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!

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