The Dave Grusin Archive
Music for the Screen
Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here

also known as  "Willie Boy"

Stars:   Robert Redford, Robert Blake, Katharine Ross, Susan Clark

Director:  Abraham Polonsky
Producer:  Philip A. Waxman
Released:  Universal 1969

Story:  A sheriff pursues a renegade Indian who has murdered his fiancee's father and taken his bride to be with him in flight.

An atmospheric, rather than thematic score, “Tell Them Willie Boy is Here” is one of five theatrical releases from 1969 with music by Dave Grusin.

The ever apprehensive and anticipatory mood is created primarily by a combination of diverse percussion and wind instruments, complemented by electronic accents for psychological flavor.  A sense of portent is constantly maintained by this generally sparse and artistic underscoring, which is even used through the love scenes, despite its dark and uneasy nature.

A decade onwards the composer described this almost poetic score as the most novel he had completed up to that point.  Classifying it as “ethnic music without roots,” he reveals that the motion picture exemplifies his impressionistic approach to capturing a style.

Whereas he agrees that the ideal might be to make a study of a genre, and discover what “makes it happen,” the time constraints involved in a year like the one in question, made that impossible.

Admitting that for “Tell Them Willie Boy is Here,” he “made up an ethnic music,” Dave Grusin further explains that the score expresses a feeling for the cultural sensitivities of native Americans rather than drawing from any specific sources.  Without libraries full of examples of their musical traditions, he had little alternative, and adds, “I had to create quite a bit to get enough variety for a whole movie. My ethnic style wasn't authentic, but it was adventurous.”

Inherent edginess, which moves the picture forward, is increased by the highly irregular pattern of the percussion throughout the film.  But for most of the picture, the character of the cues is almost tentative, having a pensive quality, amplified by the soft and hollow sounds produced by the various solo instruments.

In the latter third of the film the slow and almost meditative gait of the music is stepped up several paces, becoming sharper, louder and more intense, especially during a lengthy cue over the pursuit and flight scene involving the principal characters.  Enhancing the visuals, the music captures the nervous anxiety felt by the two men, so emotionally charged by the sense of danger for each.

Except for escalating the tension at the end, the score, though never repeating itself, remains on a continuum, relieved only by a little period source music.

It might be added that this is the first appearance of an embryonic riff which reached full bloom in the Middle Eastern theme for “The Little Drummer Girl” a decade and a half later.

There are also precursors to the inventive score to “Three Days of the Condor” to be found.  However, the music for “Tell Them Willie Boy is Here” truly stands on its own as a splendid Grusin original, unquestionably belonging on a Connoisseur's List of the master's film work.

Music Supervisor:  Stanley. Wilson

Dave Grusin
Feature Films