Thursday, September 10, 2009

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!  

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