Well, they are here the first flurries of Christmas movies, and so too are the scores from them. Spirited which stars Will Ferrel, and Ryan Reynolds and has an incredible score by composer Dominic Lewis. There has been much hype going on about this movie which is now streaming on Apple TV. And the score to has been much anticipated.
It is a musical version of the classic Christmas story by Charles Dickens. A miserly man who treats everyone around him with terrible selfishness finds himself on a fantastical adventure into the three phases of time: past, present, and future, in order to discover how he ended up so miserable and alone.
I am pleased to say that it’s been worth the wait, as it is one of the best Christmas themed scores I have heard in a while. The film is filled with enjoyable musical number’s, but it is the fully symphonic (well mostly) score that I was more interested in but saying that the songs too are pretty good. It is a sweeping and luscious musical sleigh ride into the world of magic, sparkle, and wonder that we all hope to experience at Yuletide.
All I can really say is that this is an uplifting and affecting work, filled to the brim with sweetness, melancholy, mischievous interludes, and grandiose luxurious pieces that make those hairs on your arms and the back of your neck stand up.
There is I think an Elfman/Williams like sound within the work with the composer utilizing to great effect choir, and strings to bring to fruition a sound that is both celebratory and somewhat dark at the same time. We are even treated to a big band sounding piece entitled Sugar and Spicy, but it’s the symphonic material that is the impressive part of the score, with those windswept sounding strings driving the work along and brass flourishes popping up here and there underlined by percussion, we even get a really nice arrangement of We Wish you a Merry Christmas,
Overall, a wonderfully appealing and enchanting soundtrack and with track titles such as Elf Aware, Sleigh it aint So, Snow Place Like Home and Up to Snow Good how can you possibly resist. Available now on digital platforms. Can’t, wait to hear his score for Violent Night out soon we are told.
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, a group of mercenaries travel to Mexico to fight in a bloody revolution for money. The former soldier and gentleman Benjamin Trane meets the gunman and killer Joe Erin and his men, and together they are hired by the Emperor Maximillian and the Marquis Henri de Labordere to escort the Countess Marie Duvarre to the harbour of Vera Cruz.
Ben and Erin find that the stagecoach in which the countess is travelling houses not just a human cargo but is also transporting three million U.S. dollars in gold hidden below the seats, the two men then join forces and scheme to steal it. Along their journey, betrayals and incidents happen which alter their original notions regarding the destination of the gold. That’s the basic plot or storyline to Vera Cruz which was released back in 1954. Although it sounds like a simple synopsis for a western the movie and its storyline directed by Robert Aldrich, have so much more to them.
The film starred Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster, probably two of the biggest Hollywood stars at that time, the cast also included Denise Darcel, Cesar Romero, Jack Elam, Ernest Borgnine and George McCready, with an appearance by Charles Bronson.
It is in the true sense of the word a classic western, an iconic production that broke new ground and was arguably the pre cursor to films such as One Eyed Jacks, and Major Dundee, as well as being something that many of the Euro Westerns that would burst onto cinema screens a decade later based their storylines upon.
At times many refer to Vera Cruz as the first spaghetti western, or what was to be called a Zapata western which would feature amongst the hundreds of Italian made westerns that became a popular sub-genre in later years. These included movies such as Bullet for the General, A Professional Gun and Duck you Sucker.
Director Sergio Leone who is known as the Father of the Italian made western, was said to be heavily influenced by Aldrich’s movie. It was I suppose also one of the first political slanted westerns, as it dealt with the way in which an Imperial European power such as France dealt with and exploited a population that was forced to become its subjects, having no regard for their well-being or safety, very much in the same way as directors Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima did in many of their westerns some ten years later, which were penned by the likes of Damiani.
Vera Cruz was and I think remains an exciting and entertaining piece off cinema, and for a movie that was produced in the mid-fifties it contains many violent scenes. But we must remember it was set in the year of 1866 when Mexicans revolted against their French occupiers.
The country is firmly under the heel of The Emperor Napoleon lll puppet Maximillian, who treats the Mexican people like dirt. His soldiers control the country and anyone who disagrees with them is dispatched quickly and mercilessly. There soon emerges a rebel leader, Benito Juarez, to challenge the autocrat whose supporters the “Juaristas” begin to fight back against French tyranny.
Two American soldiers of fortune or Mercenaries initially find themselves facing off against each other “Benjamin Trane” (Gary Cooper) is the good guy and “Joe Erin” (Burt Lancaster) is the bad guy (or is he?) both however decide to serve the French overlords along with their band of cutthroats (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Lambert, Jack Elam, Charles Bronson). During a party held by Marquis Henri de Labordere (Cesar Romero) they meet the Countess “Marie Duvarre” (Denise Darcel), the two men are told that they must protect her at all costs. But as they begin their journey, they discover that the coach she is travelling in contains more than just the Countess. In fact, it contains gold that both men decide that they want for themselves. Thus begins a perilous journey through rough and hostile country and an uneasy alliance between Trane and Erin, which at times comes to blows as each of them try to outwit each other. With Cooper’s character falling in love with a beautiful Mexican rebel played by Spanish actress Sara Montiel.
The movie was partly based on true events that took place during the turbulent times of the revolution. Maximilian being proclaimed Emperor of Mexico in the April of 1864, with the backing of Napoleon III and a group of monarchists who sought to revive Mexican Royalty. Many foreign governments, including that of the United States, refused to recognize the dictator’s administration which helped to ensure the success of republican forces led by Juárez.
Their victory over the oppressors resulted in the capture and execution of Maximilian in 1867. The movie is not only filled to overflowing with action but is also a highly charged and emotional tale. Lancaster is outstanding playing what is I suppose a stereotypical villain dressed all in black, his smiling, calculated and selfish character was to be the influence for many villainous individuals that would turn up in spaghetti westerns during the 1960’s through to the mid 1970’s.
The film also established the anti-hero character, which was something that was woven into many storylines in the later produced Italian westerns. It was also the way the movie was photographed, filmed in Mexico amongst the arid and scorched earth locations as opposed to the norm for a Hollywood production which depicted the open plains and undulating grasslands.
It is certainly one of the most superior westerns to be brought to the screen in the 20th century. The screenplay by Roland Kibbee and James R. Webb is quite a simple formula, but with so much action there is at times very little time for words. But it does however fix one’s attention from the opening right the way through to the climactic battle at the end of the movie.
The patriotic and driving score is the work of Hollywood stalwart Hugo Friedhofer, who’s driving and pulsating music punctuates and underlines every frame of the movie wonderfully, sadly the score has never been released, which is something that should be rectified.
Born in San Francisco on May 3, 1908 Hugo Friedhofer was the son of German parents, his Father who was a cellist had studied in Dresden, Friedhofer followed in his Father’s footsteps and began to take lessons in cello from the age of 13 and after taking instructions in harmony and counterpoint at the University of California took up employment as a cellist with the Peoples Symphony orchestra. In the latter part of 1929 Friedhofer moved to Los Angeles and began to work in orchestras that were performing for Fox Studios. After a few years Friedhofer was employed as an orchestrator for Warner Brothers and whilst working for the studio he carried out orchestrating duties on over 50 motion picture scores.It was whilst he was at Warners that Friedhofer worked on orchestrations for Max Steiner and also because of his German background was also assigned to work with Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Max Steiner in particular relied heavily upon Friedhofer,s skills as an orchestrator to transform his musical sketches into full blown symphonic scores, Friedhofer’s skills as a composer and orchestrator became evident in Hollywood, but for some reason he remained in the background for a number of years his ability being overshadowed by the likes of Steiner and Korngold. in particular. In 1937 Friedhofer was given his first opportunity to score a film himself, which was The Adventures of Marco Polo and although he still remained busy as an orchestrator he began to gradually receive more and more assignments and commissions as a composer in his own right. It was in 1946 that the composer wrote a score that was to become a milestone in his career.
The Best Years of our Lives, was directed by William Wyler,and Friedhofer was hired to write the music on the recommendation of fellow Hollywood music-smith Alfred Newman. The music that he composed earned Friedhofer an Oscar for best original score in 1947 being selected over soundtracks by Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann, Sir William Walton and Franz Waxman. In later years Friedhofer was no stranger to Oscar nominations receiving recognition from the Academy for his work on films such as An Affair to Remember, The Young Lions, The Bishops Wife,Joan of Arc and Above and Beyond. He was greatly admired and respected within the film music composing fraternity. He passed away on May 17th 1981.
I mentioned already the photography being stunning, which was the work of Ernest Laszlo. Vera Cruz was the first motion picture to be made in the Super Scope process, giving the production a lush and luxurious appearance.
It was also one of the first Hollywood financed productions to be filmed in Mexico, which meant that because of film-making legislation in the country a local director had to be involved in the production in some capacity, although he wasn’t actually used. However, the Mexican authorities were appalled at the way their citizens were depicted in the film, so any subsequent Hollywood productions had to conform to some strict rules.
The project was financed by Burt Lancaster’s production company at a cost of $1.7 million, it went on to become a huge box office success, grossing over $11 million. It is said to be Robert Aldrich’s personal favourite.
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