Angel Heart has long resided in my list of all-time top ten movies. In my opinion, it has all the hallmarks of a five-star film: clever plot, great acting, intelligent action, a sense of eroticism, and a very hard-hitting ending. Although the bulk of what lead actor Mickey Rourke did during his late 1980s heyday was tripe, his portrayal of protagonist Harry Angel was a tour de force and arguably the best thing that he's done in his career. Robert DeNiro was still doing good things at the time and is absolutely outstanding in a supporting role as a thinly-disguised Satan operating under the identity of Louis Cyphre ("Mephistopheles is such a mouthful in Manhattan"). Even Lisa Bonet (remember her?) turns in a fine performance as young voodoo priestess Epiphany Proudfoot. Unfortunately - no thanks to Bill Cosby's overreaction - Angel Heart is best known for the intense sex scene between the erstwhile Denise Huxtable and Rourke, which in this second decade of the jaded 21st century probably wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. Add esteemed director Alan Parker to the mix, and you've got one hell of a motion picture.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention another hallmark of a five-star film: a great soundtrack. And boy, does Angel Heart have one. As for the original music, it's essentially a two-man effort in which South African cinematic composer Trevor Jones and British jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine join forces to create one of the most atmospheric film scores ever recorded. Amazingly, Jones' primary instrument here is the Synclavier. I've never been a big fan of synthesizers, but I must admit that this particular make and model is used quite effectively in this instance. Courtney Pine's haunting saxophone is superb on the extended musical sequences "Harry Angel," "Looking for Johnny," and "Johnny Favorite" and gives the listener an idea of why he's considered to be one of the greatest jazz artists that the UK has produced. Excerpts from the film's always interesting dialogue are interspersed throughout these pieces, and if you've seen the movie, some of the scenes will replay inside of your head as you're listening. The titles of these bits appear in italics under the tracks listed below.
Since much of Angel Heart takes place in New Orleans, Alan Parker also wisely included some classic blues and R&B performances on this soundtrack, such as an excerpt of Bessie Smith's "Honeyman Blues" and LaVern Baker's sultry "Soul on Fire." Crooner Glen Gray's "Girl of My Dreams" serves as the Johnny Favorite tune that bedevils Harry Angel as the story unfolds on screen. The finest songs on this album, however, belong to vocalist Lilian Boutte and veteran blues guitarist Brownie McGhee respectively on "The Right Key, but the Wrong Keyhole" and "Rainy Rainy Day," which were both performed in the movie itself. Boutte has been accurately described as equal parts Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, and Mahalia Jackson, while McGhee needs no introduction. Unfortunately, the liner notes do not make mention of of the backing musicians on either of these cuts, which is a pity because they are both first-rate - "Rainy Rainy Day" especially since it stands as a highlight in the later part of Brownie's illustrious career.
1. Harry Angel
-Introducing Mr. Cyphre
2. Honeyman Blues - Bessie Smith
4. Girl of My Dreams - Glen Gray & the Casa Loma Orchestra
5. "I Got This Thing About Chickens"
6. The Right Key, but the Wrong Keyhole - Lilian Boutte
7. Rainy Rainy Day - Brownie McGhee
8. Looking for Johnny
-I Am an Atheist
-Frightened Eyes Never Lie
9. Soul on Fire - LaVern Baker
11. Johnny Favorite