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Soundtrack review: Puppet on a chain (Piero Piccioni – 1971)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Puppet on a chain (Piero Piccioni – 1971)

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“Puppet on a Chain” is a 1971 British thriller film directed by Geoffrey Reeve and starring Sven-Bertil Taube, Barbara Parkins and Alexander Knox. It is based on the novel Puppet on a Chain by Alistair MacLean. Following a triple professional hit a U.S. agent arrives in Amsterdam to investigate a heroin smuggling ring. He finds a city rife with drugs and a police force unable or unwilling to do much about it. With his incognito female fellow agent the American is soon stirring things up. Piero Piccioni wrote the score.

The album opens with the main title which is just the coolest and most gorgeous 70s power theme with the rich and complex brass section, the electric guitar and the overall stride of the cue that’s sustained by the funky bass; I just want to groove and dance and turn the volume up to enjoy this 70s delight even more. This echoes back to countless movies and film scores I’ve seen and listened to from that decade and nostalgia is high. You will know when the story takes place within 30 seconds of the score. And then comes a cue called “Psychedelic mood” and you don’t need more since the content matches the package. I think this is for sure one of the scores Quentin Tarantino counts among his favourites since I recognise the mood from his movies.

The drug element in the movie is very cleverly and masterfully put in music by Piero Piccioni; he uses instruments that make me think of psychedelic or acid trips and he uses addictive and hypnotic base and percussion rhythms. There is a hallucinatory like darkness in the music since except those explosions of 70s funk the scores lurks in a noir jazzy haze. The mystery of cues like “Night club” gets to me and makes me feel at unease and curious about what hides in the shadows. The composer keeps the music in the background but layered enough to make an impression as a standalone listen. His soundscape is often confusing and treacherous which only make the music more efficient in putting the listener (and I imagine the film spectator as well) in the proper mood to get all the nuances of the story while in the same time anchoring “Puppet on a chain” to a funky and alert main theme.

My favourite parts are, of course, the ones where the music goes 70s wild; that sound is so addictive and so infectious and I always welcome a revival or the rerelease of a score written in that decade; man, those trumpets and that Hammond organ are unmatched and their perpetual race in intensity has only one winner: me as the listener. Considering that the romantic moments are excellent as well since the score was written by an Italian composer and romantic film music is in their blood, I am just happy to discover this score. Orchestrally meaningful, thickly tense and rich, “Puppet on a chain” is a must listen for any film music fan.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 16 / 34

Album excellence: 46%

Highlights:
Puppet On A Chain (Main Titles)
Psychedelic Mood
Narcotics Bureau
Night Club
Fear
Love Theme
Puppet On A Chain (Finale)

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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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