The Dave Grusin Archive
Music for the Screen
Absence Of Malice


Stars:  Paul Newman, Sally Field, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban, Josef Sommer, Don Hood, Wilford Brimley

Director:  Sydney Pollack
Producer:  Sydney Pollack
Released:  Columbia 1981

Story:  Michael Gallagher, the innocent son of a dead Mafia boss suddenly finds that he is the subject of a criminal investigation. Eventually he discovers that he is being intentionally pressured in the hope that he'll leak insider information in exchange for protection. The reporter who wrote the erroneous story about him stands behind her legal right as a journalist to exert the pressure--until she hears his side.

The big main title of “Absence of Malice” is punchy, driving and dramatic, and incorporates a diverse range of musical devices to reflect the dynamic tension of the worlds (newspaper, political, crime and investigative) on which this film concentrates.  (Compare treatment of similar subject in Dave Grusin's vibrant theme for the newspaper-based TV series “Name of the Game” from 1968.)

It is employed in the body of the picture as well, with different instrumentation to accommodate a variety of situations - not just ones of suspense and intrigue, but milder occasions as well (such as the lunch on the boat where it takes on a maritime flavor).    That it contains such a great number of elements gives it this flexibility.

Underscoring in the first part of the motion picture is minimal. There is, however, occasional source music which is effective in enhancing various scenes where it is used - the funky sounds in the bar adding sophistication; children's choir at the school signifying virtuousness.

Two notable pieces of source music give particular strength to the drama.  The gentle sounds playing in the park when Megan interviews Teresa underpin (again) the latter's genuineness and vulnerability.

Another example (if it is that) is playing in Megan's apartment when Mike arrives to tender an apology.  (There is nothing in particular to indicate whether it is underscoring or something playing in her home, except that it ends before the scene does.)

This is a complex and atmospheric bit of piano music which adds volumes to these important and pivotal moments, bringing out some deeper facets in the natures of the two protagonists.  It has something of the feeling of “Hokkaido” (released the following year on the “Out of the Shadows” album), and lends a thoughtful and serious dimension to the leading characters.

In addition to the two examples of source music which accompany Teresa's scenes, following her revelations to Megan, a theme is fashioned combining her innocence with a dark undercurrent, notably played over her discovery of the story in the newspaper.  It is developed and extended further at her funeral with a motif adapted two decades later for “In The Gloaming”.

The second half of the film (typically) employs more underscoring, with a strong use of relatively short cues over action sequences to connect dialogue scenes.

These highly dramatic cues - featuring a complex mixture of percussion, piano and strings - are highly significant, as they help to hold the picture together and maintain momentum when the plot becomes obscure, leading up to the revelations at the end.

While the pace of the film remains slow, the drama is continually heightened and moved along by this intense and suspenseful percussion, whereby innocuous looking images take on a sinister quality.

There is also a love theme (containing an unmistakably  touching Grusinish `motif' used in other films to convey pathos and hurt), which was also adapted for the closing titles.

The subtle use of such delicate elements is one further example of Dave Grusin's ability to use music to set the emotional temperature of a film to within a fraction of a degree.

Music Editor:  Else Blangsted
Music Scoring Mixer:  Dan Wallin

Dave Grusin
Feature Films