House of Frankenstein/Salter and Dessau

September 11, 2008

 

 

Universal Studios in the 30’s and 40’s produced a long series of horror movies featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman, and Invisible Man. They were quite loosely tied together from the previous episode such as Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman continuing forward to House of Frankenstein. In this case the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Frankenstein (Glenn Strange) were washed away and drowned forever or were they? Apparently they weren’t killed but frozen, just waiting to create more havoc on mankind with the help of Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff) and a hunchback (J. Carroll Naish) who sought revenge on those that sent him them to prison for his weird experiments. In addition, Dracula (John Carradine) is involved in the true chamber of horror as an exhibit in Lampini’s traveling sideshow and Elena “Marcus Welby” Verdugo appears as a gypsy girl in love with the Wolfman. Also appearing in the film are veteran horror stars Lionel Atwill and George Zucco. Written by Curt “Donovan Brain” Siodmak and directed by veteran horror director Erle C. Kenton it was an attempt to compete with the more is better philosophy against RKO who had countered Universal with a series of Val Lewton terror films which were far more psychological in nature and frankly while lower budget much better films. Younger people today may laugh at their parent’s love and interest for films like this compared to what they watch but being of the older generation these were what we grew up on. There was nothing to do other than wait to watch them when they came on television (no VHS or DVD so at a fairly early age when small tape recorders (reel to reel) became available this reviewer figured out a way to attach a wire to the TV to record the sound portion of the film. That way a person could listen to the music over and over again and this is how I was introduced to Hans Salter.

Hans Salter like Korngold and Waxman made his escape from the Third Reich in 1937 to American soil and quickly found his way to Hollywood, took a position as an orchestrator for Universal, moved up to composer and with Frank Skinner the dynamic duo cranked out film after film. The other half in the case of House of Frankenstein was Paul Dessau influenced heavily by Arnold Schoenberg who also influenced Alban Berg a teacher of Hans Salter. Together in a couple of weeks they crafted a 55 minute score filled with some original material as well as cuts from the other horror movies a common practice at Universal. Of all of the scores crafted by Salter and company this one stands out as a true symphony of horrors. Yes the patchwork quilting of the cues does show through a bit and it would have benefited in the reconstruction with less tracks but it is a soundtrack to a film, which we sometimes forget.

From the opening of the “Universal Signature” fanfare leading into the “Main Title” which makes an effective reference to the yearning wolfman theme, the score is off and running with theme’s and musical styles which puts it into a most listenable score away from the film. In fact while seeing the film can be a lot fun, it really doesn’t add a great deal to the listening experience. This is not one of those scores where you scratch your head and say I just don’t get why it is written the way it is. “Gypsy Tantrums” is a nice example of a short but effective gypsy dance with a lovely theme that you’re going to remember. “Off to Vasaria” which was also used in Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman is the perfect cue for traveling music. “Dracula Pursued” is a frantic paced chase sequence. “Monstrosities” is a sequence where the Wolfman and Frankenstein are discovered in ice by Niemann and Daniel (Naish), a nice example of very effective writing and orchestration. “Wolfman Revived” plays the transformation music from man to wolf as well as the famous leitmotif of the monster. “Dan’s Love” is a fine yearning theme depicting Ilonka’s (Verdugo) love for Dan (Lon Chaney Jr.). Each and every cue has a theme albeit it might have been used in any number of Universal films; it is still one that somehow fits the scene. The fun of some of the cues is you can be watching a Sherlock Holmes film and suddenly you hear one from Ghost of Frankenstein. There is no droning, shrieking off key violins or wordless wailing in the background.

The overall playing of the Moscow Symphony is in a word outstanding. There are a couple of places where I felt that they were a bit tentative and a couple of spots where I thought the tempo slow but all of the different orchestral sections from the violins, woodwinds, brass, timpani/percussion and especially the organ performed this score to near perfection. Stromberg and Morgan had to be most pleased with the effort. This is far better than the previous attempt that Penny and the RTE Concert Orchestra did on Marco Polo 8.223477 attempted. Laugh if you must but this is one of those rare times that the (*****) rating is given.  This CD is now available on the budget Naxos label #8.570188.

Golden Score Rating (*****)

Marco Polo # 8.223748

Engineered by Edvard Shakhnazarian and Vitaly Ivanov

Produced by Betta International

TRACK LISTING

1. Universal Signature (0:16)

2. Main Title (2:17)

3. Lightning Strikes (1:47)

4. Gruesome Twosome Escape (1:50)

5. Strangulation (0:30)

6. Off to Vasaria (1:18)

7. Chamber of Horrors (0:40)

8. Dracula Restored (1:30)

9. Dracula’s Ring (1:28)

10. The Burgomaster Murdered (2:06)

11. Rendezvous with Dracula (2:34)

12. The World Beyond (1:29)

13. Dracula Pursued (1:44)

14. Dracula Destroyed (1:09)

15. Gypsy Tantrums (1:47)

16. Ilonka Whipped (1:07)

17. Dan’s Love (3:23)

18. The Ruins (1:37)

19. The Monstrosities (2:02)

20. Wolf Man Revived (2:13)

21. Show Me the Records (2:22)

22. Travels (0:35)

23. Hunchback’s Jealousy (1:51)

24. Niemann’s Revenge (1:07)

25. Liquefying Brains (1:12)

26. Niemann’s Revenge (1:07)

27. The Pentagram (1:37)

28. Full Moon (1:15)

29. Silver Bullet (3:33)

30. Dr. Niemann Successful (1:24)

31. The Moon is Full (1:18)

32. Larry at Peace (1:36)

33. Dr. Niemann Attacked (1:36)

34. Death of the Unholy Two (1:14)

35. End Cast (0:28)

Total Time is 55:26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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