Australian cinema came into increasing worldwide prominence during the 1980s, with international hits like Gallipoli, The Road Warrior, Crocodile Dundee, and The Man From Snowy River all seeing significant success both down under and overseas. One of the lesser-known entrants in this renaissance was Careful, He Might Hear You by Hungarian-Australian director Carl Schultz. Based on a bestselling novel of the same name by Sumner Locke Elliott about an Australian orphan and his two aunts, one rich and one poor, dueling over his guardianship, the movie had been the subject of a number of failed adaptations (including an American one with Joshua Logan and Elizabeth Taylor attached) before Schultz’s 1983 release. The picture was a modest box office success in Australia and elsewhere but was a critical smash, winning a total of eight Australian Film Institute Awards, with Schultz taking home Best Director and Best Film.
Just as Australian actors and directors were gaining international prominence in the period, Australian film composers were seeing increased visibility as well, with Brian May (not to be confused with the rock star Brian May) and Peter Best (not to be confused with the rock star Pete Best) both seeing their names attached to international hits with soundtrack releases. For Careful, He Might Hear You, Carl Schultz engaged the services of another Australian composer, Ray Cook (seemingly the only Australian composer of the time not to share a name with a rock star), who had extensive musical experience working abroad as a music director in the West End of London during the creative explosion there beginning in the 1960s. With only one film credit to his name, the Australian TV movie Silent Reach, Careful, He Might Hear You was Cook’s first major solo score.
For a simple drama score, Cook’s music has more in common with the lush fantasy music that was de rigueur in the post Star Wars era. His main theme is beautifully orchestrated for two lines of strings which interact and play off of each other with resounding vibrato, with one taking up the main melody while the other flits about in an extended fantasia to support it. A full orchestra with woodwinds, brass, and percussion is present, but the strings and the main theme that they play remain dominant throughout, with the other instruments primarily used to add depth and a touch of magic (primarily through the consistent application of mallet percussion) that suffuses the music from beginning to end.
Cook never abandons his theme, making sure that the full theme or deconstructed portions thereof are a constant presence, and the score never loses the subtle fantasy sheen that the orchestral colors at work bring to it. Occasionally a light choir (“The Meeting”) is added to the mix to give the music an even more magical atmosphere, and the mallet percussion, woodwinds, and brass take a larger roles from time to time (particularly in the beautiful, wistful but troubles “Vanessa’s Mansion”). The atmosphere and music also turn troubled at times (“PS Says His Prayers,” “Railway Station”) with the same themes and instruments twisted to produce the appropriate levels of turmoil, but even these moments never abandon Cook’s lush style. The biggest departure in the album is “P.S.’ Piano Practice,” a piece of quasi-source music that incorporates a ticking metronome with a waltz time signature to delightful effect.
Sadly, Careful, He Might Hear You was Ray Cook’s first and last major film score. While he contributed to the 1985 Australian film Rebel alongside Best and Chris Neal (of TV’s Farscape), Cook would pass away in 1989 before he had the chance to compose another solo score to build on his impressive debut. Around the time of the film’s American release, Varèse Sarabande released Cook’s score on LP as part of their ongoing championing of emerging, lesser-known, and international film scoring talent. The label later put the LP’s contents on a limited edition CD as part of their CD Club in 2006 (after teasing with a cue on the now-rare Varèse Sarabande 25th Anniversary Vol. 2 set) with a strict limit of 1000 copies. Thankfully, due to its obscurity, copies can still be had for reasonable prices today and the main theme is available as a digital download. In any form from LP to CD to MP3, Careful, He Might Hear You remains a hidden gem, a lush and fantastic aural journey well worth taking from a musical voice silenced too soon.