Review: City Slickers (1991)

Composer: Marc Shaiman

Label: Varese Sarabande

Catalogue Nr.: VSD-5321


The three city greenhorns Mitch Robbins, Phil Berquist and Ed Furillo are always looking for the ultimate kick to escape their troubled daily routine of midlife-crisis, divorce and job. When Mitch celebrates his 39th Birthday his two friends are making him a special present: An adventurous two-week cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado as the ultimate wild west experience for troubled City Slickers. Trek boss Curly, one of the last hard men in the west, is turning the three boys into real cowboys during their drive. The movie is obviously about discovering the old way of the west and all the romanticism that comes with it. Audience responses were surprisingly striking and turned this mix of comedy and nostalgia into a box office hit which catapulted actor, executive producer and co-writer Billy Crystal into comedian heaven. Jack Palance's excellent albeit short performance as Curly, the rough trek boss even convinced the academy which earned him his one and only Oscar for best actor in a supporting role (and he was so energized that he made one-armed push ups on the stage). The sequel that followed three years later did not even generate half of the success of the original.

The score:

The film was not only the big break for Billy Crystal but for composer Marc Shaiman as well. Shaiman already got recognition for his work on the critically acclaimed drama Misery (1990) and another Billy Crystal vehicle When Harry Met Sally (1989) which earned him an ASCAP award. Therefore it does not surprise that Shaiman would provide his musical talent to every new Billy Crystal production that followed. Shaiman's contribution to the film was essential because music has always played a very important role in western movies since Elmer Bernstein's big sky romanticism in films like The Magnificent Seven (1960) and it was therefore a crucial tool to re-create the western experience for City Slickers. Shaiman successfully provided a dynamite big sky theme that was doing just that while the composer also added a jazzy tone for these city guys that come into the wild west. Composer Hummie Mann provided the film with additional music.

Shaiman's music for the "Main Titles" cartoon is featured in the first track of the CD. It goes from wacky and bouncy western tones over jazz to a waltz... the obligatory crazy mickey-mousing that you would expect from toon-music. Mitch's midlife crisis and "Career End" is accompanied by some downbeat jazz and a depressive solo trumpet which has a slightly Italian character. More depressive tones for woodwinds are heard at the beginning of "Find Your Smile" until the big sky main theme suddenly kicks in when we leave the grey urban environment and are suddenly catapulted into the wild west. The second half of the lengthy six-minutes-cue offers more of the theme and some romantic tones for harmonica and guitar. Wacky tones return in "Walking Funny" with wild harmonica playing and the jazzy clarinet tune from the "Main Title"."Cowabunga" is a really cool action cue... well, not really as it is actually a completely insane gospel arrangement with a catchy rhythm that makes your legs move in excitement and a joyful choir screaming together with the sax for the scene when the herd is going crazy. No wonder that one of Shaiman's next assignments was for Sister Act (1992).

"Young At Heart" is a soft song performed by Jimmy Durante which certainly has some mushy charm. A new lovely theme for strings for the little calve Norman is introduced in "Birth Of A Norman" which goes into sad tones for woodwinds and harmonica when his mother-cow dies. "The River" is one Shaiman's first full-blown action cues which already sounds very mature if you consider that he had never done anything like that before. But the cue is full of dramatic twists and turns with fanfares and dramatic string writing while the main theme plays a leading role just like the city cowboys in the film when they are trying to cross a river with the herd. The cute Norman's theme is heard at the end when they survived the mayhem and rescued the little calve and the herd. After a wacky trumpet solo we get more of Shaiman's prairie romance with a variation of the main theme for strings which goes into a driving (or riding?) and joyful variation of the same tune for full orchestra as the finale of the score when the city guys have overcome their emotional crisis. The CD is closed by a lovely ballad composed by Marc Shaiman and performed by James Ingram that showcases Shaiman's incredible talent for writing excellent songs.



Score as heard in the film: 73%

Score as heard on CD: 71%

TOTAL: 72%


The presentation:

Shaiman's score for the first film was released by Varese Sarabande and since the fees were rather high and Marc Shaiman was a newcomer at the time, the amount of score comes down to barely 30 minutes. While this is a little bit sad it might still represent the lion's share of what Shaiman did for the film because Hummie Mann provided it with additional music that was probably not that easy to license. The CD is limited to the most important moments of what Shaiman did and therefore comes as an ordinary score release with no extras of any kind. You might want to hurry if you plan to get it because the album seems to be OOP but can still be found at online shops.

Presentation by the Label: 51%



The highly entertaining score for the incredibly successful City Slickers can be seen as Shaiman's breakthrough work. It showcases his talent for writing catchy tunes and entertaining arrangements for various genres of music. The big sky main theme is absolute dynamite and while it suffers from the rather small orchestral ensemble used for the recording it receives the full treatment in the score for the sequel. The only thing that this composition suffers from is a noticeable lack of consistency because it goes from cartoon music in the "Main Titles" to depressive jazz in "Career End" to full orchestral western music in "Find Your Smile" to gospel in "Cowabunga" without much of a connection or guide. That makes it a diverse listening experience but some of Shaiman's musical choices can be really confusing if you have not seen the film before. Both scores for City Slickers are highly recommended but if you take a personal suggestion: Start with this one before you get the sequel score. You might end up being a little disappointed with this one if you start with Shaiman's bigger, more matured and consistent score for City Slickers 2 - The Legend Of Curly's Gold (1994).

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



01. Main Title (02:42)
02. Career End (02:11)
03. Find Your Smile (06:07)
04. Walking Funny (01:25)
05. Cowabunga (02:29)
06. Young At Heart (02:48)
07. Birth Of Norman (05:23)
08. The River (05:48)
09. Mitchy The Kid (04:19)
10. Where Did My Heart Go? (03:52)