The Adventurers (1970)

The original film poster: They were not wearing bathing suits in the movie.

The three-hour The Adventurers (1970) is a bizarre, overly long. dialogue-heavy oddity. Part action/adventure, part soap opera and a strange mash-up of war epic and non-spy playboy travelogue, it’s a film that makes one wonder “what’s the point here?” Think of mixing the battle scenes from Ben Hur (1965) – or some Western – with the cocktail-party scenes of a James Bond film and you get the rather questionable idea. It’s Hollywood hooey.

Producer Joseph E. Levine (1905-87) allegedly optioned what amounted to an idea of The Adventurers from novelist Harold Robbins’ (1916-97) in 1963, when the two were producing the equally overcooked The Carpetbaggers (1964). The novel was eventually published in 1966, at about the same time an adapted screenplay was begun. Shooting commenced in August 1968 and went well in to the following year.

The Adventurers “premiered,” with true Hollywood chutzpah, on an inaugural flight of a TWA 747 airplane in February 1970 and opened in theaters nationwide the following month.

The film stars Candice Bergen (as Sue Ann) – who makes her first appearance a whopping 90 minutes in, and barely factors thereafter – and somebody called Bekim Fehmiu as Dax, a part that was offered to – and refused by – actors as diverse as George Hamilton and Alain Delon. Fehmiu is good enough as an actor, but has almost no screen presence and absolutely no chemistry with anyone else in the film – even as he dominates this thing.

Name actors such as Ernest Borgnine, Olivia de Haviland and Charles Aznavour are involved, in varying degrees, as are brief appearances by such genre character actors as John Ireland, Fernando Rey, Helena Ronee and Alan Badel. The film also serves up one of Charlie’s Angels – Jaclyn Smith, in her first credited role – American TV actress Leigh Taylor-Young (as the second leading lady, Amparo) and, in an uncredited cameo, the original Miss Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell.

Filmed in a wide variety of picturesque locations – including Colombia (which stands in for the fictional Corteguay), Rome, Puerto Rico, Venice and, briefly, New York City – The Adventurers is directed by Lewis Gilbert (1920-2018), best known at the time for Alfie (1966) and coming off the first of his three James Bond films, You Only Live Twice (1967).

Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of The Adventurers, however, is the stunning cinematography of Claude Renoir (1913-93), best known for his work on Barbarella (1968), French Connection II (1975) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 – also directed by Lewis Gilbert) as well as a personal favorite, the exquisite La Traque (1975).

Renoir beautifully lights impossibly expansive scenes and positions his cameras in ways that suit scenes with (literally) hundreds of extras and even more intimate scenes with expert agility and artistry.

That said, one must give it up for the incredible editing throughout by the legendary Anne V. Coates (1925-2018), who did such magnificent work on everything from Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974) to The Elephant Man (1980) and even Fifty Shades of Grey (2015).

The Adventurers earned a respectable $7 million dollars (about $57 million in 2024 dollars), but was considered a flop as it cost a whopping $17 million to make – roughly the cost of Ben Hur and the latest Bond adventure, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), combined.

Whatever else you can say about Joseph E. Levine, you can’t deny that this most Hollywood producer of Hollywood producers had a way of attracting superb composers at the top of their game – often from a jazz background – to score his productions.

Consider Neal Hefti’s superb score to Harlow (1965 – which yielded the jazz standard “Girl Talk”), Benny Carter’s A Man Called Adam (1966), Dave Grusin’s The Graduate (1967), Sid Ramin’s infectious Stiletto (1969), Henry Mancini’s smooth Sunflower (1969) and Roy Budd’s little-known Soldier Blue (1970). All are well worth hearing.

Even director Lewis Gilbert’s films were known to go outside of the normal cinema-music universe at the time: Alfie was scored by legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins while The Adventurers‘ follow-up, Friends (1971), was scored by Elton John, of all people.

According to a brief blurb in the July 19, 1969, issue of Billboard, the producers somehow managed to persuade the legendary Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927-94) to score The Adventurers. Jobim, along with, perhaps, The Beatles, had by this time become one of his generation’s most pre-eminent composers – to say nothing of his ability to transcend and transform genre, like the Tin Pan Alley authors of yore. His music continues to be relevant and notable, decades after his death.

There’s little doubt that Levine and Gilbert ponied up enough feed to make it worth Jobim’s while. But the Brazilian composer did not merely provide a few seemingly-relevant cues or a hit theme for some Hollywood bucks. He provided a soundtrack that works as well in the film as it does on its own. And while no real “hit” ever emerged from this score, several songs here are genuinely memorable and have transcended this now-forgotten movie.

Indeed, three numbers here have taken their place among Jobim’s most signature moments: “Children’s Games” (a.k.a. “Chovendo na Roseira”), “A Bed of Flowers For Sue Ann” (a.k.a. “Sue Ann”) and “Dax & Amparo-Love Theme” (a.k.a. “Olha Maria”). They are among this soundtrack’s highlights and transcend what has become a long-forgotten record – which has, remarkably, never found a release on CD.

To score the film, Jobim recruited fellow Brazilian composer/pianist Eumir Deodato (b. 1943) to arrange and orchestrate (the younger Brazilian also contributed “Corteguay” and “El Lobo’s Band” to the soundtrack). The always generous Jobim once said of Deodato that he “is not only the perfect bridge engineer that every arranger needs to be, but also the creator and poet that every arranger must be.”

The two had previously worked together on Jobim’s Love, Strings and Jobim (1966) and an aborted release of a second Frank Sinatra meeting with Jobim called Sinatra Jobim (1969) that was issued more officially on a 1971 album called Sinatra & Company.

Jobim had, of course, previously scored – with Luiz Bonfá – the international hit film Orfeu Negro (a.k.a. Black Orpheus [1959]), which yielded some of his best-known songs, while Deodato had previously worked on the film soundtracks of The Gentle Rain (1966 – also with Bonfá), Garôta de Ipanema (1967 – a Brazilian film based on Jobim’s hit “The Girl from Ipanema”) and Bahia (1970).

The music for the entirely over-the-top Roman fashion show – which foreshadows the pyramids-at-night scene in The Spy Who Loved Me, displaying how beautifully Renoir lights huge spaces – is provided by Italian film composer Gianni Ferrio (The Bloodstained Butterfly, Tony Arzenta and Puzzle, to name only a few), while the British prog-rock group Family brings in “Young Love” for a truly wonderful mod/psychedelic New York fashion show – a banger that does not seem to have ever had a record release. (The scene features some terrific choreography and especially well-executed split-screen work that deserves to be seen in widescreen presentation.) Neither of these pieces appear on the soundtrack record.

Surprisingly, no single was ever issued from the record. What’s even more amazing is that this soundtrack has never found favor with the CD soundtrack-reissue labels like Varese Sarabande, Quartet or La La Land for a score-plus-soundtrack release – which would also need to include Rafael Campo Miranda’s merengue “Pájaro amarillo,” also featured in the film.

Jobim’s soundtrack album to The Adventurers never seems to have charted, nor did Billboard even bother reviewing it. But the other music-biz mags noticed:

“Antonio Carlos Jobim composed the music for this popular film,” wrote Cash Box on May 2, 1970, “based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Harold Robbins. Jobim captures the various moods of the film with such pieces as the full ‘Main Title’, the light, cheery ‘Children’s Games’, the rich ‘Rome Montage’, the exciting, Latin ‘Dax Rides’ and others. Soundtrack LP’s have been doing nicely lately and this one should be no exception, simply because it is such a fine work.”

Added Record World on May 9, 1970: “Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote the music for this much-talked-about adaptation of the Harold Robbins novel. As usual, his work is subtle, sexy, suggestive, underplayed. Lovers of the movie and even those who don’t like it will go for the album.”

Over several sessions between March and May 1970, Jobim and Deodato re-recorded a number of their tunes from The Adventurers with producer Creed Taylor. It was Taylor who, of course, recorded Jobim’s American debut in 1963 and produced the original hit version of “The Girl from Ipanema.” Deodato had been working with Taylor – primarily as an arranger – since 1967, but wouldn’t cut a record under his own name with the producer until 1972, when the two scored the biggest hit of both their careers, “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001).”

The Adventurers songs were featured on Stone Flower (CTI), released in August 1970, and Tide (A&M), issued two months later. The Stone Flower tracks are “Children’s Games” (later known as “Double Rainbow”), “Amparo” (a.k.a. “Olha Maria”), “God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun” (a.k.a. “Bitter Victory”). The Tide tracks are “Sue Ann” (a.k.a. “A Bed of Flowers for Sue Ann”), “Remember” – credited here to Jobim (a.k.a. “Corteguay” – credited on the soundtrack to Deodato) and “Caribe” (a.k.a. “Dax Rides”).

In yet another slight to the genuine appeal of these numbers, none of the re-recorded songs from The Adventurers were considered for single releases: A&M released no singles from Tide while CTI chose “Brazil” and (the breathtaking) “Stone Flower” as single releases in 1970.

For some reason, The Adventurers got an adjunct cover-version release, recorded by a group of West Coast studio musicians that was awkwardly credited to the “The Ray Brown Orchestra/Arranged by Quincy Jones.” While it’s not the official soundtrack, it certainly looks like it could be, particularly as Harold Robbins’ name dominates here (yes, there’s a reason for that).

The record was issued at the same time as the Paramount soundtrack. But it’s a tremendously funky and soulful reimagining of Jobim and Deodato’s much more restrained and melodic score. And while it pairs beautifully with the original, it is also the version of the score that has transcended the movie and, of the two records, has had the most impact overall.

The feeling here is something between Jones’ music for The Bill Cosby Show (1969-71 – some of which was issued on CD in 2004 as The Original Jam Sessions 1969) and his fantastic soundtrack to the Sidney Poitier thriller The Lost Man (1969).

But it’s an oddity, and one worth thinking about. Let’s start with the credits.

Bassist Ray Brown (1926-2002), who, while a part of the Oscar Peterson Trio (1951-66), led a handful of straight-ahead jazz albums of his own, prior to his decade stint as a West Coast studio musician, hardly had the star quality or name recognition – in jazz or pop – that someone like Quincy Jones had. But Brown and Jones had a working partnership at the time, and the two often insisted on working together.

Jones, at the time, a busy and successful film and TV composer, was under contract as a solo artist to A&M Records and in between his East Coast records (produced by Creed Taylor), Walking In Space (1969) and Gula Matari (1970), and likely unable to record the album under his own name. The “arranged by” credit here, though, is misleading. While Jones produced the set, he arranged only three of the album’s songs – all three in coordination with Brown.

The only other musicians credited on the original LP are tenor saxist Pete Christlieb on “Polo Pony” and vocalist Morgan Ames on the “Love Theme.” There’s also an odd “vocal inspiration” credit for actor Sally Kellerman – who had nothing to do with the film – on Ray Brown’s non-soundtrack original “Coming and Going,” an orgasmic funk number that predates Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” by five years.

The LP also offers “special thanks” to Dave Grusin, Bud Shank, Buddy Childers, Dave Mason and Larry Bunker – so it’s reasonable to assume these guys participated as well.

Arrangements were provided by the aforementioned Brown and Jones, as well as J.J. Johnson (who had just relocated to the West Coast after a series of A&M/CTI records with fellow trombonist Kai Winding), Jimmy Jones and Tom Scott (who is likely among the session players heard here).

The Adventurers is the only record ever issued by the Symbolic label – a subsidiary of Buddah Records – and formed by the unlikely alliance of composer Quincy Jones, bassist Ray Brown and novelist Harold Robbins. The label was launched in November 1969, with a roster that allegedly included a group called The Inheritors – named after Robbins’ 1969 novel and a band that was supposed to accompany Robbins on a promotional book tour (!!!) – and, if you can believe it, actors Beau and Jeff Bridges, among others.

Apparently, scores of film and Broadway soundtracks – overseen by Quincy Jones – were set to appear on the Symbolic label. But nothing ever materialized. Presumably, Jones was far too busy to run a label at the time (Jones’ better-known Qwest label was launched in 1979, just after the composer pulled himself away from much of his film and TV work).

But it’s fair to wonder how – or why – Quincy Jones ever came to be involved in such a project. Indeed, despite many mutual associates, the paths of Jones and Jobim had never previously crossed, nor would they ever cross again. There was not a lot of press coverage on this point at the time, but, let’s face it, the floundering Symbolic label lacked any sort of publicity machine.

The final song on this record, “Love Theme from ‘The Adventurers’,” may well hold the answer. This song – or a variation of it – surprisingly does not appear on the Paramount soundtrack. But it seems plausible that producer Joseph E. Levine approached Jones through their mutual associate, Dave Grusin (who scored Levine’s production of The Graduate and frequently worked on many of Q’s sessions) with Eumir Deodato, who was in L.A. arranging and orchestrating the film’s original score, to record a radio-friendly version of one of the soundtrack’s themes.

The result, “Love Theme from ‘The Adventurers,” also known as “Adventure,” takes its melody from the soundtrack’s “Dax & Amparo,” and adds dreamy lyrics by Norman Gimbel (1927-2018), who had previously written English-language lyrics for such Jobim classics as “How Insensitive,” “Meditation” and, of course, “The Girl from Ipanema.”

Here, the multi-talented Morgan Ames makes her lead-vocal debut (she would also deliver Jones’ later love theme to The Getaway). Lovely as it is, though, it’s not known why nothing came of it. The song was never issued as a single and while it’s alleged to appear in the film, this viewer never heard it. Indeed, no one else ever picked up on “Love Theme” the way they did on so many other Jobim songs. The only known cover of “Love Theme from ‘The Adventurers'” is by the great Henry Mancini. And it’s an instrumental (but it’s notable for Mancini’s lovely piano intro).

Let’s face it, though: no one coming to this record digs this tune. This record is a soulful funk classic that has much to offer that departs – and, possibly, transcends – the original soundtrack.

Curiously, though, the album opens with three of the soundtrack’s more martial-oriented cues. “Polo Pony” (as “Pony” on the Varese Sarabande CD) is a funkier, “Comin’ Home Baby”-like version of “Dax Rides,” a cue played during a polo sequence (the film cue is certainly livelier than the Paramount album version).

The familiar “Go Down Dying” is a variation of the soundtrack’s “Bitter Victory” and is best-known for being sampled by Björk for her 1993 debut single, “Human Behaviour.” Likewise, “El Lobo’s March,” based on Deodato’s end-credits number, “El Lobo’s Band,” was sampled by Jeru the Damaja for “The Bullshit” (1996).

Another album highlight is the funky “Fat Cat Strut,” named for Ernest Borgnine’s character in the movie, Fat Cat. This, too, is another variation of “Dax Rides” and was recently resurrected for the Italian funk compilation Take It Easy: The Mood Mosaic 21.

While this listener is unsure which Jobim piece the somewhat out of place “Wishful Thinking” is based on, the lovely Tom Scott-arranged “Gentle Lover” is derived from “A Bed of Flowers for Sue Ann” (also “Rome Montage”).

If you could imagine The Adventurers as an urban thriller starring Sidney Poitier, then you’d have the pitch-perfect Quincy Jones soundtrack right here. Like the Jobim soundtrack, this holds up very well today. Little wonder the film-label Varese Sarabande restored Q’s version on CD in 2012 – but, oddly, without notes or credits.

It’s not as elegant as Q’s A&M albums produced by Creed Taylor, but it need not be. Quincy Jones’ The Adventurers is a better-than-average Blaxploitation soundtrack to a film that never was.

“Quincy Jones and Harold Robbins, having formed Symbolic,” wrote Record World on May, 9, 1970, stating only the facts, “have their first album on the market – the Ray Brown orchestra playing music from the movie version of Robbins’ bestseller. Jones arranged the Antonio Carlos Jobim music and Robbins ‘presents’ it.”

“Three jazz-pop giants are represented on this album of music from the motion picture, ‘The Adventurers’, noted Cash Box on May 23, 1970. “The Ray Brown assemblage is ‘turned loose’ on the songs of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, aided and abetted by Quincy Jones, who has provided the kind of excellent arrangements one has come to expect from him. Music ranges from lush love themes to brassy numbers, and there is even a march. Album could venture onto the chart.” (Note: it didn’t.)

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