Helen of Troy/A Summer Place/Steiner

December 28, 2006

Part of the Elmer Bernstein Filmmusic Collection (Disc. No. 1)


Directed by Robert “Day The Earth Stood Still” Wise, Helen of Troy was a Warner Brothers entry into the “biblical” films from 1956. Hugh Gray (his last film) wrote the film screenplay with John Twist which was adapted from the famous Homer poem The Iliad. Recent years have seen the remake Troy with much controversy in the soundtrack community over the Yared and Horner scores for the film. Such was not the case with the Steiner score! Time has not been kind to Helen of Troy, having never achieved the status of Ten Commandments, Quo Vadis, and The Robe. Perhaps the lack of a major Hollywood star (it starred European’s Rossana Podesta, Jacque Sernas, and Stanley Baker), box office competition at the time of the release, or any number of things contributed to the lack of popularity.

Helen of Troy(1955) is a nice enough score to listen to and offers to the listener a fabulous “Love Theme”, one written in the style of some of his great themes such as Now Voyager. It fills the air with wonderful romance, something that Max was one of the very best at doing. With the exception of the proud horns calling out the beginning of the film the “Main Title” also features the romantic love theme as does the “Finale”. “The Battle” is a horn driven track which if played at a slightly faster pace almost reminds one of a cartoon or silent movie! “Victory-Trojan Horse” switches gears to some swelling after the ‘storm style music’ and promptly reminds me of an older jungle style cue until Max switches back to the romantic love theme. “Bacchanal” reminds me more of a Borodin exotic middle eastern dance as opposed to a drunken orgy. All of the music is quite pleasant enough to listen to it just doesn’t appear to fit the kind of film. Archaic sounding it is not to my ears which is what this reviewer was expecting to hear. There are other recordings of this material far more complete in the marketplace if you wish to pursue this soundtrack further.

A Summer Place (1959) might have appeared to be out of place for the 71 year old Steiner but this was hardly the case. Quite provocative in its day the Delmer Daves directed film starring Troy Donahue, Sandra Dee, Richard Egan, and Dorothy McQuire got people to flock to the box office in droves. While the storyline of the Sloan Wilson novel is quite tame by todays standard the music has held up extremely well. “Main Title & Arrival at Summer Place” introduces us to the first love theme similiar in style to the Helen of Troy love theme. It is very soothing and comforting with a nice string performance with a little enhancing from the harp. The famous theme made famous by Percy Faith and was written for Molly (Dee) and Johnny (Donahue) in many of their scenes together was not the main theme but didn’t appear till later. On this Bernstein recording it appears on the “Young Love Scene” track as well as others. Overall, the recording is more of a highlight CD, touching on the main themes of the score. While nice, it doesn’t approach the scope and completeness of the FMA-MS112 Screen Archives recording. Logging in at 76+ minutes compared to 20 the overall choice of recordings is quite clear if you are interested in this soundtrack.

The overall quality of this recording is fine and the liner notes are ok as far as they go. This is one of the CD’s that doesn’t give you a track by track analysis of the music. There is also no mention as to the orchestra that was used for the recording.

This is one of the weaker entries in the Bernstein Box and while A Summer Place is certainly one of Steiner’s better efforts the Screen Archive is the choice. Helen of Troy, is just one of the weaker efforts from Max period. It has been reported that he wasn’t too keen on the film to begin with and the overall score reflects that.

Golden Score Rating (**1/2)

Recording Engineer Richard Lewzey

Produced by Dan Gordon

Track Listing for Disc No. 1

1. Main Title (01:46)

2. Paris’ Farewell (03:04)

3. Love Theme (02:04)

4. Battle (04:34)

5. Victory – Trojan Horse (03:13)

6. Bacchanal (01:38)

7. Finale (04:02)

TRACKS 1-7: Helen Of Troy (1956) / composed by Max Steiner

8. Main Title & Arrival At Summer Place (03:35)

9. Young Love Scene (04:45)

10. Father & Daughter (02:18)

11. Reunion in Boathouse (04:03)

12. Molly Runs Away (02:20)

13. Finale (02:30)

TRACKS 8-13: A Summer Place (1959) / composed by Max Steiner

Total Time is 40:41

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