John Williams Catch Me If You Can: Original Soundtrack Review

Soundtrack. Released 10 December 2002.  

BBC Review

Tom Hanks chases Leonardo DiCaprio. John Williams accompanies them on saxophone.

Morag Reavley 2003

You may not know his name, but you can probably hum at least five of his works. John Williams, Steven Spielberg's musical collaborator on 20 films is the man responsible for works as seminal as the ET flying theme, the menacing Jaws bars and the Star Wars music. Fresh from scores for AI and Minority Report, Williams produces something altogether lighter for Spielberg's 1960s tale of a baby-faced codologist, Catch Me If You Can.

Reflecting the aspirational times in which the film is set, Williams has put together a progressive jazz score which is classy, catchy and consummately professional. The eponymous title-track is a slippery little number, sax and bass chasing each other in helter-skelter pursuit. The melodic repertoire is incredibly simple. Only a few musical themes of five notes or less lay the scores foundations, and make for more of the irresistibly memorable theme tunes of which Williams is the maestro.

In our post-September 11 era, the idea of a conman posing as a pilot, doctor or lawyer has disturbing resonances. But the soundtrack, like the film, lingers on the light-hearted, with that classic Hollywood leitmotif the feel-good glockenspiel riff making inevitable appearances. Only in pieces about the relationship between Frank Abagnale Jr. and Sr. does a hint of something unhappier emerge. In "Recollections" and "Father and Son", a morose, rambling sax gestures at chasms beneath the mellow surface.

Retro-tracks selected for the album capture the period's cheesy brand of glamour. There are the usual, overworked clichés such as Sinatra inviting us to fly with him and Nat King Cole's chestnuts on an open fire. But gems such as Judy Garland's "Embraceable You" and the original, wistful "Girl from Ipanema" still have a lot of life left and it is a joy to hear them here.

This may not be the most innovative album you've ever heard. But as an example of popular soundtrack craftsmanship at its finest, it's a masterclass.

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