Diamonds Are Forever

Sad news about the passing of British film composer John Barry, who died Sunday at age 77.

Barry’s distinctively melancholic, jazz-infused music spanned some 40 years, from the Mod ’60s to the high-concept ’90s.

Barry with his BAFTA Award (2005)

While he earned Oscars for the high-toned fare, such as “The Lion in Winter” and “Out of Africa,” he was most identified with the Bond franchise, particularly the first three in the series — “Dr. No,” “From Russia with Love” and “Goldfinger.”

Barry was responsible for the vertiginous suspense motifs and exotic interludes. Not, he tired of reminding fans, the acoustical guitar riff that kicked in when Connery said, “My Name is Bond — James Bond.”

I ran into Barry only once, at the 1991 Oscars. He was there for Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves.” Again, the music was unmistakably Barry-esque — robust, dark-tinged, dizzyingly circuitous.

So distinct was his sound, it often felt that he was recycling his own compositions. And sometimes he was.

It was Barry’s misfortune to be associated with almost as many stiffs as triumphs. He composed the scores for “Howard the Duck,” “The Betsy,” “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” and Dino de Laurentiis’s 1976 “King Konk.”

As for “The Deep,” with Robert Shaw, Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset‘s wet t-shirt, Barry’s signature refrains rendered that pulp adventure almost palatable.

Not surprisingly, Barry was at his most personal when closest to home, composing music for such British productions as “Seance on a Wet Afternoon,” “The Whisperers,” “The L-Shaped Room” and “Zulu,” a battle epic that would be unthinkable without its rousing score.

Need proof of Barry’s greatness? Pull a copy of “The Ipcress File” from your DVD shelf and listen to one of the truly memorable 1960s spy themes. Michael Caine, who played Harry Palmer behind horn-rims, often attributed his early success to that sly variation on the Bond theme.

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