April 30, 2011
Somewhat based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Valley of Fear,” The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935) stars Arthur Wontner as Holmes, Ian Fleming as Watson, Minnie Rayner as Mrs. Hudson, and Lyn Harding in the role of the evil professor of mathematics Professor Moriarty. Leslie Hiscott, who also directed Fatal Hour (1931), directed this British Real Art Production available for viewing on the internet archive.
If you’re familar with the story the movie changed the ending completely as the Douglas character doesn’t die, added Lestrade and Moriarty to the cast who is killed in the climax, but still told the story of the USA coal mining scowrers an evil nasty bunch and how a Pinkerton detective helped to break them up pretty much like the story. The movie has an unusually long flashback and I found that this detracted from the film. Holmes has retired to Sussex to raise bees but is called back to help solve the case for Scotland Yard. Harding is an excellent Moriarty oozing evil out of his pours. Fleming is also excellent as a no nonsense Watson. The age is the huge drawback to this film but well worth watching to see Lyn Harding. (**1/2).
April 30, 2011
Composed in 1885 at the age of twenty this was a “breakthrough” composition that was quite popular and very well received. It was published in memory of Borodin and the second melody certainly sounds like it could have come right out of Prince Igor. The main theme is the famous “Song of the Volga Boatmen” with its classic four note motif. The work opens with ominous low strings quite eerie and mysterious. As you listen you’re waiting for something to happen and the work leads the listener to the Volga theme, a very dark version in ‘B’ minor andante tempo. The poem is based on the historical figure Stenka Razin, a Cossack ataman that rebelled against the Romanov Tsar Alexis. Involved in the tale is a Persian princess who has her own theme introduced by a clarinet, quite the beautiful uplifting melody. Glazunov nicely blends the themes together in a very accessible work for a new classical listener. The sixteen minute work passes quickly and the liner notes explain the story in enough detail so one can follow along.
As part of a nineteen volume set (available individually) of the works of Glazunov, Naxos (8.553538) offers a fine performance with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by Konstantin Krimets. It is a good digital recording with full spacious sound and properly mastered to control the treble and the bass as this work has both. It is coupled with five other shorter Glazunov compositions making this a nice buy especially if you are looking for other seldom played works.
The Vox Box (CDX 5118) recording of Stenka Razin comes from an analog recording of 1979 with Svetlanov and the USSR State Academy Orchestra and while it is performed well the analog transfer suffers in a couple of places with shrillness that made me cringe. The same can also be said of the Warner 6 CD box set (#41). The sound is almost identical and it is possible it could be the same recording just packaged as part of the huge release of Svetlanov performances.
April 29, 2011
Thought to be lost a copy of this early sound film was found and is available for free viewing on the internet archive. Starring Arthur Wonter (Holmes), Ian Fleming (Watson), and Minnie Rayner (Mrs. Hudson) it is somewhat based on the Doyle story “The Empty House,” which was the first story in the series The Return of Sherlock Holmes. There was an Adair who played whist but he didn’t cheat, his partner Col. Moran did. There were no forged bank notes, no Moriarity, dead watchmen, sleeping cardinal etc. Holmes had never disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The character Col. Henslowe/Professor Moriarity was doing the blackmail because Adair was the cheater and was the target to take a suitcase of phony currency across the channel to France. The method of murder was the same being a shikari or special air gun and both of the colonels were tiger hunters in India. The ruse by Holmes to use the plaster bust to create a shadow in the window was also used in the book. Wontner is a rather studious straight Holmes constantly smoking and lighting his pipe. Ian Fleming is a good Watson as well as Minnie Rayner as Mrs. Hudson. The screenplay was written by Leslie Hiscott who also directed the 84 minute film for Twickenham Film Studios of Britain. The only music was at the beginning and the end and I found this annoying as there were a lot of dead spaces with white noise during the filming. I like the story adaption so I would rate it (**1/2) with the eighty year old age having caught up with it in some scenes.
April 28, 2011
One of the last times that Toler played Chan as he passed away from colon cleanser, drinking, or a combination of both. It also marked the return of Sen Yung (Jimmy Chan) to the series as he teamed with Moreland (Birmingham) to provide humor. The Abbott and Costello routine they attempted to do wasn’t successful in my opinion. The story centered around an escort service, quick marriages and then murder to collect on the insurance policy. Sound familiar? It is a similar plot to Human Monster, an Edgar Wallace story, reused in Charlie Chan in Docks of New Orleans, starring Roland Winters as Charlie, and remade with Klaus Kinski in 1961 as The Dead Eyes of London. Directed by Terry Morse the film also had Mary Gordon from Sherlock Holmes as the distressed Grandma of the female lead Tanis Chandler. I found the screenplay by Raymond Schrock to have enough twists and turns to make it interesting and the one hour passed rather quickly. This was the 38th of 47 Charlie Chan films and the one thing that sticks in my mind and brings a smile to my face is Moreland saying confusion says instead of Confucius. Just an average entry in the series. (**).
April 27, 2011
With the success of The Devil Bat (1940) the budget minded PRC decided to remake it this time with a Quetzalcoatl, a rare reptilian bird from the ancient Aztec legend that would be attracted to one of his feathers. I don’t have to tell you the severe consequences if you had one. George Zucco got top billing in this one as Professor Forbes who uses this feather knowledge to protect the Aztec treasure he found. Wheaton Chambers, Ralph Lewis, and Hope Kramer provided supporting roles. It was nice to see Zucco get a role with the majority of the lines in a picture even though the budget was even smaller than usual. He is a fine actor and I’ve enjoyed him the twenty years he acted, mainly in ‘B’ movies and a lot of them in the horror genre for Universal, Monogram, and PRC. He was a fine Professor Moriarity in the 20th Century Fox film “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” the first film which paired Nigel Bruce and Basil Rathbone. It featured a pretty awful monster, no special effects (you could see wires), and the suit and tie syndrome in the desert and ruins. There was a “doodle bug,” a gold finder that really put a smile on my face as well as comedy from a radio show owner and his employee who was sent out to investigate the strange happenings. Zucco gets caught with a feather in the end and we know what happened to him along with a happy ending. The soundtrack from Leo Erdody was quite generic and did little more than fill the holes when underscore was needed. I’ve included an audio clip of the main title and introduction. This film is available to watch for free on the internet archive and available for purchase at a reasonable cost from Alpha Video (IMG5370D). http://www.archive.org/details/THEFLYINGSERPENT1945_5 . If you’re a horror fan you want to see this strictly for George Zucco. (**1/2).
April 26, 2011
I’ve taken a keen interest in the first symphonies of composers and have found a wide variance in the maturity level ranging from a student exercise like the Youth Symphony of Rachmaninoff to Mahler whose first symphony in my humble opinion is his finest of the 10. Others such as Bruckner and Beethoven didn’t reach their supreme level until their 9th Symphony. Some such as Wagner wrote one and retired from doing anymore. Glazunov was a composer that leaned toward the side of greatness early on and maintained it through his entire life.
The premiere performance of the 1st symphony was conducted by Balakirev in 1881 and the audience was quite surprised to see a sixteen year old teenage boy in school uniform taking the bow as the composer. Even more surprising is that this was his fifth work! Many years ago I had the opportunity to listen to it on a Vox/Turnabout recording and I immediately took a liking to it as well as the other recordings of this fine composer. Many feel that he has taken a back seat to Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Rachmaninoff but I put him on an equal footing with those mentioned. His 1st Symphony is on the same maturity level as those I spoke of and while I won’t put him in the same category as the Classic Symphony of Prokofiev or the extraordinary Shostakovich 1st it is still one that I return to listening to on a somewhat regular basis. As a result of this work and ones by Rimsky-Korsakov Mitrofan Belyayev began his publishing career enabling Russian composers to benefit from international copyright agreements.
While one can hear the influences of other composers especially Borodin and Balakirev the young Glazunov was also establishing his own sound. The first movement, an Allegro starts the symphony off on a very upbeat happy note. The happy C major key takes front and center and one immediately can hear the maturity from such a young composer. The Scherzo is very bright and this is one movement where I could definitely hear the influence of Borodin. It is short but well developed. The Adagio theme, a Slavic melody is introduced by the bassoon and clarinet in a somber funeral like pace. E minor is the key and the horn and clarinet offer moments of reflection along with the sadness of the bassoon throughout the movement. The Finale is back to an Allegro with lots of interplay between strings, brass, and the reed section. It too offers a Slavic theme making the name Slavyanskaya quite appropriate.
The Moscow Symphony under the direction of Alexander Anissimov do an adequate job and the Naxos recording offers value as well as a good digital naturally recorded sound. I found the 4th movement to be flat and uninspired when compared to other recordings.
The Svetlanov recording is part of a six CD set (#41) from Warner Classics and while the recording is a bit on the bright side the Russian State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Svetlanov gives a vivacious performance. You can feel the energy. As this part of a six CD set you’ll have to want all of the symphonies.
Naxos 8.553561 or Warner Classics #41
2….Scherzo: Allegro (4:51)
4….Finale Allegro (9:58)
Total Time is 35:32
The older recording on the Vox Box( CDX 5118) came from a 1979 recording on the Melodiya label with Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting the USSR TV & Large Symphony Orchestra. It doesn’t benefit from being recorded digitally and the overall sound quality suffers as a result. It has a shrill and is on the bright side with little bass to compensate for it. There is some glitch where it hesitates before starting. Like it wants to cough and then gets going. It is very brief but annoying at the beginning of the first movement. There is a tonal change a few seconds later where it becomes muddy and then reverts back. While I can feel the enthusiasm of the orchestra I found the Adagio to be rushed (7:49 compared to 11:23 for the Svetlanov), too much treble and not spacious at all with very tight recording. It was like listening to two completely different works with the same main theme. Can’t recommend this recording at all.
April 25, 2011
On my very first listen, a Sunday afternoon, I thought to myself what a perfect selection to hear to while I relax in my easy chair in the living room. There was nothing blaring, dissonant, or complex, just beautiful simply played melodies that for the most part will never be listed in the 100 Greatest Themes of all time but to the soundtrack hobbyist this material is right up your alley. The arrangements are simple without complicated scale runs and harmonies yet this isn’t elevator or piano bar music. It grabs your attention without your brain having to process a lot of complex chords.
Stephen Edwards is hardly a household name and some of you might not be familiar with him at all. I would admit to the same dubious honor were it not for Movie Score Media who released Rin Tin Tin (2007), Ninja (2009), and Cool Dog (2010). In addition, Edwards has also performed piano in such films as The Prestige (2006) and most recently The Mechanic (2011), included on this compilation. He has also composed for the films Feast (2005), The Patriot (1998), and Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) as well as sixty others. Stephen is a talented composer, who has pretty much flown under the radar for much of his career.
Beginning the CD is the elegant Elmer Bernstein composition To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) a melody I remember so well when I walked out of a theater in Norwood Mass. Stephen captures so well what Bernstein had in mind for the film simple and childlike yet powerful. Two of my favorite selections are the two tracks from Being There (1979) a relatively unknown score from Johnny Mandel. Both are charmingly presented to the listener and I fell in love with “Goodbye Louise” the very first listen. Being an admirer of Satie for a moment I thought it was one of his compositions until I read the liner notes and discovered what Mandel was doing with the arrangement. Another favorite is a small portion of the Eb Piano Trio of Schubert arranged by Edwards for the film The Mechanic (2011). This is a simple haunting melody where the echoing effect adds another dimension to the composition. You’ll hear A.I. performed in a way that you’ve likely not heard before with the full orchestra of John Williams being reduced to a single piano. Yet another that instantly got my attention was the theme from Once Upon A Time In America. It is a unique experience to hear without the soprano voice. In fact it is a refreshing change to hear all of these tunes in a raw form without any support at all from other instruments. By doing this your brain concentrates on the wonderful themes that Stephen Edwards explores.
The digital download is available as of 4/26/11 from iTunes and its sponsors for $9.99 with individual tracks at $.99. A CD is available for $13.00 or less. Having listened to both the download and the CD I for one can hear the difference especially in the tonality of the piano. One to explore. Recommended.
1….To Kill a Mockingbird (Main Title) (2:24)
2….Cleopatra (Anthony and Cleopatra’s Love) (2:33)
3….Being There (The Room Upstairs) (3:23)
4….Being There (Goodbye Louise) (3:43)
5….Diva (Sentimental Walk) (2:11)
6….Sophie’s Choice (Main Title) (1:52)
7….Once Upon a Time in America (Main Title) (3:12)
8….Betty Blue (le Petit Nicolas) (3:24)
9….Cinema Paradiso (Medley) (3:35)
10..Field of Dreams (Night Mist) (2:33)
11..Cousins (Main Title) (1:49)
12..Shawshank Redemption (New Fish) (1:37)
13..Shawshank Redemption (Brooks Was Here) (2:25)
14..Sabrina (Main Title) (2:40)
15..Titanic (The Portrait) (1:48)
16..The Legend of 1900 (Playing Love) (2:47)
17.. Artificial Intelligence (The Reunion) (2:50)
18..Munich (End Credits) (1:31)
19..Little Children (2 Hillcrest) (1:21)
20..The Mechanic (Eb Piano Trio) (1:16)
Total Time is 49:54