Another excellent release from the ever industrious Chandos Records, who have over the past decade or so have been responsible for re-recording many British film scores and themes in their THE FILM MUSIC of series,which has also been responsible for raising awareness among soundtrack collectors old and new and brought the movie music of many composers who wrote for British cinema to the attention of many enthusiasts. Stanley Black is certainly a name we all know, or at least should. His contributions to the world of music were many and varied and his music for the cinema, although maybe not that well known, is full of originality and vibrant quality. This compilation contains music from seven movies as scored by Black and all of these selections are premiere recordings, so this is not just an entertaining release but an important one for British film music. I for one remember seeing Stanley Black’s name on numerous album covers when I was younger. He recorded many albums for the DECCA PHASE 4 label, which were all compilations, but invariably contained a great deal of film music. I think it was probably Black along with the likes of Geoff Love, Mantovani, Ron Goodwin and Ronnie Aldrich that were responsible for around 90% of these types of recordings in the UK, and very popular they were as well. I think we have to thank composer/conductors like Black for these recordings, because they made film music accessible to the record buying public and included themes from movies which at that time had not been issued on a recording or if they had, had not been issued in the UK.
This excellent compact disc is a fitting tribute to Stanley Black’s music for film because, although well known in numerous music circles, he was to a certain extent sadly overlooked by many as a composer of film music. Black’s film music repertoire is varied and large and it must have been difficult for Chandos to select just seven scores for representation on this disc. The compilation opens with an eight minute suite from the 1960 comedy BATTLE OF THE SEXES, directed by Charles Crichton and starring the multi talented Peter Sellers. The movie enjoyed a runaway success at the box office in the UK and Black’s score aided the movie greatly. I suppose it was rather typical of most film scores during this period; Black more or less throwing in every conceivable style, from madcap sounding marches to arrangements of classical standards and even a brief encounter with AULD LANG SYNE. In a way I suppose the score for BATTLE OF THE SEXES was more of a light music project rather than film music but nevertheless it was an effective score for a film that is now looked upon as a comedy classic.
SANDS OF THE DESERT is next up in the compilation running order. This movie was a vehicle for the pint sized British comic who had an immense talent, Charlie Drake. He played a travel agent who was sent to a resort to investigate who had been sabotaging the holidays there. A very weak script with clichéd gags and hardly any story line, the film was a failed attempt to elevate Drake from the small screen to the silver screen. Black’s music too, was a little clichéd and very tongue in cheek, but I think this was more due to the composer himself having a gentle dig at the film rather than something that he composed unwittingly. Black’s score should certainly not be taken seriously, it’s basically just a bit of fun. Given the locale in which the film was set, the composer included a fair amount of Eastern sounding music, or at least what was then perceived as Eastern music. If I remember correctly there was a lot of running around and diving into tents and such like, probably filmed on Blackpool beach.
The next selection of themes is from the 1957 movie STORMY CROSSING. The composer penned a score that sounds as if it could be Delius or at least has a number of affiliations with the sound and style of that composer. The film tells the story of a cross channel swimmer who whilst swimming from England to France with a friend, loses sight of his companion who just seems to disappear. He then begins to investigate the disappearance. Black’s score is quite low key, but remains effective, and although it is very much in the style of Delius, it does also include some darker and sinister sounding moments. The suite included on this compilation runs for nearly 18 minutes. We stay with the 1950s for the next selection; this is from the 1958 horror flick BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE. Not exactly a classic movie, in fact it was very difficult to sit through without smirking at its farcical plot and the hammy acting. The highlight of the movie was the score. Black produced a dramatic and suitable eerie sounding soundtrack, which would not have been out of place in any Hammer horror. This was definitely a case of the music being far superior to the film. JACK THE RIPPER is represented next on the compilation, the score being condensed down into an almost 14 minute suite. This 1959 production contained a pulsating and booming musical score, which lent much to the actions and story unfolding on screen, it succeeded in creating an atmosphere of dread, fear, foreboding and menace. Surprisingly Black’s powerful music was removed from the American print of the movie, and replaced with other music by Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo. The film was moderately successful in the UK but failed to grab the cinema goers attention in the States. Black’s score is full of tense sounding passages, brimming with deliciously dark and sinister themes and oozing an ambiance of pure dread which accompanies the Ripper as he goes about his macabre and grisly business in the fog shrouded alley ways of a Victorian Whitechapel. The score also, however, contains a handful of lighter moments that at times are quite lush and lavish in their style. For me personally this is the highlight of the compilation.
Other scores that are represented are THREE STEPS TO THE GALLOWS, and also a short piece from the Cliff Richard movie THE YOUNG ONES. Overall this is a wonderful collection of suites and themes, that will entertain and delight for many years to come, highly recommended.