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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Michael J. Lewis - soundtracks and film music to discover

This week, I want to talk about a composer that is highly under-rated, the great Michael J. Lewis.

Michael J. Lewis, born January 11, 1939, in Wales, is still alive. I sent him an email a few days ago and asked him for an interview, and he agreed to answer my questions. That is a way to make fans happy! I will post this interview as soon as he replied.

I cannot remember what was the first movie soundtrack composed by him that Isaw, but I am sure Roger Moore’s “Fflokes” was one of them. This British action movie from 1979 starring Anthony Perkins as the head of a terrorist group is still an enjoyable one. Moore’s character is a kind of parody of his James Bond-image, and Moore gives a great performance when he says that he prefers cats to women.

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, a director known for western and adventure movies, “Ffolkes” is a typical 70s movie, and Lewis used also the typical synthesizers, but the main theme and the “End Titles” are still great tracks. In an interview, Lewis said that for this movie he used a synthesizer for the first time - for the wind effect -, and in my opinion he was totally right about skipping this instrument for his next scores.

Here is the trailer:

Another movie scored by Lewis is “The Medusa Touch”. This movie from 1978 is a British supernatural thriller film directed by Jack Gold, starring Richard Burton as a psychic with powerful psychokinetic abilities, the wonderful Lino Ventura as a policeman, and beautiful Lee Remick as a pychiatrist. Roger Ebert named the movie as the worst from 1978, and this rating is another reason I really think that Ebert is a totally overrated movie critic.

The movie is great; of course, you cannot compare it with the supernatural movies today, but in my opinion, it is still highly enjoyable. I love especially the last scene because we do not get the deserved happy end. Lewis’ music, not very sophisticated this time, is just good thriller music, haunting, thrilling, and especially for the showdown - “The Destruction of The Cathedral” -, it is just fun. When you will hear the flute in the very last scene of the movie, the scene when Morlar--- no, I do not want to tell you more …

I found a suite of the music; I think at 2’08, you can find the music for the destruction scene, and at 7’29, you will listen to the End Credits. When this movie was shown on German Television, I called the broadcasting company to please run the music with the end credits when repeating the movie the next day. This broadcasting company normally did not show the end credits, they placed commercials as soon as a movie was over. The next day, I was sitting at the TV set with my tape recorder waiting for the end credits music, and the company played the music for the end credits! I am not sure if this really was because of my call, but I still love the idea to think of it like this.

Lewis wrote a bunch of soundtracks for movies, e.g. “Julius Caesar”, “Theatre Of Blood” (one of Vincent Price greatest performances), “The Madwoman of Chaillot” (Lewis favorite score), “The Hound of The Baskerville” with Martin Shaw (famous for agent Doyle in “The Professionals” and Ian Richardson as Holmes, “The Man Who Haunted Himself”, “The Naked Face” (both Roger Moore movies), and, just to mention two more: “The Island Of Adventure” (1982) and “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” (an animation one, and for me, one of Lewis most enjoyable scores).

Lewis is still a great composer to discover. Interesting is also that he composed the music for a movie directed by Franklin J. Schaffner who normally worked with Jerry Goldsmith. For this movie called “Sphinx”, Lewis used two orchestras, the standard one, and the ten piece Egyptian orchestra. Lewis said: “That was one of the greatest fun jobs of all time. There was so much orchestral color by using a western symphony orchestra and an Egyptian orchestra which was Mid-Eastern.”

Here is the link to a nice interview (( with the composer and you can get very good examples of Lewis’ sense of humor:

“First of all, you read the script. You get some idea of what it’s all about. Then the director will give you some sort of briefing – very rarely will they let you go and see their movie “cold”. You go in and have a screening on your own or with the director, producer, or everybody. You’re expected to give real smart answers and tell him how wonderful the movie is. The next stage is you and the director sit down and you spot the picture reel by reel. It used to be that the director would really look to the composer for real input. He would rely on the composer, but these days it’s totally different. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry wants to put his fingers in the pie.”

I personally do not like the music to “Sphinx” so much, I prefer other scores, but check out the track “Luxor Chase”.

I just want to mention a few tracks to listen to. For one of my most favorite scores by Michael J. Lewis, “The Island Of Adventure”, I could not find any tracks on YouTube. I really loved this score! When I was living in Shanghai, I listened to this score every day when walking to the metro. I loved especially the tracks “Across the Water”, “Surprise” and “Hold Tight”, this is the style of action music I call Michael J. Lewis one of my favorite composers.

“Theatre of Blood”, a lovely melody and typical for the musical approach of Lewis:

“The Naked Face”, Roger Moore in a thriller based on a book by famous Sidney Sheldon; a video from the German movie with a spoiler, so do not watch if you did not see the movie so far:

And one of Lewis most favourite scores: “The Madwoman Of Chaillot”. Here is the trailer:

And here is a nice compilation with some more music by him:

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2016, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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