What's the Matter with Helen? Soundtrack

The vinyl soundtrack album was available by mail-order only in the mid-'70s.  Seemingly the only release by Dynamation Records, it includes much (but not all) of David Raskin's score for the film, including a few unused cues.  The labels on the LP itself generically state "Side 1" and "Side 2," and there's no track listing on the sleeve (just extensive liner notes).  None of the songs performed by the cast of the film are included.  Below are the liner notes from the back of the album:

By Page Cook

David Raksin's score for the later Henry Farrell "horror" concoction, WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, is rather intriguing music. For one thing, it's 1971's most innovative score (timbre sensitivities within its orchestrations are brilliantly conceived). So I decided to ask Raksin about the creation of it. To my surprise, he at first seemed reluctant to discuss his score for WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? Said he: "One works like a demon over some infinitesimal point in the score of a film, with the intention of seeing to it that the music performs its function with some degree of subtlety. Since subtlety is often enhanced by inaudibility, composers get a lot of help in the dubbing room. In any case, moments go by like prairie towns from an Amtrak window: wink, and you've missed them. Not much can be said in words in an instant, and I'm nagged by the suspicion that words about music should be limited in duration to that of the musical event they seek to 'explain.'" But I knew that, with a little persistence, I could provoke Raksin into less evasive comments.

HELEN begins with a prologue in the form of a Hearst Movietone newsreel. It informs us of a sensation murder committed by the teenaged sons of Helen Hill and Adelle Bruckner. We see the two women leave the trial; pass through a crowd of inquisitive onlookers, reporters, and "well-wishers." Then, as they get into a car, there's a freeze-frame on their bewildered, grieving faces, and, over this frame, the credits begin to appear. At that moment, Raksin jolts our eardrums with a powerful percussive ostinato that rises -- duple rhythmic pattern -- into desolate fury. As it abates, Raksin superimposes a poignant theme which is full of foreboding. Then, and suddenly, this dazzling ostinato, and its ominous but also compassionate overlay, are replaced by a honky-tonk rendition of the song, "Goody, Goody!" This fades out quickly and Raksin returns once again to the paroxysms of the ostinato for the finish of the credits.

The first time I saw HELEN the "Goody, Goody!" interpolation seemed to vitiate the powerfully rhythmic ostinato but the second and third time I saw it, and listened carefully to Raksin's core, the honky-tonkery seemed dramatically effective (knowing the plot, I understood Raksin's reason for interpolating "Goody, Goody!"). Says Raksin: "I really didn't know what to do with such a main title, appearing as, and where, it does in the film, and with the primary requirement of the music being that it mustn't let the audience down dramatically -- plus my own feeling that this must be accomplished without resort to musical melodrama. I was more than halfway through the score before the idea came to me of how to compose for the titles. The kind of idea I had been looking for isn't something you can hurry. The rhythmic ostinato -- it was the first idea for the scoring of the Main Title that came to me (as I was driving down the freeway) -- takes care of the basic dramatic requirement of the title music, everything considered. Starting the rhythmic pattern off with percussion was a quick afterthought when, later, I discovered that in order to begin the theme, over the pattern and in sync with the appearance of the first title card, I needed those beats in order to extend the pattern so theme and title would coincide. The patterns, which, with different notes and chords, could show the brighter aspects of its jazz origins, is indeed relentless, partly because of its pace (one quarter note covers 12 frames) but more because of the notes chosen, and because of their relations to the shifting harmony and to the open beats and percussive beats that make the pattern a duple rhythm. Then, over this pattern, with its tragic and propulsive drive, there appears a theme which I described to a local critic as 'a loser's tune.' Seeing the film and hearing the music the first time around, you are conscious mostly of the energy of the music. The second time, knowing the story, the appropriateness of this 'loser's tune' reaches you. Introducing at an early stage ideas and feelings that belong later is in the drama is risky, but it's quite legitimate to introduce themeatic or other material that will later develop and metamorphose with the story. Not only is this dramatically and musically sound practice, if you can do it, but if properly handled it can help to unify the film. For musical forms per se have integrative power, and music, of course, has the ability to evoke the memory.

"As for the interpolation of 'Goody, Goody,' it is meant to be a kind of shocker, a seeming irrelevancy, and therefore challenging -- a glimpse of a brief and inexplicable tableau in a madhouse you may never know more about. The exploration of the existential nature of this I will leave to whoever has nothing better to do with his time."

The next music of real potency in WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, after this opening credits music, is the soft murmuring of reeds for the vicious telephone calls to Adelle. Raksin's scoring of the main theme, when Adelle finally tells Linc about her troubled past, is melodious and delicately balanced between sadness and optimism (a typical Raksinism). But Raksin doesn't initially even hint at Helen's nature and I asked Raksin whether or not he thought Helen had a case. His reply: "Helen was a case. After the alleged 'accident' there is a deliberate quiescence, which is not only quite natural but also necessary if 'the matter with Helen' is to remain any kind of mystery beyond reel 3. It was the job of the actress, composer and director to see to it that no note of psychosis crept into that part of the film, which would not only have been phony, but it would have diminished the surprise introduced by the sudden appearance of Hamilton Starr (by seeming to 'prepare' his entrance)."

The most gorgeous passage of Raksin's score for WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? occurs after Helen has murdered the intruder and she and Adelle dispose of the corpse. As the women drag the body in the downpour, the turbulence and pathos of Raksin's lengthy disposition of thematic material first heard in the titles intensifies the terrifying scene. Not only because Raksin distorts enharmonically, but also because he uses consonant double-reeds, adding a disturbing quietude (which Raksin says is "the characteristic, if anything is, of the score").

Raksin's lack of compassion for Adelle and his sympathy for Helen are necessarily absent from his scoring of the final sequence, in which Helen murders Adelle (Helen plays "Goody, Goody" after Adelle's corpse is tied up in a mock-dancing position). There's a silence during the ensuing roll-up of the cast credits. When I suggested to Raksin that this would have been the perfect place for a postlude harrowing empathy, he answered: "the question of eliciting sympathy for the dead Adelle is a core issue and refers to the criticism leveled at film music by actors and plenty of others as well. Just as it is pointless to extend sympathy to deaf ears (such as the dead), it is pointless to try to evoke sympathy unless that is the purpose of the picture... It is not the job of the music to give away the story. Therefore, when Helen tells Adelle they will be friends again, the music is with Adelle, who has to be saying to herself, 'Oh God, no...!' and dying a little. Even when Helen kills Adelle, a pretty horrible scene, the music speaks to the tragedy rather than to the horror-film aspect, which would have called for a different kind of dissonance.

"With regard to the use of 'Goody, Goody!' at the very end, played on that rehearsal piano by Helen (actually by Pearl Kaufman, who did the piano recordings for FIVE EASY PIECES), there was no question in our minds about that being the way to end the picture, abrupt cut-off and all, and no music for end cast titles. As I said, sympathy in such a situation is not only superfluous, it is impossible. To have mourned the dead, or even the bereaved, at that point, would have been to swallow the delusion that sympathy could have made any difference at all. It is, in my mind, questionable enough to 'legitimately' manipulate the multiple arts that comprise the film medium without having the gall to butt in when it is better to leave things unsaid. Adelle, with her talent for survival, is dead; Helen, formerly a postulant zombie, is now a pro. This is one of those places in films that music, unless extremely harsh, tends to mitigate, which would not have been the right thing to do.


By Steve Harris

David Raksin has often been referred to as "the composer's composer," a paradoxical title that has earned him both professional respect and public anonymity. If this seems to be a cruel fate for an artist as dedicated and skilled as David Raksin, then one must try to understand the man and his music.

Beginning his film career as an orchestrator of class 'A' movies (Chaplin's MODERN TIMES) and a composer of grade 'Z' horror thrillers (DR. RENAULT'S SECRET, THE UNDYING MONSTER), Raksin grappled with studio bureaucrats for years before getting a decent picture to work on. That decent picture turned out to be LAURA, and as the old cliché goes, the rest was history.

Over the next 35 years, Raksin would compose for over 50 films. Some of these were good (THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, PAT AND MIKE, SEPARATE TABLES) and some of them weren't (APACHE, KIND LADY, HILDA CRANE). But Raksin's music was always superb. Regardless of the cinematic tripe he was handed, Raksin could cut right through it with his incisive and compassionate music. One of the screen's best examples of a composer's ability to uplift sagging writing and acting is maestro Raksin's sweeping and humanistic scoring of FOREVER AMBER.

But despite the enormous popularity of the theme from LAURA and the equally haunting main title from THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, Raksin was never fully recognized or appreciated by the public or the film producers. More than likely this can be explained by his total dedication to supplying the "right" music. Avoiding the commercial pop themes and the easy symphonic slush, Raksin always preferred to explore and invent. As a result, his music was often inaccessibly harsh and atonal, and he never won the big Hollywood pictures or the Academy Award popularity contest.


Although he has found little film work in the prostituted Hollywood of the '70s, David Raksin remains a musical genius of our times. His music possesses an enduring quality that transcends gimmicks and fads, and his integrity to offer his best work against impossible odds renders him an artists to be respected as well as admired.




Because of last-minute changes in the structure of the film, some of David Raksin's original score for WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? was altered from its initially performance (particularly the main title sequence). This soundtrack album presents the music as it was originally conceived and recorded by the composer.

This record was pressed and distributed on a limited, non-commercial basis, and the producers do not expect to realize a monetary profit. Indeed, the album was conceived as a genuine labor of love and any capital gains will be donated to various composer's and musician's funds. WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? was recorded simply because it should have been recorded!