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Soundtrack review: The big brawl (Lalo Schifrin – 1980)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The big brawl (Lalo Schifrin – 1980)

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“The Big Brawl”, also known as Battle Creek Brawl, is a 1980 martial arts film which marked Jackie Chan’s first attempt to break into the American movie market. It was directed by Robert Clouse and featured much of the crew from Enter the Dragon. The film is set primarily in Chicago, Illinois in the 1930s (although it was shot in Texas) and follows Chan’s character, a Chinese American martial artist, as he single-handedly takes on the Mafia. The movie was not that well received but the master of martial arts sound Lalo Schifrin wrote the score and we get a brand new 2017 release of it from Quarter Records. After all it’s the director / composer team from “Enter the dragon” so it can only be awesome.

Expectations are met right from the opening cue “Training montage (main title)”; there’s that funkiness and rhythm I was looking for, that percussion and bass combination in low tones that’s both smooth and groovy. The main titles also includes Western like whispers and some of the classical martial arts woodwind instrument sounds. Yes I can say precisely what kind of movie this score was written for just by listening to the first cue. My head is already starting to heart from all the bobbing but I just want more and “Fast moves” gives it to me with the continuous improvisation of soft percussion and sizzling trumpet in the foreground; it’s jazz all the way and I can almost see the band playing this tune live.

The thing with “The big brawl” is that if you hear and enjoy the main titles you have the entire score figured out. That main theme recurs throughout the score sometimes in identical form, other times with the focus on a single instrument but the cue is basically the same and with it being so rhythmic and funky and all it gets stuck in my head pretty fast.

Lalo changes the mood with “Roller derby” and the 70s vibe is even stronger with this one; I get flashes of nostalgia listening to this with the addictive and relentless pace. The composer uses very few instruments but even so there are tense cues, action cues and fun cues in this score, all of them sharp in sound. There is also a seductive jazz lounge piece in “Miss Wong”, a rare type of cue for Lalo Schifrin.

A score from that age also means we get whistling which was pretty big in 70s film music and the composer inserts it just to make a mark in the beginning of my favourite cue from this score “The trap” which is the quintessential 70s suspense cue; I know this score came out in 1980 but it’s still 70s material and once again nostalgia is high. I like the complex construction of this cue, the intertwining of the various chords of the instruments and the feel of order in chaos, of a proper theme made while improvising. The horns, the soft percussion and the bass make this one a delight I want to listen to over and over again.

“The big brawl” is a classical Lalo Schifrin score with a twist, the twist being the jumpy pace the the jazzy improvisation; packed with an addictive and groovy main theme in the “Training montage” this is definitely one not to miss from any collection. “The kiss of death” alone is worth the price of the album as one of the best martial arts themes ever.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 23 / 39

Album excellence: 58%

Highlights:
Training Montage (Main Title)
Roller Derby
Razor Cuts
Miss Wong
The Trap
Training Montage
The Kiss of Death
Training Montage (With F/X)

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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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