Colossus of New York (1958)/Van Cleave
October 17, 2011
Van Cleave spent much of his career as an orchestrar having done work for Gershwin, Hefti, and CBS. He was a student of Joseph Schillinger, a Russian born composer who was very active in New York in the 30’s, creator of the System which I’m sure influences the approach of this particular score. He was also the orchestrator who was told to redo the waltz “Plaisir d’Amour” a composition used in The Heiress by Aaron Copland who as a result refused his Oscar award. Indirectly Van Cleave sort of won an Oscar. He is also known for his fine work on the Twilight Zone having composed material for twelve episodes.
The low budget film from Paramount had a simple storyline. A father builds a giant robot and uses the brain of his genius son Jeremy (Ross Martin) who died tragically. The results are not what he anticipated. It was billed to the public as a thinking man’s science fiction film with subplots about peace not war, turning the polar icecap into a garden to grow food, and general humanitarian themes. The giant robot created by his brother Henry (John Baragrey) and father William (Otto Kruger) is a modern day Frankenstein with eyes that emit electronic ray guns. His little boy Billy (Charles Herbert) befriends the giant (Ed Wolff) and the syrup is off and running. Anne Spensser (Mala Powers) has two suitors almost immediately, Henry and Dr. John Carrington (Robert Hutton) for the love interest. The special effects and electronic machinery were fine for 1958 but there was a constant noise level whenever they were on which could be annoying to some viewers. This reviewer also feels that there were times that the actual score did get in the way of the film itself.
Working very closely with composer/arranger Fred Steiner you’ll hear one of the most unusual scores you’ve ever encountered. Scored for three pianos, celesta, and organ this work has very little to offer in the way of melody yet it isn’t a twelve tone (Schoenberg) composition. The three pianos create harmony, mood, and their presence is very evident in the film The celesta is used as an instrument for Billy and the organ is source material for the party and the funeral. Main Title/Machinery opens the film with powerful chords from the piano. It is played with the main titles in front of a New York skyline picture. It sounds like it could be the start of a Shostakovich piano concerto. As the theme is just beginning to develop it changes gears and mimics the sound of automated machinery excellent underscore for the movie being shown within the movie. Famous Man is the beginning of a lovely prelude but you can hear dialogue of Billy in the background and the track only 30 seconds ends very abruptly. Family Chapel, a variation on the famous man theme is backed by harmony from the organ to give it a religious feeling. There is also a hint of dialogue in the background but nearly as evident as the famous man track. A very classical sounding track Alpha Waves offers high notes in a major key with harmony being offered by another piano to make this a very listenable cue. The Colossus/Decision to Live, some dialogue in the background, makes reference to the main title (colossus theme) and repeats some chords from the alpha wave theme. As quickly as it turns to a dissonant somewhat distorted sound it changes to a somewhat more subdued material. The Finale restates the main theme and ends with a long pedal from the piano bringing out the resonance sound. The Billy motif is usually reserved for the Celesta but is referenced in Missing Billy on the piano quickly followed by the Celesta. It also appears in Billy and the Giant, A Toy For Billy, and Colossus Falls.
This is not going to be a score that will appeal to everyone as the material/arranging is just too far from the norm. Having said that I’m sure with the rhythm Stravinsky would have found it very interesting and this reviewer is more in that camp. Your listening experience also has to tolerate a certain amount of faint dialogue in the background. I’m confident that FSM did all they could so it was a matter of releasing it as is or not at all. I would certainly vote for the release. Space Child will be reviewed separately. The release is limited to 1500 pressings.
FSM Vol. 14 No. 15
Total Duration: 01:01:15