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Soundtrack review: Return of a man called horse (Laurence Rosenthal – 1976)

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“Return of a man called Horse” is the middle film of a trilogy starring Richard Harris as a British aristocrat named John Morgan who in the first movie was captured and then adopted by a Sioux tribe. He returned to native England before coming back to America and finding his friends despaired and broken. He finds his spirit and sense of purpose restored and leads the tribe once again. From what I gathered this movie is very bloody, particularly the initiation ritual which is hard to stomach. It first appeared in the original movie and was presented again in this sequel. Laurence Rosenthal is a composer whose name is a guarantee for quality. I really enjoyed his Bourne score. Besides, a good Western score is always welcomed.

And yes, the “Main title” comes calling me to a faraway prairie where people are riding and living in communion with nature. It’s that unmistakable sweeping kind of melody which evokes wide spaces and idyllic settings. Of course we all know danger and death will come but for a few precious moments the music hides that part and lets us live in a fantasy. I listen to this cue and wish it was the end titles, for the sake of the characters of this story. Sure enough, “The massacre” follows and all memories of that sweet dream are extinguished by the violent reality. The massacre music is raw, sharp and relentless.

I like the brand of loneliness and suspense brought by this score. A cue like “Vanished” makes me want to hear more and gets me curious about the musical story Laurence Rosenthal tells me. The bulk of “Return of a man called Horse” is made of music like that and it makes the score not very difficult to listen even if it’s over 100 minutes long. You still have to go into this score ready for an adventure and in the right frame of mind for a long and complex composition. I was looking over the track list before listening to this album and saw a few 7 and 8 minutes long tracks. Sometimes that can get discouraging but the more I dive into this score the more relaxed I get because the length of the cues doesn’t matter. A piece like “The gifts” works just as if I had heard three separate shorter pieces. Laurence Rosenthal’s music just sucks you in like a good movie and you know you’ll stay for the duration.

The Native American angle of the story is present in a few specific cues. “Morgan’s vision – Sun dance” is an interesting and reflective piece which required a lot of attention. This is the kind of experimental cue that will be very had to sit through if you are not in the right mood for it. I am trying not to draw comparisons between this score and “Dances with wolves” but my mind can’t help but wonder. “The buffalo hunt” sends me right back to that amazing John Barry composition.

“Return of a man called Horse” is the kind of score you instantly know if you will enjoy or get frustrated by. The music isn’t very varied for the length of this album but for me it is exciting enough to keep me going. I would have enjoyed more melodic content but I guess the story didn’t have any place for that. This is a movie about fighting and inner demons and bloody rituals and Laurence Rosenthal’s music breathes all this. The most melodic moments come in a cue like “The new life” which still has an ominous sound to it.

I don’t think I’ll listen to “Return of a man called Horse” again, but I enjoyed my time with it. I would have regretted not having heard it at least once. While it wasn’t for me because I wanted more emotion, I know a lot of film music fans will be drawn to it.

Cue rating: 81 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 26 / 103

Album excellence: 25%

Highlights:

01 Main Title

02 The Massacre

05 Vanished

08 Buffalo Spirit Gone

14 Raven’s Sacrifice

16 The Buffalo Hunt

01 Battle At The Fort

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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