One of the finest dramatic scores of the 1960s—and an important early work of Dave Grusin—gets a deluxe CD treatment from Film Score Monthly: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968), for the acclaimed adaptation of Carson McCullers’s popular Southern novel starring Alan Arkin and Sondra Locke.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter stars Arkin as John Singer, a deaf-mute who moves to a small town while trying to become the legal guardian of a fellow deaf-mute (played by Chuck McCann) who has been institutionalized. There he touches the lives of a group of disparate people, including a sensitive teenage girl (Locke) whose family has money problems; a proud black physician (Percy Rodrigues) at odds with his daughter (Cicely Tyson); and a self-pitying, troublemaking drunk (Stacy Keach Jr.). Like many dramas during the turbulent ’60s—especially those set in the South—the film explores themes of alienation and racism as its outsider characters struggle to communicate with each other and find their place in society.
Dave Grusin had mostly television credits when he scored The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and the project was a feature-film breakthrough that produced one of his signature scores—Grusin is renowned for his works for contemporary adult dramas that blend orchestral, pop and keyboard elements and this was more or less the first. Faced with a lead character who did not speak in verbal dialogue, and a story rich in emotion, Grusin wrote a beautifully restrained yet melodic score that delicately evokes the film’s unstated emotions. The main theme is a gentle harpsichord melody for Arkin’s deaf-mute, with a bridge expressing the great melancholy within the character, while secondary themes apply to the supporting cast.
While films today tend to have their source music (car radios, stereo systems, etc.) licensed from existing works, in the 1960s it was common for the film’s composer to custom-generate these pieces. This was the case on The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter as Grusin worked with country-western, rock and blues vocalists to generate the appropriate tracks, many of which were featured on the film’s soundtrack LP.
FSM’s expanded CD of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is broken into three sections, all of them newly remixed and remastered from the ½" three- and four-track stereo masters: first is the 1968 Warner Bros. LP program, interspersing source music and underscore cues; then a 31:09 program of just the film’s dramatic score, some of which is repeated from the LP tracks but placed here in chronological order; and an additional four tracks of source music. Liner notes are by Jeff Bond and Lukas Kendall, including new comments by the composer.