The Soundtrack


By • Apr 30th, 2005 •

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This column is respectfully dedicated to the great Sir John Mills (1907-2005), an extremely accomplished and conscientious actor and true British gentleman who was always highly amused that, after over a hundred film roles, his only Oscar was for a non-speaking role (RYAN’S DAUGHTER). God bless you Sir.

And speaking of Oscars, let’s get them out of the way. The season of gratuitous insincerity, red carpets, unwarranted backslapping, forced smiles, nice frocks and tearful, though thankfully not quite so interminable, speeches is over.

Just to remind you (and hesitantly looking to my co-host just to check I’m not jumping on her few precious lines), the nominees were (I’ll leave the applause to you):

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score):

Finding Neverland (Miramax) Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (excuse me co-host, but are we meant to alternate lines here? Okay, you next then…)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner Bros.) John Williams
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Paramount and DreamWorks) Thomas Newman
The Passion of the Christ (Icon and Newmarket) John Debney
The Village (Buena Vista) James Newton Howard

And the winner is… (Cue sound effect of envelope being torn open)…

…the disappointing, yet unsurprisingly safe choosing of the unremarkable FINDING NEVERLAND.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song):

Accidentally In Love from SHREK 2 (DreamWorks)
Music by Adam Duritz, Charles Gillingham, Jim Bogios, David Immergluck, Matthew Malley and David Bryson, lyric by Adam Duritz and Daniel Vickrey
Al Otro Lado Del Río from THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (Focus Features and Film Four)
Music and Lyric by Jorge Drexler
Believe from THE POLAR EXPRESS (Warner Bros.)
Music and Lyric by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri
Learn To Be Lonely from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Warner Bros.)
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyric by Charles Hart
Look To Your Path (Vois Sur Ton Chemin) from THE CHORUS (LES CHORISTES) (Miramax)
Music by Bruno Coulais, lyric by Christophe Barratier

(Cue sound effect again…)

Ah well, I got my wish for Al Otro Lado Del Río to win best song (if Vois Sur Ton Chemin, my personal favourite, didn’t). So, not a total loss. Right, now that battle’s over, back to World War II…

It’s a fact that the more removed we become from a subject the different our take on it becomes. This is no more evident anywhere than with WWII.

The war films (and by ‘war films’ I mean films about war, not just set during the war) made in the 40s were clean cut, patriotic and even propagandist in their presentation of the war, e.g.: IN WHICH WE SERVE (1942), THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944), OBJECTIVE, BURMA! (1945), TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949) and SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949).

In the 50s we were still patriotic, but now we weren’t so sure of ourselves or of our perception of the enemy. In films like HALLS OF MONTEZUMA (1950), THE DESERT FOX (1951), FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), THE CRUEL SEA (1953), STALAG 17 (1953), THE DAM BUSTERS (1954), THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957), THE ENEMY BELOW (1957), RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP (1958) and DUNKIRK (1958) we had begun to ask questions.

In the 60s, though still patriotic, the war had become a big adventure; the horrors were beginning to fade, the rose-tinted glasses applied and we were offered an array of star laden blockbusters depicting famous WWII battles and daring fictional missions in films such as SINK THE BISMARCK (1960), THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961), HELL IS FOR HEROES (1962), THE LONGEST DAY (1962), THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965), THE HEROES OF TELEMARK (1965), THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) and THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN (1969).

The 70s brought films like PATTON (1970), CATCH 22 (1970), MIDWAY (1976), A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977), CROSS OF IRON (1977) and MACARTHUR (1977), but by now we had started to become cynical about WWII, and had even begun to laugh about it, both probably responses to the Vietnam War.

By the 80s the WWII movie had practically vanished with depictions of the Vietnam War now filling our screens.

The 90s saw a small resurgence in the subject, mainly due to Mr. Spielberg (SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)) and we were also treated to MEMPHIS BELLE (1991), STALINGRAD (1993) and THE THIN RED LINE (1999).

2000 saw Hollywood rewriting history with U-571 (2000), PEARL HARBOR (2001) and WINDTALKERS (2002), but that’s about it, and that, I think, with this being the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, is quite telling.

The music for these movies of course also reflected their time and mood. Here are a few examples.

If Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart or any of the greats were alive today, they’d be writing film scores. In fact many of their compositions are simply that, except without the films to accompany them. They wrote music to accompany their own personal visions, but you can’t help, on listening to them, to close your eyes and create visions of your own. British classical composer Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) was another of these greats, but in his autumnal years was tempted into the realm of filmmaking, so what we have here on two newly recorded volumes from Chandos, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – FILM MUSIC, VOLUMES 1 & 2, with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Rumon Gamba, is a true crossover, and a rare glimpse of what can happen when a previously totally focused classical composer is given a shot at writing a film score – and it is breath-taking.

Volume 2 contains 40 minutes (16 tracks) of music from VW’s score for 49TH PARALLEL (US title THE INVADERS), a 1941 propaganda piece made to encourage the Americans to come into the war. With an Academy Award winning story by Emeric Pressburger and directed by Michael Powell, the same duo who five years later would write, produce and direct A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (US: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN – see the DVD review in the FIR Archives), and featuring star performances by Eric Portman, Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Anton Walbrook, Niall MacGinnis, Glynis Johns and Raymond Massey, the film told the story of 5 members of a German U-Boat crew stranded in Canada and trying to escape across the 49th Parallel into the then neutral United States. This was, remarkably at the age of 69, VW’s first film score and he captures wonderfully both the beauty and the ruggedness of the Canadian scenery and the various character traits and dynamics of those who populate the film. Not bad for a first attempt.

It’s magnificent stuff that evokes an entire era of British filmmaking, much emulated since and a great introduction to the inspired music of Vaughan Williams for those to whom it is unfamiliar (See my Christmas 2004 review for Volume 1).

Hugo Friedhofer
is one of the great neglected heroes of filmusic composition. In the mid 50s he was at his peak with, amongst many others, BROKEN ARROW, VERA CRUZ, HONDO, and his Oscar winning THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES under his belt, and IN LOVE AND WAR, THE YOUNG LIONS, ONE EYED JACKS and numerous TV series still to come. Until now very little of his work has been available on CD. The three following releases from Film Score Monthly mark the beginning of their aim to correct this.

ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952) (FSMCD Vol. 5, No. 11) starred Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker and related the story of Colonel Paul Tibbets (Taylor), the pilot of the Enola Gay, the bomber that would drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Unaware of the true nature of the bomb he knows however that it is a devastating weapon and that it will bring an end to the war. He is reluctant though to take the responsibility for the loss of so many lives but because of the secrecy of his mission he is unable to discuss his misgivings with anyone, including his wife (Parker). Friedhofer’s score captures both the militaristic and domestic worlds of Tibbets with a tremendous main theme that pervades throughout, tying the various militaristic, romantic and action themes together. The motif for the bomb is suitably threatening, but of course, as this is the early 50s, the strains of nobility and pride win out over it.

A little more soul-searching was BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL (1956)* (FSMCD Vol. 4, No. 9 – see foot of column) which featured another terrific score from Friedhofer and starred Robert Wagner as the young wealthy son of a southern plantation owner who is drafted and finds himself in the thick of battle in the Pacific theatre. With a supporting cast that included Broderick Crawford, Buddy Ebsen, Robert Keith and Brad Dexter the Richard Fleischer directed story told how Wagner’s spoiled brat of a character is irreversibly changed by his experiences. Friedhofer uses variations of ‘Dies Irae’, the Chant of the Dead, as the basis of his militaristic cues, endowing them with an ominous foreboding far removed from the patriotic fanfares most oft used. There is dread and horror here, and quite rightly, but juxtaposing this is an exquisite, lyrical and luscious romantic theme to accompany flashbacks to Wagner’s character’s life before the conflict. This is a wholly satisfying listening experience with great sensitivity and depth, and a wonderful composition seldom equaled today.

NEVER SO FEW (1959)** (FSMCD Vol. 5, No. 20 – see foot of column) starred Frank Sinatra as the hard-nosed, uncompromising leader of an O.S.S. team in WWII Burma. Despite a strong supporting cast including Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lawford, Richard Johnson, Paul Henreid, Brian Donlevy, Dean Jones, Charles Bronson, Philip Ahn, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell and being helmed by John Sturges (just a year before THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) the film isn’t that memorable and is most notable for giving a young actor called Steve McQueen his first big movie break (and setting up both himself and Bronson for SEVEN the following year). Again Friedhofer gives us a rich, multi-layered score with a great main theme, driving battle themes, full-blooded passion to underwrite the romance between the Sinatra and Lollobrigida characters and location fixing Asian influences. Again there are no heroic anthems here, but well crafted melodic themes and sobering, melancholic horn solos, Last Post style, to remind us of the ambiguity and ultimate price of war. This CD features the premiere release of the complete underscore for the movie.

The 60s brought a new sound to the war film: the sound of Ron Goodwin. Goodwin (1925-2003), a prolific filmusic composer for fifty years, also known for his scores to the comedies THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES and MONTE CARLO OR BUST and the sci-fi movies VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED, was obviously more at home, and certainly in his element, with the war film, creating optimistic and patriotic British themes, thrilling and suspenseful battle themes, ominous, single minded and relentless themes to represent the German war machine and touching romantic melodies to capture the various characters’ sometimes tragic love interests. His music represented an era, but it wasn’t the 40s – it was the 60s. Goodwin is best known for the following films in the genre:

633 SQUADRON (1964), with plot borrowed from THE DAMBUSTERS and a story saved only by it’s action scenes, has probably one of the most thrilling and catchy main themes of any war film. It is bold and triumphant, using a staccato brass motif of alternating bars of six and three inspired by the 633 of the title. The casting was a bit dodgy though – George Chakiris as a Norwegian?

was one of those star laden blockbusters I mentioned earlier with a cast including George Peppard, Sophia Loren, Richard Johnson, Patrick Wymark, John Mills, Trevor Howard, Lilli Palmer, Anthony Quayle, Richard Todd, Paul Henreid, Jeremy Kemp and Tom Courtenay in a Boys Own Paper yarn about the Allied efforts to disrupt Hitler’s V1 and V2 rocket programme.

SUBMARINE X-1 (1967)
found the allies again trying to destroy a German strategic target in the Norwegian fjords, this time by sea in midget submarines and led by James Caan. Not as well remembered a film as the others but not too bad.

WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968). Espionage, double-dealing and non-stop action behind enemy lines in this Alistair MacLean (GUNS OF NAVARONE, ICE STATION ZEBRA) penned adventure starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood and directed by Brian G. Hutton. Probably the best of the bunch and one of Goodwin’s finest and most memorable scores, presented here complete for the first time on this release from FSM, the original album release being a re-recording.

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969) – Exactly what it says on the label, and another star-studded extravaganza of the war in the air and a turning point in the Second World War. The cast included Harry Andrews, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Curd Jürgens, Ian McShane, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Robert Shaw, Patrick Wymark, Susannah York and Edward Fox, and the film directed by Guy Hamilton.

Though the films were sometimes shaky, Goodwin’s music was solid throughout all of them, endowing these films with a dignity they sometimes didn’t deserve. Goodwin would return to the genre in 1978 with FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE.

633 SQUADRON and SUBMARINE X1 are released on FSMCD Vol. 8, No. 4 and WHERE EAGLES DARE and OPERATION CROSSBOW are released as a double disc set on FSMCD Vol. 6, No. 21. Both releases are up to FSM’s usual and excellent standards.

TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) (FSMCD Vol. 3, No. 4) was the epic dramatisation of the events leading up to the ‘Day That Will Live in Infamy’, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. With three directors, an all-star cast and Oscar winning special effects, it unusually related the events from both the American and Japanese points of view. The late Jerry Goldsmith’s music from the film has only previously been available on the 1997 Varese Sarabande CD PATTON/TORA! TORA! TORA! as a re-recorded 15 minute suite. Here every note written for the film is included in it’s original form as recorded for the film. A joint American/Japanese production, TORA! actually depicted the Japanese more favourably than the Americans and, as is to be expected, Goldsmith doesn’t put a foot wrong, using rich oriental themes to capture the Japanese culture and their sense of honour, ominous, brooding motifs and exciting action cues to underscore the looming and inevitable conflict, then finally choosing not to underscore the climactic battle scenes at all, thereby allowing them to rely on their visual shock value. It’s a great score.

KELLY’S HEROES (1970) (FSMCD Vol. 7, No. 20) reflected the beginning of the change. Clint Eastwood, reunited with WHERE EAGLES DARE director Brian G. Hutton, starred alongside Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas in a sometimes extremely violent, anti-war, action/adventure caper comedy as he leads a platoon of war weary deadbeats to steal a stash of gold bullion from a German bank. There are no patriotic heroics here. Each man hates the war and is out for himself. Who do you get to score an extremely violent anti-war, action/adventure caper comedy? Enter Lalo Schifrin. Master of a wide range of musical styles (before this were MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, COOGAN’S BLUFF, THE FOX, COOL HAND LUKE, THE CINCINNATI KID, BULLITT and a myriad of others in every genre you can think of), Schifrin brought all of his skill and experience to play in creating a score that featured dynamic and contemporary action cues, eclectic jazz and country & western themes, a jaunty whistling theme, reminiscent of a jazzed up Colonel Bogey’s March, to encapsulate the Heroes themselves, a paradoxical take on The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a Morricone spoof to accompany Eastwood’s GOOD, BAD AND UGLY style confrontation with a German Tiger tank, and a powerful and menacing mechanistic theme for the tank itself. This is a must have album, with most of the tracks being released here for the very first time, the original album release being mostly rearrangements and re-recordings. Also included are many cues not used in the film including Schifrin’s original opening and closing title themes (the whistling theme mentioned earlier) which were replaced by the song Burning Bridges, and original source music. The album is completed by the tracks re-recorded for the original album release.

War movies, and their scores, had come a long way indeed from those flag waving, stiff upper lipped, stirring and pride inducing depictions of war in the 1940s, but of course this was representative of society as a whole.

I hope you managed to struggle to the end of this longer than usual feature and there will be more on Lalo Schifrin in next month’s Soundtrack column.

*Also contains SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (1955)
Another great romantic-adventure score from Friedhofer (the main theme is especially memorable) for the Clark Gable/Susan Hayward movie directed by Edward Dmytryk and set in Hong Kong during the 50s. Despite the original recordings being severely damaged after over 46 years of storage, with several sections being irretrievable, FSM has done a sterling job restoring the 30 odd minutes of that which remains, in full stereo and demonstrating once again Friedhofer’s underrated talents.

**Also contains 7 WOMEN (1966)
This story of women missionaries in 1930s China was director John Ford’s final film and was a curious break from the testosterone filled westerns for which he was renowned. For a film featuring female leads Anne Bancroft, Margaret Leighton and Flora Robson, Elmer Bernstein created a suitably moody score for an emotional and passionate story punctuated by action music not dissimilar to his battle sequences for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Perhaps he simply thought ‘Hey, I’ve written music for seven guys, how about writing for seven women?’ Frivolity aside it is an interesting and moving score. The album contains the premiere release of the complete original soundtracks for both movies remixed in stereo from the original three-track masters.

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One Response »

  1. Your comments on Lalo Schilfin were really cool. I admit to being a thorough junky on the Mike Curb Congtregation’s Burning Bridges. It’s corny, but cool. You should mention the interesting detail that Curb was the Lieutenant Govenor of California and gave Jerry Brown quite a bad time. You also left out good ol’ smart allecy Don Rickles as one of the important characters, managing to keep up with all the other boys!!

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