Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stein, Mancini, Salter et al:

This Island Earth
This Island Earth

Music from THIS ISLAND EARTH (and Other Alien Invasion Films): Composers: Herman Stein, Ron Goodwin, Henry Mancini, et al

Monstrous Movie Music  - MMM-1954, TT: 60.12, 47 tracks (stereo)    

Verdict: Out of This World!

Producer: David Schecter, Kathleen Mayne, - Performed: Radio Symphony Orchestra of Slovakia, - Score Reconstructions: Kathleen Mayne – Conductors: Masatoshi Mitsumoto, Kathleen Mayne

by Ross Care

This 2006 Monstrous Movie Music release is a continuation of David Schecter’s on-going exploration of the outer limits of classic (and not so classic) genre scoring. The key score in this excellent compilation of world premiere recordings is Universal International’s THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955), one of the studio’s more elaborate sci fi features.

As Schecter’s notes explain, UI was a low-budget film factory in the 1950s, its scores produced in an assembly line, sometimes cut-and-paste (cue recycling) process in which the collective composers often remained anonymous. Ironically, UI still managed to evolve one of the most unique sounds of the studio era. The all-original THIS ISLAND EARTH is primarily the work of Herman Stein, assisted by UI horror veteran, Hans Salter, and new kid on the block, Henry Mancini who commenced his celebrated career scoring programmers at UI.

The score itself is simply one of the very best of the period. It’s heard here complete with 27 cues that aurally outline the film’s screenplay about earth scientists abducted by aliens to help fight an interplanetary war. The music is characterized by a duality representing earth and its humans by a noble, warmly symmetrical tonal sound, and the aliens and their influences by brief but weirdly evocative, harmonically askew cues. Though little time is actually spent in outer space and much of the film looks like a Technicolor Douglas Sirk melodrama, Stein’s other worldly score definitely keeps the alien ambiance firmly in the foreground of any viewer’s consciousness.



This Island Earth (1955) Poster

An early electronic keyboard, the Novachord, plus harp, celeste, marimba, bass marimba, and vibraphone, add to the alien mood, but the skillful use of exotic motifs, mild dissonance (including tone clusters), and economic but evocative orchestral effects are the key elements in the score’s impact. Especially effective: “Robot Plane,” with its almost new age harp arpeggios under string harmonics and tremolo, and “Exeter’s Mansion,” a kind of extraterrestrial pastoral that drifts though a gorgeous series of shifting modulations and anticipates Herrmann’s ethereal FAHRENHEIT 451 sound. Printed musical examples are provided, including Stein’s chromatic “Metaluna” motif that is heard throughout the score, often on the Theremin-like Novachord.

The compilation includes eight cues from Ron Goodwin’s THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, and two brief main titles, Walter Greene’s manic genre-lite toccata for Roger Corman’s WAR OF THE SATELLITES and Daniele Amfitheatrof’s recycled 1942 cue for EARTH VS. THE FLYING
                                                         
SAUCERS, an early Ray Harryhausen production that is tracked with other previously existing cues ranging from George Duning to Miklos Rozsa. 

Attractive packaging and artwork (including an especially colorful CD label), embellish a 39-page booklet chock full of everything from author John Wyndham’s full name to photos of the composers (and Schecter’s adorable dog). I’ve always been intrigued by the lesser-known scores and composers of the UI music department and by other low budget, mostly tracked/library cue scores such as the early Harryhausens and other genre efforts from Columbia, and Schecter’s knowledge of the territory is enlightening, meticulous and encyclopedic.

Indeed together with the first two Monstrous Music releases Schecter’s notes provide an exhaustive, but often droll and never academic chronicle of this generally uncharted but vital macro-phase of classic era scoring. And his documentation is well backed up by the excellent performances of the scores themselves, all of which should be of interest to fans of both genre scoring and Golden Age orchestral film music in general.

CINEMAS of the World



Somewhere in Yorkshire, England.
One of a series. 
Photo: COPYRIGHT 2009 by Ross Care

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bronislau Kaper: LILI



Orchestrations: Robert Franklyn, Skip Martin – Film Score Monthly vol. 8, no. 15, TT: 72.21,  22 tracks (mono)

Producer: Lukas Kendall Performed: MGM Orchestra and Stars, Conductor: Hans Sommer

by Ross Care

Climaxing with its monumental 3-disc set of Mutiny on the Bounty, Film Score Monthly has single handedly brought about a revival of the film music of the talented, versatile (and until now relatively lesser known) Bronislau Kaper, a composer discovered in  the 1930s by the beloved (by some) father of MGM himself, Louis B. Mayer. On a European tour Mayer heard Kaper’s melodic songs and signed the composer on the spot. While amply fulfilling LB’s faith in his song (and hit) writing potential during the ‘30s and ‘40s, Kaper also developed into a composer of major symphonic scores as well.

One film, Green Dolphin Street (1947), covered both bases: its epic symphonic score also produced one of the great melodies and popular jazz standards of the era, “Green Dolphin Street,” a song covered by a variety of artists including Miles Davis and Nancy Wilson over the ‘40s and ‘50s.


 PHOTO: Leslie Caron appears at the American CINEMATHEQUE screening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

Kaper returned to his songwriter roots in 1953 when he chose to score an intimate “quasi musical” entitled Lili over the epic Plymouth Adventure. Lukas Kendall’s liner description of Lili is an apt one, for the film includes only one song, “Hi –Lili, Hi-Lo.” It’s an unforgettable one, however, and beautifully serves as the haunting theme for the film’s bittersweet romance, the story of an orphaned French waif’s discovery of Life and Love in a touring provincial carnival. Kaper’s theme song, a simple, haunting Continental waltz with lyrics by screenwriter, Helen Deutsch, became one of the most popular movie themes of the decade.

The film’s carnival setting provides a pleasant blur between source music and traditional underscoring. Kaper provides a colorful kaleidoscope of melodies, ranging from energetic and witty background music for the various acts to bittersweet waltzes. (The cue “Magic Act” includes both). Many of the actual film’s 12 tracks heard here are in this intimate  mode. Some are scored for solo accordion while even the ensemble pieces are intimate enough to forego the impression that the carnival is touring with the Paris Philharmonic.

Orchestral sound does come to the fore in the two dream ballets, the sophisticated “Adoration,” a glittering set piece with a new theme that was recycled in later MGM films, and a jazzy, big-band interlude (for the carnival sexpot,  Zsa-Zsa Gabor), and “Lili and the Puppets,” based on the film’s main theme. A more traditional underscoring mode is heard in the very dramatic “Ladderpole,” when the despairing Lili contemplates suicide near the opening of the film, and in “Curtain Down” and “Lili Leaves Paul” near the end when complications arise in the story’s central relationship. The latter cue leads into the second ballet that alternates both modes, but climaxes in a deliriously romantic orchestral epiphany.

The Lili’s lyrical Continental mode also reminds me of Nino Rota’s use of similar melodies in Fellini films such as La Strada. Indeed the “Magic Waltz” seems suggestive of Rota’s later “E Poi” in La Dolce Vita. Bonus material (tracks 13/22) includes alternate takes, piano rehearsal   cues, and an interrupted stereo cut of Caron and Mel Ferrer’s version of the title tune (which reached #30 on the Hit Parade in 1953).

The attractive booklet with color scenes from the beautifully designed film includes a photo of the original extended-play 45rpm soundtrack, which included the only four original tracks issued at the film’s original release.

- Ross Care

Friday, September 11, 2009

Alex North: THE LONG, HOT SUMMER; SANCTUARY




THE LONG, HOT SUMMER; SANCTUARY:  Composer: Alex NORTH

Orchestrations: Note: Not Credited, Edward Powell  ? – Varese Sarabande Limited Collectors’ Editions, 29 tracks (mostly stereo)

Producer: Nick Redman, Robert Townson, Performed: 20th Century-Fox Studio Orchestra , Jimmy Rodgers, Julie London, vocals Conductors: Lionel Newman, Alex North

by Ross Care

THE LONG, HOT SUMMER and SANCTUARY are two parts of a trilogy of 1950s 20th Century-Fox films (very loosely) based on the novels of William Faulkner. All three are scored by Alex North who, thanks to his groundbreaking score for the film of Tennessee Williams’ A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE in 1951, had developed a reputation for scoring properties that were both literary and erotic. Many also had southern backgrounds well suited to North’s innovative fusion of 20th century orchestral and classic jazz techniques. Collectively North’s southern scores (including these two and STREETCAR) also constitute some of the sexiest music ever composed in Hollywood, and strongly influenced other new ‘50s composers such as Elmer Bernstein and Kenyon Hopkins.

Like THE SOUND AND THE FURY (which completes the trio) the film of LONG, HOT SUMMER is actually more Tennessee Williams than Faulkner. (North’s score for SOUND is the only element that really evokes the Faulkner ambiance in that film). The sharply-scripted, highly entertaining SUMMER seems specifically influenced by Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, and the Orson Welles character, gruff town boss Will Varner, is an overtly Big Daddy-like figure.

North’s music is essentially lyrical, and a title song provides the thematic basis for much of the score. As sung by Jimmy (“Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”) Rodgers it’s both lyrical and intense, and its melody is associated with the developing relationship between Ben Quick, a drifter bucking a reputation as a notorious barn burner (Paul Newman), Varner’s repressed but self-aware daughter, Clara (Joanne Woodward).

The long, expansive melody reappears in several beautifully rearranged cues, (“Easy Living” “Respect”) peaking in” Ashamed,” a transcendent 5.54 cue for massed strings with dreamy vibes and bells.


Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman as Clara and Ben

Jazz elements represent the film’s other earthier couple, Tony Franciosa and Lee Remick, who play “Jody” and “Eula,” Varner’s put-upon son and nubile daughter-in-law. Eula’s theme is actually a fusion of jazz and ‘50s rock that was turned into a song, “Hey, Eula,” which is not heard in the film or on the disc. North’s cues for the troubled Jody are among the more serious in the score, suggesting the heavier, more intense mode of STREETCAR.


SANCTUARY 

Remick stars as Temple Drake in Tony Richardson’s film of one of Faulkner’s more sordid novels. Befitting the story the sound is darker than the composer’s other two Faulkner scores. Nobody could musically move from the delicate, almost neurotically tender to the raunchy, sometimes ominous low-down like North. SANCTUARY, another tale of a southern lady’s fall from grace, provides ample opportunities for this defining North trait, notably in the extended “I Remember Sanctuary” and “Little Girl” cues.

The score is also built around a bluesy title song that is not heard in the film, though this disc features a mono version of it coolly sung by Julie London. (Rodger’s  SUMMER title track is also mono only). LONG, HOT SUMMER was released as a Roulette LP, but the score for SANCTUARY was never recorded, making this a rare and impressive North premiere. North of course had a remarkably wide range as a composer, but I consider these early southern scores, from STREETCAR to the now finally available SANCTUARY, to be among his most essential work.

I frequently hear that North is “difficult” for some listeners, but for an introduction to his unique work I suggest this disc, especially the lyrical LONG, HOT SUMMER, which is as easy to take as a southern breeze on a sultry day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

George Duning: BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE

 George Duning
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE & 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS: Composer: George Duning

Film Score Monthly vol. 9, #1,  27 tracks (stereo) 

Producer: Lukas Kendall Performed: Columbia Orchestra, Jud Conlon Singers, Conductor: George Duning, Morris Stoloff, Orchestrations: Arthur Morton

by Ross Care

In 1958 Columbia filmed a unique Broadway comedy, Bell, Book and Candle, a romantic fantasy that explored the comedic (and amorous) possibilities of witchcraft in modern Manhattan, and what happens when a beautiful young practitioner, Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) falls in love with a normal mortal (James Stewart).

The film also moved the setting to Greenwich Village and loosely linked witches (of both sexes) with beatniks, and so Jack Lemmon plays Gillian’s brother, Nicky, as a bongo-playing warlock. Thus much of the action revolves around a Village coffee house/jazz club, the Zodiac, and offers composer George Duning the chance to concoct one of his best jazz-inflected comedy/romance scores with atmospheric mystical/fantasy touches.

Many Hollywood studios had formed record subsidiaries in the ‘50s and Columbia Pictures released a soundtrack LP of the score on their ColPix label. The LP became a kind of cult hit on its own and was later reissued in stereo by Citadal. This recent FSM release is remixed from the original three-track album masters, and includes another Duning/Colpix release, the soundtrack from the animated feature, 1001 Arabian Nights.

Both scores retain their jazzy charm but Bell, Book and Candle is an especially welcome re-issue. Duning’s score is based on a memorable jazzy/magical theme (in AABA song form) that is first heard in the Main Title and developed throughout. (The visual credits are cleverly done with the pieces of primitive art in Gillian’s gallery representing each individual credit, including a tom tom for Duning’s as composer). The music continues unbroken into the opening scene, and conveys that Gillian is no ordinary lovesick mortal by its statement of the main theme in low, mysterious flute.

There are also several cues of Zodiac jazz combo source music by Duning, but these also include a track of Harold Arlen’s  “Stormy Weather” which back-ups a manically comic sequence in the coffee house. Duning’s main theme comes to the fore in “The Spell” in which Gilliam hums the seductive melody against a magical orchestral backdrop.

1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS (1959) is one of the few features produced by the innovative United Productions of America (UPA), the only animation studio to give Disney any competition during the 1950s. It stars one of UPA’s major characters of the period, the lovably bumbling Mr. Magoo, here playing the bumbling father of Aladdin in a plot that does a spin on that familiar tale.

Duning’s score includes both songs and an alternatingly lyrical and toon-ish background score. The vocals are by Jim Backus (as the voice of Magoo) and a girl group, the Clark Sisters, and are supervised by Jud Conlon who had also provided the vocal direction and arrangements for Disney’s Peter Pan.

The songs are OK but Duning’s background score (which of course integrates the song melodies) is a witty and dynamic aural knockout, especially where the percussion and mallet work is concerned. Thus both Michael McDonald and Doug Schwartz should be respectively cited for the brilliant score remix and digital mastering (for both scores). All in all, a double feature sonic spectacular, with a welcome return of Bell, Book and Candle, one of the versatile Duning’s best and most charismatic scores.

My only criticism might be that liner notes do not include enough photos of the very bewitching Ms. Novak!

Royal Wedding



ROYAL WEDDING

Royal Wedding
Composer/Songs: Burton Lane (music), Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) Arrangements/Orchestrations: Conrad Salinger, Johnny Green, Al Sendry, Robert Franklyn, Skip Martin,

Rhino Handmade RHM2 7777, TT: 55.11, 22 tracks (mono and stereo)
Producer: George Feltenstein, Performed: MGM Soloists, Studio Orchestra & Chorus, Musical Director, Johnny Green
by Ross Care

As the liner notes comment, Royal Wedding is best-known as the film in which Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling, but it’s also the only MGM musical featuring Winston Churchill’s daughter, Sarah, as the second female lead. Aside from all that the film is one of those modestly excellent and entertaining productions that MGM did so well during the twilight of the Hollywood studio system when studios were still churning out an astonishing number of films per year of all genres.

A musical set against the 1947 marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, Royal Wedding (1950) is distinguished by its score by Burton Lane. Lane was the composer for a number of songs for earlier MGM musicals, but had also just had a tremendous hit on Broadway with Finian’s Rainbow, written with Wizard of Oz lyricist, E. Y. “Yip” Harburg. Lyricist/screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner had just written Brigadoon with composer Fritz Loewe, with whom the writer would eventually produce Broadway’s My Fair Lady and MGM’s Gigi. Lerner would later reteam with Lane for the less-successful but still popular, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.

The score for Royal Wedding is more comparable to the latter than to any of the aforementioned mega hits, but (like the film itself) is charming and well-crafted with several fine numbers. “You’re All the World To Me” was obviously designed for the distinctive vocal talents of Fred Astaire, and is the score’s best tune, also heard instrumentally throughout. The haunting ballad, “Too Late Now,” is pristinely performed by Jane Powell, the youngest member of MGM’s stable of classy legit sopranos, in a dreamy Conrad Salinger arrangement, and even co-star Peter Lawford got a number, though it ended up cut and is heard here as a first-time stereo outtake.

Astaire and Powell team up for a raucous comedy duet, “How Could You Believe Me,” and for a torrid production number, “I Left My Hat in Haiti.” “Haiti” is vocal soloed by Astaire, but danced with Powell to Salinger’s throbbing orchestration which showcases the MGM symphony’s considerable battery of percussion. Too bad they did not have stereo components for this elaborate track, or for “Sunday Jumps,” an instrumental orchestrated by Skip Martin in MGM’s patented symphonic big band mode.

Of two operetta-ish choral ensembles “What A Lovely Day for A Wedding” credits Les Baxter as vocal soloist! The CD is rounded out by some of MGM’s always superb underscoring cues, one of which, “We Can’t Get Married,” opens with a passage which curiously suggestive of Nino Rota before segueing into an instrumental reprise of the “All the World” melody.

Producer George Feltenstein’s liner notes document the complicated production history of Royal Wedding which was originally conceived as a vehicle for MGM’s troubled and troublesome Judy Garland, and the CD concludes with a vintage radio interview with Astaire and Powell.

John Green, soon to take over as Musical Director for the legendary MGM music department, conducts, and in a few years would compose his only major film score for one of the last of the MGM historical blockbusters, Raintree County.
Ross Care

Kenyon Hopkins: BABY DOLL

 

Baby Doll soundtrack Kenyon Hopkins

BABY DOLL: Music: Kenyon Hopkins

DRG/Sony 19053, TT: ??.??, 12 tracks (mono) **** Quintessential
Producer: Dan O’Leary , Performed: Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra, Conductor: Ray Heindorf
by Ross Care
 
Baby Doll, an original screenplay based on two one-act plays by Tennessee Williams, gained considerable notoriety in 1956 when New York’s Cardinal Spellman vehemently condemned it from the pulpit. Though the good cardinal later admitted he had never actually seen the film the damage was done and Baby Doll received a limited release which pretty much launched it into obscurity for decades.  Today the relatively innocuous but still compelling film has been seen on TNT but it remains a modestly steamy property due to its central premise, a nubile child bride (Carroll Baker) withholding her favors from her klutzy older husband while being seduced by a lusty Sicilian on a poor white farm in the rural south.
 
Like A Streetcar Named Desire, Baby Doll inspired an alternatingly sexy/dramatic score by a composer new to Hollywood, Kenyon Hopkins. Hopkins was a product of the “new” Hollywood of the declining studio era, and like Alex North (who scored Streetcar) and Elmer Bernstein he fluidly fused elements of jazz and contemporary pop with orchestral scoring. In the summer, 1957 issue of the pioneering film music journal, Film and TV Music, Hopkins noted: “I’m inclined to select thematic material which I think will fit characters and situations, and develop it according to their needs. In Baby Doll you can find the main title in the end title; you can hear that theme in one type of development or another almost anywhere in the score. The Confession theme is derived from the first element of the Baby Doll theme, it in turn becomes Archie’s Break Up theme, and so on.”

All very good, but for some inexplicable reason the recent DRG reissue of the original Columbia soundtrack completely drops the main title from the CD!  Imagine my shock when, as a fan of the original LP, the CD commenced with “Baby Doll and the Empty House,” actually the brief second part of the LP’s original opening title track. Hopkins’s exciting (and structurally essential) main title is a clever fusion of rock-pop saxes and brass under a lyrical string countermelody, aptly suggesting the innocent/erotic nature of the title character,  and introducing a duality that will continue through the rest of the score.

Thus its absence here turns the score into a kind of variations without a theme. While this title theme survives in a few of the cues (the end of “The Fire and Baby Doll,” the beginning of “Baby Doll’s Fright,”) it is never heard in its original sax/brass/string instrumentation, and its omission seriously distracts from this reissue which is hyped as the score’s “first time on CD!” and which is otherwise authentic down to the Columbia LP number on the reproduction of the original cover art.

What remains, however, is a fresh, exciting, often sensual and humorous score for a unique black comedy/drama. Hopkins makes inventive use of the pop elements in the orchestration, many derived from jazz, blues, and period rock and roll. A lurid solo sax, and a subtle use of electric guitar and jazz drumming suggest the script’s more earthly elements, while velvety massed strings and a solo celesta   evoke the child-like, virginal title character. (Hopkins used a similar schitzophrenic approach to his later Lilith score, another film about a psychologically conflicted heroine).  Cues such as “The Cradle” and “The Confession” are warmly sensual, especially the latter’s languorous harmonica  solo, while “Lemonade” is a clever jazz variation on the main title theme.

The CD is a fine remastering of the excellent Columbia 360 mono sound with the solo elements, notably a crisp mandolin and the on-going sax, clarinet,  and harmonica, beautifully reproduced. The Warner Bros. strings are warmly luminous throughout under Ray Heindorf’s always-superb musical direction. Also included is a source music vocal, “Shame, Shame, Shame (On You, Miss Roxy”), an authentic and certainly energetic  rock’n’roll  track by Smiley Lewis.

This is an excellent score that I cite in my Library of Congress article on the key scores of the 1950s (Performing Arts: Motion Pictures, LOC, Washington, DC, 1998) and should appeal to anyone interested in the new Hollywood, North/Bernstein et al sound of that era. I just wish DRG would reissue the reissue and put back that great main title!