10th September 2007
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I've built up something of a backlog of
Film Score Monthly CD releases to review, so, without further ado, let's
look at their July and August titles: Henry Mancini's Wait Until Dark;
the jazz soundtrack for A Man Called Adam; Elmer Bernstein's The
Bridge at Remagen / Maurice Jarre's The Train; and Bronislau
Kaper's Ride, Vanquero! / André Previn's The Outriders.
superb score for the classic 1967 Warner Brothers thriller
Until Dark has been on the "wanted" lists of many discriminating
film music fans for decades.
The off-kilter score once again paired
Mancini with Breakfast at Tiffany's star Audrey Hepburn, but the
two films couldn't be more different. Mancini has a reputation for frothy,
kitsch nonsense (albeit with great melodies), so people might be forgiven
for forgetting that the composer had many top-notch thriller and drama
assignments to his credit, including Welles' Touch of Evil, and the
popular score for 1962's Experiment in Terror.
The score for Wait Until Dark
features two pianos, one tuned normally, the other tuned a quarter-tone
flat. Both pianos would be played simultaneously, creating a very
unsettling effect. This technique gives the score it's distinctive
atmosphere, but Mancini's experimentation didn't stop there: the score
also features a lot of unconventional instrumentation, including sitar,
electric harpsichord, electric guitar and the sho (a Japanese reed
mouth-organ). Except for a handful of brief passages, the score is also
notable for not featuring woodwind or brass. A rich array of strings -
twelve violas, twelve celli, four basses and sixteen violins - carry the
bulk of the underscore.
Despite its popularity among the
cognoscenti, there score has never been released commercially (apart from
a couple of re-recordings of the score's major themes, for a 7" single).
Film Score Monthly's CD has been remixed and re-mastered from the original
half-inch, three-track scoring session masters. In addition to the
forty-five minute album presentation, there are a couple of alternate
cues, including an Alternate Main Title (a shorter, predominantly
string-based version of one of the two key Wait Until Dark
melodies). The disc is accompanied by twelve-page booklet featuring
background notes and track-by-track breakdown by Lukas Kendall.
Called Adam isn't being released on the Film Score Monthly label,
since it's chief appeal will be to Jazz enthusiasts (and to film score
enthusiasts with a broad appreciation of the genre!) It's been released on
the Retrograde Records label, and should be available from the usual
The film's groundbreaking score was
composed and conducted by distinguished big band arranger 'King' Benny
Carter, earning his first movie score credit. The film also marked the
first starring role for Sammy Davis Jr, and was the first major studio
film produced by an African-American.
The film features virtually no incidental
music. Instead, the album is primarily made up of tunes composed for the
movie's night club scenes, or music played on jukeboxes, or record
players. The featured vocal performers are Sammy Davis Jr, Louis Armstrong
and Mel Torme. Trumpet solos are by Nat Adderley and Bill Berry.
Even after absorbing the twelve-page liner
notes booklet (which features a track-by-track breakdown by Jon
Burlingame), I don't feel qualified an informed opinion as to its merits.
I enjoyed listening to it, perhaps you will too!
Vaquero! / The Outriders pairs previously-unreleased
scores for two relatively undistinguished M-G-M Westerns, from 1953 and
The former, for a conventional
hassled-by-bandits pot-boiler, makes up the bulk of the CD. Kaper's score
has a jaunty, Mexican flavour, bolstered by mariachi-style trumpet
flourishes, and authentic folk melodies. The CD presentation - about
forty-five minutes of score, and ten minutes of source cues - was mastered
from quarter-inch monaural tapes, mixed down in 1964 from the original
three-track stereo recordings (which were then discarded, sadly).
The Outriders starred Joel McCrea as
a villainous escaped Civil War soldier assigned to guard a convoy carrying
a million dollars' worth of gold. André Previn was probably still in his
teens when he composed this, his first movie score (there's some confusion
about his date of birth). It's a remarkably assured debut, but this is not
altogether surprising, considering Previn's subsequent illustrious career.
About half of Previn's score for The
Outriders - just over twenty minutes - survives in usable form; the
fragile original mono optical film recordings were salvaged by
transferring them to quarter-inch tape in the 60s. (Many M-G-M scores from
1947-51 are missing or incomplete because of nitrate decomposition). The
film's Main and End Titles are taken from the film itself,
with minimal sound effects. The disc comes with a well-illustrated
sixteen-page booklet featuring notes by Lukas Kendall.
Bridge At Remagen / The Train offers two boisterous scores, for
big United Artists action movies, from 1969 and 1964.
The Bridge At Remagen, a WWII movie
about the wrestle for control of a strategically-critical bridge over the
Rhine, was based on actual events. The film starred George Segal, Robert
Vaughn and Ben Gazarra.
Only about a quarter of the film was scored
by Bernstein, but it encompasses a broad spectrum, from brash,
militaristic cues, to gentle To Kill a Mockingbird-style melodies.
Film Score Monthly's new disc marks its
first commercial release. The music was sourced from quarter-inch mono
tapes kept in the composer's possession (the studio elements are
long-lost). Unfortunately, there's some distortion in the very loudest
passages, but it's not too intrusive.
Jarre's score for John Frankenheimer's
The Train (a film about a locomotive carrying priceless French art
stolen by the Nazis) will be familiar to many seasoned collectors. It was
previously released by UA in mono and electronically-created stereo
versions (the masters for the latter - the only surviving elements -
providing the source for the new CD). Five bonus cues, which didn't appear
on the original album, have been taken from the film's music-and-effects
tracks. A song associated with the film (but not written by Jarre), which
was released as a 7" single, is not included because of licensing issues.
Jarre's high-octane score, composed when he
was in great demand, following the enormous success of Lawrence of
Arabia, is full of orchestral colour. Jarre omitted the string section
from the score, compensating with splashy percussion, harsh woodwind and
aggressive use of brass.
The disc comes with a twenty-page booklet
of notes by Lukas Kendall. It includes a stack of photo's from the film,
and, like most -if not all - FSM double-bill discs, features reversible
sleeve art, this time featuring what must be one of the most dynamic film
poster images ever created (shown below).
The three Film Score Monthly releases are
limited editions of 3000 copies. No such restriction applies to A Man
Called Adam, apparently. The discs are available from specialist
soundtrack retailers, including FSM's trading outlet,
Last week's Zeta Minor News
can be viewed here.
Previous Zeta Minor News entries can viewed