John Anderson’s thoughtful obituary in The New York Times for the enormously gifted and stunningly versatile film composer and musical performer Michel Legrand, who died Saturday at age 86, contains some memorable reportage, including some statements made over the years by the three-time Academy Award® and five-time Grammy® winner. About the breadth of his output, there’s this quote: “‘While I was studying in Paris I decided that I wanted to touch on and exist within every possible musical discipline,’ Mr. Legrand told Time Out London in 2009. ‘Concerts, records, radio, playing piano, conducting, singing, composing, classical, playing jazz. So when I started to work, it was really on that decision.’” And another that addresses his seven decades in music: “I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done. All the films that I’ve done – and I’ve worked on about 250 – are like my children. So they are all special for different reasons. But I like everything that I’ve done, and why not? I always did it with pleasure, and I did it because I wanted to do it. There is always a reason, and that is important for me.”
It is important to Twilight Time that the label plays a small part in showcasing that sizable legacy, and while the singular Barbra Streisand musical Yentl (1983), which brought him his third Oscar® statuette, has sold out its limited-edition run, four other selections in the TT hi-def Blu-ray library boast diverse and distinctive contributions from the legendary Legrand. Indeed, a behind-enemy-lines war zone might be the last place you’d ever expect to encounter a solid score from the composer whose signature achievements include The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and Summer of ’42 (1971). But the grit and determination of battle-hardened rogues clashing with the enemy and among each other is fully captured in his music for the underrated Andre DeToth-directed action epic Play Dirty (1969), starring Michael Caine at the head of a squadron of criminals every bit as gritty as The Dirty Dozen. Romantic highs and lows, full of heartache, longing and hopefulness, inspired the most highly regarded offerings in the Legrand oeuvre, and the ravishing evidence of such is provided by three other TT offerings. Writer/director Richard Brooks’ unsparing, adult drama of a marriage on the rocks and a wife at a critical crossroads, The Happy Ending (1969), is powered equally by the Oscar®-nominated lead performance of the riveting Jean Simmons and the music of Legrand, with the Best Song Oscar® nominee What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? (with lyrics by Yentl colleagues Alan and Marilyn Bergman) particularly resonant, emblematic and haunting. The tortured, social-class-defying romance of Timothy Dalton’s Heathcliff and Anna Calder-Marshall’s Cathy in director Robert Fuest’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1970) unfolds in a mystical Legrand soundscape that captures both the wildness of the Yorkshire moors and the passion of their fatal attraction. For the grand, continents-spanning melodrama (courtesy of Sidney Sheldon’s bestselling novel) of an abandoned Frenchwoman who spends a rags-to-riches lifetime seeking validation and vindication, Legrand proved a perfect match to the scintillating storytelling of The Other Side of Midnight (1977), directed by Charles Jarrott. All four discs feature Isolated Music or Music-and-Effects Tracks that allow a fuller submersion into Legrand’s powerful contributions to each of these memorable movies. For audio score samples, try the below YouTube links. Vive Legrand, now and forever!
The Happy Ending: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvpKmiZhZd8
The Other Side of Midnight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7JZjkBOxXE
Play Dirty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6oy62ltq0M
Wuthering Heights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0yWIscaBEk