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John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, June 2010

In my alternate life as Review Editor for, I’ve gotten to watch a multitude of movies, old and new, over the years, more than I could ever have seen in a theater. And it always amazes how well some of the old film scores hold up as purely entertaining musical experiences compared to many of today’s over-hyped, nondescript screen music. Little in the revved-up tunes of an Iron Man V, Transformers VIII, or X-Men X seems nearly so colorful or graphic to me as the music for a film like director Raoul Walsh’s 1945 war saga Objective, Burma!, with Errol Flynn, James Brown, William Prince, and George Tobias.

Franz Waxman (1906–1967) was one of Hollywood’s premier composers in the Thirties through Sixties. If Max Steiner or Erich Wolfgang Korngold didn’t write the score, you could be pretty sure Waxman did, things like Bride of Frankenstein, Philadelphia Story, Suspicion, Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun, Rear Window, Mister Roberts, The Spirit of St. Louis; you get the idea.

In the case of Objective Burma! (score restored by John Morgan), it isn’t necessary to have seen the movie to enjoy Waxman’s music because just a glance at the segment headings gives one a pretty good idea of what’s going on, the music filling in the rest. Titles like “Briefing in an Hour,” “Take Off,” “Jumping,” “Killing the Sentry,” “Two Came Back,” “Burmese Village,” “Missing the Plane,” “At Night,” “Invasion,” and “The Camp—Finale” pretty much tell the story in themselves. Then, with Stromberg’s direction and Morgan’s reconstruction, lo and behold, the music actually sounds like the pictorial images we envision, rather like a series of miniature tone poems, much of it march-based, of course. Waxman never composed music to sell soundtrack albums but to convey the nuances of every film he wrote for; it’s hardly a clever or revolutionary concept, just a practical one that pays off.

Originally released in the Marco Polo line in 2000 and now on the lower-priced Naxos label, Objective Burma! has the kind of sound we have come to expect from this source, William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony having produced so many other good film recordings for the company. While the sonics are a bit less than completely open or transparent, plus a little distant, there is some relatively good, realistic stage depth and imaging involved. The sound has a pleasant overall bloom, reminiscent of live music even if it’s not perfectly detailed. Fans of film music will enjoy the disc.

Adrian Edwards
Gramophone, 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.

Andy Cooper
Leader-Post, January 2007

Considered one of Errol Flynn’s best movies, Objective, Burma! was a controversial war film when released in 1945.

In particular, the British hated the fact that their contribution to the Allied campaign against the Japanese in Burma was completely ignored by the story in favour of the usual American heroics.

No matter, Objective Burma! remains a stirring account of a small group of American paratroopers assigned to destroy a Japanese radar station deep in the jungle.

Franz Waxman’s Oscar-nominated score evokes the excitement of the mission, the exotic jungle environment and the rising tension as the Americans, led by Flynn, desperately try to walk to freedom after their mission. Warner Bros. recently released the movie on DVD.

Jed Distler, February 2005

Now on Naxos, here is Waxman’s splendid music for Raoul Walsh’s 1945 World War II epic Objective Burma, a film that starred Erroll Flynn. John Morgan painstakingly restored sequences that were cut from the final print or for which no full scores survive. The music cues add up to a 71-minute suite that’s played in sequence, without interruption. Hearing these cues minus their visual context allows us to fully focus on Waxman’s resourceful orchestral palate and sweeping melodies that never cloy. Even Waxman’s mandatory Orientalisms are cliché-resistant, and are scored with tasteful restraint. Waxman’s jaunty main title theme emerges time and again in various shapes and emotional guises, amid more foreboding sequences like “At Night”, with its serpentine bass clarinet, spooky muted trombones, and eerie string harmonics. Notable too is Waxman’s haunting use of eight solo cellos during the cue “Jacob’s Death”. William Stromberg leads the Moscow Symphony Orchestra with his usual enthusiasm and loving care. Buy this disc, read the synopsis, sit back, listen, and allow the music to create a movie in your mind.

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