The Human Monster (1939)

February 4, 2011

This 1939 horror/drama starring Bela Lugosi as Orloff/Dearborn was based on an Edgar Wallace novel “Dark Eyes of London” and told a story of an insurance agent, wronged as a doctor, who kills clients for their life insurance after they have signed the policy over to them. He also plays a second role as Dearborn, a blind man who runs an operation for the destitute and homeless blind. The dual role is a front to show he is really a kind and loving man. Jake a deformed but devoted employee in the blind center played by Wilfred Walter is the henchman until the tables turn at the end of the film and Lugosi becomes his final victim. The love interest is between a Scotland Yard inspector and the daughter of one of the insurance policy victims. The film has the honor of being given the very first ‘h’ rating in British film. Wallace is probably best known for his King Kong character but spent a relatively short life of 56 years producing novels, a television program, and screenplays.

While produced by Argyle productions on a meager budget this film can be classified as an above average B film due to the superior story. This film is available from http://www.oldies.com for $1.00 on their Alpha series #4004D. Below average in film quality I’ve included an audio clip of the main title music. You can’t go wrong for a $1.00. The 75 minute Black and White film will go by fairly quickly.

 

Written in 1934 as his graduation work, the symphony received its premiere in April of 1935 with Szenkar conducting the Moscow Philharmonic. Known for his Gayane ballet which includes the popular “Sabre Dance” and his Spartacus ballet we seldom if ever hear his 3 Symphonies being performed. I’ve heard his piano, violin, and flute concertos over the years but this 10 CD historical set released by Brilliant and conducted by Alexander Gauk is my first introduction to this E minor Symphony. As of this writing it is still available through Berkshire Record Outlet.

 

The 42 minute work is in three movements with the first movement an Andante being 19 minutes and introducing a theme which has ample opportunity for development. It is a theme you’ll recognize on multiple listens. While one can hear some influence from the orchestral showcase master Rimsky-Korsakov it is not in the same category. It is also a large step above so many of the “youth” works that I’ve listened to over the years. The Adagio offers some extremely nice playing from the woodwind section. The melody is carried over from the first movement but it is presented in a mysterious Middle Eastern oriental style. The Allegro also offers the melody from the first movement as it is in an agitated state. Included in-between is a fine yearning section from the woodwinds before it reverts back to an agitated conclusion.

 

This 1958 recording is a mono historical recording. While it has been nicely cleaned up the dynamic range is limited and your speakers will never be challenged. There is a recording of this work available on the ASV label (CDDCA858) but I’ve not heard it so I cannot comment. Gauk and the USSR State Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra seem to be quite at home with this piece. The 10 CD set is a good bargain and should be gotten before it disappears. Recommended.

 

Track Listing:

1….Andante-maestoso con passion-allegro ma non troppo (18:52)

2….Adagio sostenuto (12:25)

3….Allegro risoluto (11:08)

Total time is 42:25

 

Symphony No. 1/Herrmann

February 2, 2011

Completed in 1941 it was first performed by the orchestra that Bernard had worked with for so many years the CBS Symphony Orchestra under his baton. It was over a year later that it was performed by the NY Philharmonic conducted by Howard Barlow giving it the official premiere. Later attempts to try to get other conductors interested proved unsuccessful and the work has pretty much lost any interest. Ormandy at the time was interested but only if cuts were made to it. One can only imagine the reaction from Herrmann knowing his volatile nature. There are only two recordings that I know of; this Koch CD#3-7135-2HI and a CD coupled with the Fantasticks on the Unicorn/Kanchana label #UKCD2063. The recording came from an LP that Herrmann had recorded in 1975. Both versions are the revised one and as far as I know there is no available recording of the original symphony without the revisions. The Koch is available for purchase as a download but a CD in the used market these days for either the Koch or the Unicorn is a bit pricey.

Herrmann classified himself as a Neo-Romantic saying “I like to write music which takes its inspiration from poetry, art and nature.” Compared to other compositions of the time it most certainly doesn’t have the modern sound at all, far from it. Having said that this isn’t close to the Rachmaninoff 3rd Symphony or his Symphonic Dances both written about the same time as his symphony and ones I would definitely consider neo-romantic.

The first movement starts with the horns announcing the melody quite stoic. It changes to a pastoral theme which is combined with the original theme until once again the horns take over. A coda finishes the complex structured movement. The Scherzo, clip included is very typical sounding Herrmann as one can hear strains of Devil and Daniel Webster quite prominently throughout. The Andante returns to a foreign sounding Herrmann with a slower sad tempo including a lonely moving trombone solo calling its voice out into the night. The final movement is a Rondo which is announced by the trumpet in a fanfare fashion again very Herrmann sounding with plenty of activity from the brass. At times there is a sense of urgency and at other times it is a positive forward moving section.

The two recordings sound somewhat different. The digital Koch recording has a smoother sound and a slightly slower pace surprising when you usually think of Herrmann always being on the slow side in his classical conducting. The Unicorn recording has a brighter sound but lacks the overall smoothness of the Koch. Either if found at the right price are most acceptable.

This is a recording that Herrmann score lovers are going to have to get use to. While there are sections of very familiar sounding material there is much that will be quite foreign. For the Herrmann lover who is willing to give this material several listens I think they will become quite attached to it as I have over the years.

scherzo herrmann symphony

Track Listing: Total Time is 34:11

  1. Maestso – Allegro con fuoco pesante (13:28)
  2. Scherzo (Allegro con brio) (5:48)
  1. Andante Sostenuto (7:37)
  2. Rondo – Finale (Lento – Allegro vivace / Epilogue A La Processional) (7:18)

The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

February 1, 2011

The countess, played by Elizabeth Russell(Curse of the Cat People and The 7th Victim), needs injections so she can stay young looking. Dr. Lorenz, or master played by Bela Lugosi, drugs newly wed brides with the smell of a rare orchid so he can take some of their blood and give it to the countess so she can stay beautiful. The odd couple sleep in coffins even though they are not vampires. He is helped by a mother of a mentally retarded giant and a dwarf. Add a reporter who figures out what the weapon is and a rather gullible doctor and you have the story. Director Wallace Fox, who spent his career doing Monogram ‘B’ pictures and television did little to enhance the Harvey Gates screenplay who is best known for the “Werewolf of London” starring Warner Oland and Henry Hull. Considering the low budget the film moved along quickly and provided a minimum amount of suspense. I could think of far worse ways to spend 64 minutes. The film was scored with an above average amount of music by Charles Dunworth who never received any credit for the 19 pictures he did.  He actually helped enhance a couple of scenes. For trivia people this film was part of the “Monogram 9.”  I’ve included two audio cues. The main title and a scene where the cub reporter is looking for clues. While the quality of the transfer is only fair it could be purchased for $1.00 a real bargain for a Lugosi movie.

Available on Alpha 4034D from http://www.oldies.com