Clint Eastwood returned to one of his most enduring roles in 1983’s Sudden Impact, the fourth of five times he played “Dirty” Harry Callahan, and the only entry in the series he directed. The deliberate pacing of most of Eastwood’s directorial outings is gone, in its place a succession of violent actions scenes which make for great entertainment. The third film in the series, The Enforcer, had been scored by Jerry Fielding, but Lalo Schifrin returned this time and delivered a typically stark, modern effort.
“Modern” this time doesn’t just refer to the fierce orchestral music (though there is plenty of that), but Schifrin also incorporated the sounds of the day (including, unexpectedly, scratching records and early 80s pop in the main title) – these sections are little more than a curio today, a relic of another age which is thankfully behind us. The real meat of the score is in those orchestral passages, which finds Schifrin offering a bleak, uncompromising soundscape – often dominated by harsh, genuine dissonance.
It is not difficult to admire Schifrin for putting music like this into an early 80s action thriller – and nobody would dare offer anything like it today, such challenging music having long since disappeared from films – but many will find it difficult to actually enjoy when separated from the film. Schifrin rarely, if ever, gets mentioned with people like Fielding and Alex North as someone who really pushed the boundaries of avant garde orchestral music in films, but if anything he pushed them even further than those two composers, less concerned with using melody as his base and instead concentrating on texture. He is especially adept at an orchestral jazz fusion sound, and sections of this score simply ooze class.
“Eclectic” is certainly a word to use, though – for every piece of harsh orchestral modernism is a piece accompanied by a drum kit and electric guitars, and while these (in particular “Ginley’s Bar”) work well, the contrast with the rest of the score is perhaps a little too far. Most eclectic of all is the seven-minute “Remembering Terror”, which goes from carnival source music to avant garde orchestral experimentation to 80s pop, and back again. It’s masterful in its own way, but I’m forced to return to my observation that it’s not actually very easy to enjoy. The rapturous, gorgeous love theme that finally reveals itself during the end title is a rare exception.
Despite that – this is impressive music, and by and large follows the established Dirty Harry sound impressively while updating it to the then-current time. The album features great sound quality and informative notes from Nick Redman. Sudden Impact may not be a score for everyone, but for those who enjoy more challenging music it’s a sure-fire winner. It is available on Schifrin’s own label Aleph Records, who have also previously released the music from the first three films in the series.