|About this Recording
8.570186 - HERRMANN: Snows of Kilimanjaro (The) / 5 Fingers
Bernard Herrmann (1911–1975)
The Snows of Kilimanjaro – popular at the time with both critics and audiences – offered the major ingredients that Darryl Zanuck deemed necessary for success: showmanship, sex, and adventure. The story of a man searching for meaning in his life was a recurring theme in Darryl F. Zanuck productions. He had already used it in The Razor’s Edge and would do so again two years later in his multimillion dollar production of The Egyptian. But in all three films he loaded the message with adventure and daring sex scenes – everything to keep the audience coming back for more.
The story begins at a hunting camp beneath the mountain of Kilimanjaro in Africa. Harry Street (Gregory Peck) is lying dangerously near death after a hunting accident, attended only by his wife, Helen (Susan Hayward), who has come on the trip hoping that Harry will learn to love her.
The story is told as Harry spends his time looking back on his life, telling Helen about Connie (Helene Stanley), his first love; his tragic relationship with Cynthia (Ava Gardner), who lost a child and left him rather than holding him back; his affair with “Frigid Liz” (Hildegarde Neff); and his subsequent search for Cynthia. We then come to his relationship with Helen, who thought she could buy his love. As Helen and Harry come to terms on the plains of Kilimanjaro, the interweaving stories are told in flashback.
The finest cast and crew were assembled for Darryl Zanuck’s only personal production of 1952. Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward had appeared together the year before in the highly successful David and Bathsheba, directed by Snows director Henry King. King had also just directed Hayward in I’d Climb the Highest Mountain. Hayward and King would later work on the Fox epic, Untamed. Gregory Peck and King were old friends – they had already worked together on Twelve O’Clock High, The Gunfighter, as well as David and Bathsheba. King would later direct Peck in such hits as The Bravados and Beloved Infidel.
Zanuck had long wanted to bring this film to the screen but waited five years for the right script. Casey Robinson finally wrote one that he liked, but he liberally borrowed from The Sun Also Rises and other Hemingway stories, so much so that Hemingway complained about it. Hemingway hated the film, particularly the hopeful ending (in his story Harry dies). He referred to it as the “Snows of Zanuck.” But Zanuck knew what would make a popular picture.
Henry King was one of Zanuck’s favorite directors. He had everything – he was good at the big moments - look at the color and sweep of The Black Swan, Captain from Castile, Prince of Foxes, King of the Khyber Rifles, and Untamed. But he was also good at getting intimate performances from the best actors in such films as The Song of Bernadette, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, and I’d Climb the Highest Mountain, to name but a few. He needed both of these qualities to bring The Snows of Kilimanjaro to the screen.
Lyle Wheeler was brought in to design the sets. His hands were full constructing elegant villas on the Riviera, a bridge on the Seine, Spanish bullrings, battlefields, a Michigan hunting lodge and African hotels and hospitals. Part of the The Song of Bernadette-village was used for the streets of Paris. The interior of Frigid Liz’s villa would later be used for My Cousin Rachel, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and Three Coins in the Fountain. The hunting lodge set would later make appearances in The President’s Lady and How to Marry a Millionaire. The biggest challenge was the building of Fox’s largest cyclorama that would depict the hunting camp with Kilimanjaro in the background. It was the studio’s largest up to that time and filled an entire soundstage. The cyclorama was so large that the Los Angeles Philharmonic auditorium was rented for space just to sew it together.
Both Zanuck and King envisioned a film full of mood and dark lighting effects. For this, Fox cameraman Leon Shamroy was the man for the job. Famous for his atmospheric lighting (which won him an Academy Award for Leave Her to Heaven), he was the perfect photographer for all of the dark lighting effects depicting the African plain at night, Paris at sunset, and the night life of the City of Lights. Cameraman Charles Clarke took a second unit crew to Paris, the Riviera, and Africa for six months to shoot backgrounds including a charging rhino. The main shooting on the 20th Century-Fox lot took place over 48 days. The film originally ran 153 minutes but at the last minute Zanuck decided it was too long. He and Susan Hayward had recently had a falling out and much of her footage was left on the cutting room floor.
The icing on the cake was supplied by composer Bernard Herrmann. He was brought to Fox by his friend Orson Welles in 1943 to score Jane Eyre. For Snows, Herrmann got to use his widest pallette for a film that called for music of action, young love, tragic love, mature love, and music that could convey the mystery of Africa, including the final resolution made under the mountain on the African plain.
In 1951, Darryl Zanuck and director Joseph Mankiewicz were riding high. Their film from the year before, All About Eve, had been a critical and popular success. It won the Academy award for Best Picture and was nominated for a total of fourteen awards. Mankiewicz usually liked to write his own scripts, but he found a script at Fox that he thought was wonderful called Operation Cicero (later retitled 5 Fingers). All he thought it needed was the Mankiewicz touch to give it sex, humour, and pace. Zanuck agreed, as long as Mankiewicz took no credit on the screenplay. Mankiewicz was delighted at the prospect of making a film about people who have no redeeming qualities. Everyone is out for what they can get.
James Mason was cast as Danilo, the servant and spy who is selling secrets to the Nazis for one reason – money – a lot of it. Mason had already made his mark in countless British films when he came to Fox to play Rommel in the 1951 film, The Desert Fox. 5 Fingers was his second film for the studio. He then went to MGM to make two films back to back: the remake of The Prisoner of Zenda and the Mankiewicz directed Julius Caesar, a film that was originally to be scored by Bernard Herrmann but was later assigned to Miklós Rózsa. Mason was even busier the following year when he filmed Prince Valiant, A Star is Born, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Mason later returned to Fox for Bigger Than Life, Island in the Sun (another Darryl F. Zanuck production), and Journey to the Center of the Earth, which featured one of the finest scores by Bernard Herrmann.
Mankiewicz and Zanuck both wanted Danilo to be completely amoral – with no allegiance to the Germans or the British, but simply driven by a desire for money. His only feelings are reserved for a dissolute countess – a woman who is also out for all she can get and will do anything for money – including pretending to love Danilo. The countess was played by French actress Danielle Darrieux. She had come to Hollywood for one film, The Rage of Paris, released in 1938. She did not like the place and went back to France. MGM lured her back in 1951 for the musical, Rich, Young and Pretty. Danielle then came to Fox for 5 Fingers. Still not liking Hollywood, she returned to France for a long career in films.
Joe Mankiewicz took a camera crew in June 1951 to Istanbul to film the background footage and to film a long and involved chase sequence, using doubles for the film’s stars. This was later cut to the bone by Zanuck. Filming continued at the Fox studios and was completed by September, 1951 with the film premiering in March 1952.
For this thriller, Herrmann produced one of his darkest scores, one that was to point the way to his later scores for Hitchcock. Pre-echoes of Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest can be heard everywhere. One piece of music, The Old Street, was later used in the The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Another major theme reappears in the dream scene from Vertigo. This is the first recording ever of this dark, brooding score.
Both The Snows of Kilimanjaro and 5 Fingers date from the years of transition Herrmann faced when the CBS Symphony was disbanded in October 1950. He made the logical choice, which was to settle in Los Angeles and rely on film scoring while he worked to revive his concert career. The film assignments he took were separated by returns to New York, where he wound up his affairs in New York City and began the legwork on the première staging of his opera Wuthering Heights, which he completed during this period. It was a period of high stress and high hopes, and he eagerly anticipated a state of renewed stability that would make possible a return trip to England, where he had encountered a welcoming success as a conductor much stronger than in his own country.
It simplified Herrmann’s situation to have such a solid foothold at 20th Century-Fox, where Alfred Newman ran an industrious and well-oiled music department. Further simplification came with the steady stream of exotic assignments – the political upset of an extra-terrestrial visitor, a Turkish espionage intrigue, an African safari memoir, and many more to come – each requiring evocative, unique treatment. At Fox it was possible for Herrmann to keep his musical impulses fresh with challenges of this sort, supported by a magnificent orchestra of which he could make any demand. Though he complained aplenty about his situation in the early 1950s, he bided his time in a largely ideal circumstance.
This is why his catalogue at this period boasts an impressive series of flamboyant film scores, easily among Hollywood’s most striking achievements. This series begins with On Dangerous Ground, a film produced by his long-time CBS colleague John Houseman at RKO Radio Pictures immediately after the disbanding of the CBS Symphony. Herrmann returned to New York in late January 1951 to conclude his New York affairs and came back to Los Angeles five weeks later. He spent the spring completing the full score of his opera Wuthering Heights, a task realised on the afternoon of 30th June. At this time he had just entered into his next film project, The Day the Earth Stood Still, which occupied him through mid-August. After a month’s break, during which he traveled to the East Coast to return his visiting daughters to their mother, Lucille Fletcher, he returned to Los Angeles to compose 5 Fingers.
This task began on 23rd October. In a story told by Hugo Friedhofer, Herrmann attended the first “spotting session” of 5 Fingers with Darryl Zanuck and director Joseph Mankiewicz to determine where music was needed in the film. When Zanuck began to tell Herrmann how to score the film, the composer erupted into a torrent of invective uttered in his particular “high-pitched screech”, then stormed out. Zanuck looked with a grin at Mankiewicz and said, “Temperamental, isn’t he?!” He then calmly picked up the phone and called the guards at the gate, asking them to send Herrmann back to the screening room.
In 5 Fingers Herrmann had both the exoticism of Turkey and the perilously unstable emotionalism of film noir. The semi-documentary style in which the narrative is presented – a hallmark dating back to Fox’s The House on 92nd Street (1945) – and the excellent performances of James Mason and Danielle Darrieux create an interesting dynamic to which Herrmann readily responded.
Several of the score’s recurring figures are presented in The Embassy. Two important ones emerge early on in  Cicero, and are usually paired. First, a brief chordal figure for strings with an echoing figure for clarinets [0:34—1:05], which repeats in search of resolution; this is usually associated with more declamatory figures for trombones with similar echo figures for bass clarinet [1:05—1:15], commenting on Cicero’s traitorous determination (this pairing is repeated [1:15—1:41 and 1:41—2:00]. Another figure emerges in the following cue,  The Embassy, and is more wistful. It is stated first by clarinets [0:46—0:59] and is then developed in response by the strings [1:00—1:06], capturing Cicero’s nonchalance. A more aggressive array of motives opens  The Film: first, a declamato figure for low winds [0:00—0:13], acting as an introduction for a short figure for English horn which twines upward [0:14—0:28], responded to by strings and bassoon [0:29—0:42]. These are usually associated with Cicero’s ambitious plans to exploit his access to the government documents, and returns at the opening of Dreams and Departure.
The abortive love theme emerges appropriately enough in  Dreams [after 1:00]. The theme has only one more opportunity in  Romance before it is terminated on an augmented chord in accompaniment to Anna’s betraying downward glance as she embraces Cicero.
There are virtuoso opportunities for Herrmann – he is very good about finding ways to express himself. A fabulously subtle expression of apprehension is created in  Alone, which captures Cicero’s speedy photographing of documents during a quiet moment in the office. It is carefully orchestrated, putting a mass of solo strings in quiet dialogue with flutes, clarinets and trumpets in a slowly shifting wash of timbre. Much more conspicuous is  The Pursuit, a scherzo that sweeps Cicero through the streets of Ankara in flight from the British Military Police. Midway through [1:05—1:30] music from the opening of Cicero is recalled, creating a symmetrical frame for Cicero’s adventure: in Cicero he opened his relationship with the Germans, in The Pursuit, he abruptly closes it.
Herrmann completed the 84 pages of full score on 9th December 1951 and recorded the score on 26th, 27th and 28th December. After the mixing wrapped on 11th January 1952, Herrmann traveled to New York. There he sounded-out the Metropolitan Opera about Wuthering Heights and extended his leave-ofabsence status as a conductor at CBS Radio – his way of keeping his conducting tie there on hold in the event of renewed interest in the orchestra. He returned on 22nd April 1952 to begin work on The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Years later Lyn Murray – once one of Herrmann’s closest friends – discussed the composer’s working method with director Henry King:
Composition began on 11th May and continued at Herrmann’s North Hollywood home for 39 days through sketches and 97 pages of full score. The complex temporal arrangement of the plot results in a matrix of musical ideas which steadily develop. Not included in this development is the  Overture, Herrmann’s only allusion to Hemingway’s obsessive theme of the hunt. Only one recurrence will be found, and in a highly unusual place: at the end of  The Fall, during Cynthia’s hysterical decision to abort their child through a fall down the stairway of the hotel.
The score focuses instead on the passionate nature of Harry’s reminiscence. There are several interesting framing devices operating to organize this narrative. Harry’s idealised love for Cynthia is fastened first to a brief statement of what will become associated with his first meeting with Cynthia near Notre Dame Cathedral, and then to a lyrical love theme. This is the layout of  Nocturne, with the love theme stated first by the oboe [0:24—1:16] and then by violins [1:16— 2:03]. This is recapitulated later in a fabulous reorchestration in  The River. A gravely drunken Harry has returned to the bridge near Notre Dame where he first romanced Cynthia. While he stares into the river he is approached by Helen, whom he mistakes for Cynthia, and is overcome. The scoring of the opening river theme features two harps playing arpeggiated chords; the cadences are twisted by unexpected tritone-related chords, which create a strikingly mysterious mood. This frame demarks the opening and closing of Harry’s connection to Cynthia; the scene at the river with Helen ends the cycle of flashbacks in the plot.
Another frame enclosed within the previously discussed one concerns another problem in the narrative: Cynthia’s desperation at losing Harry’s love. The problem fastens to a sequential formula which first emerges in  Adagietto [1:09—1:48], and a lyrical theme [0:44—1:09 and 1:48—2:21]. Here Cynthia confesses to their safari guide the nature of the crisis she has entered. This music returns later when Harry finds Cynthia dying on a Spanish battlefield and shares with her a painfully brief moment of reconciliation in  The Farewell – surely one of the most laughably histrionic scenes in Hollywood history. Within these frames is the dead center: Harry’s affair with Liz. No consistent material attaches to her, though what does is of a suitably luxuriant and showy nature (  Barcarolle, and the [10; 11] Interludes).
All this is suspended in the plot’s present situation: Harry’s death throes with an infected leg. Helen, whom he has married, proves a worthy opponent in his selfcontemptuous acting-out; musically there is little that deviates from the evocation of Harry’s weary, delusional awareness. She eventually breaks through after Harry has transited his history with Cynthia in flashback; the cue  Helen presents new thematic material, which is long and hopefully lyrical [0:18— 2:37]. But here is the only chance these ideas have, for Harry soon sinks into the delirium of blood poisoning. The oppressive music reasserts itself as Helen begins the death vigil. But, in true Hollywood fashion, contract players could never face such a grim end: so a plane arrives, and with a sudden, lurching turn the  Finale rejoices at Harry’s impending recovery – and resuscitated love life. On 19th June, Herrmann drew the double bar on the Finale. Recording sessions followed on 23rd and 24th June and on 1st July. In the following week the soundtrack was mixed and the contract was closed on 8th July.
Herrmann wrote his lawyer, L. Arnold Weissberger, on 21st July 1952:
I have just finished The Snows of Kilimanjaro and my how worn out I am. Ten full weeks of very hard work, but it turned out very well – even if I say so. Zanuck was most flattering about the music and keeps telling everyone how grand a job I did.
Herrmann then returned his attentions to his magnificent obsession, Wuthering Heights, a project which was to occupy him the rest of the year. That the opera would not be staged during his lifetime probably would have struck him as appalling and outrageous in 1952; letters following the steady stream of rejections grew more and more indignant and cynical. Meanwhile he worked at what he considered “Plan B”: Hollywood films, which would bring him the lasting renown he envisioned only in relation to his opera. The elegant craftsmanship of 5 Fingers and The Snows of Kilimanjaro tempt one to wonder what other concert works might have been created had Herrmann not so singly focused on the opera. Though we will never know, we do have these films – and many others that followed – to appreciate his unique style.
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