The Best of All Worlds  - official EARLE HAGEN website
"I Spy" scores

Be sure to read the  revealing comments about the music for "I Spy" on the page

In 2002 Film Score Monthly released a CD of five Earle Hagen “I Spy” scores   

Direct from the soundtracks of "So Long, Patrick Henry" -  "A Time of the Knife" - "Turkish Delight," - "The Warlord" -
"Mainly on the Plains" along with a 24-page booklet of liner notes and photos and foreword by Robert Culp

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by Deborah Young-Groves

For as long as I have been going to the movies (which is most of my life) both film and television music scores have played a huge role in my psyche. Most people never hear the fleeting sequence of notes that unconsciously influence their mood.  Indeed many composers insist that should be so for the proper tone of the story.

Robert Culp and Bill Cosby

Consider the 1960's as the golden age of film and television scores. Consider Earle Hagen, jazz artist extraordinaire, who had scored The Dick Van Dyke Show and Make Room For Daddy (both produced by Sheldon Leonard).  Now he was being asked to score Leonard's latest brainchild - an exciting new series that broke ground on several levels in 1965. “I SPY” - a tale of two easy-going but very capable spies with tennis as their cover - shot in locales around the world - a first for episodic television - with a black and white man co-starring - another first.

Hagen could not have been more innovative or original with “I SPY.” As a long time member of the production team Hagen had traveled with Sheldon Leonard's company often.  Before “I Spy” began filming Sheldon and his wife took the Hagens on a round the world scouting mission for shooting locations. Hagen recalled that they went "west from California, to Japan, Hong Kong, Bangkok, India, Israel, the Greek Islands, Rome, Paris, and finally, New York." Everywhere he went Hagen “sampled the indigenous music and bought records.”

The Hagens and Leonards
at the Trevi Fountain in Rome

The scores he wrote were taped in Los Angeles, but he frequently returned to record live and on location. The result was that EVERY ONE of the 82 “I Spy” episodes received an original score besides the obvious main themes.  Two-thirds of those were invented by Earle Hagen, with the rest created by his friend, Hugo Friedhofer.  The outcome was what Hagen named "semi-jazz," resulting in a perfect marriage of local themes with American Jazz.  You never forgot who you were rooting for, nor where they were.  

Hagen says the “I SPY” main title was the first to feature graphics, live action and animation.  LISTEN to the pulsing primal heartbeat under those roaming eyes, and  you know by the sardonic saxophone that death could be imminent - or a lifetime could be only hours long.  From the opening graphics to the burst  of violins the main theme emerges, as haunting today as it was 35 years ago.

Remember the eclectic, dissonant score for 'The Equalizer" by Stewart Copeland of the Police?  That was eighteen years after this precocious work.  It was all unerringly perfect.

A friend of mine recently said she recalled this series as being a lark, but in the first season at least this was not always the case.  In the series opener, “So Long Patrick Henry” (with its many references to slavery and unspoken black/white tension) it could not have been more serious.  However, there is an off-setting, six minute chase scene in Hong Kong, charming but suspenseful.
Chase scene from "So Long Patrick Henry"

The action begins with big band brassiness, emphasized by the ever-closer bad guys, as Kelly and Scott run lightly as boys along the harbor front over godown rooftops.  They reach a dead-end, and then sprint upwards . And immediately as they strike higher, turning from the industrial area to the Chinese tenements, we pick up (like a bright afterthought) a single thread - one oriental repetitive note - all that is needed to reinforce their environment.

In "Carry Me Back to Old T'sing Tao" - when Kelly and Scott 'catch-up' with Papa Charlie at long last in old Taiwan, enjoying the wealth he claimed he never had - all you hear is a finger-snapping tweak of cymbals.   Hagen was a master at both the 'large' sound and the minimalist idea to create the correct impression.

Carry Me Back To Old T'sing Tao

In “Time of the Knife” there is a lovely sad flute solo accompanied by a Japanese samisen as Kelly and his friend's widow stroll through a quiet garden.  If unaccompanied by music, that scene - like so many others - would lose almost all of its pathos.  Think also of the flawed trumpet playing a sour version of Auld Lang Syne during the “Cup of Kindness” betrayal scene or the lovely trumpet cadenza (reminiscent of David Amram's “Manchurian Candidate”) when Scott unravels while examining Rodin's Thinker.

The remarkable thing is the freshness of Hagen's approach, such as his use of  some linear themes - Scott's saucy trumpet theme, for example - or the big band sound for some chase scenes.  But mostly I liked the subtlety - his music written for the individual episode, especially  “Tatia” - a haunting subdued theme that is never repeated.

"I Spy" volume two on Capitol

And who could forget the frantic - almost joyous - chase across the University of Mexico in “Bet Me A Dollar” - Spanish brass - almost Copeland -esque (remember “El Salon Mexico”?), too loud to ignore but erratic and happy. And yet, like Copeland, Hagen only scored where he deemed appropriate. In that very same episode the child, who urgently seeks help for Kelly, runs in utter silence.  We hear only his pounding feet and his sobbing gasps.  

But the two best episodes for music are “Home to Judgment” and “The Warlord,” for equally fascinating reasons. “The Warlord” borrows heavy oriental imagery for the action sequences (always punctuated by that American jazz - but it works) using snare drums and brass.  How Hagen can get a trumpet to sound Asian simply by a jagged sequence of notes is still a mystery to me!

Robert Culp as "The Warlord"

Then he changes completely, and takes a plangent delicate note for the love theme between Chuang Tzu and Katherine, caught between their separate worlds.  It is somber, powerful and almost painful - one of the saddest pieces of music I have ever heard.

In one of the most critical scenes Chuang Tzu lies wounded and vanquished, awaiting the enemy to inevitably break down the door.  The steady battering is incorporated into the score.  Unheard of ! The impact this had on the viewer is indescribable.  I can still remember being stunned by the pure simplicity of the battering ram, and then, an 'echo' of light cymbals like a double heartbeat.  It evokes the terror the man about to die must feel, his trance-like state.  The trumpets and the childish, lilting “London Bridge is Falling Down" eerily float in the air.

Finally, in the last act of “The Warlord,” note how that tender (Greensleeves-like) love theme has been slowed down a half-beat to further darken the mood. There is a delicate harpsichord sweep for the birds above the trio in the riverboat - the whole scene rendered more poignant by their trivial words, but the deepest feelings are left unsaid, painted in by that music.

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in
"Home to Judgment"

“Home to Judgment” uses much less music but with equal power.  There is a delicate, simple quality over the title credits which flows into horror as a 1930's organ - jarring but effective - falls in when we realize the two men are injured and running for their lives.  

In pastoral late-summer Idaho Kelly spots the sanctuary he knew as a child.  It is an old barn, and we are struck by it as he is - as much by Fouad Said's jolting , ever-closer camera stills as by the sudden shift in the notes - a sweet harp burst taking him back 27 years.  He lies feverish and crippled in the hayloft, and again with a few minimal notes we fall into his childhood.  In contrast his friend and savior Scotty strolls through the barn, tossing up food - perfect optimism, perfectly orchestrated.
Home To Judgment

Janet MacLachlan and Bill Cosby in "Laya"

Earle Hagen was nominated for an Emmy in 1965 and 1966. He won this award in 1967 for the poignant, bittersweet “Laya” episode, which also featured a vocal ending of his theme.

AS Bill Cosby so fondly stated back in 1965, after first hearing 'THAT' music, "This man is hip.”

Deborah Young-Groves was author of anarticle about Earle Hagen in the prestigious periodical, Film Score Monthly, which  resulted in the release of a new CD of previously unreleased music from “I Spy” by FSM.  (See below for more info about the new soundtrack album.)  More of her writing about the series can be found on the Deborah Young-Groves Page of


The BIGGEST “I Spy” News in Three Decades
Now available on DVD
ALL 82 Episodes of “I Spy”

I Spy Season 1

I Spy Season 2

I Spy Season 3

And Read the  book all about I Spy !