Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

CHRISTMAS in High Fidelity

CHRISTMAS should always be in High Fidelity.... (but on my copy Under Western Skies is not in Living Stereo.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

RIP Arnold Stang 1918-2009

Arnold Stang (1918-2009) -

Uniquely distinctive actor and voice of radio, screen, and television.

He early radio work included the wonderful Saturday morning children's show Let's Pretend. He said radio was his favorite medium because "listeners could contribute so much from their own imagination."

On TV he was the voice to Top Cat (according to the LA Times). But someone commented that he was actually the voice of Top Cat's sidekick.

One of his best-known film roles is opposite Frank Sinatra in Preminger's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM. 

Monday, December 21, 2009



GREEN MANSIONS: Composers: Bronislau Kaper, Special Music Created by Heitor Villa-Lobos Orchestrations: Robert Franklyn, Sidney Cutner, Leo Arnaud– Film Score Monthly vol 8, no 3, TT: 79.53, 21 tracks (stereo)

Producer: Lukas Kendall Performed: MGM Studio Orchestra Conductor: Charles Wolcott

Verdict: Lush symphonic fantasy.

by Ross Care

Green Mansions is a 1959 MGM CinemaScope film based on the 1904 novel by British writer, W. H. Hudson. The classic fantasy concerns Rima (Audrey Hepburn), a mysterious “bird-girl” living in the unexplored depths of the Amazon forest (the “green mansions” of the title), and her ill-fated romance with Abel (Tony Perkins), a South American political refugee. These two leads are certainly photogenic, and the film has its moments, but some elusive literary properties just do not translate to a visual medium. Though director Mel Ferrer removed most of its overtly fantastic elements, Green Mansions remained one of them and was a commercial and artistic disappointment at the time of its release.

Today the film is best remembered for a lavish symphonic score with a controversial compositional  history. Brazilian classical composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, was originally signed to do the music but, due to a series of circumstances well documented in the liner notes, MGM’s Bronislau Kaper, himself a classically trained musician well-versed in concert techniques, was also brought in. Kaper both adapted and augmented the Villa-Lobos music and created a title song that is judiciously used in the underscoring.

Villa-Lobos rearranged his music as Forest of the Amazon; his last great concert work for orchestra with soprano and chorus, and recorded it for United Artists Records. (It was recently redone with Renee Fleming as soloist). 

This, however, is the first recording of the original film soundtrack. A 5.24 “Main Title/Chase/River Boat” sets the tone and modus operandi of the entire score. An exotically mysterious Villa-Lobos opening (including dramatic statements of his “Rima” motif) is intercut with a brief phrase of Kaper’s title song that will also serve as the film’s love theme. Kaper’s wild “Chase” seems influenced by the “Dance of the Earth” from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as do other minor bits of his work.

The restrained title song is more in the mode of a folk song than Kaper’s other great pop standards (“Invitation,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Hi Lili, Hi Lo”). Tony Perkins, who had a moderately successful (but today mostly forgotten) secondary career as a singer and recording artist in the ‘50s, performs it in a substantial sequence in the film, but his version is not included here. Orchestrally the song’s refrain (“Tell me, Rima, where are the meadows of June?”) is heard at various points in the score, notably the opening, of “It’s Gold” and “Is It You?” 

Villa-Lobos created the ethereal Rima theme, magically orchestrated in “At the Pool/First Visit” (the latter, however, submerged under real birdcalls in the film). The 79.53 score is allowed much time to develop, and builds to a series of profoundly moving final cues in which poignant new Villa-Lobos themes underscore revelations of Rima’s past and her tragic demise.

Green Mansions is (aside from its tumultuous, somewhat schizoid “End Title”) no conventional Hollywood offering of the period. It’s a sumptuous, expansively symphonic score that captures the magic and menace of an otherworldly, ultimately lost Eden with a power and mystery sorely missing from the often unpleasantly literal film itself. 

The sound is remixed in stereo from original 3-track recordings and beautifully showcases the impressionistic, opulently Ravel-ian orchestrations. 

Charles Wolcott, a Disney studio veteran who became a part of the MGM musical staff, conducts, and also had the delicate executive job of liaison between. Villa-Lobos and Kaper while the score was being finalized.

Bill Whitaker and Jeff Bond’s notes discuss the film’s history and the score’s involved Kaper/Villa-Lobos issues, as well as providing a cue-by-cue description of the mostly seamless meshing of the two composers’ contributions. Kudos to FSM for making this magnificent score finally available in such a complete and definitive version.

Friday, December 18, 2009

RIP: Jennifer Jones 1919-2009


Thursday, December 10, 2009


After the Monday, December 7, 2009 winter storm that passed over southern California. A fresh mountain snowfall provides a background to persisting autumn color. This view from route 150 between Santa Paula and Ojai, Tuesday morning. Click on photo for big screen CinemaScope view.

Photo COPYRIGHT 2009 by Ross Care

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Leigh HARLINE: 7 FACES OF DR. LAO Revisited

Left Composer Leigh HARLINE

 Orchestrations: Leigh Harline, Gus Levene – Film Score Monthly vol. 9, #11, TT: 59.55, 33 tracks (stereo)  1-24 score, 25-33 bonus

Produced: Lukas Kendall, George Feltenstein
Performed: MGM Studio Orchestra, Conductor: Leigh Harline

Verdict: Phantasmagorial fantasy score! 

by Ross Care

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) is among the last of the famous late period George Pal sci fi/fantasy features which commenced in 1950 with the classic Destination Moon. Lao is based on the 1935 novel, “The Circus of Dr. Lao” by Charles G. Finney. As the CD notes explain “the film tells the story of a mysterious visitor from the Far East (Tony Randall) who arrives at an undernourished town in the Old West and sets up a magical circus of bizarre attractions.”

How the good doctor and his creatures influence the hearts and minds of the various citizens and how he eventually saves the town from itself is the core of the film’s offbeat plot line.

Leigh Harline had worked with Pal providing the background score for the spectacular Cinerama production, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, in 1962, though Bob (a.k.a Robert) Merrill, a Tin Pan Alley and later Broadway (Take Me Along, New Girl in Town) songwriter, provided the songs and main theme.

Fortunately Harline had Dr. Lao all to himself and the resulting score proved a climax to Harline’s long Hollywood career that commenced at the Disney Studio in the 1930s. (His amazing Pinocchio score  won two Oscars). Leaving Disney’s Harline moved through the various dream factories of the studio era (including RKO and Fox) as composer and music director to conclude with several scores for MGM in the early ‘60s.

Harline’s Dr. Lao score is a melodic amalgam of American western and far eastern (Asian) themes and sonics, plus various motifs and cues for the fantastic creatures in Lao’s show. The main theme (“Main Title”) is a warmly lively tune that represents the doctor himself, and is reprised in various guises throughout the score.

A gently archaic sequence depicts Merlin the Magician (“The Magic Act”), and an exotic theme in soprano sax vividly conjures up the grotesque snake-haired “Medusa”. The score’s best track is “Pan’s Dance,” a magical backup for the choreographed sequence in which Pan, the God of Joy (and Sex), vividly awakens the erotic fantasies of the town’s attractive but emotionally repressed schoolmarm (Barbara Eden).

This virtual suite of character motifs is intercut with Harline’s original dramatic underscore (“Dr. Lao-Hero,” “Death of the Press”) and an assortment of circus source music cues (“Hurry, Hurry, Hurry,” etc.) All display Harline’s prolific melodic gifts as well as his keen ear for the appropriately atmospheric orchestral sound. (The climactic Loch Ness Monster sequence is underscored with an amazing multi-track of studio-manipulated bagpipes and percussion).

In keeping with the magical, almost claustrophobic intimacy of Lau's circus environment Harline scores for a relatively small instrumental ensemble. Both the many solo lines and the briefer big moments are beautifully captured in Michael McDonald's stereo remix and Doug Schwartz's digital mastering.

The remix also spotlights the incredible Hollywood musicianship of the late studio era. There is especially effective writing for solo and dual harps ("Ah, Love") throughout the orchestration.

Due to its integration into theme park scores Harline’s melody for what has become the Disney anthem, “When You Wish Upon A Star” (from Pinocchio), is heard by millions of people on a daily basis, though most would be hard pressed to name the composer.

Pinocchio (1940) and Lau bookend Leigh Harline's prolific and previously rather unsung Hollywood career. But thanks to CD Harline’s excellent post-Disney work is finally getting a hearing, including releases of such Fox scores as House of Bamboo, The Enemy Below on Intrada,  Broken Lance from FSM.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao is given a premiere release and a definitive revival in this terrific FSM stereo restoration. 18-page booklet includes color photos from the film and notes by Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, and yours truly.

Nine bonus tracks are featured, including brilliant piano versions of “Pan’s Dance," the last one featuring a virtuoso performance from an uncredited voice apparently counting out the bars for the actors as they filmed the scene!


Many of Harline’s early (and uncredited) scores for Disney shorts may also be heard on the recent Disney Treasures Silly Symphonies DVD sets.

No credits other than Disney's are seen on these shorts. Harline's scores include Music Land, The Goddess of Spring, and The Old Mill, among many others.