On The Waterfront/Bernstein

March 23, 2006

I must admit to having very little or no experience with this score other than having watched the film a long time ago.  Recently I was asked to evaluate a new (2) CD set from Silva of Marlon Brando Films.  One of the selections was the 20 minute suite of music from this interesting score.  Note:  There is no official release of the soundtrack.  As I listened to the beginning of the suite something was very familiar to me.  I didn’t know what it was but I knew I had heard that theme before, I just couldn’t remember where.  After three more listens the light bulb went on and I realized it was the same theme from LA Confidential!  No credit was ever given to Leonard Bernstein on the OST of LA Confidential at least if it was I completely missed it.  Since the work is not in public domain I ponder what was going on.  Having talked to several people about this there has only been one person who has also picked up on this.  And believe me it is not similiar.  The first several notes are exactly the same.  Eventually both works go off in different directions.  It would be interesting to hear the whole story sometime.

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8 Responses to “On The Waterfront/Bernstein”

  1. Mark Rayen Says:

    Hi Tom,

    I was tempted to check my L.A. Confidential DVD to see what all the fuss was about, and discovered the same thing you did. Its funny that I never noticed that before! Of course the themes aren’t identical, like you pointed out the themes move on to different things after the first two measures. I think Goldsmith develops his theme in a more subtle way by constantly varying its rhythmic pattern and occasionally adding extra notes to it. Perhaps its more of a motif than a theme? Bernstein did nothing like that at all, and never played around with his theme or made any changes of any kind. The melodic structure of his theme is more refined I’d say, while the Goldsmith theme has a more “undefined” and perhaps insecure quality to it in that it changes slightly throughout the score. It undergoes a slight metamorphosis, I guess.

    It is interesting that both themes use a solo trumpet, and that both films are set in the 1950’s dealing with inner city crime and corruption. On the Waterfront was filmed in 1954, and L.A. Confidential is set in 1953!

    – Mark

  2. Josh Says:

    Interesting. Just watched On the Waterfront. As a big admirer of LA Confidential I noticed the similarity immediately. Nice to see that I’m not the only one.

    Cheers, Josh

  3. Stephen Says:

    I just watched On the Waterfront and instantly recognised the L.A Confidential theme. I did a search online and only found this mention of it.

  4. Midsomer Says:

    I’d never seen On the Waterfront until today. I’ve seen LA Confidential a number of times and instantly heard what (until now) I would have called the LA Confidential theme. Can we call it a paean of praise from one fine composer to another?

  5. Lisa Nilsson Says:

    Yes I too felt that thematically the music from LA Confidential borrowed so much from On the Waterfront… amazingly so…I’m glad I’m not the only one to notice this upon just rewatching On the Waterfront…

  6. Lisa Nilsson Says:

    Also go to http://www.movie-wave.net and check out the listing for LA Confidential in which Leonard Bernstein comes up in the themes of the music for this film.

  7. ultrafaux Says:

    Just watches “LA Confidential” on TV Was haunted by the trumpet and immediately thought of “On the Waterfront.”Googled the two films and see others have noted the very strong similarity.

  8. Erica La Spada Says:

    I’ve thought this since I first saw LA Confidential back in 97. Instead of plagiarism, my gut feeling is that it’s a homage to On the Waterfront. While LA Confidential is a noir, there are still elements of the film and its style that remind one of Kazan and On the Waterfront: whistle-blowing against corruption in the community/establishment you’re comfortable with, etc.

    I’m glad to see others agree with me about the similarity of the score, however. For years I’ve been saying that to puzzled looks!


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