The Whisperers (John Barry) & Equus (Richard Rodney Bennett) Limited Edition Soundtracks
Composer: Barry & Bennett
Music Composed and Conducted by John Barry
Music Composed by Richard Rodney Bennett
Bryan Forbes’ 1967 film of The Whisperers is, sadly, barely remembered today. But it contains one of the finest performances ever committed to celluloid – Dame Edith Evans, who, at the time, was seventy-nine years of age. As the New York Daily News said, “Here’s not merely the performance of the year, it is one of the few truly great performances by an actress in film history.” Evans’ performance of an elderly, lonely woman with a fantasy life, who hears voices (the “whisperers” of the title), lives in seedy squalor, and who barely can exist on what she receives from the National Assistance, is so haunting and touching and magical – the emotions that play across her face at any given moment for any given reason, the way she carries herself and cocks her head and asks “Are you there?” – well, it’s simply not possible to offer enough praise.
The film itself is bleak and downbeat, and it didn’t catch on with audiences (it was a very strong year for film, with The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Wait Until Dark, Cool Hand Luke, The Dirty Dozen and more), but was a hit with critics. Apparently enough Academy voters saw it, because Evans received a Best Actress nomination. She was in very good company – Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, Anne Bancroft, and Faye Dunaway – but the award went to Katherine Hepburn. Evans did win the Silver Bear at the Berlin Festival as well as a Golden Globe and BAFTA award.
For the score, Forbes used John Barry – they’d already done several pictures together, including Séance On A Wet Afternoon, King Rat, and The Wrong Box. By 1967, Barry had already become a legend, thanks to his iconic scores for the James Bond films. Whatever alchemy sometimes happens between director, composer, and subject matter, happened repeatedly with Forbes and Barry and Barry’s score for The Whisperers is not only one of his best, but a perfect marriage of film and music.
“I AM YOURS AND YOU ARE MINE”
Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play Equus was a sensation from the minute the curtain went up on its original production at the Royal National Theatre at the Old Vic in London. Shaffer based his play on an incident he’d heard about involving a seventeen-year-old who’d blinded six horses. Instead of reading about the actual incident, Shaffer concocted his own tale about what might have caused the young man to do such a thing. It was compelling theater, and filled with Shaffer’s incredible wordplay, anguished characters, and innate theatricality. The play mesmerized audiences – it had a very long run in London, and ran for 1209 performances on Broadway. It has been revived many times since, most recently starring Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe.
For the 1977 film, Sidney Lumet was engaged to direct, with Shaffer adapting the play for the screen. Richard Burton, who’d played the role of psychiatrist Martin Dysart for a brief time on Broadway, starred, alongside the original Alan Strang, Peter Firth. The film version had a fantastic supporting cast, including Colin Blakely as Alan Strang’s father (Blakely also played Dysart during the original London run), Joan Plowright, Harry Andrews, Eileen Atkins, and Jenny Agutter. Burton, Firth, and Shaffer all received well-deserved Oscar nominations.
To score the film, Lumet turned to Richard Rodney Bennett, with whom he’d worked on Murder On The Orient Express. Bennett, born in 1936, began scoring films in 1957, and had already become an amazing film composer, turning in wonderful scores for films in just about every genre – Far From The Madding Crowd, Billy Liar, The Wrong Arm Of The Law, The Mark, The Nanny, Billion Dollar Brain, Secret Ceremony, Nicholas and Alexandra, Lady Caroline Lamb and many others.
Bennett wrote a sparse but extremely effective score, using a very unusual orchestration for an ensemble of lower string instruments – ten violas, eight cellos, and six basses. Bennett’s ravishing underscore compliments Lumet’s visuals and Shaffer’s dialogue perfectly.
The Whisperers was originally issued on a United Artists LP and had a prior CD release on Ryko. That release, as was the case with several Ryko issues, had dialogue tracks added between the score tracks, which, for most people, completely interrupted the wonderful flow of Barry’s original LP sequence. For this release, we have removed the added dialogue tracks and remastered the sound.
The original United Artists LP of Equus, along with its prior CD release (also on Ryko – now long out of print), interspersed five of Burton’s monologues (and a scene with Firth) among the score cues. Some of the monologues retained their own track and had no underscore, and some were bookended with musical cues. The result was a very nice listen for the first couple of times – after that, one wished that the score could simply be listened to as a score, on its own. So, for this release, we’ve done exactly that for the first time. We present Bennett’s score first, and then the six dialogue tracks – a couple of which have underscore repeated from the score tracks. Listening to the score on its own is a fantastic experience and since the prior CD preserved the original sequence of the LP, we felt justified in presenting this in a new light. As with The Whisperers, we have also remastered the sound.