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CLASSICAL  April 2006

CLASSICAL April 2006

Subject:

Music to watch James Mason by

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 17 Apr 2006 00:20:03 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

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        Bernard Herrmann

*  The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1976)
*  Five Fingers (1939)

Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
Marco Polo 8.225168 Total time: 66:27

Summary for the Busy Executive: The score's the thing.

The program consists of Herrmann's scores to a piece of Fifties rumty-tum,
The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and to the cult classic, Five Fingers.  Not
even Herrmann's dramatic sense - sharper than that of most Hollywood
directors and screenwriters - could save Snows from big-budget bloat and
self-importance, nor from the acting of its stars, a wooden Gregory Peck
Hayward at her most annoyingly noble.  The Hemingway story which provided
the plot falls just short of such classics as "Hills Like White Elephants"
(it edges right up to the sentimentality line), but it's not exactly
chopped liver.  Its effect depends heavily on Hemingway's capacity for
revealing what characters *don't* say.  At any rate, the score, while
not quite at the level of the composer's best, is clearly the least sappy
thing about the movie.  It's as if Herrmann was the only one on the set
to have read Hemingway.  Although many know the "Memory Waltz" cue,
probably from Herrmann's own recording, this CD presents all the cues
for the first time.

John Morgan, Hollywood ace orchestrator, gets the credit for coming up
with a usable score, although he worked from Herrmann's own manuscripts,
miraculously preserved by the Fox studio.  In some cases, Herrmann's
notation was hard to read, and Morgan may have had to rework some of the
cues to put them in comprehensible shape during the restoration work.
Nevertheless, Marco Polo gives us the score pretty much as Herrmann wrote
it.

Herrmann fans know the brooding, the disquiet, and the wit of his music
pretty well.  The Kilimanjaro score, however, may surprise some with its
tenderness.  The love scenes sing gorgeously, and with a sentiment that
doesn't scream Technicolor or blare ersatz Wagner.  One hears a good
deal of regret and sadness in the music as well.  Here, Herrmann captures
the predominant note of the Hemingway story.  The only false note in the
score sounds with the bombastic final cue, but that's due primarily to
the producers' insistence on a triumphal, feel-good ending for the script.
Hemingway's hero dies, but you couldn't make a habit of killing off stars
like Gregory Peck, although, to be fair, he did more than his share of
death scenes.  The film, as opposed to the original story, becomes a
tale of Man Saved by the Love of a Good Woman, instead of a man who finds
out just before he dies that he has royally messed up.  Herrmann gives
us the hokum ending the script demands.  Fortunately, it's a short cue.
The music works, as you would expect, beautifully in the film, but unlike
many Herrmann scores, you may find listening to it for its own sweet
sake a little difficult.  The cues are mostly soft, slow, dreamy, and
sad.  The "Panic" cue, just before the "Finale," may make you start from
a pleasant slumber.

With the score to Five Fingers, we find ourselves in familiar Herrmann
territory - the world of the Hitchcock-Herrmann thrillers - but those
pictures were a few years away.  Five Fingers, written (actually, largely
rewritten with no credit) and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, gives us a
foretaste of that world.  The story concerns a British diplomat's valet
(James Mason, in a terrific performance) who photographs sensitive
material for the Nazis for the money.  The story has almost no character
you want to root for.  The valet gets away with it ...  and doesn't get
away with it, in an almost O.  Henryish twist (rent this film!).  The
movie, obviously influenced by film noire, is nevertheless shot in a
matter-of-fact, quasi-documentary style, a bit like Henry Hathaway's
House on 92nd Street and Call Northside 777 in that way.

Herrmann's score gives us emotional meat on the bare-bones style.  The
valet, Cicero, betrays his country, he says, for money.  Yet the music
makes it clear that he also does it for kicks, for the adrenalin rush
of the jeopardy he puts himself in.  It's a beautiful example of how a
great film score works together with a great film.

The score also has its share of in-jokes - perhaps a sideswipe at Max
Steiner's Casablanca - as demented little bits of "God Save the King"
and "Heart of Oak" flit through the embassy sequences.  Far from arousing
patriotism, they conjure up the image of Col.  Blimp.  Well, the film
was made in 1952.

William Stromberg and his Muscovites do well enough, but in this recording
the scores are the stars.  Indeed, the Naxos/Marco Polo series of film
music has brought back to light many worthy, little-known scores by all
the heavy hitters of movie music, including Honegger, Ibert, and
Shostakovich, as well as the denizens of the Hollywood pantheon.

Steve Schwartz

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