– New York, NY
Since, I do soundtrack reviews and announcements relating to new and upcoming releases, I thought I would introduce another segment. This is what I would be my own version of what Siskel & Ebert did on their show with their video pick of the week. So I’ve been pondering this for a couple of weeks now, so here’s my special segment “The Forgotten Soundtrack Spotlight”.
With this segment, I will bring up and talk about forgotten films and soundtracks which have some sort of significance or a purpose to get it released as a suggestion to soundtrack labels, if they’re listening. There will be a variety of genres I’ll talk about and maybe, if the tapes to these scores are still in existance, they’ll have a good chance of a release, Then sadly, there’s the off chance that the tapes are lost, destroyed or deteriorated beyond repair and the movie is all you’ve got left to enjoy.
With that in mind and no further adeau, the first film for this segment that I’ve chosen amongst the many I have in mind is for Brian DePalma’s 1986 mob-comedy, Wise Guys starring Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo. The film was DePalma’s second stab into comedy, Home Movies was his first and met with lackluster results in 1980 and this one had much better results eventhough they didn’t show at the box office. The film stars DeVito and Piscopo, who are neighbors and low level mob flunkees for New Jersey crime boss, Anthony Costello (Dan Hedaya) and always ridiculed by the enormous, Frank “The Fixer” (played by the late WWE star, Captain Lou Albano) who drives a Pink Cadlliac and eats like a horse. DeVito and Piscopo do everything from picking up the bosses’ dry cleaning and to testing out their cars to see if there are any carbombs after they turn on the ignition. The film features a very funny sequence with DeVito surviving one. As it turns out there’s a rat in the club where they frequent and once he’s revealed, DeVito and Piscopo end up as witnesses to his death and to top things off, they bet on the wrong horse on a crooked horse race and lose Costello’s money instantly putting them on their hit list after screwing up for the final time. With both “The Fixers” beloved Pink Cadillac and his gold credit card, DeVito and Piscopo trash the car and run up his credit card bill on a road trip to Atlantic City to visit DeVito’s Uncle Mike. Once there, DeVito finds that has inherted a nice little sum of money which he refuses to give to Costello after years of putting up with his crap. He enlists the help of casino manager Bobby DiLea (Harvey Keitel) with a full proof plan to get rid of Costello and The Fixer once and for all. There is a nice twist here that I will not give away and it’s best to see the movie because it is very entertaining and funny.
George Gallo, who wrote the screenplay scored a major hit after this film with Midnight Run starring Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin and contributed the original script to Bad Boys, which turned Will Smith and Martin Lawrence into action movie icons in 1995. DePalma’s direction here is relaxed and suave. It’s not like his other pictures where it was mainly about visuals and gimmicks like Carrie or The Fury, which were good films. This is a straightforward, leisurely paced comedy that doesn’t overstate itself and does make you laugh. The movie is flawed at times, and Piscopo is a bit of a fool, but that’s exactly what his role is, the fool who is duped. The locations are also key here because they add to the presence of that mobster world and somewhere other than New York or Chicago, which are almost always depicted. It’s refreshing to see a different take on that. What also scores big here is the score by Ira Newborn.
DePalma has worked with lots of different composers throughout his career starting with the late Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Pino Donaggio, Ennio Morricone, Ryuchi Sakamoto and Danny Elfman. This would be his only collboration with Newborn, who is famous for his Naked Gun theme which started on the short lived series Police Squad for which that series of movies is based on and also scoring the most popular of group of John Hughes’ career output starting with Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes, Trains And Automobiles and Uncle Buck. Newborn was a rather odd choice for a film like this because of the established working relationship between DePalma and Donaggio which was very fruitful and Body Double which turned out to be their last film together at the time until Raising Cain six years later. Body Double was a bit of disaster at the box office and critically as well and now is well regarded as a cult classic. Newborn’s score not only emphisizes the comedy of the film, but it gives it flavor. The film opens and ends with a goofy Italian godfather like theme with a fun solo violin playing throughout and adding to it later on is a solo saxphone. There are other more “tense moments” like the Church killing scene and for the twist at the end of the film which add a little more dramatic weight, but still keeps the score light, yet frantic.
The reasons the score is very good is because Newborn had some very solid help in the orchestration stage with David Newman and Alf Clausen. Newman who is the brother of Thomas (who I recently revivewed The Adjustment Bureau) and cousin of Randy, (who won recently for Toy Story 3) and Clausen, who has scored virtually every season of The Simpsons since 1990, do a solid job giving the film what it needed, a strong, bouncy main theme. The work they both did with this score does transcend later on in Clausen’s Simpsons’ music for the mobster character Fat Tony (voiced by Joe Mantegna) and Newman would later revisit the mobster comedy film genre with the hit The Freshman starring Matthew Broderick and the late Godfather himself, Marlon Brando four years after this film came out. His score for that film is quite similar to this one and it’s no surprise because the scores are sorta of interchangeable and have the same bouncy main melody and most of the instrumentation (saxophone, accordion, violin, and mandolin) are also similar. You have to give DePalma credit for going in a different direction with Newborn and to me, he does succeed in going in a more lighter, fun direction with the film and the score. He could’ve easily just have gone for the material straightforward and turned it into a dark, gangster film like he would with David Mamet for The Untouchables, a year later.
Newborn is a solid composer who unfortunately like David Newman and to a point, Robert Folk, have been typecast as comedy composers only. It’s a shame because Newborn is capable and has scored dramas like the forgotten, Bad Manners providing a dark, melodic score for that film and Newman along with Folk, can score virtually any genre and have. It’s a good thing that I created this segment because there are good films and scores out there that should be rediscovered and in this case, Wise Guys is one that really should be. It finally made it’s debut on DVD over six years ago and it was great to see it again after all those years and also hear Ira Newborn’s classy, score.
Wise Guys is currently available on Warner Home Video DVD’s and available to buy at www.amazon.com, www.barnesnoble.com and www.moviesunlimited.com to name a few places.