She/Max Steiner

August 27, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1935, following the huge success of King Kong, RKO’s Merian C. Cooper brought the H. Rider Haggard novel She to the screen starring Helen Gahagan (her only film role), Randolph Scott, Helen Mack, and Nigel Bruce. Gahagan, known for her fine soprano work, and married to Melvyn Douglas, was also the infamous ‘pink lady’ who ran unsuccessfully against Richard Nixon for a Senate seat in California. Originally to be shot in color, budget cuts (1/2) forced Cooper to film in black and white but as a tribute to Cooper in 2006 Legend Films/Harryhausen colorized the film. While the film had a $500,000 budget ( Kong had nearly $700,000) the initial release lost money. The blockbuster that it tried to be with a cast of thousands (used the Kong set complete with huge gate and wall) just couldn’t get passed the depression the country was going through at the time. Keep in mind that a quarter was a lot of money for people. Were it not for Buster Keaton who had a copy of the film in his garage and his donation to film historian Raymond Rohauer, the film could have been lost forever. Telling the story of an eternal flame of life and a 500 year old unfulfilled love, the film featured excellent special effects for 1935.

In 1935 Max Steiner, who was the head of the RKO music department, approached this score like an opera without words writing nearly 70 minutes of music. To sparsely score something wasn’t in his nature. And while he won his first Oscar the same year for his score to The Informer, this reviewer prefers the material in this soundtrack. Having taken on the project of King Kong in 1933 and really being allowed to hone and expand his craft with the marvelous score, She can be looked at as yet another improvement. The less than performance of the film at the box-office had nothing to do with the music but perhaps has contributed to the lack of popularity. The “Main Title” or She/Flame motif is one of those themes that Max used many times in different styles throughout the film. In the opening title it initially reminded me of King Kong but ended up going in a completely different direction. It appears in “The Queen” as a proud religious like theme with a female wordless choir. It is featured in a majestic fashion in the “Finale.” “At the Campfire” introduces the Tanya motif a heartfelt theme on the violin backed with strings and harp. “The Cave” gives us the She and Tanya motif as well as some really nice woodwind work from the bassoon (well played and recorded). The (3) Hall of Kings tracks together constitute a miniature overture incorporating the She/Flame motif into a creepy ritual with good brass, percussion, and harp. Even the bonus track, which is the main title from Frankenstein, fits nicely into the mix of the CD; the theme being composed by Bernhard Kaun, one of the orchestrators for She.On first listen the reaction to this score was neutral. Had its moments but King Kong was the superior score. Having had the opportunity to really listen and absorb the “entire work” into my being this is material that is certainly on the same level. Part of the reason, in my opinion, is the miking system that Tribute uses. The recording quality couldn’t be better. Part of it is the comfort level that the Moscow Symphony Orchestra now has with the Steiner material (improvement over the Marco Polo recordings). After many years of playing Steiner they seem to be just as at home with him as they do Tchaikovsky. This translates into a superior listening experience. James V. D’Arc, producer of the original motion picture from acetates (still available on FMA/MS 104 thru SAE), says it better than I. “This loving and meticulous restoration has given Steiner’s truly imaginative score a new and longer lease on life.” This recording now has a place in this reviewer’s top 100 list! Highly recommended!!!

Golden Scores Rating is *****

Produced by Bonn, Morgan, and Stromberg

Recording Engineer Alexander Volkov

Track listing

1. Main Title/Time Passes (02:07)

 

2. Uncle John’s Vision (01:06)

 

3. To the Northern Rim (00:35)

 

4. The Barrier (01:07)

 

5. At the Campfire (01:21)

 

6. The Saber-Tooth Tiger (02:19)

 

7. Avalanche (01:21)

 

8. The Cave (03:14)

 

9. Fight With the Natives (00:49)

 

10. Trek to Kor (03:39)

 

11. At the Gate (00:29)

 

12. The Queen/Tanya in Bed (05:07)

 

13. Tanya’s Unrest (03:21)

 

14. Leo Asleep (03:06)

 

15. Fanfares (00:40)

 

16. The Trial (05:10)

 

17. Forgotten Place (01:51)

 

18. The Memory Pool/Cremation (04:29)

 

19. The Terrace (07:46)

 

20. Hall of Kings Part 1 (03:55)

 

21. Hall of Kings Part 2 (03:35)

 

22. Hall of Kings Part 3 (01:19)

 

23. The Escape (03:22)

 

24. The Flame of Life (05:01)

 

25. Finale (02:39)

 

26. Bonus Track (01:27)

 

Total Duration: 01:10:55

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