March 31, 2011
Once again the name Shanghai Chest has nothing to do with the basic plot/storyline of this later Chan film starring Roland Winters. The screenplay was filled with more than the usual amount of proverbs in this sixty five minute film also starring Victor Sen Young and Mantan Moreland. The basic story was a lot of fun with the typical meeting of all the suspects at the end of the film where the killer is revealed. The clues given along the way certainly fooled me. I was entertained and the hour passed quickly. The soundtrack which I’m sure was taken from the Monogram library didn’t fit at all a couple of times. Perhaps a small amount of original material would have made it a lot better. (**1/2)
March 29, 2011
So much has been written about how the untimely death of Tchaikovsky was somehow tied into the way he wrote his final symphony that I could spend an entire month just reading about it and probably have. We know that he died from cholera as a result of drinking water that was not boiled. While I have read a bit about the suicide theory, his homosexual encounters with his nephew, and the palace itself being involved, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is of no importance when it comes to the enjoyment of his last composition. We know that he conducted it and then passed away nine days later. We know that he gave the pathetic title to it after the premiere performance as he was disappointed in the response from the audience. The name “pathetique” appeared in the program in the memoriam concert. I’ve listened to the third movement, a march, and these are not the thoughts of a depressed person, far from it. The second movement is a waltz something the imperial court encouraged. In between are two beautiful adagios. The first movement is a beautiful melody that a popular song was made out of it with lyrics “Tonight We Love.” The fourth movement is a tragic one with the symphony fading into nothing and because of this the theories began. I am more inclined to think that he said what he desired in the work and ended the piece in virtual silence.
I couldn’t begin to count the number of conductors and orchestras I’ve listened to in regards to the sixth symphony. How then does one know what to listen for in a good recording of the “Pathetique?” I don’t include historical or older analog in this question because to the average listener this material won’t be acceptable. Usually they can have some surface noise, have shrilly treble, tubby bass, and definitely lower dynamic range. The 1950’s Living Stereo RCA recording with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony falls into that category. There is a tape hiss; less dynamic range and a definite shrill to the brass in the loud parts. None of what I say has anything to do with the performance because it is top drawer. In time if one develops a real interest the historical material is of merit because you can hear through this and appreciate a fine performance.
Does the tempo appear to be hurried or slow? One can get a feel for a work and determine if it is at a comfortable pace between rushed and plodding after listening to other recordings. My Vox Box (CDX 5004) with Abravanel conducting the Utah Symphony has a couple of spots where it is played way too slow and makes me cringe. Other parts are fine such as the playing and recording of the percussion. The fact that Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra have had such experience with this work is a definite plus. It is played at a comfortable pace between rushed and plodding. When you listen to an individual instrument in the orchestra such as the bassoon is it clear sounding with smooth notes or is it muddy? Can you hear the bassoon half way through when it is barely a whisper (pppppp). The Delos recording is quite clear in both areas. As an example you can’t really hear the bassoon on the Naxos (8.550782 from 1993) recording with Wit conducting the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. Very early on in digital before the CD vinyl was the media and showcased as the sound that was superior to anything else. Soundstream, a company at the head of the pack, was used by Delos. Again in the first movement is there a shrill to the short flute solo or is it clear and easy to listen to? Does the clarinet that follows closely afterwards have a nice smooth sound? Do the French Horns have a mellow sound as they play the harmony during the lush melody in the first movement? Does the sound generate from the same location or does it sound like there is a hallway in between some of the orchestra sections? The Delos recording can answer yes to all of these questions.
Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra give a fine performance in this 1983 recording. Delos has done a superior job in reproducing the sound in this early showcase example of digital recording. Highly recommended.
Delos D/CD 3016
March 26, 2011
The 16th Monogram Charlie Chan film has the distinction of having Keye Luke and Victor Sen Young in the same picture. It also has the honor of being a screenplay from a Republic 1937 picture “Riders of the Whistling Skull.” starring the Three Mesquiteers Bob Livingston, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, and Max Terhune. You might ask the question how do cowboys and Charlie Chan mix? Well having watched both films the story does work as the basic plot is finding a missing scientist who was searching for gold in Mexico. Skull places more emphasis on action while the treasure and greed are featured in the Serpent although Luke and Young do fight the bad guys at the end of the film. It could have very easily been called Charlie Chan in The Whistling Skull. In fact I liked the stone rock that did look like a skull. What I couldn’t get past was Charlie out in the desert in his three piece suit! I like Charlie Chan films with the Confucian aphorisms, the comedy of Moreland, and the whole whodunit story line so I tend to lean toward the Serpent film but if I were to give them a rating both would be given (**).
March 22, 2011
This 1942 William ‘Mr Wong’ Nigh directed picture was the third film in the “Monogram 9” that Lugosi did for the poverty row company. It also featured Clayton ‘Lone Ranger’ Moore as a fed assigned to the murders of prominent business men who were found with japanese daggers in their hand usually in front of the japanese embassy. We know Lugosi or Columb is the killer but it is not clear until a flashback at the end of the film reveals the revenge and that these men were clones operated on by Lugosi as Dr. Melcher, nazi, and put in key places to infiltrate. The double cross occurs when Melcher is no longer needed by the japanese headed by the Dragon, played by Stanford Jolley, a favorite character actor of mine. The World War II theme film had a good screenplay, decent acting, a lot of stock footage and music, and moved right along in the approximate one hour running time. As the cloning and double cross of Lugosi was revealed a lot of the clues along the way made sense but not at the time such as the business card sent special delivery that said plastic surgeon results guaranteed. Joan Barclay, who I know little about also starred. This film is worth having as it is available from Alpha video at a reasonable price of $5.00 and it is Lugosi. The Harvey Gates screenplay from an idea of Robert Kehoe, his only IMDB credit, was above average.
March 21, 2011
One of the more unusual ideas ever presented on the silver screen was the 1985 film Clue, a comedy based on the board game from Parker Bros., with three separate endings. It starred Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, and Lesley Ann Warren and was directed by Jonathan Lynn. The film has enjoyed a fair amount of success over the years. According to the liner notes writer Daniel Schweiger it became a cult film on cable television. Surprisingly this is a board game I’ve never played so I was at a disadvantage as far as the film was concerned. Nevertheless I enjoyed watching it.
Having recently completed reviewing another Christie type story Ordeal by Innocence https://sdtom.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/ordeal-by-innocencepino-donaggio/
And being quite surprised by the style of the soundtrack I was not surprised at all by this one. It was definitely what I was expecting to hear much more along the lines of say a Miss Marple type of music.
John Morris quite successfully integrated just the right combination of electronics with the traditional orchestra and created a fun listening experience. It has a ‘stuck in your head’ kind of melody that you’ll find yourself humming long after you’ve turned off your CD player. I’ve included a clip so that you can fully appreciate what I’m talking about. This theme is included in several tracks as well as the “End Title in a typical modern orchestral arrangement. This wasn’t used in the film as “Shake Rattle and Roll” was substituted. “May I Present Mr. Boddy” isn’t fun at all but a true terror track that could easily have been from a serious melodrama. I was reminded of Herrmann with the long ominous sounding notes from the lower strings and quivering from the violins. No spoofy music here at all.
The bonus titles seven of them stood out for this reviewer as each one was quite a little different take on the original. “Miss Scarlet/Car in Progress” really has a completely different feel to it without the electronics. It sounds like it could easily be an extended sound bumper for a television show. “Peacock at Door” could very easily be mistaken for a fanfare for a film. The four different main titles present the theme with piano, without electronics, and with more electronics. Listen to the main title in the two different end title cues with and without the electronic beat and the flavor of the film completely changes. Overall I like this score and I think you would too if you like your music on the lighter side with a sprinkle of terror here and there. Recommended
This release is limited to 3000 pressings so at some point it will sell out and likely not be pressed again so take advantage sooner rather than later. As it is from 1985 it is stereo and a clean mastering. Liner notes were informative from Daniel.
La La Land #LLLCD1154
1. Main Title/Trees to Dogs (03:11)
2. Mrs. White (00:46)
3. Miss Scarlet*/Car in Progress (01:46)
4. May I Present Mr. Boddy (01:49)
5. I Suggest We All Leave/Fight, You Bastard/Hallway Screaming Next Door (01:16)
6. Bag in Hall (02:45)
7. The Cook Chase/Boddy’s Fall/We’ll Throw It Away (00:52)
8. Stranger at Front Door/Match Cutting*/People in Hall (02:37)
9. Mrs. Peacock and Plum/Death Bridge/Bridge, White & Wadsworth/Billiard Cue Grab/Go Together (01:53)
10. I’ll Search the Kitchen/Desk, Fire, Weapons/Let’s Try the Conservatory/I’ve Had a Good Life (02:04)
11. Door Pounding to Chandelier Fall (01:32)
12. Gun, Cupboard, Doorbell/Cop Panics (01:14)
13. Yvette Upstairs to Bell (01:32)
14. Step by Step – Intro/Step by Step (02:08)
15. Remember What Happened Next – Part I, II, III/Don’t You See? Look! – Part I, II, III (01:59)
16. I’ll Get to That/Beatnik (01:14)
17. Ending A: Your Fatal Mistake/I Shot Her/Cavalry (02:32)
18. Ending B: Yvette to We All Ran to Her/To Check That Mr. Boddy Was Dead/Who, Who, Who/Cavalry (01:36)
19. Ending C: Top to You Were/Peacock at Door (01:07)
20. End Title* (03:01)
21. Main Title [Alternate Version #1] (01:30)
22. Miss Scarlet/Car in Progress [Alternate Version] (01:47)
23. Main Title [Alternate Version #2] (01:32)
24. Peacock at Door [Alternate Version] (00:32)
25. Main Title [Alternate Version #3] (01:40)
26. End Title [Shorter Version] (01:40)
27. Main Title [Alternate Version #4] (01:50)
* – not used in film
Total Duration: 00:47:25
March 21, 2011
Agatha Christie along with Earl Stanley Gardener and Conan Doyle are in another class of popularity when it comes to mystery writers who are well read as well as having their material adapted to television and the silver screen. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are household names. Ordeal By Innocence is another whodunit from Agatha starring Faye Dunaway, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Plummer, and Sarah Miles brought to the screen by Cannon Films with a fairly nice budget. Both Dave Brubeck and Pino Donaggio did scores for the film with the replaced Pino soundtrack being presented in full for the first time by Kritzerland in stereo. The master came from Italy and has a clear crisp sound. Nothing muddy here at all just a nice clean transfer in stereo. No blips or surprises.
Not being familiar with either the film or the soundtrack I was quite surprised at what I heard from the pen of Donaggio. I assumed it would have a sound like Poirot, Marple, or any other number of British mystery films. Never assume because what I heard was something quite melancholy, little brass, some shrieking quivering strings (nicely done) and harpsichord. The main theme is somewhat lush and appears in multiple tracks, disguised or it just appears and can quickly disappear. I’ve included a clip from the end titles to let you hear the romantic melody. Listen to the proud majestic introduction followed by the main theme, a nice track. “Flashbacks” truly do feature one in the form of some Mozart style very classical sounding music. “The Visit” offers harpsichord, romantic piano and some terror bars all in one interesting cue. The score is mostly strings, keyboard and flute but there are a couple of uses of the French horn in the “Main Title” and “A Death in the Family.”
The thirty four minutes, double what was available in the suite, pass by quite quickly as this is nice material that you can listen to away from the film very easily. Bruce Kimmel, owner of Kritzerland, makes the suggestion to watch the film with the sound turned off, and play this replaced material during some of the eerie sequences. You’ll hear that the Brubeck material seems quite out of place. I say replaced and not rejected because by the time the editing/re-shooting was finished Pino had already gone on to another project. Always remember that Kritzerland releases are usually limited to 1000 units so it is best to act quicker now than be disappointed later. Written during an extremely productive time in his life this will appeal to fans of Christie and Pino as well as anyone who is into listening to material on the darker side. Recommended.
1. Main Title
2. The Visit
4. These Woods Could Prove Fatal
5. We’re All Suspects Now / Flashbacks 2
6. Family By Adoption / Calgary In Danger / Blackmail
7. Flashbacks 3 / A Day At The Races /Target Practice
8. A Death In The Family/And Then There Were Less
9. The Mystery Solved
10. End Titles
11. Bonus Suite of Alternate Cues
Total Time is 34:01
March 20, 2011
In 1944 PRC (Producers Releasing Corp.) came out with a horror film to compete against the Frankenstein monster starring Oscar nominated J. Carrol Nash, Glenn Strange, Ralph Morgan, Tala Birell, and Wanda McKay. The Sam Newfield directed picture told the story of a doctor injecting a disease into a concert pianist called acromegaly (a real disease that killed Rondo Hatton) and offering a cure X53 only if he allows a marriage to his daughter. Ralph Morgan plays the pianist who is turned into this horrible ghoul that is a combination of the Wolfman and Frankenstein. Add a nasty henchman played by Strange and a huge gorilla to the mix and you have a somewhat interesting low budget film but still a big step below what Universal had to offer. Lower costs especially with the makeup of Morgan as a ghoul really took away from the production making it look cheap. Questions such as why did he have a crazed gorilla locked up? To experiment on him? His role in the film was one scene where he was released from his cage to kill his assistant in a failed attempt. He could have had more of a role instead of just being there growling and snarling. The dog belonging to Maxine had as big a role. The film score was the first credited to Albert Glasser who went on to do a lot of the science fiction material in the 50’s. I’ve included an audio clip with the main title plus the beginning of a piano concerto performance. The film is available to watch for free as it is part of the ever growing internet archive. http://www.archive.org/details/The_Monster_Maker. In addition Alpha Video (ALP4032D) offers it at a very low cost if you wish to purchase. Morgan alone is worth seeing the film as well as a nasty J. Carrol Naish who gets what’s coming to him at the end of the picture. There is a chapter devoted to the film in “Poverty Row Horrors by Tom Weaver. And the ending is a happy one as the assistant Maxine produces a bottle of X54 to cure him forever so that he may return to being a concert pianist. (**)
monster maker audio clip of the main title composed by Albert Glasser