Once a Thief
Lalo Schifrin’s second feature assignment at M-G-M was Once a Thief, a 1965 noir directed by Ralph Nelson. Alain Delon stars as an ex-con trying to go straight, with Ann-Margret as his wife and Jack Palance as his criminal brother (and bad influence). Schifrin composed a terrific jazz score for a 24-piece group (with no strings) featuring top musicians from the West Coast jazz scene.
MGM Records was excited at the soundtrack album possibilities for Once a Thief, but the label opted not to release the original soundtrack recording under the MGM imprint. Instead, they commissioned Schifrin (then a recording artist on their Verve label) to record and release a 10-cut LP marketed (with a gatefold cover) as Music From the Motion Picture: Once a Thief and Other Themes by Lalo Schifrin. Disc 2, tracks 1–10 feature that Verve album recording, newly remastered from the only surviving ¼″ two-track stereo master.
- 1. Blues A-Go-Go
- The Once a Thief LP kicks off with this groovy instrumental original, unrelated to any film.
- 2. Once a Thief Vocal by Irene Reid
- This rendition of Schifrin’s love theme from Once a Thief (with lyrics by Dorcas Cochran) is the first of two vocals on the LP performed by jazz singer Irene Reid (1930–2008); Reid was also under contract to Verve Records at the time.
- 3. Insinuations
- This tender and evocative piece is a second original work composed for the LP.
- 4. The Right to Love (Reflections) Vocal by Irene Reid
- This song has an interesting history: Singer Tony Bennett—a long-time fan of saxophonist Stan Getz—became fascinated by the title instrumental track from Reflections, a 1963 album recorded by Getz and Schifrin. Bennett suggested that Gene Lees should write a lyric for it, and Lees did so. Carmen McRae initially passed on the song, but Peggy Lee recorded it in 1964 (with a Lalo Schifrin arrangement) for her album In the Name of Love. Bennett then recorded it in early 1965 for his album If I Ruled the World: Tony Bennett Songs for the Jet Set. A number of other singers have since recorded the song about a sort of forbidden love, including Freddy Cole, Holly Near and even Carmen McRae.
- 5. The Cat (From the M-G-M Motion Picture Joy House)
- The energetic “The Cat” expands a brief source cue from Schifrin’s 1964 score for Joy House (aka Les Felins), written for a scene in which Jane Fonda dances suggestively in front of a mirror. Schifrin's arrangement for organist Jimmy Smith (recorded for Smith’s 1964 Verve LP The Cat) won the 1964 Grammy for Original Jazz Composition. Schifrin arranged and recorded this new version heard here for the Once a Thief LP.
- 6. The Man From Thrush (Music From The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)
- Schifrin wrote “The Man From Thrush” with the intention of using it as a recurring villain theme on the hit series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It debuted on the Once a Thief album (with a pop beat to position it as a possible “dance number,” per the request of U.N.C.L.E. creator Norman Felton) and saw moderate success as the only single released from the LP—but was never used in the series itself.
- 7. Roulette Rhumba (Music From The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)
- This second selection related to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. does come from a theme heard in the series itself: “Roulette Rhumba” is an expansion of a source cue Schifrin wrote for a Caribbean casino sequence in the episode “The Fiddlesticks Affair.” (See Jon Burlingame’s authoritative liner notes for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., FSMCD Vol. 5, No. 18, for further information.)
- 8. Return to Trieste (From the M-G-M Motion Picture Once a Thief)
- This melancholy theme from Once a Thief is associated with the estranged brothers played in the film by Alain Delon and Jack Palance.
- 9. The Joint (From the M-G-M Motion Picture Once a Thief)
- This is an album expansion of an upbeat source cue from the original soundtrack of Once a Thief (see track 20 for the original soundtrack version).
- 10. Once a Thief (instrumental)
- An instrumental rendition of the love theme from Once a Thief concludes the LP.
Tracks 11–26 feature the premiere release of the original soundtrack to Once a Thief as recorded by Schifrin at M-G-M in Culver City. The cues are newly mixed from the original 35mm three-track stereo session masters.
- 11. Bang Blues
- The film’s opening credits play out over snatches of conversation at a San Francisco jazz club, intercut with a wild onscreen drum solo (not included on this CD); the drum music continues in the film as a pair of unidentified hoodlums commit an armed robbery at an Asian grocery, killing one of the store’s owners. Various clues immediately lead Insepctor Mike Vido (Van Heflin) to suspect Eddie Pedak (Alain Delon), who once went on trial for shooting Vido and was found not guilty for lack of evidence.
- Lalo Schifrin’s score enters as Eddie pulls up to his apartment building and playfully uses a finger to “shoot” at a group of street punks, the composer’s gritty urban jazz suggesting the ex-con’s former life of crime. Fueled by tough low-end piano and muted brass, the cue continues as Eddie runs inside to retrieve his wife, Kristine (Ann-Margret), and daughter, Kathy (Tammy Locke). Before he can whisk them away, one of the loiterers shatters their cheery moods by revealing that a group of men came by earlier in search of Eddie.
- 12. Square Head
- Eddie drives Kristine and Kathy to the waterfront to show them a new boat on which he has made a down payment. Schifrin introduces a melancholy love theme on alto flute and guitar as Eddie and Kristine snuggle and optimistically consider their future together, excited by the prospect of Eddie leaving his day job and going into business for himself. Saxophone, brass and light percussion assume the material as he rests his head in Kristine’s lap and she assures him that she loves him the way he is: “wild.” After little Kathy points out how her doll’s eyes close, she reaches out and shuts Eddie’s eyes too, foreshadowing his fate at the film’s bloody conclusion.
- 13. Sargatanas
- When a suspicious vehicle tails the Pedak family home, the score responds with an unsettling passage for saxophone, bass clarinets, bass and low-end piano. Once both cars pull up to Eddie’s building, the pursuers step out of their vehicle: Schifrin marks the revelation of creepy albino hoodlum James Arthur Sargatanas (John Davis Chandler) with a swell of brass and rattling percussion that culminates in an eerie, impressionistic flute theme. Eddie’s older brother, Walter (Jack Palance), receives a contrastingly warm and nostalgic melody for clarinet as he greets Eddie.
- 14. The Answer Is No
- In Eddie’s apartment, Walter and Sargatanas try to recruit him for one last heist. Kristine secretly listens from another room as Eddie rebuffs an angry Walter, the love theme playing as she sighs in relief. A glum development of Walter’s thematic material sounds as Eddie kicks the criminals out of his apartment; the love theme returns for Kristine gratefully embracing her husband.
- This Time It’s Different
- Vido arrests Eddie for the robbery and murder. After a witness fails to identify him in a lineup, Eddie goes free but loses his job as a truck driver. “This Time It’s Different” offers a dirty sax line over a fateful pedal point; the brief cue does not appear in the film, but was most likely intended for the sequence involving Eddie’s arrest.
- 15. Another World
- After Eddie’s release from jail, a plaintive rendition of the love theme for alto flute and bass underscores a sensual scene of the Pedaks lying in bed together. Eddie discusses his Vido-related troubles with Kristine, who offers to get a job of her own to help the family. Eddie will not hear of it, and just as their bedroom activities become more heated, Kathy interrupts them. The final bars of this cue do not appear in the film.
- 16. Before I Met You
- Two cues do not appear in the film at all due to deleted footage involving the Pedaks’ home life. “Before I Met You” offers a gentle music box-style theme, followed by misterioso writing for bass flute and harp that suggests the material from “This Time It’s Different.”
- This second unused cue opens with solo flute, guitar pedal point and undulating harp before building to an impassioned statement of the love theme’s concluding bars, joined for the first time by a dreamy female vocalise.
- 17. I Am Not Your Mommy
- A guitar rendition of the love theme plays as Eddie unsuccessfully looks for work at the wharf. The tune continues on alto flute through a transition to the Pedak apartment, where Kristine departs for her first night of work as a waitress. Upset that he can no longer provide for his family, Eddie snaps at Kathy, who irritates him by offering to help him do the dishes. Warm brass joins the love theme as Eddie feels guilty and apologizes to his daughter.
- 18. Dark Bedroom
- While Eddie stews in bed awaiting Kristine’s return from work, the love theme appears on muted trumpet over a deliberate beat from the rhythm section. Eddie pretends to be asleep when his wife finally enters the bedroom, but she realizes he is faking when she sees his cigarette still burning in an ashtray.
- Eddie becomes furious when he notices that Kristine removed her wedding ring for her job; he resolves to get the rest of the money he needs to pay for his boat so that she will no longer have to work. A saxophone statement of the love theme punctuates the aftermath of their argument; in the finished film, the cue abruptly stops on a cut to an unemployment office. A development of the fateful material from “This Time It’s Different” might have accompanied Eddie’s angry exchange with a civil servant who declares him ineligible for assistance.
- 19. Juice Blues
- Saxophones take up a downtrodden two-voice rendition of the love theme as a drunken Eddie pulls up outside his apartment building and takes a swig of alcohol. As he proceeds inside, one of the loitering street punks—Kathy’s babysitter—tells him that she has been dismissed; the opening bars of this cue do not appear in the film.
- Eddie enters his apartment to find Sargatanas and his cohort, Shoenstein (Tony Musante), watching over his daughter. After a swell of Sargatanas’s music, the cue erupts into kinetic jazz rumbling as Eddie attacks the intruders and knocks out Shoenstein’s front teeth. The cue dissipates as Walter breaks up the fight, shouting “Basta!”; the elder Pedak tantalizes his brother with an offer of $50,000 for helping rob a fortune in platinum from Eddie’s former employer.
- 20. The Joint
- A breezy source piece for jazz combo plays when Eddie searches for Kristine at Big Al’s, the club where she works. When he finds her serving drinks in a revealing outfit, he slaps her around and pushes her out of the club. Before the couple leaves in a taxi, Eddie tells Walter that he is “in” on the job and his brother hands him an envelope of money to tide him over until the heist.
- 21. Ling Funeral Service
- An Asian-inflected piece for oboe, harp and percussion underscores Eddie meeting up with Walter and his henchmen at Ling’s Funeral Parlor to discuss the forthcoming robbery; only 0:20 of this cue appears in the film.
- 22. Stolen Vehicle
- When Vido finds an impounded stolen vehicle with a sheepskin coat inside, Vido realizes Eddie was framed for the grocery store robbery—Sargatanas intentionally used a car and clothing identical to Eddie’s. A sparse cue for piano, harp, bass and percussion plays through Vido’s discovery; in the finished film, the cue’s final percussive outburst is cut off by an abrupt cut to the next scene.
- Back to Trieste
- At the funeral parlor, Walter’s theme receives a sentimental reprise as he confides in Eddie about his plans to retire from crime after the big heist and return home to Trieste. He wants his brother to join him, but Eddie declines, warning that “the vultures are beginning to smell blood.” The cue’s opening Sargatanas-related material does not appear in the film due to deleted footage.
- Suppose We Don’t Come?
- Eddie further strains his relationship with Kristine when he refuses to give up Sargatanas and the other criminals to Vido. When Eddie instructs Kristine to meet him at the waterfront after the robbery, Schifrin marks her response (“Suppose We Don’t Come?”) with an uncertain reading of the love theme, then segues to a tough bit of swinging jazz for a transition to Eddie walking through an alley to the funeral parlor.
- 23. You Drive
- The extended heist sequence plays without music except for a few snippets of improvised drum kit material heard at various junctures. Schifrin recorded about 10 minutes of “wild” drum music that the filmmakers subsequently tracked into the film; due to space limitations and the repetitive nature of the material FSM opted not to include it on this CD.
- After carrying out the heist, Eddie and Walter double-cross Sargatanas and Shoenstein and speed away in a van with the stolen platinum. The crime jazz from “Bang Blues” receives a relentless treatment as the brothers race through the streets of San Francisco pursued by their scorned cohorts. Low-register writing for piano and bass closes the cue when Eddie and Walter pull their van into an alley, drive it into a large truck and hide.
- Lighted Tunnel
- After the brothers split up, a brassy, wailing rendition of the crime jazz plays for Eddie driving the truck through a tunnel and pulling over to use a phone booth. The cue winds down as Eddie calls Kristine and tells her to meet him at the wharf.
- 24. The Boat
- As Eddie waits for Kristine and Kathy on his boat, 0:06 of this enthusiastic jazz plays on the radio between breaking news reports about the heist. Kristine eventually arrives and hysterically reveals that Sargatanas has kidnapped Kathy.
- 25. The Pinned Note
- Sargatanas’s percussion swells as Eddie runs into the funeral parlor and finds his brother half dead, propped up in a chair, with a note pinned to him reading, “Eddie wait. Love, S.” Low piano clusters sound when Walter struggles to stand up; he collapses into Eddie’s arms and dies, to a gloomy accompaniment from bass clarinets and tuba.
- Early Morning Alley
- Eddie resolves to see Vido in hopes that he will help him get Kathy back. Walter’s death music returns as Eddie shoots a parting glance at his fallen brother before stepping into the alley outside the funeral parlor, to a fleeting statement of the love theme. Brass stingers cry out when Eddie spots the police inspecting his car in the distance; he steals another vehicle and escapes, to a panicked, tritone-laced rendition of the crime jazz. The cue winds down with sporadic low-end piano and bass as Eddie pulls up at Vido’s house and sneaks toward the front door.
- 26. Bad News
- After Eddie confesses that he did in fact shoot Vido years ago, the cop agrees to help him get Kathy back in exchange for giving up the other crooks and turning over the platinum. Before they leave for the wharf, nervous material leads to a reprise of the fateful music from “Before I Met You” when Eddie sees a newspaper headline announcing the suicide of his former cellmate—the cue’s chimes and ominous pedal point suggest that a similarly ugly outcome awaits Eddie at the dock.
- Once a Thief
- At the wharf, Vido observes while Eddie makes a trade with Sargatanas and Shoenstein, who release Kathy. But when Eddie brings the criminals over to the truck containing the platinum, Sargatanas suddenly kills Shoestein and initiates a shootout that wounds Eddie and results in his own death. Unfortunately, Vido’s partner, Inspector Frank Kane (Steve Mitchell), arrives on the scene and shoots Eddie dead, mistakenly thinking that he is a threat. Kathy, who does not understand what has transpired, runs over to her father and closes his eyes as she did with her doll earlier in the film. (The filmmakers tracked additional snippets of the wild drum kit material heard during the heist into this sequence, which otherwise plays without music.)
- Schifrin reprises the love theme as Kristine weeps and escorts her daughter away from a growing crowd; Vido tries to address Kristine but cannot find the words. The haunting female vocal from “Kris” (track 16) carries the theme through the closing titles over an image of Eddie’s corpse. —
From the original Verve Records LP
When I first saw the title Once a Thief, I thought it was an exposé of the musical larceny committed by nearly everyone in the record business. Paradoxically, a guy who has never stolen anything from anybody—except, maybe, that red pencil box while attending grade school in Argentina—is Lalo Schifrin, and he was commissioned to score a most exciting and entertaining film for M-G-M. Alain Delon, Ann-Margret, Van Heflin and Jack Palance front a formidable cast of players in this cinematic must-see.
As composer of this film score, Lalo not only has written to enhance the screen action (which is, after all, a primary function) but his orchestral shadings also sketch his film leads.
Doubling as casting director of his version, Mr. Schifrin has assembled yet another all-star cast. His leads are New York’s finest dramatic stars musically, that is. The marquee now lights up with the names of Phil Woods on alto, J.J. Johnson on trombone, slide; Bob Brookmeyer on trombone, valve; Jerome Richardson on flute; Bob Cranshaw on bass; Kenny Burrell is the great one on guitar; and drummers Dave Bailey and Grady Tate shared the percussion lead. Our composer, arranger, conductor, casting director and what-all is also the featured pianist on the dates.
More than anything, this album is a showcase for the original compositions of Lalo Schifrin. Some have appeared before in other forms, notably, “The Cat,” which was the Grammy Award winner this year for the best jazz composition. Jimmy Smith and Lalo collaborated for that grand slam. I’m especially glad it won, inasmuch as it was my personal choice, and my radio show embraces the West Coast home base of the NARAS—the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
To add lyric dimension, Irene Reid offers the words of the title tune, plus Gene Lees’s reflections in “The Right to Love.” Gene is a most literate genius and his lyrics have always stimulated the adult ear and heart. Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee have also recently given their individualized interpretations to this song.
From the soundtrack of TV’s popular, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., we have the debut of “The Man From Thrush.” And, from the same show, one of the almost forgotten tempos from Latin America gets a new shot in the arm. You’ll love “Roulette Rhumba.” As for “The Joint,” just think of it as a place.
Now it’s time you listened to Lalo composer, arranger, conductor, pianist, and, one must add, artist extraordinary. — Johnny Magnus, Radio KMPC, Los Angeles