, January 2008
Music for monsters - and a remarkable collaboration for two Hollywood greats
Here are four more reissues from the Marco Polo catalogue that began its pioneering association with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conductor William Stromberg and music reconstructionist John Morgan in 1996. The series began with music composed for Universal's legendary series of horror movies from the 1930s and '40s.
I feel much the same about this music as I did last month reviewing The House of Frankenstein. Neither Skinner nor Salter were particularly concerned with innovation, nor could they afford to be, for tight schedules and release deadlines were the order of the day. For a bolder and more striking view of monster movie music one must turn to the earliest of the scores represented, Steiner's The Son of Kong. What fascinates me about this piece isn't so much the bold gesture but the portrait of this creature trapped in a great city, captured in a warmhearted theme, redolent of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which wins our affection especially in the glow of the cue "Campfire at Night" (tr 14). Another engaging cue is "The Black Bear" where an alto saxophone brings a welcome touch of humour. The leitmotif of The Most Dangerous Game, a sinister horn motif along the lines of Franck's Le chasseur maudit, runs through this gripping and colourful score, culminating in a long chase sequence across the final five tracks.
Waxman's Objective, Burma! is a mighty piece of work starring Errol Flynn that caused a ruckus on its UK release by implying that the campaign by the British 14th Army in Burma had been primarily an American operation. Waxman's highly charged music opens with the sounds of battle before a swaggering march takes over. However, the abiding impression of this music is far from jingoistic. The thematic material is utterly devoid of cliche and sometimes most moving as in the eloquent string tune on cellos in "Two Came Back". The scoring too is often innovative, such as the pinched violin squeaks in the "Nocturnal".
Vying for the headlines in this batch of CDs comes The Egyptian, an extraordinary collaboration between two diverse composers, Herrmann and Newman. Newman composed the themes for this rites-of-passage story of an Egyptian wanderer before handing over to Herrmann, the details of which are revealed in correspondence between him and Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, in the CD booklet. A single approach emerges from this remarkable collaboration with both composers thinking as one, yet true to their individual and readily identifiable trademarks.