The cheapo ‘60s western Run Home, Slow has largely been forgotten—I mean, have you ever heard of it? If you have, it’s surely because you know that a pre-fame Frank Zappa wrote the film’s score. But did you know Frank would re-tool some of the cues for his Mothers of Invention and solo work? As for the soundtrack, it would be decades before any of the recordings would be included on a Zappa release, and still much of it can only be heard via the film, which hasn’t been easy to see.
Zappa’s involvement with the movie came about thanks to Don Cerveris, Frank’s former high school English teacher and good friend. In 1959, Cerveris, who had quit teaching to be a screenwriter, wrote the screenplay for Run Home, Slow, and got the young FZ a job scoring the picture. The production experienced many delays. Around 1964, Frank was finally able to record his chamber music for the film, conducting a small ensemble and playing guitar. FZ was eventually compensated for his work—well, partially, at least. He used what money he did receive to buy a new guitar, and took over the lease at a local recording studio where he had been employed the past few years, renaming it “Studio Z.”
Yep, that’s Frank, sans his trademark ‘stache.
Run Home, Slow was released in 1965. The film concerns the Hagens, a strange family out to avenge their father’s murder. The powerful Judd Hagen was hanged by locals, who viewed him as a vicious man who thought he was God. They also thought he was crazy, a trait he seems to have passed on to his children. Academy Award winner Mercedes McCambridge was cast in the lead role of Nell Hagen, the gruff and manipulative matriarch of the Hagen family (DM readers might remember her as the villain in another western, Johnny Guitar). Though McCambridge is the most recognizable face here, her best-known role is for one in which she wasn’t even seen—she’s the iconic voice of the demon in The Exorcist.
Run Home, Slow is not a well-made film by any stretch, but the kooky characters and their bizarre relationships keeps things entertaining. That’s all icing on the cake, though, as we’re not really here for the story.
The clan of weirdos in ‘Run Home, Slow’ (Mercedes McCambridge is on the far right).
The first Run Home, Slow soundtrack recording to be released came in 1985, when the main title theme was included on Mystery Disc, which, at the time, could only be had by way of the Old Masters boxed set.
An alternate take can be found on The Lost Episodes (1996).
Two cues were also included on that compilation.
“Run Home Cues, #2” might sound familiar to some of you Zappa freaks, as FZ re-recorded it for a section of “Lumpy Gravy—Part 1,” from Lumpy Gravy (1968), Frank’s solo debut.
Another cue was repurposed for a short passage in “The Idiot Bastard Son,” which is on the Mothers of Invention album, We’re Only In It For The Money (1968).
The most identifiable slice of Zappa music heard in Run Home, Slow is the cue that was the basis of “The Duke of Prunes,” one of the highlights of the 1967 Mothers album, Absolutely Free. The soundtrack recording is on Mystery Disc.
Here’s Frank later describing how this cue was used in the film:
In this scene, a nymphomaniac cowgirl is getting plooked by a hunchback, next to the rotting carcass of a former donkey. Really.
1969 live recordings of the Mothers of Invention playing the theme and some of the Run Home, Slow cues have been officially released on Mystery Disc and You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 5 (1992).
Those lovable Mothers.
In age when seemingly every movie is streaming online and/or available to purchase in physical form, Run Home, Slow has remained obscure. But—good news! Just this week, a digitized copy sourced from a 16mm print has been uploaded to YouTube. Though the quality ain’t the greatest, it’s currently the only way to both see the film and hear Zappa’s complete score.