Category: ARTICLES


UNIVERSAL HORROR.

 

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Recently I decided to revisit the movie VAN HELSING, and although it is a film that is basically nonstop action throughout, I personally did not consider this to be a particularly good motion picture, it kind of failed in places and was very OTT in others, the pump action crossbow for example. I was pleased however that the director paid homage to the horror films of bygone days with the opening sequence of the film. Composer Alan Silvestri also built his powerful sounding musical score around the original scores of those Universal Horrors that were produced during the 1930’s and 1940’s or at least every so often the Maestro would include a motif or a musical passage that was a gentle nod in the direction of composers such as Frank Skinner, Hans J Salter, Roy Webb, Franz Waxman and others that worked upon these timeless classics of American cinema. Even the opening logo was presented in black and white and turned into a fireball as the opening fanfare for Universal rang out.

 

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The film too contained certain references to these horror classics of yester-year that were directed by the likes of Tod Browning and James Whale. Films such as FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE WOLFMAN etc. For example, the inclusion of the famous windmill sequence from FRANKENSTEIN or at least a version of it, the angry villagers were also in tow complete with torches, pitchforks and inaudible shouts and comments as they made their way to the formidable looking castle to destroy the evil FRANKENSTEIN and his abomination of a creation, all intended as a tribute or salute to the age of Universal horror when it reigned supreme and attracted audiences in their droves to the cinema’s and picture houses to be scared witless. These classics because that is what they are, set the standards for many of the films that followed and were a blue print if you like for many movies that were produced years later.

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Think about it without the Universal horrors and the famous creatures, monsters, dark characters and storylines that they included and introduced to us there probably would not have been the successful movies as produced by the British film company Hammer, who themselves eventually ended up influencing other film makers and studios who specialised in horrors and supernatural tales, such as AMICUS, TYBURN and AIP. Although AIP would have probably found its own way within the horror market because of the presence of film makers such as Roger Corman and his like. American International Pictures also would be instrumental in introducing the weird and wonderful world of International Horror movies which were directed by the likes of Mario Bava to audiences Stateside. However, it was whilst halfway through VAN HELSING that I was prompted to unearth my classic horror soundtracks as re-constructed and re-recorded by John Morgan and conducted by William Stromberg for the excellent Marco Polo series of releases.

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The first disc I purchased included music from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN and THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS music courtesy of Universal pictures main stays Hans J Salter and Frank Skinner. It is surprising that much of the music that was on the soundtracks of these movies was in fact stock music that had been written by the composers for the Universal music library and indeed often showed up in films that were completely removed from the horror genre. So, as well as listening to the excellent soundtracks I also re-visited the movies, many of which I watched as a 15-year-old on the BBC late at night. Out of all the Universal horrors I think that it was the WOLFMAN films that made me feel uneasy, this was I think due to the acting talents and the wonderful make up of Lon Chaney and the way in which the movies were shot, fog shrouded woods, eerie looking sets, the monochrome look and of course the music. The earliest Universal horrors DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN both released in 1931 contained music that was a mix of original score, stock music and even some classical cues because the original score per-se was in its infancy, although that would alter soon in 1935 with the coming of another Universal Horror, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which had a completely original score by Franz Waxman, with one of his themes for the movie or at least hints of it surfacing in a famous musical some 15 years later when it premiered on Broadway. But I digress and I will leave that one for the solicitors and music copyright people.

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Universal’s DRACULA, which starred the mysterious and flamboyant actor Bela Lugosi, had a composer credit for Heinz Roemheld, although I think he was more a conductor and arranger for this particular project as opposed to being enlisted in his capacity as composer. Born May 1st 1901 in Milwaukee USA, Roemheld began his association with music at an early age, he commenced piano lessons when his was just four years of age, and by the time he had reached his teenage years he was already performing in various Vaudeville shows. He later attended the Wisconsin College of music and went on to study composition further in Berlin. After he finished his studies he became known for composing piano preludes, sonatas and various serious or classical pieces for concert hall performance. After being seen leading the orchestra for a screening of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1925 he was appointed the manager of Universal Theatres in Berlin and then later in 1929 was made musical director.

 

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After his time at Universal, Roemheld moved on to become the musical director at Warner Brothers studios between 1938 and 1945 and during that time acted as chief of film, theatre and music within the information control division attached to the American forces based in Europe during WWll. Roemheld then moved to United Artists in 1946 where he remained for two years. After which the composer went to Columbia pictures from 1948 to the latter part of 1950 after which he pursued a career as a freelance composer and arranger. He died on February 11th 1985.

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FRANKENSTEIN (1931) also contained a score that was a mix of library or studio stock music and original score plus strategically placed snippets of classical music which was supervised and arranged by composer Bernhard Kaun. Kaun, who was of German family background was born in Milwaukee Wisconsin, USA on April 5th 1899. The composer began his musical career as a conductor and often directed the orchestra in several theatres but predominantly was resident at the well-known Alhambra Theatre in Milwaukee. In 1930 he began to work in Hollywood and was employed by various studios, Universal, Warner Brothers and Paramount among them, where he would often act as an orchestrator and compose and arrange original music for horror movies. Which was invariably re-used in other movies that were produced at that time. He passed away in January 1980 in Baden-Baden Germany.

 

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Every horror or indeed every Universal movie in those early days opened with that ever familiar proud and robust sounding fanfare which quickly and seamlessly segued into the opening theme of the score that was played over the credits. The most familiar opening logo theme must be the one which was composed by Jimmy McHugh and arranged by Frank Skinner but there was also a Universal opening fanfare prior to the McHugh composition which was the work of Heinz Roemheld. On each opening the logo music just became part of the score for the movie a starting point if you will for any composer to take his cue from. Wistful strings and urgent brass being the order of the day for most the Universal horrors, with booming percussion and a tense and taught undercurrent adding its support, creating an atmosphere that was exciting, anxious and filled with a dread and nervous expectancy that would engulf the watching audience, preparing them for the untold horrors that were about to be unleashed.

I think that the decade of the 1940, s was the most fruitful for Universal as in output terms, but it was also the decade that in my humble opinion and one which is just a personal view, marked the decline of the classic horror with the studio feeling the need to introduce movies such as ABBOT and COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in 1948, which was directed by Charles Barton and starred Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney jnr, it was and again this is just a personal opinion, a period in the studios history where they had basically reaped the benefits of the horror movie and now the horror was being relegated to second or even third position taking a back seat to the slapstick comedy purveyed by the likes of Abbot and Costello.
I am however, not implying that the movies were not entertaining because they were they must have been because Universal released many of them and they did in fact serve a purpose because not only did they get people into the picture houses and kept the horror genre in the cinema goers eye, just about the mainstay characters in Universal movies of the horror variety. It seemed a little sad that the studio was having to resort to comedy to sell the pictures, which is what happened during the 1970,s with the Hammer studio, after they had a very successful run with movies as in DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, WEREWOLF tales and pictures involving MUMMYS and other horrors and subsequent spin off’s of the original DRACULA and friends etc, but the studio in a similar way to Universal seemed to lose their way slightly and deviate from the path of true gothic horror and began to introduce not comedy into the storylines but, nudity, lesbianism and sex. This was also seen as an opportunity to entice a younger audience into the cinemas and acquaint them with these dark and fearsome characters, because the world of cinema and the world as a whole was changing, becoming more and more permissive and in a desperate attempt not to be left behind Hammer experimented with this somewhat volatile and risky concoction, in some cases it worked but in most it failed and because of the studios attempt to become “hip” their productions began to be looked upon as somewhat clichéd and dated even though these were current releases and looked upon as mediocre and tired by an ever more critical audience. One of the things that tied both Universal and Hammer together was the production of quality horror films and also the decline in their quality as tastes changed both studios then attempting to regenerate the once popular horror film by adding another genre to them or having horror as a sub-genre within the actual films they were producing. The other tie was the use of music, both Universal and Hammer maintained a high level of musical richness even when the standards of the films began to dip, so for example Universal’s ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN may not have been Oscar material but its score by Frank Skinner still did its job and worked wonderfully underlining and supporting the comedy and the horror or the watered down comic horror that the film contained.

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This too can be said for Hammer for example DRACULA AD 1972 was a dire attempt to update the DRACULA cycle, bringing the infamous count into the bustling, far out and groovy 1970, s. It failed and failed quite miserably, but the score by Mike Vickers was still infused with the quality that one expected from a Hammer production, this was probably down to the influence and expertise of Hammers musical director Phil Martell.

 

 

But, back to UNIVERSAL and the Marco Polo records compact disc release THE MONSTER MUSIC OF SALTER AND SKINNER. Like the films the CD opens with the familiar strains of the Universal Pictures logo music, which slips nicely into Frank Skinners opening music for THE SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, which has a highly tense and urgent beginning, but soon moves into a more subdued mood although still maintaining an atmosphere that is taught and apprehensive. The composers use of woodwinds combined with strings and further supported by jagged brass and punctuated by percussion is wonderfully alluring and sets the scene perfectly for the remainder of the compilation. This is as one might expect grand and fully symphonic material, dark and foreboding in places but also possessing a sense of calm within in certain passages and brief interludes. Track two segues seamlessly into THE MESSAGE which is certainly less aggressive and urgent than its predecessor, the composer utilising an almost reverent and heavenly sounding organ within the cue, this slightly subdued aire continues within track number three THE GENERAL, but as the track progresses a slightly darker persona emerges as does a martial sounding theme which although short lived is affecting. Track number six THE EXAMINATION/LOOKING FOR A MONSTER is one of the longest cues on the album, clocking in at 8 minutes 29 secs, it is at first a brooding piece which builds and grows Skinner utilising woodwind and underlying strings initially, then introducing percussion laced with brass to create a more urgent and threatening aura. The cue then reverts back to relative calm with strings and woods once again taking centre stage, the mood is mysterious and edgy until the cue is in its final stages when again percussion supported by brass makes an appearance. Track number eight is classic horror or monster fare, MONSTERS RAGE is a combination of taught and jagged brass and sinewy but at the same time swirling strings punctuated and heightened by more pronounced brass stabs. The final cue from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is THE CAST, this is triumphant and almost anthem like with again brass taking the lead as the score and film reaches its conclusion.

 

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THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, is next in the compilations running order and this opens with the Universal logo music but a version that is a slightly more up tempo arrangement than the one which opened the album. Music for this motion picture was courtesy of Hans J Salter, and the opening theme is wonderfully lush and filled with a lavish and rich sound purveyed by the string section. Its opening bars are given to the brass which establishes the cue straight away laying down a foundation that the composer then builds upon as his main theme soars and develops. Salters score for THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS is for a horror score very melodic, I am not complaining as the music is excellent and there are enough moments which are slightly apprehensive and chilling to ensure we are suitably made to feel uneasy, again the music is of a high quality as one would expect from such a distinguished and talented composer. The performance by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is also superb under the direction of William Stromberg. THE WOLF MAN comes next, opened by the Universal logo theme, the score launches headlong into action, and I must say is still one of my favourite Universal Horror scores with the writing talents of both Hans J Salter and Frank Skinner being utilised. This is the stuff from which classic horror scores are made from, dramatic, romantic, melancholy and filled with tense and hostile stabs and jolts this in my very humble opinion is the stand out soundtrack featured on this compilation and that is something of a grand statement as all three scores are powerful examples from the early Universal days. THE WOLF MAN, also has about it an abrasive, aggressive and raw sound, something that is wild and untamed every so often is let loose within the music then it reverts to a more serene or calm persona, mirroring the central character’s struggle with his inner self as his attempts unsuccessfully to contain the savage and evil creature that lurks within him as the full moon awakens it to hunt and savagely kill indiscriminately. This is purveyed perfectly within the track THE KILL, which in the movie underlines and supports superbly the rampage of the WOLFMAN as he claims yet another victim. I remember feeling sorry for the WOLF MAN as the powers of the full moon drive him to kill the thing he loves the most.

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The score by Salter and Skinner is a haunting and iconic work and one from which many other composers drew inspiration. The recording is a masterpiece with some sterling work carried out on the re construction of the scores by John Morgan, who is also a composer himself and well known in the film music collecting fraternity for his passion, enthusiasm, knowledge, and talent.

 

 

THE WOLF MAN was Universal’s most lucrative release of 1941 but this was not the studios first foray into the legend of the Werewolf, they had earlier produced THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON in 1935, which starred the actor Henry Hull in the title role, Hull was not a horror actor or at least was not as well-known as Lugosi or Karloff within this genre and this is probably why the move did not fare as well as FRANKENSTEIN or DRACULA at the box office. It was also the first sound motion picture that dealt with the Werewolf legend. The screenplay was not based upon one single story or incident, but instead was compiled from numerous tales that had been described and passed down from generation to generation within folklore. The musical score for THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON was by Hungarian composer Karl Hajos who was born in 1889 in the Austro-Hungarian-Empire. Hajos emigrated to the United States and began to work in Hollywood writing music for films. He started to write film scores during the silent era of the movies and worked on over a hundred films, he was one of nine composers who created the score for the 1931 western THE FIGHTING CARAVANS and in 1934 worked for Cecil B Demille on FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE. His last film score was in 1949 when he wrote the music for SEARCH FOR DANGER which was directed by Jack Berhnard. He passed away in 1950. Although THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, contained many interesting points and was to be fair an entertaining piece of cinema within the horror genre, it was outclassed and overshadowed by the studios 1941 production of THE WOLFMAN with Lon Chaney in the lead role. It was THE WOLFMAN that provided Universal with its fourth classic monster and came at a time when they were in the process of giving its original trio of horrors something of a revival. In 1931 Robert Florey had provided Universal with a screenplay that was destined to be THE WOLFMAN but starring Boris Karloff in the title role based upon his success in FRANKENSTEIN, however the studio did not think it was a viable project at the time so the script was rejected.

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Marco Polo released a handful of music compilations from the Universal horrors and indeed issued numerous compact discs of the classic scores of Hollywood by the likes of Herrmann, Newman, Steiner, Waxman and Korngold, these were either in the form of compilations or full soundtrack projects and included scores such as THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, CAPTAIN BLOOD,THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, KING KONG, SON OF KONG, THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO, ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO etc.

 

 

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THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which had music by Hans J Salter and Paul Dessau (uncredited) was released on its own with 35 tracks of music and not part of a compilation. The music as always was impressive and inventive and if you listen carefully one can hear certain musical passages that maybe acted as inspiration for composer James Bernard when he came to write his now famous DRA-CU-LA theme for the Hammer Films production some 14 years later. THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a movie that was in a word “strange”. Ok yes, I know it’s a horror but this one had a rather interesting or should I say a you have to see this to believe it plot, it was however different and appealed to a wider range of audience. The film certainly was not short of star power, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, J.Carrol Nash and Lionel Atwill all pitched in for this one directed by Erie C. Kenton which included appearances from DRACULA (John Carradine), THE WOLFMAN (Lon Chaney) and FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER( Glen Strange). An evil Scientist Dr Niemann portrayed by Boris Karloff escapes from prison accompanied by his assistant Daniel a hunchback played by J.Carrol Nash. The Doctor plans revenge on the people who put him in prison and enlists the aid of the terrible trio to do his dirty work. However, the Doctors grip over the three monsters is not strong enough to contain them and their own agendas and ultimately this proves to be his downfall. The composer Hans J Salter was born in Vienna on January 14th 1896, he had always shown an interest in music and shortly after he completed his education the young musician started to become involved with conducting orchestras in some of the many theatres in Vienna. It was at this point in his career that Salter gained the talent of producing music that would accompany any type of scenario within the theatres and of course this too would give him a good background when it came to writing music for motion pictures. In his early twenties, a film company employed Salter to conduct the musical accompaniment for operettas that had been filmed and were then screened in theatres which was his introduction to adapting music and directing it to film. A few years later Salter found himself in Germany where he gained more experience in the actual scoring of films for UFA in Berlin.

 

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The composer then returned to Vienna as the Nazi,s in Germany were beginning to come to power, but he found that the same thing was happening in Vienna and decided to leave Europe and travel to the United States. In the latter part of 1937, Universal pictures engaged Salter to compose, arrange and conduct music for movies, this was a collaboration that endured for over twenty years, the composers first significant scoring assignment came in 1942 when he provided the score for THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN which contained a soundtrack that was nearly fifty minutes in duration, the film running for 1 hour seven minutes so Salters music was almost continuous throughout the movie.
Many assignments for Horror movies followed, THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) being among them. The Universal studio often re-using his music from one movie within others that they released. Salter became known for his work on the horror films of Universal but this was just a small part of his output as the composer worked on a staggering amount of westerns and scored numerous movies of varying genre.

Stepping away from the music for a while lets head back to FRANKENSTEIN, many believe Universal were the first to produce a motion picture on the subject of Mary Shelley’s creation, however, there were others before Universal got to stamp its own particular brand and style upon the classic tale. One of the earliest versions of the story to be committed to celluloid was in 1910, when the Edison company produced a movie. Then in 1915 another take on the story was filmed and was released under the title of A LIFE WTHOUT SOUL. Then five years later in 1920 there was MASTER OF FRANKENSTEIN which was an Italian production. When it came to the appearance of the monster in the first Universal production, it is said that director James Whale was inspired by a figure that was depicted in Goya’s drawing LES CHINCHILLAS, and Whale sketched his own ideas for the monster and passed them to creative make-up artist Jack Pierce, who in turn added his own ideas and created the now iconic look of Frankenstein’s monster, a look that would be imitated and inspire many make-up artists that would follow. Pierce not only thought about the face of the monster but considered the fact that it was made up of body parts stolen from graves and the like, thus these would have been misshapen or stretched and withered, so the monsters body would have been out of proportion.

 

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Pierce also studied anatomy and discovered the then six methods that a surgeon could cut a human skull. He concluded that Frankenstein would have probably opted for the simplest method, which meant removing the top of the head and then after inserting a brain closing the skull and the top of the head into a square shape as opposed to rounded.
Pierce also utilised rubber around Boris Karloff’s eyes, which reduced the showing of emotion or indeed any expression whatsoever, this was a masterful stroke of genius by Pierce. The movie was often censored after its initial release and in 1937 some six years after it was first unleashed upon cinema audiences the film was edited further when it was re-issued. The scene where the monster without knowing it is wrong throws the small child into the water thinking she will just float was trimmed, and thus audiences were convinced that the monster had attacked and killed the girl for no reason.
Which probably altered the audience’s opinion of the creature drastically. This scene was however restored during the 1980, s, which would allow audiences to realise that the monster was not aware what he was doing would harm the child. This and other dialogue parts and sequences were restored when the film was re-issued. The original release ran for approx.; 70 mins.

 

 

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The film of course starred Boris Karloff who was originally an actor in theatre, Karloff was born in Dulwich England in 1887. He began to venture into motion pictures during the early part of the 1920’s but went almost unnoticed until film maker James Whale saw that there was something about this tall unassuming man that maybe audiences would like. Karloff became associated with the horror genre and specifically with the FRANKENSTEIN cycle as produced by Universal, but there was far more to this talented and eloquent actor than portraying a mute and violent creature, as we would see in the coming years and future productions. Between 1932 and 1944 Karloff seemed to be on screen almost permanently and added his ample talents to films such as, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE MUMMY, THE BLACK CAT, THE RAVEN, THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN which would be his final appearance as the Monster in 1944. His career continued through the 1950, s and into the 1960’s when he made appearances on television in England in COLONEL MARCH OF SCOTLAND YARD, plus he was in demand on recordings because his voice was so distinctive and later made appearances in films such as THE COMEDY OF TERRORS etc during the 1960, s. The director James Whale was also British, and was born in Dudley Staffordshire in 1896. His first foray into acting came when he was a prisoner of war during the first world war, after being de mobbed he joined the Birmingham Rep company and later took on the duties of stage manager at the Savoy theatre in the heart of London.
He soon became known to many within theatre-land and was asked to travel to New York with a production of JOURNEYS END which starred Colin Clive in 1929. He then worked in several areas of production etc and was asked to direct WATERLOO BRIDGE for Universal in 1931 and in the same year helmed FRANKENSTEIN. A film was released in 1998 which told the story of his often quirky and eccentric life, GODS AND MONSTERS which starred Sir Ian McKELLEN enjoyed some success at the box office.

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James Whale returned to the story of FRANKENSTEIN in 1935 with THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. This was a more humorous approach to the story which was still based upon original characters created by Mary Shelley. In THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Whale seemed to be trying to parody the style and convention that he and his collaborators had created a few years previously. This was successful due to the over the top Gothic sets and also a musical soundtrack that was not only highly dramatic but at times highly intrusive, but still the formula worked.

 
The music was by Hollywood giant Franz Waxman. Waxman, was born in Upper Sielesia in Germany on Christmas eve 1906. Waxman was the youngest of six children and came from a family that was not musical in any way, His Father was a successful industrialist who felt that Franz would be better suited to a career in banking as he was of the opinion that no one could make a living out of music. The young Waxman however did have piano lessons from the age of 7 yrs, when he started working he went into banking as his Father wanted and worked as a clerk for some two and a half years using his wages to fund his lessons in piano, composition and counterpoint. After this period, Waxman resigned from the banking job and moved to Dresden but stayed there for only a short time, he eventually moved to Berlin to study music proper. His musical education was paid for by money he earned from playing the piano in nightclubs and also from working with a band called the Weintraub Syncopaters who were very popular jazz ensemble at the time. Waxman also began to do arrangements for the band and this led him into orchestrating some early German musical films. Fellow composer Frederich Hollander, who had written music for the band gave Waxman his first significant scoring assignment, this was to perform the orchestrations and to conduct his score for THE BLUE ANGEL. The film’s producer Erich Pommer was impressed with the way in which Waxman orchestrated the score and he offered the composer work at UFA Studios in Berlin.

 

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Waxman’s first job there was to score Fritz Lang’s version of Liliom (1933), which again was successful for Waxman. Pommers next movie was Jerome Kern;s MUSIC IN THE AIR which was for Fox films in 1934, this meant that the producer had to travel to the United States and he asked Waxman to accompany him to work on the arrangements for the film. Waxman soon became noticed by other filmmakers and in 1935 he worked on James Whale’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which was his first Hollywood film score. This assignment led to a two-year contract with Universal studios as head of their music department. He worked on more than 50 movies during this time as music director and composed the scores to at least 15 of these. Among the best known of these are THE INVISIBLE RAY and MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. In 1936 aged 30, the composer was offered a long-term contract with M.G.M. as a composer, during this time Waxman scored approx; seven movies a year and whilst with M.G.M. he worked on movies such as, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS and WOMAN OF THE YEAR.

It was also whilst at M.G.M. that Waxman came into contact with David O Selznick and in 1937 worked on YOUNG AT HEART for the filmmaker, which was a score that the composer received two Academy Award nominations for, for best original music and best score. Four years later Waxman was again loaned to Selznick by M.G.M. this time to work on REBECCA for which he was again nominated for an Academy Award. The composer left M.G.M. in 1943 and began a long and fruitful collaboration with Warner Brothers films. In 1947 the composer founded the Los Angeles International Music Festival, which he was head of for some 20 years. In 1950 he won the Oscar for his music to Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD and again in 1951 for George Stevens, A PLACE IN THE SUN. The 1950s and 1960s proved to be a busy time for the composer and it was also during these decades that Waxman produced some of his most memorable works for the cinema, CRIME IN THE STREETS, TARAS BULBA, THE NUNS STORY, SAYONARA, PRINCE VALIANT, THE SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS and PEYTON PLACE being just a few titles from his impressive assignment list. It was also during this period that Waxman re-invented the way in which he wrote music progressing from the romantic to at times hard hitting jazz infused scores and also big epic sounding works. He passed away on February 24th 1967 in Los Angeles at the age of just 60.

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Waxman’s score for THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was reconstructed and re-recorded in 1993 and released on Silva Screen records. An earlier reconstruction of a composition from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was available within the CLASSIC FILM SCORES OF series on RCA Records which was conducted by Charles Gerhardt. The series of film score from the Universal horrors on Marco Polo still to this day remain enticing and attractive, I leave the last word to John Morgan who was responsible for bringing them to life via his reconstruction work.

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“Those Universal horror scores by Skinner and Salter have been favorites since I first saw the films on television in the fifties. I just loved the music and it really became part of me and my musical taste. I was so happy we could do these as I am convinced no others in the music world would tackle them as the films, for the most part, were considered B material. But they had A scores. It was difficult too, as none of the orchestration survived, so I had to use the abbreviated piano-conductor sheets and orchestrate the music from top to bottom. I was glad Hans Salter was still alive when we started on his project”.

THE McGREGORS AND MORRICONE.

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Maestro Ennio Morricone is probably the most prolific composer of film music in the 20th Century and continues to surprise and delight fans in the 21st Century only the other day we were presented with a new score by the Maestro which is unmistakably Morricone through and through, he just has the amazing ability to establish a sound and his style in the opening bars of any melody or theme that he pens and his undeniably unique musical fingerprint is recognised by all instantly. He not only writes for film and television but does also make the a number of forays into the world of what aficionados like to refer to as being “SERIOUS” music which is for concert hall performance. However if you were to stop a member of the public who knew just a little about films and music and ask them who is Ennio Morricone they would probably answer “He is the Italian guy who writes music for westerns” which is to a point true I suppose, but when you take a look at the musical output of this great music-smith one can see that western film scores take up a very small percentage of his contributions to film. As a collector of Italian music I am pleased to say that most of Morricone,s western scores have been released in complete editions or at least have had the odd track here and there on a compilation or music collection allowing collectors to at least savour certain cues from the scores. It is as we all are aware the Western score or the western sound that he invented along with director Sergio Leone on the DOLLAR movies, the composers creativity and originality when writing for western films more or less rejuvenated film music collectors interest in the western score and it is this type of soundtrack that the Maestro is still best known for, although I don’t think that Morricone himself would agree with this. Two westerns that were scored by Morricone however do remain unpublished, apart from a track or two along the way, which invariably were the same tracks on each occasion and were included in most collections of his work for the “Spaghetti Western”, as it was crudely dubbed by critics outside of Italy.

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The two scores in question are, SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGREGORS and SEVEN WOMEN FOR THE McGREGORS and it looks as if these two westerns scores are never going to be issued on a compact disc in complete form with various reasons being given as to why, but these last two Morricone western scores are certainly worth waiting for and I am sure that they will go like those veritable hot cakes that always seem to sell so well as soon as anyone decides to issue them on compact disc. Released in 1966, SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGREGORS was in fact the first movie to be produced by Jolly Films after filmmaker Sergio Leone had departed the company, his assistant director for the film A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Franco Giraldi was given the job of helming the production which starred Robert Woods, Agata Flori, Alberto Dell’Acqua and Fernando Sancho and to be fair Giraldi made a pretty good job of things. The production team involved on SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGREGORS also included a number of technicians etc that had worked alongside Leone on the first DOLLAR movie and this also included composer Ennio Morricone.
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The movie itself is essentially a comedy but also surprisingly contains a large amount of quite brutal violence, a hefty body count along the way and lots of what can be seen as rip roaring action scenes and brawls. The movie which was based on an idea by Duccio Tessari was filmed on location near Guadix, it boasted a couple of impressive scenes these were a particularly realistic and tense knife fight which took place on a waterwheel and also a really exciting and exhilarating attack on a train, in fact the assault on the train was so realistic that actor Fernando Sancho who portrayed one of the stories villains was nearly decapitated by an iron bridge as the train passed under it.
Thankfully Sancho escaped unscathed, which is more than can be said for some of his fellow cast members who sustained broken ribs and other injuries but were forced to carry on as the budget and schedule for the film was so tight. A number of the cast for the movie had originally been either stunt doubles or Circus performers so the frantically paced action scenes were at times very fast and certainly furiously entertaining. Ennio Morricone’s score was somewhat different from the western scores he had produced during this period of his career, written in the year after he worked on films such as A PISTOL FOR RINGO, THE RETURN OF RINGO and Leone’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and in the same year as THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY,NAVAJO JOE,THE HILLS RUN RED and THE BIG GUNDOWN.

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The Mcgregors score seemed to contain more of an American sound to it, by this I mean that the composer scored the movie in a fashion which was original but not as unique as his approach on A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, with cues such as SANTE FE EXPRESS being expansive and urgent but also containing a more typical western sound or at least a western sound that we had become used to. Morricone making effective use of timpani (racing snares) and near anthem like but at the same time urgent sounding brass that is supported by choir underlined by strings and punctuated by piano.
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The striking and pulsating opening theme is presented in the form of a somewhat tongue in cheek sounding march “MARCIA DI McGREGORS” underlines perfectly the persona of the central figures within the movie and adds a certain comedic rawness or bawdiness to the proceedings with Alessandro Alessandroni’s excellent Il Cantori Moderni providing the vocals and mid way through the track the whistling that are interspersed with shrill sounding Harmonica and Bagpipe effects supported by thundering martial sounding drums that just underline the Scottish connections of the McGregor family. The style that the composer employs at times within the score echoes the sounds of the Italian western soundtrack before it had truly established itself, by this I mean it is at times like listening to a western score that was written before or at the time of Leone’s first Dollar movie, however this does not take anything away from the quality of the soundtrack as this is a western score to die for, in fact anything from this period and by Morricone is an essential purchase. The sequel SEVEN WOMEN FOR THE McGREGORS (aka-UP THE McGREGORS), which was released in 1967. Actor Robert Woods did not return for this second outing of the troublesome Scottish family but like the previous movie it was directed by Franco Giraldi and was again a combination of comedy, action and violent scenes which are at times even more brutal and horrific than the first movie, we are treated (if that’s the right terminology) to executions, torture scenes and also a massacre of an entire towns population and a harrowingly effective scene that involves a child walking through the town being the only survivor of the carnage.

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Robert Woods was replaced by almost unknown actor David Bailey, which was something of a risk on the part of the producers but a risk that paid off as Bailey was an impressive replacement for Woods. In this tale The McGregors gold is stolen by the same Mexican bandits under the leadership of Leo Anchoriz reprising his role from the previous outing and the McGregor boys set off in hot pursuit to retrieve it along the way encountering seven Irish women who they become romantically involved with, a cross eyed dentist also pops into the storyline and there are even more full on fist fights and drunken situations dotted throughout the storyline. Morricone again supplied the music, the original theme or a variation of it at least being utilised at certain points, but the remainder of the score was more of a low key melodic affair with Morricone penning a particularly melancholy central theme for strings and harmonica, which could easily be mistaken for a theme from any of the Winnetou movies which were produced by the Germans during the early 1960,s. The lighter more subdued approach mirroring the romantic involvement of the McGregors with the seven Irish girls. Hopefully both scores will find their way onto compact disc very soon, they would fit perfectly into the essential purchase category and make loyal Morricone fans ecstatic. So who is going to release these two soundtracks.

THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE HUNTERS, DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES.

I first remember seeing THE DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES as it was called many years ago on TV it must have been a long time ago as I watched it on a black and white set that my parents had. I am sure it was on BBC late at night you know the last movie of the weekend when they played the national anthem and reminded you to unplug the set. The edition of the film I saw that night was the version with the animated introduction, which is the one and only time I have seen this version. One of the things that struck me about the movie was the music, it was certainly atmospheric if nothing else, it was rather different for a horror movie but there again we are talking Polanski here.

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Composer Krzysztof Komeda penned a very innovative and original sounding soundtrack to accompany the rather chaotic and madcap adventures of the two vampire hunters which the story focuses upon. Komeda’s score is essentially a serious one, but does however contain a few more slightly comedic interludes. After the animated intro the famous MGM lion turns into a green vampire character with its fangs dripping blood as this imagery begins so does Komeda’s wonderful choral main title at first it sounds off key or slightly out of kilter but as the credits roll and the drops of blood fall the music grows and develops establishing the core theme for the score which re-appears at key points within the movie, and is especially effective as we see Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) on his way to claim a victim, it is in my opinion a very modern sounding piece and even today sounds like it was written recently and could be the work of Philip Glass, but it is attractive in a sort of weird way. The composer supports the lead vocalising with harpsichord and also percussion which in turn is enhanced further by guitar and a kind of warbling choral sound. On first seeing the movie I must admit I found it a little hard going, I had after all been used to the gothic horrors from Hammer and the old black and white Universal tales of the macabre and the fantastic. Polanski’s approach was totally different from anything I had witnessed before and I have to say that it was not until a few years later when I sat and watched the movie again that I fully appreciated the comic and ironic appeal of the picture and the inventive and highly original score by Komeda. The version of the score I have was released on a Polish label THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE HUNTERS being the second Komeda soundtrack on the disc, the other being his triumph of film scoring ROSEMARYS BABY another Polanski horror movie. THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE HUNTERS contains approx 30 minutes of music, Komeda and Polanski choosing to score the project sparingly, in fact after the main titles the film has no music for at least the first half an hour.

It is in this opening 30 minutes or so that the audience is introduced to most of the leading players in the movie, Komeda’s score does not return until the scene where the hunchback who is the Count’s assistant and bodygaurd takes the Vampire to attack the innkeepers daughter Sarah played by Sharon Tate, as the beautiful girl sits in a bath tub filled with bubbles she notices that snow is falling indoors and looks up to see the evil Count coming through the skylight to abduct her. All that is left after he has gone is the bubbles that are now tainted with blood. Komeda’s music is highly effective within this scene and gives it a certain chilling atmosphere which is greatly aided by the utilisation of the Japanese bamboo flute called the Shakuhachi. Sarah’s Father played by Alfie Bass is bereft at the abduction of his daughter and chewing handfuls of garlic sets off into the frozen night to rescue her, in the morning he is found frozen and drained of blood. The vampire hunters decide it would be best to stake him there and then, but the innkeepers wife wont have any of it.

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The vampire hunters decide to go down in the dead of night to finish him off, but they bungle the job and the now vampire innkeeper escapes and makes a b line for the maid, shocked at her once employer being a vampire and wanting to bite her she shows him a crucifix, the innkeeper laughs because being Jewish the crucifix has no power “YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG VAMPIRE” he says. Then there is the obviously Gay vampire who is the son of the Count, who chases Alfred the vampire hunters apprentice in the hope of turning him into one of the un-dead.

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The chase is hilarious, and is masterfully scored by the composer who utilises choir, harpsichord and guitar which are all punctuated and supported by timpani. The timing of the music within this scene is crucial and without it the sequence would probably not have worked again we can hear certain similarities to the music of Morricone. This is a master class in how to score a movie, the music is certainly striking in places but then at other times it is subtle and understated. Komeda was a great talent and his working relationship with Polanski was a fruitful one.

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UNRELEASED MORRICONE . WHY ?

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Have you as a collector of Ennio Morricone film music ever sat and pondered, WHY? Why have so many soundtracks of this great Maestro been released and re released but others remain unpublished and unreleased? Yep me too, there are certain scores that of course we are so grateful to have but is really necessary to re issue these over and over, as you know this is a subject that I do get a little fired up over, so I thought instead of writing about the constant barrage of re issues of re issues why not try and delve into the reasons behind why there are certain Ennio Morricone scores out there that still remain unreleased when it is evident that the masters do exist. So are you sitting comfortably, good then lets begin.

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ROME COME CHICAGO, This is a great score which is credited to both Morricone and his at that time collaborator and conductor Bruno Nicolai, this is a hard hitting soundtrack filled with many of the Morricone trademarks that we all know and adore. Rasping brass underlined by almost manic sounding trumpets, strident strings and dark sounding piano, and this is just the opening theme, pounding percussion keeps the pace and the composers build upon what is already a strong and vibrant core theme. The move was not that successful out side of Italy but nevertheless it is still today an interesting and entertaining piece of cinema. Why this score has never been released is something of a mystery as the movie was released at a time when Morricone was producing some of his most interesting material, the score in my opinion is on a par with Morricone works such as CITTA VIOLENTA, THE SICILIAN CLAN, THE BURGLARS, A MAN TO RESPECT and FEAR IN THE CITY to name but a handful. A few tracks from the score appeared on a bootleg compilation on POO records, this included the score for THE HORNETS NEST on the A side of the LP, and on the B side we were treated to a handful of cues from a few movies, ROME COME CHICAGO being represented by two tracks, these however were the more down beat compositions easy listening if you like, but still welcomed by collectors at the time.

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A bootleg copy of the score was also doing the rounds a few years back but the sound quality on this was not that good, still at least the people who managed to get it had a chance to sample the delights of this Morricone/Nicolai work. SEVEN GUNS FOR THE Mc GREGORS is another score that as yet has not seen a release although recently there were rumours around saying it was coming paired with SEVEN BRIDES FOR THE Mc GREGORS, again utter disbelief that soundtracks such as GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS, BULLETS DON’T ARGUE, THE RINGO MOVIES and also Morricone westerns such as BANDA J AND S all got released on compact disc in the past five years or so, but not THE McGREGORS, maybe they were to bawdy to be released.
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The score for SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGREGORS is in my opinion a fusion of styles, it has to it an American western sound with strings and brass creating broad and expansive themes, but it also has to it another musical edge with the sound of the Italian western seeping through and establishing itself on more than one occasion. Tracks such as MARCH OF THE McGREGORS and the excellent and thundering SANTE FE EXPRESS have appeared on compilations, but the remainder of the score is still I am sad to say in the vaults of CAM or SUGAR who now own the CAM catalogue, McGREGORS is a tricky one however because some of the rights to the music belong to Universal, so I suppose it could be delicate to obtain permission from both companies to release this one.

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It’s the same for the films sequel SEVEN BRIDES OR SEVEN WOMEN FOR THE McGREGORS, the score for this movie did contain some of the original thematic material from its predecessor but Morricone applied a lighter touch for this yarn probably because of the so called romantic content, in fact both of the movies were quite violent the second having a greater body count. Maybe the final decision about the release of soundtracks is down to the man who penned them Maestro Morricone, and with westerns I think we are on thin ice as we all know how he feels about his Italian western scores, he prefers not to talk about them, which for me is a little surprising because it was the music for the western that attracted the publics attention to this composer. Bernard Herrman regarded most if not all of his film music as rubbish, and maybe Morricone shares this opinion about his western scores.

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TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, is yet another score that still has to get a release, yes I know the soundtrack is released but the sound quality is terrible even though it is supposedly re-mastered (not), I am talking about the actual score, there is so much music in the movie and it is good too, again rumours were rife about this a few years back but nothing came of it, I think many were hoping that FSM would release it at the same time as DAYS OF HEAVEN, NAVAJO JOE and THE FIVE MAN ARMY, alas, nothing.

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So is there something or someone in the background stopping these scores being released, that I cannot answer, all I know is that we are bombarded with re-issues of Morricone scores from Italy all of which have been released before, (but it has a nice new cover……oh ok I will have 10). There are so many Morricone scores that have not been released, WHY ? We alas will never know or get the truth, it’s a bit like that. It maybe the Maestro himself that stops the release of the westerns and certain other scores, but in my ever so humble but slightly informed position I think not, it’s the interference of an outside source who for some reason believes it is right to keep these gems from collectors, in recent weeks this has happened with a western score and it was again a case of if I cant do it no one else will, they would rather the score remain unreleased than let someone else issue it, that to me is called jealousy and hypocrisy and is fed by an over inflated ego. Shame on you.

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In these days of limited funds for just about anything and everything it is something of a surprise to me that record companies in Italy in particular seem to have embarked on a program of re-releasing soundtracks that have already been re-issued and this has been recently onto compact disc, some of these first generation re-releases being billed by record companies as definitive editions in other words complete editions of these scores, then lo and behold a few months later up pops the same soundtrack but this time it has a bonus track, umm sorry bonus track so surely the definitive edition was not definitive not complete or the full score, oh yes they found a track or maybe took elements of tracks from the already released soundtrack and mixed it in a computer generated cue that is now a bonus track? So this edition I suppose is the definitive, definitive, complete and full score with a bonus cue (running out of room on the front cover to fit this all in guys). Then here we go again up the score pops again, this time with an alternative cue (wow) and no, no please don’t tell me a bonus track ? No!!! oh its got improved sound and it’s a stereo mix. O I see well that makes all the difference, I will have four copies please because I see they are also limited editions. Ok that’s it then, ummm, no its not, ok here it is again released on a budget label but minus all the bonus definitive stuff and with not so good art work and no notes
(a blessing in some cases), in other words the same as the original LP then? (which is probably something we prefer). So does this mean we can start the definitive and complete circus all over again as the soundtrack has just been issued with the original tracks? Probably…………So watch your inbox for news of an expanded, then a definitive, then a definitive expanded complete full edition with alternative cues and bonus tracks and also maybe an edition approved by the composer with cues taken exclusively from their archive and new art work with liner notes that might state that the score was actually composed by someone else.

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Years ago in the days of places such as Soundtrack in the foyer of the arts theatre club, Harlequin records and Dean street records in London’s Soho, alongside the many second hand stores that were dotted around the area which was in the late 1960,s into the seventies, soundtrack collecting was a voyage of discovery. It was exciting and interesting, by interesting I mean that on each outing one would discover new composers, new films and new labels. On one trip to London one could pick up the LP releases of A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN, LANDRAIDERS and CORRI UOMO CORRI for Princely sum of just £3.15p each and whilst selecting your purchases earmark other releases that you might acquire on your next trip back there.

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With Italian releases I personally used to go by the art work on the cover, this was because at that time many of the films had not seen the light of day in the UK, or if they had I was not old enough to go and see them, so I suppose that is what made collecting in those days more exciting, you did not know what the music was like, there was no internet to hear samples on, in fact samples were things such as washing powder and breakfast cereal etc that you got posted through your door. So unless the shop actually played the albums for you, you were in the dark as to what the music sounded like. After a while however one got to know that certain composers were consistent and looked out for Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai, Francesco de Masi, Gianni Marchetti, Gianni Ferrio, Nico Fidenco, Carlo Rustichelli and Ennio Morricone of course. One also got to know in which genre each composer seemed more at home in, westerns by Fidenco and Cipriani for example were always a sure fire winner. Crime capers from De Masi hit the spot as did his westerns and anything by Gianni Ferrio, Nicolai and Morricone was pretty much guaranteed. Another name I used to look out for was Alessandroni and his Il Cantori Moderni at least when he was involved one knew that the “Italian film music sound” would be present, then it was labels one looked out for CAM, RCA, ARIETE, BEAT, CAROSELLO, GEMELLI, CINEVOX and later GENERAL MUSIC and others. Amid all this I noticed one name on numerous CAM releases, G.Giacchi, later I found out he was Count Giuseppe Giacchi and he was responsible for sound engineering duties for this then prominent label. I say was because he was dismissed in later years by CAM and to be honest since he departed in my opinion the label went down hill, why ? I am not entirely sure but I think when Giacchi left CAM he took with him any passion or actual knowledge of the music and indeed the composers who wrote it. CAM although a great label during the 1960,s and 1970,s was somewhat removed from the music that their releases contained, by this I mean after a while CAM became not a recording label but a music publishing company that licensed music in their archive to other labels, which ended up in recent years has being sold to the SUGAR music group.

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In the 1990,s their soundtrack encyclopedia series was I thought a stroke of genius but many of the compact discs were simply carbon copies of the original LP releases and were less than 30 mins in duration and full priced so because the label released so many at a time (100) collectors could not afford them and had to be selective, thus the sets ended up being broken up and sold separately, but this did not stop CAM releasing a second 100 titles which were not as interesting as the previous set and these too ended up in bargain bins for less than a pound in many cases, so were CAM out of touch with collectors they obviously did not research or gauge the market correctly before embarking on a somewhat ambitious programme of releases. Which is something I thought they did because of the great scores that they had in their archives, if that was me I would be releasing as many as was possible without flooding the market and maybe at a lower price tag but surely it makes sense to maybe consult with collectors and take into account what they actually wanted, after all they are the people who will be purchasing the releases. This is a practise that could be put to good use nowadays, instead of record companies surging forward with low quality releases from inferior movies why not ask for requests from collectors, surely this would ensure sales? It would also allow labels to compile a kind of top twenty of requested scores and releases these in two’s or three’s.

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BEAT records too, are a much respected label and as with CAM it was always BEAT that seemed to have all the best scores, this label I think have done a sterling job with the preservation of great Italian film music, well up until about two years ago that is when the odd few non descript scores started to be issued, these became more and more common until a few months back I made the decision NO MORE and stopped buying them, I wont make one bit of difference to the sales(maybe because they not selling in the first place). But surely discerning collectors of film music out there must also be a little miffed at the low quality of the BEAT releases in the past say six months (maybe they are but wont say) who knows. Who cares, well I do actually.

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I have always championed Italian film music and always supported the labels etc when ever I can, I never had to give negative reviews because it was not appropriate to do so, but now I find myself listening to things or did until I stopped buying, that were not even worth a fleeting run through, so please BEAT release something that will fire us up and excite us like you used too.

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DIGIT MOVIES, good idea at first great start, but these too have gone the same way as BEAT releasing scores that really collectors don’t want, don’t need and don’t buy, So why release them, again I don’t know, ask them, UMMM I did but they never answered, not even a none of your business e mail.

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I thought that DIGIT MOVIES would continue on its way and get stronger and stronger,,,,,WRONG…….it kind of fizzled out a couple of years back, the label releasing again what they or the people that supposedly are advising them want to see (so a lot of stuff straight to the bargain bin).

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I know that the Italian film music archives are not endless, but there must be better material than this laying around somewhere, unless the rumours that were circulating a few years back about the RCA masters archive being destroyed were not rumours and were true, this is something that was denied aggressively by ROME record companies to the point of getting phone calls saying stop talking about this ( I did as I did not find the idea of sleeping with the fishes appealing, getting an offer I cant refuse was not really what I needed and what is a concrete overcoat anyway).

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Maybe I should leave it here, (I hear the strains of the GODFATHER in the background), but think on collectors, ask questions, e mail the record companies ask for specific titles and consider before you buy all these so called definitive editions, or expanded, super stereo, enhanced and improved issues and be very sceptical of bonus material (it could be a track that you already have but enhanced via a PC). Lets be discerning out there.

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