Stars: Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth McGovern
Director: Richard Benjamin
Producer: Aalain Bernheim & John Kohn
Released: Paramount 1984
Story: In 1942 California, two young men await induction into the U.S. Marines and say goodbye to their girlfriends.
When Dave Grusin began his scoring career in the sixties, notably writing cutting-edge themes for television, one of the things most commonly cited about his work was its contemporary flavor. This impressionistic ability to suggest time via music is amply exhibited in “Racing With the Moon.”
Almost every aspect of the score is period-based, constantly holding the audience in a time warp evoking the years of the Second World War.
Source music, of course, captures the age to a tee, with numbers such as “Cherokee,” “Tangerine” and “Moonlight Becomes You,” each in their own way, denoting the environment in which the characters dwell. (It also plays a pivotal role in the scene where a news report about the war is switched off on the car radio, to be replaced by a brash “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” - so jarring, that it is a last straw for Caddie, who demands to be let out of the car.)
But it is the warm and sentimental main theme, used here and there as underscoring, and played over closing titles, which evokes the time so perfectly, that the feeling is almost one of being back in the war years themselves, viewing a contemporary film. The employment of trombone serving often as lead instrument for the piece adds to the effect in the body of the motion picture.
However, over end credits, it is done in an orchestral version, and this even more deftly defines the period, not only for people who had lived through these years, but younger individuals, unfamiliar with the sound, who nevertheless can absorb a sense of the forties in a theme written in 1984.
Ultra-romantic with the hopefulness of the times, it is the essence of a certain Hollywood style, and could easily have come from the pen of any of Dave Grusin's early musical heroes, Newman, Friedhofer, Raksin. With the creation augmented by its very lush `silver screen' orchestration (opening with swirling harp), it truly bears the touch of that Golden Age. (Michel Legrand formulated similar strategy in his nostalgic theme for “The Summer of '42.”)
Opening music for the film is a neat bit of jiving boogie woogie, which not only picks up the jaunty gait of the train, but the freewheeling existence the boys are living before departing for military service. When it begins to play once more at the end of the picture, there is almost a sensation that the train metaphorically slowed down to give audiences a glance of life in one of the towns along its route, only to pick up again and travel merrily on its way.
Flourishing with optimism, It forces the idea of a happy ending to the film, even though, considering where the comrades are going, they might never return.
The only departure from music set firmly in the War years is the love theme, in this way, emphasizing subliminally that this aspect of “Racing With the Moon” deals with something which is unchanging and eternal.
A particularly tender Dave Grusin melody, it is executed with a combination of saxophone, piano and strings, to bring out specific nuances for the needs of various scenes. With no soundtrack album available, it is the only item from “Racing With the Moon” available on record, having been included on the jazz offering “Night-Lines” under the title “Secret Place,” (referring to the isolated lake setting where the lovers go).
There is another bit of underscoring which cannot be ignored in any notes on the “Racing With the Moon” score, and that is the inclusion of the big band arrangement of “Sing Sing Sing” as the `high-stakes' game of pool gets Nicky and Hop into a progressively more dangerous situation with each racking of the balls.
The frantic drum solo - played at increasing volume - seizes one with the intense pressure the boys feel, in addition to the mounting peril of the situation. It is a massively effective cue, and the reprising of the same recording as they make their getaway (a technique delightfully used in “The Electric Horseman” as well) turns the built-up tension into glee as boys escape their pursuers.
There is also a charming use of Hark The Herald Angels Sing, included to set the Christmas season, but also exploited for its flourishing end notes as a charming and triumphant punch line to Hop's pursuit of Caddie. The opposite effect is created by lonely horn music playing when couples go to the abortionist, adding a finishing touch of sleaziness to the scene.
This thematic and interesting score really deserved a soundtrack album, and can definitely be considered a particularly noteworthy Dave Grusin endeavor.
Music Editor: Else Blangsted
Big Band Orchestrations: Billy May
Additional Orchestration: John Charles
Music Recording Mixer: Dennis S. Sands
Although no soundtrack album was released for this film, the love theme, “A Secret Place” appears on two Dave Grusin recordings, “Night-Lines” and “Now Playing” as well as being the title track of a Grover Washington, Jr. release with Dave Grusin playing piano on the session.