Sunday, June 27, 2010

CINEMAS of the World: Stony Brook Drive-In

Old Lincoln Highway,
east of York, Pennsylvania 
(closed/demolished circa 2004)

For more photos see my FLICKr album:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Composer: SIGMUND ROMBERG (Songs), Various Lyricists

Rhino MGM Download; TT: 24 tracks (stereo) 

Performed: MGM Soloists, Studio Orchestra & Chorus , Conductor/Music Supervisor: Adolph Deutsch Arrangers: Alexander Courage, Hugo Friedhofer, Robert Tucker (vocals).

Deep In My Heart (1954) is one of the last big all-star musicals from MGM, and also the last of their (in)famous musical biographies, in this case one freely adapted from the life of Sigmund Romberg (and a biography of the same title).

Like its predecessors (Words And Music/Rodgers and Hart, Till the Clouds Roll By/Jerome Kern, etc.) it also showcases a broad cross section of the composer’s hits and rarities performed by most of the stars still lingering in the MGM heavens.

The real Romberg was born in Europe and became one of the most successful American operetta composers of the early 20th century. He moved uneasily into musical comedy in the ‘30s and ‘40s, though many of his operetta favorites (such as “Lover, Come Back to Me”) had a contemporary edge which allowed them to remain popular standards into the Big Band era. Like many film composer émigrés, Romberg was able to fuse Old World lyricism and schmaltz with American popular appeal. He also had a long-standing connection with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Several of his operettas (The New Moon, Maytime) provided hit vehicles for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in the ‘30s, and in the ‘50s MGM remade his most famous work, The Student Prince, in CinemaScope.

Also like many film composers, Romberg had a secondary career as a recording artist. Thus RCA Victor released their own “Deep In My Heart” album with Romberg’s own recordings at the time of the MGM release.

Deep In My Heart, produced by MGM’s renaissance music man, Rodger Edens, stars Jose Ferrer (who looks nothing like the portly composer) as Romberg, and ex-Wagnerian soprano, Helen Traubel, as his platonic but supportative lady friend, Anna Mueller. There is also the obligatory transfusion of romantic interest, but anything resembling a plot is subsidiary to the on-going musical numbers that provide the substance of both film and this new “download only” Rhino soundtrack.

MGM Records originally released Deep In My Heart as a deluxe boxed LP (MGM E3153), a packaging format later followed by their Ben Hur and Mutiny on the Bounty releases. But like most of the MGM musical STs of the era, numbers were cut and edited to fit the track timing demands of the period. This new Rhino edition provides all the musical numbers in complete versions, plus a few incidental cues and out takes, and all in true stereo.

The angular Ferrer comes off as just rather odd as Romberg, especially in a virtuoso, if bizarre number in which he performs a one-man version of one of his shows (“Jazzadadadoo Medley”) to impress (?) his society sweetheart (Doe Avedon).

However, the still golden-voiced Traubel is appealing and versatile, able to turn “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”  - is there any other kind? – into a moving art song at one moment, then launch into an obscure bit of ersatz ragtime called “Leg of Mutton” with equal conviction.

But all this still leaves lots of room for a roll call of Romberg show excerpts performed by the likes of Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Ann Miller, Vic Damone, Rosemary Clooney, William Olvis, and Tony Martin, right down to Gene Kelly and his brother, Fred.

Miller has one of her best production numbers with the frantic “It,” a lesser-known Romberg excursion into the Jazz Age. (Note the costumes recycled from Singing in the Rain).

Dancers Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell perform a sensual “One Alone” from the popular Desert Song. While Charisse is voice-doubled by Carole Richards (who dubs Newman’s “Resurrection Song” in The Robe), no vocals are necessary to get the erotic charge emphatically across in this opulently staged and lushly arranged/orchestrated production number.

 Cyd Charisee in The Desert Song sequence.

But then a spacious stereo mix and composer Adolph Deutsch’s conducting beautifully enhance all the lush orchestrations by Alexander Courage and Hugo Friedhofer. While I miss the detailed, informative liner notes that came with the Rhino CD releases, downloading seems like a convenient and effective process and I hope more new MGM releases will be forthcoming.

And who knows, perhaps the entire catalog of MGM musicals (including such less familiar titles as Deep In My Heart) may eventually be available in this format as well.

Into the future and perhaps bring on Jupiter's Darling!

Ross Care

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jack Giant Killer Whoops It Up

This may be carrying trivia too far, but why not?

I recently unearthed my old VHS tape of JACK THE GIANT KILLER, THE MUSICAL (from the very early days of the Disney Channel back in Lancaster, Pa.) The original GIANT KILLER (1962) is a variation on the popular Ray Harryhausen  stop-motion Dynamation films of the era. Stars Kerwin Mathews, Torin Thatcher, and director Nathan Juran also add to the 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) ambiance. Jim Danforth helped with stop motion efx in JACK.

     Hung Up: Torin Thatcher and Kerwin Mathews in the original film. The handsome, soft-spoken Mathews was introduced in Columbia's FIVE AGAINST THE HOUSE, a noir classic currently released on DVD.

Leonard Maltin's 2001 Movie & Video Guide comments: "Marvelous Fantascope special efx make this costume adventure yarn (in the SINBAD tradition) great fun. 

"BEWARE reissue which was dubbed into an ersatz musical!"

The "ersatz" musical make-over is credited as
“Music Processes Produced by Edwin Picker and Moose Charlap”

Charlap is also credited with the (new) original score and partial lyrics.

Picker is also credited as Editor, and Sandy Stewart as co-lyricist.

The original (original 1962) score was by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter whose really excellent work on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA was finally released in a previously unheard soundtrack CD version by Film Score Monthly a few years ago.

 The Mirror Cracks as Judi Meredith turns from scarlet temptress back into nice peasant girl.


Whoop Up! 

Charlap is probably best-known for another cult (and not so ersatz) musical, the notorious WHOOP-UP, the score of which includes “Love Eyes” with the great lyric (by Norman Gimbel):

“Love Eyes (I mean you)
You and them Levis,
You’ve been eyein’ me since you walked in.
Your glances speed my heart and heat my skin.”

Not to mention:
“My lipstick’s wet
And waitin’ for your smear....”

Aside from the definitive Connie Francis delivery of this hot number, the Polydor CD  re-issue of the original MGM Records Original Cast album (circa 1988) has nine other bonus tracks. These include Charlap and Gimbel’s virtuoso performance of “Men,” the style of which seems have inspired most of Robert Preston’s numbers in THE MUSIC MAN. Curious.

Charlap also contributed a few songs to the Mary Martin PETER PAN.

There’s probably a lot more to say about WHOOP UP and JACK THE GIANT KILLER, but never mind. 

Ross Care 



Whoop-Up SEARCHSearch Page
Music:  Moose Charlap
 Lyrics:  Norman Gimbel
Book:  Dan Cushman, Cy Feuer, Ernest H. Martin
Premiere:   Monday, December 22, 1958
Shubert Theatre, (New York)      Performances:  56

Original Broadway Cast (CD)
Recording year:  1958
Language:  English
Label:  Polydor 837196
Length:  74:51
Tracks:  28
Conductor:  Stanley Lebowsky
show Singer List
show Song List
Album Cover

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Unsinkable Maybe, But Not Quite Titanic

 The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Rhino MGM Musical Scores:
Arrangements/Orchestrations:  Leo Arnaud, with Alexander Courage, Leo Shuken, Jack Hayes
CD released Nov. 21, 2000 

Rhino Handmade R 2 72465, 28 tracks (stereo)  Excellent production, so so songs.
Producer: George Feltenstein, Performed: MGM Soloists, Studio Orchestra & Chorus, Conductor: Robert Armbruster

The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) is based on the musical by Meredith Willson.  The Broadway version was the follow-up to Willson’s The Music Man, and, though it had a respectable run, was considered something of a letdown after the phenomenal 1957 success  of Willson’s first show.

Nonetheless Molly Brown became one of the last of the big MGM musicals, directed by veteran  Charles Walters and arranged by several surviving members of the studio’s celebrated  musical unit.

The lengthy film is also a product of the shift in Broadway musical adaptations that came with the end of the studio era and the emergence of  what I call the “behemoth” Broadway movie musical, a genre launched by such films as West Side Story (1961)  in which every grace note and fermata of the original score was transferred to film, overloading the movie versions to epic, but often tedious proportions.

Amazingly, MGM did not follow this trend with Molly Brown. As they did with On the Town, Brigadoon, and other adaptations, the studio blithely tossed out much of the Broadway score  and produced a movie that actually moves. (The spectacular location shooting is the way Seven Brides for Seven Brothers should have been filmed!)

The fact-inspired script is based on the life of Molly Brown, a poor Colorado backwoods girl who got rich and fought her way into wealthy (and snobbish) Denver society.  (Her story is also hinted at in James Cameron’s Titanic, the “unsinkable” Molly becoming the determined heroine of one of the doomed ship’s lifeboats).

Debbie Reynolds aggressively tears into the role of Molly, replacing Broadway’s more elfin Tammy Grimes. Harve Presnell was maintained from the Broadway original. Many of Willson’s songs were also dropped, with “I Ain’t Down Yet,” and “Belly Up To The Bar, Boys” and "I'll Never Say No To You" the main survivors. Reynolds gives  her all to these numbers, but also has the annoying habit of half-speaking the opening phrases, which somewhat negates  the melodic impact of the two best tunes in the score. 

Big Voice, Big Man 
Not so with Presnell, a power baritone who can still be heard on the CD reissue of  Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Philadelphia Orchestra (and who was recently seen in Fargo). MGM obviously considered Presnell a successor  to Nelson Eddy and Howard Keel in the studio’s roster of leading music men. And indeed he could have been if the classic movie musical had not been on the way out about the time of Molly Brown. (Presnell’s  next film co-starred Herman’s Hermits and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs!)

FILE - In this 1969 file photo, Harve Presnell is shown at the ...

Harve in 1969 at the premiere of the film of Paint Your Wagon.

At any rate, Presnell  is given the movie debut of a lifetime as the camera loving examines every virile, tight jean-clad  inch of him in his opening number, “Colorado My Home”. After seeing this introduction it is perhaps not surprising to learn that director Walters was, for the period, a relatively out-of-the-closet gay man. (See William J. Mann's Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood).

And for a graphic example of how Hollywood could pound anyone into peak shape compare the sexy cinematic Harve to the photos of a rather dumpy Presnell in the Capitol original cast album that was one of a few OCs that also included a copy of the original theatrical program.

Molly Brown original Shubert Theatre Broadway program. 
The show starred the delightful Tammy Grimes and Presnell.

Willson wrote one new tune for the film, “He’s My Friend,” which, along with “Belly Up,” provide the film’s major production numbers, and some of the last great MGM dance sequences, some of which feature Broadway dancer Grover Dale in one of his few film appearances. Rhino includes all the energetic dance music, as well as the film’s many underscore cues, some adapted from the Broadway score.

Rhino’s 2000 restoration  is a pleasant souvenir of one of the last of the big MGM Silver Age musicals, and the profuse underscoring is an especially appealing reminder of the studio’s brilliant arrangements and orchestral sound.
Ross Care

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Raksin/Friedhofer CD ST Double Bill


  • Imagen de THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER (1956)
"If you want to see Mamie tonight..."
           Jane Russell as the volatile Ms. Stover.


Orchestrations: CRANE, Edward Powell, STOVER: Earle Hagen – Intrada Special Collection Volume 31, TT: 72.22, 30 tracks (stereo)  Highest Rating

Producer: Nick Redman Performed: 20th Century-Fox Orchestra  Conductor: CRANE: Alfred Newman, STOVER: Lionel Newman

Here Intrada brings us a double-feature premiere of two lesser-known scores from the middle period (1956) 20th Century-Fox CinemaScope era.  

Hilda Crane is melodrama about a young divorced woman (Jean Simmons) whose return to her college hometown  sets local tongues wagging. The Revolt of Mamie Stover is about an even more liberated heroine who is kicked out of San Francisco on the eve of World War II and, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, makes her fortune in a Honolulu bordello (toned down to a “dance hall” for the film version of the original novel).

Both scores (like many of the era) might be described as populuxe, a term recently coined for the new brand of lush post-war style designed for the newly affluent, eagerly consumerist America of the 1950s. David Raksin is probably best known for his 1940s work at Fox, including his celebrated Laura. After a curiously perky (for a melodrama) Main Title his score for Hilda Crane is a kind of subtle rhapsody for strings and soloists (including reeds, violin/cello, and a silky alto sax). The style is hauntingly melodic, but in an elusive way, and there are no “big” (or obvious) tunes, but lots of beautifully crafted lines and modulations.

Many cues are concentrated and you wish some had more time to develop, but all in all Crane is a score that grows more appealing with each hearing. It’s also a prime example of that seamless fusion of concert and pop modes that only Hollywood and its composers could bring off so effortlessly.

In 2005 I saw a pristine CinemaScope print of The Revolt of Mamie Stover at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood where I enjoyed Hugo Friedhofer’s score in its original theatrical stereophonic mode  (and a personal appearance by star Jane Russell herself).

Friedhofer’s pop-oriented but varied Stover is a fine contrast to Raksin’s more refined Crane. It opens with a bluesy Main Title, the melody of which is developed throughout the film. There’s also a lilting, waltz-like love theme that is sometimes linked to a brief yearning motif in strings for when things get serious.

In keeping with the period and setting much of the score emphasizes an authentic ‘40s big band/jazz sound, and several dance hall numbers are included. “If You Wan’na See Mamie Tonight” (by Hollywood hit makers Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster) is a slyly humorous tune performed in a semi-camp tango mode by a male chorus. (“Fellows who try to resist ought to hire a psy-chi-a-trist.”) It’s also heard in a dynamically authentic period swing arrangement.

“Keep Your Eyes on the Hands” (by Mary Tobin and Tony Todaro) is performed (in mono) by Jane Russell, a talented and under-rated vocalist who also recorded both numbers on a Capitol single at the time of the film’s release. Another rather camp moment is a tiki lounge version of the old Fox number, “Sing Me A Song of the Islands”. (This score has everything!)

However, Friedhofer’s casually sexy orchestral cues are the main attraction, very coolly performed by the celebrated Fox strings backing up an assortment of slick jazz soloists, just as Raksin’s Hilda Crane soloists weave in and out of a more posh carpet of velvety strings and harp. Both scores represent that unique populuxe sound that nobody did better than Hollywood in the 1950s, and nobody in Hollywood did better than Fox (and MGM). Both are unusual and welcome re-issues, but to me any new Friedhofer release is always special.