When this reviewer thinks of Errol Flynn the first thing that comes to mind is Robin Hood and the superb score from Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Who could ever forget the famous dueling scene with a young Basil Rathbone before he became Sherlock Holmes. When I thought of Flynn I automatically thought about Korngold as being his composer. This latest issuing of the Charles Gerhardt/National Philharmonic Orchestra series from Sony (777934) quickly puts an end to that idea as there are classic suites to They Died With Their Boots On, Dodge City, Adventures of Don Juan, Objective Burma, and The Sun Also Rises. These weren’t composed by Korngold but by Steiner, Waxman, and Friedhofer. There are three suites The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, and The Adventures of Robin Hood by Korngold included on this CD. There is a separate release of Korngold scores on The Sea Hawk Sony (777932) making this easy to confuse if you’re not completely familiar. At some point you’ll want to have both. Producer George Korngold, son of Erich, put out actor/actress and composer CD’s.
This entire series is the perfect introduction to the world of the golden age of film music. This latest release was taken from the original recordings and don’t have any of the Dolby Surround encoding. It is filled with memorable melodies, motifs, played by a world class large symphony orchestra. You’ll not hear any electronics just real strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.
The Sun Also Rises (1957) is an intriguing score from Hugo Friedhofer, a film that Flynn did at the end of his acting career. The low growling of the lower register strings in a death march tempo in a minor key leads the listener to the sun rising as the key switches to a major one offering a lush lovely theme from first the violins and then the woodwinds.
Objective Burma (1945) is a short but powerful cue from Franz Waxman who seemed to love writing about altitude. It begins with the brass and snare drums immediately identifying that this is a military film. It quickly leads into a military style march and is then followed by dissonant horns and urgency from the strings.
Dodge City (1939) on first listen doesn’t necessarily sound like a western score from the pen of Max Steiner but a soundtrack that could have been from any number of films as you instantly hear the Steiner sound. On further listens the Americana sound that Tiomkin and Steiner created comes through loud and clear.
They Died With Their Boots On, a compilation suite from Steiner is filled with cavalry charges, a beautiful love theme, and a heavy dose of the use of traditional themes. It is a rousing cue!
Sea Hawk (1940) from Korngold who many consider to be his finest effort is a second suite of themes. Care was exercised not to duplicate any material from the first recording. If you’re interested in exploring this further there is a fine 2 CD set on Naxos (8.570110-11) of all of the cues from the film. This is swashbuckling material at its best.
Robin Hood (1938) an Oscar winner for Korngold is just some of the best soundtrack material ever written. It set a standard in the industry that was studied by John Williams and others. This music was excellent physical exercise for the string section!
The Adventures of Don Juan (1948) is an example of what Steiner could do with period piece of the well filmed folk hero. As with any score from Max this is filled with all sorts of melodies that will have you humming. You can further explore this soundtrack with a release from Screen Archives (FMA-MS 106) which is the original soundtrack material. Very dated sounding but still good.
Captain Blood (1935) also from Korngold is a short cue giving us the main title to the first starring role of Errol Flynn. The piece is very classical sounding and one could mistake it for the beginning of a movement for a symphony.
This is another flawless CD in the RCA/Sony collection that should not be missed and comes with my highest recommendation.
Total Duration: 00:55:26
May 29, 2011
Buster Crabbe was truly the superstar of ‘B’ movies as he played Flash Gordon,Tarzan, Billy Carson, Buck Rogers, Billy the Kid and I’ve probably missed one or two. This time he stars as Ray Gorman in an African adventure of trying to recover jewels that his father was accused of taking. Co-starring a very young Julie London as Doreen who survived as the natives called it a house in the sky crash which included her father who did take the loot but didn’t live to spend it. She befriends a gorilla, a takeoff from Savage Girl, and he sees to it no harm comes to her. The gorilla at least was somewhat believable. Barton MacLane as Carl and Fifi D’Orsay as Marie are the villains who are also trying to recover the jewels and will stop at nothing although they are done in at the end by their greed. It is a hokey predictable plot directed by veteran Sam Newfield for PRC. The score is little more than filler by Willie Stahl a virtual unknown composer. The film is available for viewing on the internet archive http://www.archive.org/details/nabonga_1944 and available at a very reasonable price from Alpha Video (ALP 4132D) if you desire a DVD for your collection.
I failed to recognize Julie London at first showing how much the sultry singer had changed over the years. I can’t recommend this one other than to fans of Buster Crabbe or the curiosity of seeing Julie London. (*1/2)
May 29, 2011
My selection for the Delos/Facet (8002) recording for May 2011 is a work that is available seventy four times on CD (Delos DE 3225 Dallas Space Spectacular is one) but seldom recorded the way you’ll hear it on this CD. The Planets, written in the 1914-1916 time period and first performed in 1918 by Sir Adrian Boult is one of the most popular works in the classical catalog and is listed on many top 100 lists. Gustav Holst studied astrology and as a result it became his “pet vice” throughout his life. He loved to do horoscopes for people. This recording for duo-pianists is the way the composer originally created the astrological work except Neptune which was written for organ. However, Holst never intended the classical listener to hear it in this fashion. A common misconception is that it was astronomical. If that were the case earth would have been included. Pluto had yet to be discovered so it isn’t included. Another misconception is that Mars was written because of the start of World War I when it had in fact already been planned out previously.
One of the performing pianists, Richard Rodney Bennett (1936- ) is a fine composer in his own right having written Oscar nominated scores to Murder on the Orient Express, Far From the Madding Crown, and Nicholas and Alexandra. The other pianist Susan Bradshaw (1931-2005) was involved in the Piotr Zak hoax in 1961, which came to national attention. Susan was a teacher and spent time studying under Pierre Boulez.
Before you listen to this recording you owe it to yourself to hear the orchestral version. The Delos recording with Andrew Litton conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is well played, recorded, and also includes a second disc of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” making this an excellent value. Once you hear the orchestral arrangement it is much easier to understand the piano version. “Mars” has never felt like a war movement to me but more in the way of tension and anticipation; waiting for something to happen. There is a lot of rhythm pounded out on the piano. “Venus” is a movement of peace and tranquility and the delicacy of the two pianos shows the beauty of this section. “Mercury” is a study of scales in a scherzo that don’t seem to come together but in fact do. “Jupiter” with the English folk influence is a miniature symphony within this work. “Saturn” is reflective in nature. Uranus is quite complex filled with a lot of chords and glissando sections. Neptune is so peaceful it is one I could easily go to sleep to at night. Easily this movement is one that requires the orchestra the least. By spending some time with this you can grow to appreciate the beauty of this magnificent work even more.
1…. Mars (7:03)
2…. Venus (8:23)
3…. Mercury (4:16)
4…. Jupiter (8:12)
5…. Saturn (9:09)
6…. Uranus (6:08)
7…. Neptune (7:44)
Total Playing Time: 51:27
May 25, 2011
Even though this film was distributed by PRC (Producers Releasing Corp.) the film was made by Universal as a continuation of the character “The Creeper” played for the third and last time by Rondo Hatton as he passed away shortly after from his horrible disfiguring acromegaly, a glandular disease that got him Hollywood roles but ultimately cost him his life. Perhaps PRC was interested in distributing the film because they had made Monster Maker (1944) and viewed it as a sort of sequel as they both had to do with acromegaly? The Jean Yarbrough directed picture also featured Tom Neal, Jan Wiley, and Jane Adams who played a disfigured woman herself in Horror of Dracula. The film opens with Hal Moffet played by Rondo Hatton killing his chemistry professor who he blamed for his ghoulish appearance which was caused by his own doing in the chemistry laboratory. He continues to terrorize the town of Hampton seeking further revenge. In spite of his evil there is a soft spot in his heart as he befriends a blind girl and decides he will steal enough money so she can have an eye operation. He does this knowing the friendship will end as soon as Helen sees him. In the end he is captured but Helen will get the operation anyway as she helped the police in bringing him to justice. The film score was a series of recycled Universal cues (audio clip included) from their previous horror movies. I think he was captured and not killed at the end because in the back of the minds of the producers they were thinking sequel. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038387/ The film is available to watch for free on the internet archive as well as for purchase from Alpha Video (CHZ 5020D) at a very low cost. The weakest of the three “Creeper” films is still worth a watch. (**)
May 23, 2011
The Amazing Transparent Man, directed by Edward G. Ulmer, starred James Griffith as the major, Douglas Kennedy as Joey, Marguerite Chapman as Laura the eye candy, and Ivan Triesault as Dr. Ulof in a tale of exactly what the title says. Dr. Ulof has invented a special x-ray which will make people invisible. The major is looking to steal more uranium and create an army to rule the world. The major breaks Joey out of the slammer to safecrack his way to obtain more of the X13 material. Joey has other ideas which include a little bank robbing. The project goes amiss and Joey starts appearing and disappearing due to the radiation poisoning. In a twist at the end Joey does a good turn and helps save his country from disaster by killing the major and blowing up the lab in the process.
The special effects while not exciting didn’t enhance or take away from the film. The special machinery to make you invisible will seem quite outdated looking at it now but it was acceptable while watching. It made little sense that the nuclear explosion at the end of the picture did little more than blow up the house. Perhaps I missed something? Joey can crack a safe but not pick a single lock on a door? These and other things made for a very thin plot. The cast were all fine career character actors but were really given very little to work with. It could have certainly been improved upon. (*1/2)
Amazing Transparent Man Audio link of main title by Darrell Calker
May 23, 2011
Continuing my series of 1st Symphonies we come to this 20th Century gem written by an 18 year old in 1924 as his graduation work which when premiered in 1926 vaulted the young composer into international prominence. While this was a student project it must take its place as one of the finest 1st symphony accomplishments of all time. . And yes I’m thinking about Mahler, Prokofiev, Brahms, and Schumann.
Bernstein said it best when he said before a rehearsal that this work has an “up yours” attitude. His assessment describes the work perfectly.
The thirty three minute four movement work is filled with all sorts of wonderful ideas including the piano taking a role in the second movement as well as the fourth. The first movement, an Allegretto is truly something you’ve not experienced before; a masterpiece of both originality and orchestration. There is a modern sound but the themes are melodic as they are tossed back and forth in the orchestra. The second movement, an Allegro, begins as a Scherzo with clarinet, piano, oboe, and strings. It abruptly changes to a rather pensive mood with the lower strings offering the second melody. Yet the Scherzo is not finished as it returns to a quicker pace and the conclusion. Again this is quite unique in style. The third movement, a Lento, is somber and quite funeral like; the agony is heard from the strings and the brass. The fourth movement is also a Lento slowly building to a dissonant angry section followed by serenity from a Cello, that yearning acceptance that it is peaceful. However, the movement isn’t finished as it slowly rises into an agitated state again. Shostakovich is so unique in his use of brass that a few bars are a giveaway as to who wrote it.
Both the EMI (5 55361 2) and the Naxos (8.572396) are good digital recordings, offering excellent treble, bass and a good feeling of presence. The nod goes to Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as he is continuing his cycle of recording the Shostakovich symphonies. It is coupled with his third symphony. Mariss Jansons and the Berlin Philharmonic offer a stoic approach and while well played ii is missing the fervor of the Royal Liverpool. However, it is coupled with the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings and both soloists Mikhail on piano and Antonsen on trumpet perform extremely well As a result I like both recordings as this is the only one I have of the C minor concerto and I hear the improvement in the 1st Symphony. The EMI can be found at an attractive price and Naxos is always a staple in the industry for value and performance. Recommended
1…. Allegretto-Allegro non troppo (8:21)
2…. Allegro (5:36)
3…. Lento-Largo (9:24)
4…. Lento-Allegro molto-Adagio-Largo-Presto (10:02)
May 21, 2011
Gramercy Pictures (Gardner and Levy) produced four horror/science fiction pictures in 57-58 with The Vampire being their first effort. The film is part vampire, werewolf and Jekyll/Hyde as it tells the story of Dr. Paul Beecher (John Beal), anytown USA family doctor, who quite by accident ingests a control serum pill made from the blood of vampire bats. It turns him into this hideous creature who craves blood and begins killing off the town one by one. Apparently the serum causes capillary disintegration and the vampire bat was immune to the effects. John Beal was given a rare top billing in this fairly low budget film and gave a believable performance as the Jekyll-Hyde doctor. Co-starring were Coleen Gray as Beecher’s receptionist Carol and Kenneth Tobey as Buck the sheriff. Gray who had a long successful career as a television actress gave a believable performance but Tobey was his typical wooden self and actually took away from the film. Beecher’s daughter played by Lydia Reed grated on my nerves. James Griffith as the scientist who always wore the sunglasses was excellent in the creepy role he played. The special effects while not on par with The Wolfman (1941) were scary enough and the makeup of Beal had enough shock value to frighten many a viewer. I found this horror flick to be one of the better entries in the MGM Midnight Movies series and an entertaining watch. It revisited territory that had already been covered in prior films but the concept was possible without major glaring holes. The Gerald Fried soundtrack available from Film Score Monthly (FSMCD Vol. 1 No. 4) was a creepy one that enhanced scenes as it should have very effectively.