia House, the music tails out. Russell has arrived from America and this scene is unscored.
Cut to a seaplane landing by a secluded house in Vancouver with Barley aboard, then a cut to Russell questioning Barley in the house. A Colonel Quinn (J.T. Walsh) arrives with some CIA operatives to further question the man. Various further scenes are also without music.

18. The Interrogation (1:28): On the cut to preparations in Vancouver for Barley’s lie detector test, the Suspense motif on cello begins. Music plays through some cuts to and from scenes of Katya readying her children for school and the interrogation. The Katya motif on warm strings is alternated with the more cold, suspenseful music. This is a perfect example of a ‘cutback cue’. The cue halts in Vancouver as we see Brady (John Mahoney) looking at the lie detector results – he wants to replace Barley with a professional operative but Clive (Michael Kitchen), Ned’s superior, convinces him to let Barley continue. All the other Vancouver scenes are devoid of underscoring.

19. The Gift (2:07): After the cut from Vancouver to London and a shot of Clive informing Ned that the Americans are taking over the operation, the music begins on double bass, strings and percussion. We cut to a shot of Katya in Moscow, scored with her motif on warm strings. Barley is back in Moscow and is handing out invitations to a party. The soprano sax enters when Katya appears and presents a full statement of the love theme. Barley, Katya, her two children Anna (Ellen Hurst) and Sergey (Peter Knupffer) and Uncle Matvey (Nikolai Pastukhov) drive off, and the cue tails out on a cut to a park. The conversation between Barley and Katya is unscored.

20. Full Marks (0:39): Music enters when Barley says ‘Full marks’ to Katya over her motif then, as she continues to read a letter from Yakov, the duduk performs his motif. This demonstrates how using a character’s motif in the absence of that character on screen helps the audience make an intellectual connection. Music halts on strings when Katya exclaims ‘Blurb!’

21. It’s a War Wound (1:34): Music starts on suspenseful strings and celli when Anna feels the tape recorder beneath Barley’s overcoat. The initial instruments are joined by balalaikas and duduk presents the Dante motif, then sax performs the Barley motif, which tails out on cut to Barley storming into his hotel room. Cut to an unscored London, then back to Barley entering Katya’s flat.

22. Barley’s Love (3:12): Music starts as Barley states ‘I love you’ Warm strings play a three note cell, then the piano performs the love theme, which underscores Barley’s talk, The sax enters, then suspenseful synths as he and Katya write messages on paper to avoid any Soviet or British surveillance equipment. Piano, double bass and mid-range strings are scored, which tail out on cut to Ned in London.

23. My Only Country (3:34): Music starts on shot of a photo of Yakov in Katya’s bedroom and strings and piano perform the love theme. Film cuts to the following day as Katya collects Barley in her car. The Suspense motif joins on cello, synth, strings and percussion underscore the journey to the hospital. Cut to the Russia House and the intelligence men waiting for further word, then back to Moscow. As a phone in the hospital rings, Katya answers it and we hear duduk perform the Dante motif – there are cold strings as Katya replaces the receiver and is clearly upset. The Barley motif duets with the Katya motif (sax, and strings) and synth and percussion accompany the return journey to Katya’s flat. The film cuts to London, then back to Barley entering an articulated lorry containing surveillance equipment and two operatives. The music tails out on a cut to London.

24. The Sheik of Araby (0:50): Music fades in on a cut to Barley in his hotel room, then cuts to the party and Barley meeting his publisher friends. The film cuts to later in the party and the music segues to Cue 25.

25. Party Music (0:38): Katya arrives, and then the band is interrupted as an announcement is made over the microphone. The partygoers call for Barley to take the stage and he picks up his sax.

26. What is this Thing Called Love? (0:28): Barley and the band perform the tune, which continues through the cut to Barley and Katya on the rooftop (in the novel, the Blair character performs My Funny Valentine. Perhaps this was changed to avoid the connection this song has in that other Pfeiffer film, The Fabulous Baker Boys). The music tails out on cut to London.

27. What is this Thing Called Love? (0:28): On the cut back to Moscow, we see Barley through his hotel room window playing the Cole Porter tune again on his sax, intercut with scenes of the surveillance truck. The music soon halts on Barley being briefed in the truck as he prepares for another supposed meeting with Yakov.

28. Crossing Over (3:38): Music starts on a cut to Barley walking towards the building and continues through cuts to and from London. The cello Suspense motif is joined on piano, synth, percussion, and also the Barley motif on sax and Katya motif on strings. On a longer cut to London, Ned realises something is amiss to an alternate version of the Dante motif on duduk. The film cuts between Moscow and London a further number of times and the sax presents the Barley motif with the Suspense motif on celli. The music ends on Russell putting the phone down, on a string chord. The film presents more scenes in London as Barley fails to emerge from the building hours later,

29. Katya Buys Flowers (1:05): Music starts on cut to London to Katya in Moscow with a voice-over of Barley’s questioning by the KGB. The strings-scored Katya motif is counterpointed by an ethnic cell on cello and when we see Katya putting flowers on Yakov’s grave (the KGB men reveal he died –supposedly – from hepatitis), the Dante motif on duduk plays through a cut to the questioning. The music tails out on a string chord.

30. The Letter (1:41): Music starts on a shot of Ned opening Barley’s letter on the cello-scored Suspense motif and plays through various flashbacks from earlier in the film, seen from different camera angles which starts to tie up loose ends in the narrative. The score presents the Suspense, Katya and Dante motifs. Music halts as we see Barley in his hotel room (the same scene from Cue 24).

31. The Sheik of Araby (1:07); Music (last heard in Cue 24) follows on after a short pause from Cue 30, as we now see flashbacks of the party. This segues to Cue 32.

32. I Won’t Let You Down (0:52): Music starts as we see a flashback of Katya and Barley on the rooftop, just before the line ‘I love you and I won’t let you down’. The Katya string motif and the Barley motif on sax are scored as we see the scene of Barley entering the KGB building, with strings, piano and percussion. The cue ends on a cut back to Ned and Walter on a sustained cello chord. The film then cuts to Barley decorating his Lisbon flat and talking to Ned.

33. The Family Arrives (6:13): Music starts on a shot of Ned and Barley standing at a window overlooking Lisbon and the harbour. We hear a bluesy version of the Barley motif on sax with piano and bass and see shots of Lisbon. John Le Carré’s novel ended with Barley back in his apartment in Lisbon, hoping that Katya and her family will come to live with him there. But the film tacks on a Hollywood happy ending but it does not feel contrived in the slightest. The strings lead into a sax rendition of the love theme as Barley races to the docks as a ship arrives carrying Katya,Uncle Matvey and Sergey and Anna, which leads to a slow motion reunion and the end credits (and the audience gets all teary-eyed, at least I did!). The end credits contain shots of Moscow and a cue consisting of improvisation of the Love theme, the Suspense motif, and also the Barley motif, but surprisingly not Dante’s. In the film, the cue tails out, but the album cue continues for another 43 seconds and to a proper conclusion.
This ending was handled in a great way and although one hears the actors’ voices, they are slowly replaced by the scoring and a cathartic point in the music is reached, as the film’s end credits roll. Branford Marsalis, Mike Lang and John Pattituci were given their heads with improvising around Jerry’s tune. A perfect end what is for me, a near- perfect film and album.
I say near-perfect, as Stoppard’s screenplay is marred by unnecessary profanity and in one instance, a very offensive (to me) conjoined phrase using Jesus’ name and the F word. The one love scene between Connery’s and Pfeiffer’s characters is treated in what could be termed an ‘old fashioned way’, where the film cuts to a later scene as Blair takes Katya in his arms. So if they’d ditched the bad language, it would have improved the film.

The Soundtrack Album

Whilst it is generally acknowledged by many (including Goldsmith himself) that The Russia House soundtrack album is too long (and I can see the logic in this, due to the repetitive nature of much of the suspense music), I feel that the inclusion of the remaining underscore cues (six in all) on a prospective reissue would reinforce the music’s validity. Some of these non-album cues incorporated more of the ethnic feel present in the score, such as Cue 29 (Katya Buys Flowers). Cue 7 (No Such Luck) begs inclusion despite its brief (35 seconds) running time. The album features a setting of the love theme to the lyrics of Alan & Marilyn Bergman (oft-collaborators with Michel Legrand and Marvin Hamlisch) and sung by Patti Austin with Branford Marsalis on soprano sax, which was not featured in the film. A pity it couldn’t have been factored in somewhere. The love theme was reworked into an emotive concert version with oboes and violin replacing the saxophone. This is available on the Silva Screen compilation The Omen: The Essential Jerry Goldsmith Film Music Collection and also on the Telarc CD The Film Music Of Jerry Goldsmith. The Silva version with the City of Prague Orchestra is in my opinion, better than Goldsmith’s own take on the concert version, with the London Symphony Orchestra. Another version with mute trumpet can be heard on the CD Body Heat: Jazz at the Movies on the Discovery label, as well as the aforementioned Babs Streisand vocal on the album What Matters Most, on the Columbia label.

Final Thoughts

In the final analysis, the film succeeds, and this is due in no small part to the two lead performers but let us not forget the rest of the cast and crew. The Russia House is superior to the novel from which it was derived – surprising, as in most cases it is the opposite. I consider Connery’s performance in the film to be the best of his career.

The film heralded a major phase of Jerry Goldsmith’s career, encompassing ‘people pictures’ (the composer’s own wording) such as Love Field, Not Without My Daughter, and Ruy. But Goldsmith would return to the action genre with excellent scores for First Knight, Congo and The Ghost and the Darkness but in a more streamlined sense than his seventies and eighties works.

The Schepisi/Goldsmith collaboration deserves to become as famous as the work for Franklin J. Schaffner. The work for Schepisi covered The Russia House, Mr Baseball (an underrated comedy and score), Six Degrees of Separation, the troubled Fierce Creatures and IQ and it is such a shame that their work together was cut short by Jerry Goldsmith’s demise. The composer had been tapped to score Schepisi’s TV Empire Falls but scoring duties were subsequently handed to Paul Grabowsky. This author would have loved to hear what he would have come up with for say Schepisi’s Last Orders, although the score by Grabowsky, featuring a small ensemble and highlighting bass clarinet, was eminently suitable for that film and a fine listen on its own.

One last thing; around the time of The Russia House, Goldsmith, who had a full head of white hair (probably from scoring all those scary movies like Alien and Poltergeist!), began sporting a ponytail and when Sean Connery saw Goldsmith, he exclaimed ‘I want your hair!’ So in Connery’s – and Goldsmith’s – next picture, Medicine Man, there was Connery’s character with white hair and a ponytail!

© Dirk Wickenden 1997/2018

3 thoughts on “The Russia House

  1. Thank you for the amazing analysis. Realy a fine combination of musical understanding and cinematic interpretation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.