film scores


Score by Dave Grusin

For a website devoted to the musical career of Dave Grusin, check out

Story:  A 'mistake'  causes Los Angeles Rams quarterback to die 'accidentally,' so he is made to come back to life in the body of a recently-murdered millionaire.

Efficiency and economy are the key words for the music in “Heaven Can Wait.”  One all-purpose theme comprised of a tender and romantic opening element  segueing into a jaunty section.  Love theme plus something to accompany more lively scenes all in one.

Moreover, music is used extremely sparingly in the film.  There is none under the main titles, and on many occasions where one might expect something to heighten the dramatic effect, music is absent.

So, one single theme used minimally , a little Handel and some marches over football sequences, and for this, ironically,  Dave Grusin received his very first Academy Award nomination after a decade of turning out complex and lengthy scores.

In itself, the dual-purpose theme is a clever invention, and truly does represent one of Dave Grusin's most attractive film compositions.  A further imaginative approach is the use of the soprano saxophone (which main character, Joe, plays in the film) used as the leading instrument.

The thrifty employment of music, especially when it includes an absence of theme over main titles, may be laid at the doorstep of the film maker rather than the scorer, so any comment of its use in “Heaven Can Wait” cannot automatically be directed at the composer.  It was Warren Beatty's directorial debut (chores shared with writer Buck Henry), and this may account for the unusual approach.

One might have expected some dramatic music to warn of the crash in the tunnel or something supernatural in quality to indicate the other worldly location of the `way station.'

In psychological moments too, when music would have given an indication of what is not shown on screen (as in the above situations) there appears to be a definite effort to avoid musical clichés. These include the instant when Joe realizes he may really be dead, as well as the early meetings between Betty and `Farnsworth,' where music could have indicated an undercurrent of affection in the outwardly hostile and neutral situations.

Two other instances when romantic or sentimental underscoring could have enhanced the drama are their conversation in the garden and that at the stadium, and particularly leading up to that encounter.  Also, the locker room scene, one of the most touching in the film would seem to have begged music leading into it and playing it out.

Supposedly, a love theme for the film was originally written by Paul McCartney.  “Did We Meet Somewhere Before” - which also uses soprano saxophone prominently - was replaced by Dave Grusin's theme.  Perhaps like “Reds,” this may be another case of his intervening in/rescuing a Warren Beatty film someone else had begun.  Possibly a second reason for the limited amount of music in the final cut.

The theme from “Heaven Can Wait” has been released as sheet
music, and can be heard on the album “Cinemagic.”

Music Editor:  Milton Lustig

Stars:  Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, James Mason, Jack Warden, Dyan Cannon, Buck Henry,

Directors:  Warren Beatty & Buck Henry

Producer:  Warren Beatty

Released:  Paramount 1978

Running Time:  143  minutes

Music Time:  (approx) 17 minutes

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