This week, I want to talk about a nearly forgotten composer: John Cacavas. He composed the music for two of the famous “Airport”-movies, also for the last Hammer-Dracula called “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (1973) and for the Horror-Kult “Horror Express” (1972). Cacavas’ music is typical 70s, but with his sense for wonderful themes and instrumentation worth to discover again.
John Cacavas (1930-2014) was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota. His father was an immigrant from Greece and his mother was born in North Dakota. While in school, John displayed an early talent for music, forming a local band at age 14, and later studied musical composition at Northwestern University. During military service, Cacavas was assigned to Washington, DC where he was an arranger for the United States Army Band. There he met Charles Osgood, with whom he collaborated on musical compositions and recordings.
While working in London in the 1970s, Cacavas met Telly Savalas, who later helped him moving into scoring the music for movies. Cacavas music for “Horror Express” starring Savalas, and the Hammer stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee is still quite famous. Cacavas then moved to Hollywood and composed music for various TV shows. For the 5th and final season of “Kojak” with Telly Savalas, Cacavas composed the new main theme. Listen to it here:
Cacavas has an amazing amount of television credits, including “Hawaii Five-O”, “The Bionic Woman”, “Mrs. Columbo” and TV Movies such as “The Elevator” (1974), “Murder at the World Series” (1977), “The Time Machine” (1978)” and “Hellinger's Law” (1981), a pilot for a new series with Telly Savalas which in the end was not made. Cacavas continued to work with Savalas on “The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission” (1987) and the sequel. His later television credits included miniseries such as “Jenny's War” (1985), “Confessional” (1989) and “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town” (2000).
His feature movie scores include “Airport 1975” and “Airport '77”, “Hangar 18” (1980), “Gangster Wars” (1981), “Mortuary” (1983), and “They're Playing with Fire” (1984). Cacavas is also notable for his "Flute Poem", known by Canadian viewers as the opening to “Hinterland Who's Who”, a series of public service announcements, and he wrote the theme song for the 2005 video game “Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories”. The song, "March Popakov Remix", was sampled by DJ Danger Mouse and is used frequently in the game. I found the music for “Grand Theft Auto” here. It has still the typical John Cacavas sound, and I really love it:
“Airport 1975” is the first sequel to the successful “Airport” (1970) based on Arthur Hailey’s book. Directed by Jack Smight and starring Charlton Heston, Karen Black and George Kennedy as Joe Patroni as well as Gloria Swanson in her final screen appearance. Interesting to know is that in 1978 a similar accident happened when a small airplane crashed with Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182. All 135 people on the aircraft and seven people on the ground were killed, a failure of the PSA flight resulted in the crash. 1986, another similar crash happened: Aeroméxico-Flight 498 crashed with a small piper. In this case, it was a mistake of the piper. All 67 people on both aircraft and 15 people on the ground were killed.
Compared with the later „Airport 77”, the movie is not so spectacular, but it was a huge commercial success and the seventh highest-grossing film of 1974. Heston plays his role with routine and says one of the most unromantic “I love you” in movie history, but the star of the movie is Karen Black who is giving a tremendous performance. Before writing this review, I checked out her career, and she is a very interesting person with her political views and her work in independent films. Some people say the Boeing 747 is the real star because it is such an elegant airplane.
Here is the trailer for the movie:
“Airport 1975” is also famous because of the Zucker parody “Airplane! (1980). In “Airport 1975”, a nun and also a child in need of an organ transplant are part of the story, and “Airplane” parodies both characters in a great way.
Both Cacavas “Airport” scores have very majestic scores. I just like the main theme for “Airport 1975” better because of the brass section and the electronical spinet. While the music plays, you see Karen Black from behind with a nice green scarf walking her way through the airport until she finally meets and kisses Charlton Heston. The music has a very elegant style with a sad tone that immediately touched me when I first heard it as a teenager. Here is the Main Title:
The album has 12 tracks, but most of them I skip. With track 2 “Destination Elko”, you have the typical suspense tracks for this kind of movie. Track 3 “How Insensitive” is a typical source track in the 70s style. Track 4 “Interludium” plays the main theme again with a bigger dominance of the string section, a very nice one. Track 5 “Airborne: Three Moods” is a mixture of suspense and source music. Track 6 “Inflight Collision” underscores the accident, a good suspense track. Track 7 “Theme Airport 1975” is purely enjoyable, with a typical 70s disco touch, track 8 “Montage”: just another suspense track, and track 9 “Alexander’s Death” underscores the tragic death of the first guy who wants to enter the plane through the hole in the cockpit. The scene does not give Cacavas a lot to do instead of typical suspense music, so also a track to skip. Track 10 “Murdock Makes It” does not need any explanation when you know that Heston’s character is named Murdock. Track 11 “Suspense, Approach and Landing” is the music for the big showdown, with 5 minutes the longest one, and “Finale, End Titles” brings the album to an end.
To be honest, this album is not a must-have, but for me who grew up with the “Airport”-movies, it is more than a good memory. I really like Cacavas main theme, and for fans it is worth to by.
Here is the End Title for the “Airport ‘77”
To give you a better picture of this composer, let me add here the main theme to “The Satanic Rites of Dracula”
And my favourite Cacavas Track, the end title to “Horror Express”:
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