Review: Stripes (1981)

Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Label: Varese Sarabande Records

Catalogue Nr.: Varese Sarabande 302 066 663


The 80's was a decade in which a lot of comedy classics were born. Stripes from 1981 was one of these classics. The movie was the first attempt to poke fun at the military and director Ivan Reitman created a whole new genre: The military comedy. It was a success in every way, mainly due to the excellent and cool performance of Bill Murray. The success of Stripes lead to the creation of many similar constructed films such as The Police Academy series.


The score:

Both, composer Elmer Bernstein and director Ivan Reitman, have already had a lot of experience in doing comedies. Bernstein had scored several comedies, including The Rat Race (1960) and the musical comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie (which earned him his one and only Oscar for best score in 1967) before both teamed up for the first time on Reitman's Animal House (1978). From that film on, they collaborated on other successful movies such as Stripes. It is surprising that there was no soundtrack release of any kind at the time when the film was a successful summer blockbuster. Fans of the movie as well as Elmer Bernstein fans had to wait 24 years until they would finally hold a (legit) score release in their hands.

Elmer Bernstein's music for Stripes is extremely colourful with a lot of ideas and melodies interwoven. The Heart of the score is the excellent march. This piece is already introduced in the first track "Stripes March" which is introducing the military camp in the movie. Fans of the film will immediately recognize the march as entertaining and fun with it's catchy melody while fans of the composer will notice that he was obviously poking fun at his own classic score for The Great Escape (1963) which featured one of the classic main title marches in film score history. The other highlight is a piano piece for Bill Murray's character John Winger, first featured in the track "Winger", which gets several variations throughout the score in "Depression" and "Escape". It is a laid back and somehow depressive melody, perfectly fitting the personality of the character it was composed for. A swinging and relaxing love theme can be heard in "Cops". Well, I am not sure if one can call it swinging (it is actually too slow for that) but it has a pleasant 60's sound to it. Another fun march piece is "Graduation March" which is actually a source music piece played by the military band before the hilarious 'boom-shaka-laka' scene begins (if you watch the scene carefully you will notice a young Bill Paxton playing one of the soldiers). As the squad is going to Europe where they get captured by the 'reds', Bernstein is introducing a folk theme for the Russians in the track "Into the Fire" which sounds extremely clichéd . Rightfully so because it adds to the fun. The rest of the score is exciting music with more variations of the march and other themes. A nice medley of all themes can be heard in "Freeze Frames" which is closing the score together with "End Credits". As a nice bonus, Varese included the original trailer music composed by Elmer Bernstein from a time when trailers were not just scored with repetitive synth library music. The cue even contains the march and some exciting Bernstein action writing. The score is a winner on CD because it never becomes boring and does not suffer from the edits and fade-ins that were made for the film's final soundtrack. Comedies are considered as the most difficult genre for a composer to score but talents as Elmer Bernstein never seemed to have any problems with this. Stripes is one of the best scores for the genre and thus a classic in its own way.


Score as heard in the film: 69%

Score as heard on CD: 77%

TOTAL: 73%


The presentation:

Varese Sarabande made the impossible happen and released stripes as a legit release. Columbia is the rights owner and they wanted to release the score to tie in with the DVD release. Usually, they are more reserved when it comes to score releases so there might be hope. A bootleg of the score was already floating around which had a terribly muted sound. However, it is interesting to note that the Varese release contains all important tracks from the film including cues that had been left off the bootleg, so if you have the boot there is still a reason for you to get the official album, not to mention the much better stereo sound. Ironically, the sound is the only problem because the recording itself sounds heavily compressed like many other Bernstein scores from that decade. Varese still did a good job in providing the music with new vitality without destroying the originality of the recording's sound. The 6-page-booklet contains detailed liner notes about the story of the collaboration between Reitman and Bernstein with credits for the musicians at the end. A very good presentation for a regular release. Hopefully, Stripes will just be the beginning of a series of score releases from the Columbia vault.

Presentation by the Label: 84%



A must-have for fans of the composer or the film. The Stripes score is one of those special cult items that you don't want to miss and it is a great luck that there was enough interest in a release. This really gives hope for other, much better scores, that are still rotting away in a vault of a studio. I really hope Stripes will be a success because if this release is doing well it could show the studio's music executives that there is a market for this excellent music genre.




01. Stripes March (2:18)
02. Winger (1:28)
03. Depression (:41)
04. Push-ups (2:11)
05. Hair Cut (2:38)
06. Training (1:52)
07. Escape (1:35)
08. Cops (1:24)
09. Missing (1:42)
10. Home (:47)
11. Graduation March (2:22)
12. Italy (1:15)
13. Gone (2:27)
14. Captured (1:29)
15. Into the Fire (2:54)
16. Rescued (1:48)
17. V-J-R (2:31)
18. Freeze Frames (3:32)
19. End Credits (1:32)

Bonus Track
20. Stripes Trailer (2:07)