Tall Men/Victor Young

January 25, 2008

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Victor Young of all of the Golden Age composers is by far the most overlooked and why that is puzzles me. He wrote over 300 scores in 21 years, amassed 22 Oscar nominations, one Oscar for Around The World In 80 Days, and was wildly successful at any genre he attempted including the fine score to this 20th Century Fox film The Tall Men (1955) directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Clark Gable, Jane Russell, and Robert Ryan. Filmed in Cinemascope with a 4+ million dollar budget it tells the all too familiar tale of a cattle drive from Mexico to Montana complete with saving the love interest from indians, snow created from gypsum and cornflakes on the back set, and thousands of cattle which were breathtaking to see in cinemascope. While not considered a top 100 or even 250 film of all time it did gross 12+ million dollars and 5 million in rental to show a nice profit for Fox.In the tradition of “Call of the Faraway Hills” from Shane the main theme is a big, bold, and expansive one, depicting the hugeness of the west and the filming in cinemascope. “Cattle is an especially nice cue that allows Victor and orchestrator Powell to give this theme the full treatment. “Tall Men”, written by Ken Darby is a theme that is repeated on many tracks including a Jane Russell vocal. The idea of a popular tune (filmed after High Noon) was on the minds of studio heads and this film was no exception. While the treatment that Young gave it, especially in the romantic moments with Russell and Gable, along with a cute cartoon like treatment in “Nella Swings Hips” the lyrics are downright corny! Tracks such as “The Skull” and “Ben And Indians” are quite obvious the cliched indian music, that is what the listener expects to hear. “The Stagecoach”, with its string rhythm depicts wagon train moving but it also reminds me of a lot of cues that Victor used in Around The World In 80 Days, something which he may have already begun work on considering the time frame. “Jayhawkers” is a dark brooding cue with some references being given to the Darby “Tall Men” theme albiet in a minor key. “The Plains” makes excellent use of an acoustic guitar with strings providing subdued harmony in the background. “Red Cloud”, an indian track, uses limited brass with the “tom tom” music less the timpani pounding, along with a humorous interplay of an additional theme almost cartoon like. One must keep in mind when listening to Victor Young that he didn’t use rhythm such as snare drums or timpani. The “Tall Men” vocal is sung by Jane Russell but the bonus demo, another vocal of “Tall Men” with different words will forever be listened to by a singer who cannot be identified. A small word of caution! This recording  was likely taken from the original studio tapes. The overall transfer, condition of master, and restoration is excellent save for one or two brief spots where there is a slight hesitation. The overall restoration by Matessino is excellent. It was jus likely something that couldn’t be repaired. While this is a limited edition CD of 1500 copies, at least at the time of this writing, there appear to sufficient amounts in stock. Such a shame that Victor’s material doesn’t sell better. But as I said at the beginning of the article he is overlooked and I’m still puzzled.

Track listing1. Main Title (02:05)2. The Barn (00:47)

3. Tempest Grove (01:44)

4. Next Day (00:44)

5. The Skull (01:09)

6. Ben And Indians (02:23)

7. The Cabin (04:39)

8. Nella (03:41)

9. Nella And Ben (04:49)

10. The Blanket (00:32)

11. Morning (02:09)

12. The Stagecoach (01:32)

13. Nella Swings Hips (00:22)

14. Mexican Priest (03:51)

15. Night Camp (02:46)

16. The Countryside (00:34)

17. Cattle (05:58)

18. Jayhawkers (03:13)

19. The Canyon (01:57)

20. Junior (01:21)

21. Clint (02:25)

22. The Caravan (03:05)

23. The Plains (02:41)

24. The Towering Rock (03:01)

25. Red Cloud (02:24)

26. Mineral City (01:12)

27. The Tall Men (03:13)

(vocal by Jane Russell)

28. Finale (01:11)

29. The Tall Men (demo) (04:41)

bonus track

Total Duration: 01:10:09

Victor Young

January 23, 2008

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Victor Young was born on August 8, 1899 in Chicago, Illinois to a musical family. His father was a tenor with the Chicago Opera and by the age of 6 Victor was beginning to play the violin. After the death of his mother in 1908, Victor and his sister Helen were sent to Warsaw Poland to live with his grandparents. His grandfather was able to send him to the Warsaw Conservatory of Music and being a willing pupil he graduated and made his debut as a concert violinist with the Warsaw Phiharmonic. Still a teenager, he went on a successful tour of Europe and the United States, enhancing his career as a concert violinist even further. He returned to Chicago in the 1920’s and accepted a position as a musical director for the Balana and Katz chain of movie theaters. This required him to arrange music for the most important presentations. As a result of this Victor discovered his talent for composing, arranging, and orchestrating popular music. Within a few years he had moved to Los Angeles, signed a contract with Brunswick Records as a conductor, and had become the best known music director for radio and records.In 1935 he accepted a postion from Paramount Pictures as a musical director, composer, and arranger. For the next 20 years Hollywood was to become his home and film music his main profession. He scored over 300 films during the next two decades, compiling 22 Oscar nominations along the way. Victor had the ability to be able to produce wonderful melodies for films no matter what the subject matter. While films like “Love Letters” and “My Foolish Heart” are long forgotten, the theme songs are still performed today by a variety of pop and jazz artists. He may have been the best melody writer that Hollywood has ever had. In his later years he revealed that he had found inspiration and kinship from Rachmaninov, who had also settled in Los Angeles about the time that Young did. Films such as “For Whom the Bells Toll”, “The Quiet Man”, “The Blue Dahlia”, and “Samson and Delilah” showed his versatility for all types of productions, from film noir to biblical. When once asked why he became a film composer he shook his head. “Why, indeed? Why would any trained musician let himself in for a career that calls for the exactitude of an Einstein, the diplomacy of Churchill, and the patience of a martyr? And yet I can think of no other musical medium that offers as much challenge, excitement and demand for creativity in putting music to work.” This perhaps was the reason why he worked so hard and continuously for the twenty years he was involved with Hollywood.

The frantic pace, poor diet, cigar smoking, and ignoring the advice of his doctor took its toll in 1956 and he passed away from a stroke on November 11, 1956 in Los Angeles. Even in failing health in his last year he did scores for “The Brave One”, The Buster Keaton Story”, “Omar Khyyam”, and “Run Of The Arrow”, all released after his death. His last score “China Gates” was completed by his long time friend Max Steiner. Sadly, his only Oscar came after his death in the spring of 1957 for “Around the World in 80 Days”, perhaps his finest achievement. His passing symbolized the end of an era in Hollywood. Within a short time the music departments at 20th Century Fox (Alfred Newman), Warner Bros. (Max Steiner) and Paramount (Young), were dismantled, and with them went the romantic films scores that all were famous for. Even with the revival and re-recordings of golden-age film music, Young’s film music has been basically forgotten. Perhaps the new recordings of “Scaramouche” and “The Univited” are hints that other scores are in the works for release. One can only hope that such a prolific composer can be enjoyed by future generations.

jane-austen.jpgJane Austen stories are the most popular romantic novels to grace the silver screen of all time. Miss Austen Regrets, through her diaries and letters tells us the real story as to why she died never having found a husband along with trying to find her niece a husband in the last years of her life. It will be presented on the acclaimed PBS Masterpiece Theater on February 3rd. Directed by Jeremy Lovering it stars Olivia Williams in the role of Jane Austen.

The music is from Jennie Muskett, a relative newcomer at least to this reviewer, although her credits include Material Girls, The Prince and Me, and The State Within among 20 plus.  At the time of this writing there will be no release of a complete soundtrack.

While I was only sent (8) selected cues these were more than enough to wet my appetite for more material from this fine score. “Listen to your Heart”, which appears to be the main theme, begins simply with 8 piano chords, the melody on the piano, backed with first strings and harmony from the other hand on the piano, then the addition of the harp which is first harmony but then takes the melody. The chords are repeated again as is the theme from the piano with a louder swelling from the strings before the 8 chords are repeated for the last time, ending the cue. It is a very effective romantic, yet haunting theme. It is repeated in “…even if it’s not true..” as well as the final track “Listen to your Heart-reprise”. “Corridor of Doubt” uses the piano in a similiar theme with the addition of a guitar. It is less delicate than our main theme but it still is in the overall low key vein of the score. “Fanny’s Wedding” is a slow romantic waltz with piano and strings depicting a positive but extremely formal ceremony.

The best word to describe this score is one of delicacy and reflection. There is no brass or loud noises of any kind. Think about something pastoral from Vaughan Williams and you’ve got the picture. Recommended.

Spellbound/Rozsa

January 9, 2008

spellbound_g.gifgolden scores recording

of the year for 2007

 

In the category of re-release, re-recording, or the release of an OST for the very first time there were many golden age scores to evaluate and listen to. Looking back it brought us a complete recording of Around the World in 80 Days, a remastered Big Country, an academy award winner High Noon, Kings Row & Sea Wolf, new recordings of Fahrenheit 451, Mysterious Island, North by Northwest, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,two new recordings of Sea Hawk, a new complete recording of Spellbound, a complete version of the Johnny Green classic Raintree County and the thriller Wait Until Dark. And these were just the list of ones that I considered for best of the year! Steiner, North, Previn, Kaper, Frontiere, Deutsch, and Hefti also had fine entries. As you read my reasoning listed below all of these scores have merit and deserve a lot more attention than they have been given. There should have been far more attention given to a release of High Noon from SAE than a rework of Wagner material in Magic Fire from Varese Sarabande. Oh wait, I forgot there were only 500 copies so collectors had to scoop them up.!

Big Country was a welcome release from La-La Land of a complete recording, given the older SAE release had sold out and was only available in the used market. It gives the newer enthusiast an opportunity to purchase one of the finest western film scores of all time. The same can also be said of the Hit Parade release of Around the World in 80 Days with the newer found material. Fahrenheit 451 and Mysterious Island were both extremely well recorded and performed with many cues done for the first time on the new Tribute Film Classics label. FSM gave us a recording of Raintree County with never before record cues, close to an hour of additional material. Lukas has kept up the tradition of releasing one a month and 2007 was no exception. He also released Hank Mancini’s Wait Until Dark, a score that sat in the locked vaults far too long. Craig and Ray at Screen Archives didn’t disappoint and came out with D.O.A., High Noon, Three Musketeers & The Letter, all important archival material that we can listen to and enjoy. For icing on the cake we have not one but two recordings of the fabulous Korngold score from Sea Hawk. James Fitzpatrick’s labor of love The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, on his Tadlow label was so tempting to pick but the thought process was the material did come from previously composed material (Rozsa’s Violin Concerto).

Well, this leaves us with SPELLBOUND, the supreme effort from Fake and the crew at Intrada as my choice for 2007! For the first time I was able to hear the Rozsa material in the “Ski Run; Mountain Lodge” sequence, and it was a wonderful experience. The Spellbound melody is one of the most famous themes ever written for the silver screen. Young and old alike can recognize this haunting and romantic melody. Let’s also keep in mind that this score did win Rozsa an Oscar and was hugely popular in spite of the attempted interference of Hitchcock and Selznick. Also we need to remember that this is a re-recording of an existing score so it isn’t an exercise in duplicating the OST in regards to tempo etc. It seems like this score has been beset with criticism for over 60 years. None from me!

The Intruder/Herman Stein

January 4, 2008

 

intruder_mmm1956.gifThe Intruder (1962), starred William Shatner, was written by Charles “Twilight Zone” Beaumont who also had a small part in the film, and directed by Roger Corman. It dealt with desegregation, racism, and white supremacy in a small southern town, not the typical subject matter that Roger became known for with his seemingly endless string of films for American International. Perhaps the world premiere release of the soundtrack will create new interest for this long forgotten film.

Were it not for the efforts of Monstrous Movie Music, Herman Stein would have been almost completely forgotten. If you purchased MMM 1950, 1951, 1952, 1954, and 1956 you would have the majority of the recorded material except for one Varese Sarabande VSD 5407 and an Intrada MAF 7054D release. Pretty sad considering he was involved with a couple of hundred films mostly in the uncredited category.

While all of the cues are good, the three jazz combo pieces from Benny Carter, Buddy Collette, Nick Fatool, Al Hendrickson, and Jimmy Bond stand out as pieces that could have easily been performed away from the film in a smoke filled lounge instead of being used for source material. Not sure who played alto and tenor saxophone but Collette and Carter had fine riffs in “Like Noise”. “Main Title”, also repeated in “Reprise” is a running track filled with pulsating tension and suspense with strings providing the rhythm/percussion and the rest of the orchestra the theme. This soundtrack, due to budget limitations, was only a (20) piece ensemble consisting of no violins and the reed section doubling on instruments when necessary. Stein, use to working with less than funds, always managed to achieve the maximum, giving it a fuller sound. “Parked”, a short 50 second cue, will remind you of something North might have written for his Streetcar Named Desire score. “Guts” is a serious theme, one that was written for the walk to the school to begin the desegregation process. It is a solemn but relentess theme which is also repeated in “More Guts” and a short reference in “Framed”. The word for Stein is professional. All of the cues are well thought out and done.

In addition to The Intruder score there are several misc. pieces that Stein composed or arranged throughout his career. Career for Two, written in 1951 was Herman’s first assignment, one which launched his career. It was a piece written for the New York State Banking industry about the virtues of savings banks. There is also a dance band arrangement of “Dances of the Persian Slave Girls”, some unused score material, his student piano piece while studying with Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and a polka perfect for the Lawrence Welk show. Consider all of this bonus material like extra cues.

This is yet another welcome opportunity to be able to explore Herman Stein. It is available through MMM’s website only. Take advantage. Recommended! http://www.mmmrecordings.com/index.html

Golden Score Rating is *** 1/2

Produced by David Schecter & Kathleen Mayne

Track LIsting

The Intruder (1961)

1-2 Main Title/Gun Play

3-4 Little Dope/Stranger

5-6 It’s A Law/Disturbed

7-8 Reprise/Trouble Later

9-10 Like Noise/Parked

11 Pray/Pre-March

12-13 Guts/Inciter

14-15 Editorial/Klan

16-17 Burning Cross/Conscience

18-19 Bombing/Casulty

20-21 It’s Over/Defeated

22-23 Pre-Guts/More Guts

24-25 Post Guts/Hospital

26-27 Plot/Framed

28-29 Doomed/Sacrifice

30-31 Lynch Mob/End Title

Career for Two

32-37 Complete Score

Miscellaneous Pieces

38 Unused Main Title

39 Unused underscore

40 Persian Beguine

41-44 Suite for Mario/Brian Farrell Piano

45 Pumpernickel Polka

Total Time is 52:09