Category Archives: ARTICLES

Articles in this section reflect a personal view of the author only.

COMEDY OF HORRORS—OR,

It Only Hurts When I Laugh or I.ve Got a Splitting Headache. 

(Or take this Axe out of my head).

HORRIFIC COMEDY.

The genres of horror and comedy in film both tread a fine line as in being successful, horror movies can go over the top and comedy can be at times a little too alternative to appeal to the majority but put the two together and in most cases (not all) they can be a winning combination.

I tend to recall films such as Carry on Screaming, What a Carve Up, and to some degree the Frankie Howard vehicle The House in Nightmare Park when I remember horror comedies.

But of course there have been many examples, some of these not meaning to be comedies as they often started out as serious horror’s but ending up a mix of the two because of either bad fx or a banal and nonsensical script, that inspired underwhelming or just bad performance from the actors involved

Blood Bath at the House of Death, is one such example, supposedly a comedy with horror elements or was it a horror with a touch of comedy? Either way it does not matter that much because it ended up being a bit of a fiasco, and even though it starred Vincent Price and featured the likes of Kenny Everett the British radio DJ, Pamela Stephenson, Gareth Hunt etc, it still fell short of the mark in both genres.

I suppose with these actors and artists being involved one should have guessed it was more alternative comedy than horror, especially when it was written by the late Barry Cryer, who took a small part in the movie as a police inspector.  The films only saving grace was the musical score by Mike Moran and Mark London and this was not exactly a shining example of cinematic scoring. The movie was like a fusion of the Masque of the Red Death, various Agatha Christie plots, and Cluedo with elements of well?  I’m not sure really thrown in (literally)! But it became agonizingly uncomfortable as it progressed becoming steadily sillier and sillier as the plot developed, if there was indeed a plot?

In recent years we have been treated to movies such as Lesbian Vampire Killers, which was passable as both a horror and a comedy and contained a magnificent gothic sounding score by Debbie Wiseman. And to be fair the movie was an enjoyable romp, with some real moments of gory horror. Wiseman’s score however outshone the movie and its storyline, the composer playing it totally straight underscoring moments of comedy and horror, the music supporting and elevating the unfolding madness on screen.

Then there was Shaun of the Dead, again equal amounts of comedy mixed in with more than ample horrific and gore that became an instant box office hit.

Cockneys vs Zombies

There are also lesser-known movies like Cockneys vs Zombies, again comedy, horror and a fair amount of foul mouthed one liners, all held together by a really silly plot which in the end was surprisingly entertaining. The film also contained a great soundtrack by Jody Jenkins (Composer Carl Jenkins son) which contained a spaghetti western like lilt to it.

Then there was Scary Movie 1, 2 and 3, (they should have stopped at 1 or maybe before), What we do in the Shadows the film and its subsequent TV series which is still attracting fans now. The Evil Dead series of movies and Beetlejuice. Plus, we must not forget An American Werewolf in London, The Dance of the Vampires, Gremlins and Gremlins 2, The Burbs, PiranhaThe Howling, and Fright Night the 1985 version, to name but a few.

Most of the films I have mentioned all contained good scores, some being the work of what are or were referred to as A list composers, such as Jerry Goldsmith on Gremlins and The Burbs, Elmer Bernstein on An American Werewolf in London, Danny Elfman on Beetlejuice, Pino Donaggio on Piranha andJosephLoDuca on the Evil Dead films.  Trying to combine the two genres can be a little hit and miss and if you get the combination wrong then you might as well release the movie straight to DVD or throw it in the bin. But, if you get the formula right you are on a winner as audiences love to laugh and equally also love to be scared to death, so doing both Horror and comedy simultaneously is a bonus.

The Scream series of movies also verged upon comedic horrors as there were various scenes or one liners and characters within that series that really should not have been taken seriously.

Composer Marco Beltrami’s scores for the original movies were supportive of the action on screen but were too entertaining musically away from the images, the composer achieving operatic musical moments within his scores that are now looked upon as classics. These slasher escapades were for all intent and purpose, bloody and violent films that should have been looked upon more seriously at attempts of being gory horrors, but they also had to them an aura and a content that leaned towards a dark and nervous humour.

The same can be said of Joe Dante’s Piranha which combined a then contemporary style and fused this with the flavours and notions that were employed during the 1950’s and 1960’s in films such as Them for example, where nature is altered as a species is mutated into something that is menacing and dangerous, or in the case of the Piranhas more deadly.  Dante also achieved this in The Howling, in which he brought the legend of the Werewolf into a modern setting. Both Piranha (1978) and The Howling (1981) were effectively but intelligently scored by Italian Maestro Pino Donaggio, who during this period was much in demand after scoring Don’t Look Now (1974) the horror thriller Carrie (1976). The latter being directed by Brian De Palma with whom Donaggio also worked on movies such as Home Movies in 1979, Dressed to Kill in 1980 and Body Double in 1984. He was during the latter part of the 1970’s and the early 1980’s being hailed as the new Bernard Herrmann, and to a degree one could see or more to the point hear why, with dark and low foreboding strings and bellowing horns and other brass frequenting the scores he was involved with, but all the time maintaining a richness and overwhelming thematic air to his scores.

The Evil Dead movies as directed by Sam Raimi are a prime example of comedic moments fusing well with the horror side of things, and the composer Joseph LoDuca is a master at underling the action with music that walks that very fine line between serious and somber, action, and comedy.

His best score in the series must be Army of Darkness, which was the third in the series, in which we are treated to a tour de force of thematic material that overwhelms and tantalizes when listening to it away from the movie and supports, enhances, and acts as a musical punchline to many of the amusing moments in the film. The score is a robust and lush sounding work filled with epic moments and lavish orchestrations that sweep the narrative along at great pace adding a mystical and sumptuous quality to the unfolding storyline, as in the composition Building the Deathcoaster.

It is also overflowing with a romantic and gothic sound that comes to the surface in tracks such as Give me some Sugar/Bone,anza.  

Its comedy musical moments too are effective and at times as manic as the central character, in cues such as Ash Splits and Little Ashes. The score stands as one of the composers best, alongside his work on Brotherhood of the Wolf.

The score also included March of the Dead which was written by Danny Elfman. There are a few movies that cross over the genre line in more ways as in Sundown the Vampire in Retreat, which was a Horror/Comedy/Western, albeit a western set-in contemporary times. And a more recent excursion into the western/horror in the form of Gallowalkers which starred Wesley Snipes, and although was not a comedy apart from its rather offbeat combination of zombies, bounty hunters and gunslingers, but maybe the lines are a little blurrier in this case.  

Sundown

Regarding Sundown, (its original title) it was again a case of the music penned by composer Richard Stone being far superior to the movie it was written for. Sundown tells the story of a community of vampires that have hidden away in the small desert surrounded town of Purgatory. The reason they have hidden away is because they have turned their back on the old ways and are kept alive by drinking synthesized blood. But there are certain members of the community who think they should return to the old ways and become predators once again and feed upon the blood of humans. These elements led by Ethan Jefferson (John Ireland) plan to stage a revolution of sorts and force the head vampire Joseph Mardulak (David Carradine) to either return to being a vampire proper or die. Jefferson’s followers plan to wipe out any opposition they meet using wooden bullets no less. Directed by Anthony Hickox the movie never got a theatrical release on the big screen, although it did have screenings at film festivals in Cannes, Seattle and Palm Springs but was soon relegated to late night showings on television which became few and far between. 

Sundown was to be the last movie produced by Vestron Pictures and a year after its release was issued on VHS and later onto the DVD format in 2008. Although the movie was not a great success it has since gained something of a cult following. The music contains numerous references to western scores from the past and was a fusion of both Italian or Spaghetti western sounds and the more traditional Americana as written by Elmer Bernstein and Jerome Moross etc with Stone utilizing some impressive trumpet solos to support the gunfight or showdown scenes and expansive lyrical passages in the style of The Magnificent Seven and a definite hint of Bernstein’s rousing and Copeland inspired The Comancheros theme to enhance the chases and other action scenes. He also added female soprano which was a gentle nod to the scoring prowess of Ennio Morricone and elevated this style with the addition of a rich and lush string section courtesy of The Graunke Symphony Orchestra – thus bringing together familiar and popular music components from both European and Hollywood versions of the western genre. The CD opens with “Overture and Shane’s Ride” which has a proud, anthem-like opening with horns playing out an imposing and infectious Elmer Bernstein inspired theme. The horns are interspersed and supported by trumpets as the composition builds into what becomes the foundation theme and core of the composer’s work. I suppose the best way to describe this opening cue is that it is a take on the Comancheros main title with a slightly more up-tempo background; strings woods and brass being the mainstays of the cue.

Track two “The Gathering” is more of a dramatic/horror sounding piece with the composer utilizing the string section to great effect, creating a sense of suspense and later in the cue introducing a sweeping and dramatic lushness. Brass also plays a large part in the composition as does woodwind and there is also effectual use of organ which helps to create that sense of a more traditional horror sound, whilst bells and percussion embellish the composition further, with Stone bringing all the elements together to invent a striking and commanding piece of music. Track three “Van Helsing Drops In” is a mixture of atmospherics and mood. At first, it’s something dramatic with shrill woods underlined by brass but the mood alters swiftly to something more subdued and has an underlying sinister sound, performed by woods and strings. The mood alters again as solo flute takes on the score’s central theme in a particularly haunting and romantically laced rendition. Strings join the proceedings and wash delicately over the flute, making the piece even more poignant and emotive. The string section melts away giving precedence to a heart-rending gypsy violin which brings the track to its conclusion. Track four “Night Flight” is again full of drama and is carried mainly by the string section with bold horns and booming percussion punctuating and mingling with these to create a menacing atmosphere. Track six “Count Mardulak” makes use of harmonica, woods, and string section, all of which are underlined by faint use of organ throughout, punctuated momentarily by the sound of a bell. Track seven “Shane in Pursuit” is, as the title suggests, a more upbeat cue.

Brass and urgent strings combine to bring the listener the fullest rendition of the central theme thus far. Woods are also utilized in this wonderful homage to the Hollywood western theme. Track nine “Morts Duel in the Sun” is where the composer goes Spaghetti on us and does it in style. Martial sounding timpani opens the cue, which is underlined by sinister strings and a rattling and menacing harmonica solo supported by woodwind which echoes and at the same time pays homage to Ennio Morricone’s “Man with the Harmonica” composition from Once Upon a Time in the West.  Add to this already contagious mix, a trumpet solo which could be out of any Spaghetti western from the 1960s. In fact, on this occasion, I would say it is more like Michele Lacarenza or Francesco De Masi than Morricone as it has a truly rich and retro infectious sound which I for one associate with numerous non-Morricone scored westerns such as The Wrath of God (1968). The remainder of the score is excellent as the composer brings into play various hints that are musical mementos from past sagebrush saga soundtracks, whilst adding his own style and sound to the proceedings, creating fresh music that has to it a familiar sound.

Going back to Gothic horror and to Roman Polanskis 1967 movie The Fearless Vampire Hunters or Dance of the Vampires. Which successfully combined comedy and horror, although at times I have to admit some of the scenes fell a little flat and lacked the snap and timing that they should have had. I first remember seeing The Dance of the Vampires as it was called in the UK 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 cut that included the animated introduction, which is the one and only time I have seen this edit.

One of the things that struck me about the movie was the music, it was certainly atmospheric if nothing else, and seemed to strike a balance between horror and comedy. The composer Krzysztof Komeda penned a very innovative 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 lighter interludes. After the animated intro the famous MGM lion turns into a green vampire/goblin 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 later in the movie.

It is a very modern sounding piece and even today sounds like it was written recently and could be the work of the likes of Philip Glass, and Ennio Morricone but it is attractive in a sort of weird and grotesque way.

The composer supports the lead vocalising with harpsichord and percussive elements which in turn are enhanced 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 score by Komeda.  The score was released some years later in the late 1980, s onto Compact disc, with The Fearless Vampire Hunters taking second place to the then more popular Rosemary’s Baby which was also scored by Komeda for Polanski. Both scores received separate releases in the early 2000’s and are available on digital sites. The Fearless Vampire Hunters score runs for approx: 30 minutes, Komeda and Polanski choosing use the music sparingly, in fact, after the music for the animated intro and the main titles there is no music for at least the first half an hour. It is in this opening 30 minutes or so that the director introduces the central characters to the audience. Komeda’s score does not return until the scene where the hunchback who is the Count’s assistant and bodyguard takes the Vampire to attack the innkeeper’s daughter Sarah played by Sharon Tate, the vampire sitting in a sleigh in the chill of the night being taken to his victim. The music for this sequence is striking and sinister, with wailing voices being prominent. The focus then switches to the beautiful girl sitting in a bathtub filled with an abundance of bubbles. As she bathes, 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 are the bubbles that are now stained with droplets of blood. Komeda’s music is highly effective within this scene and gives it an urgent and dark atmosphere which is greatly aided by the utilisation of the Japanese bamboo flute called the Shakuhachi and the effective use of voices. 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 innkeeper’s wife won’t have any of it. The vampire hunters decide to go down in the dead of night to finish him off, but they bungle the job, in a scene that is purveyed via their silhouettes attempting to stake the innkeeper. The now vampiric innkeeper escapes and makes a B line for the maid’s room, 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 camp vampire who is the son of the Count, who is more interested in Alfred the vampire Hunters assistant than any maiden from the village and chases the manic young man in the hope of turning him into one of the un-dead. The chase sequence is hilarious, evoking the style of the old silent movies, it is scored masterfully 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 scene would probably not have worked, we can hear certain similarities to the music of Morricone within this cue as in the way it is structured, orchestrated and placed.

This is a lesson on how to score a movie, the music being striking, because of its originality and the composers atmospheric use of voices in places. It also at times takes on a more subtle and understated style with the composer allowing the images and dialogue to do their job without getting in the way. Komeda was a great talent and his working relationship with Polanski was also a fruitful one.

Jerry Goldsmith was a master at his craft and scored his fair share of both horror and comedy films, Goldsmith worked with Joe Dante on a handful of horror/comedies the most well-known being Gremlins (1984) which is well deserving of the iconic label.

The composer also worked on The Burbs (1989), which starred Tom Hanks, now for me The Burbs was a movie that fell way short in comedic departments, but it contained a handful of horror sequences that I thought were worthy of a mention, as in the manic digging in the back garden of Hanks’s mysterious and creepy neighbours, which was quite dark and menacing that was scored frantically by the composer.

Then there were sequences that the composer scored by including parodies of his earlier scores such as the theme from Patton for the character portrayed by Bruce Dern, it was a frenzied madcap outing, at times the audience not knowing if they were coming or going.

Goldsmith had also worked with director Dante on the sci-fi/comedy adventure Explorers, in 1985. And then the composer and filmmaker collaborated on Gremlins 2, The New Batch in 1990.

Much in the same way that stand-up comedy works, and comedy in general its all about the punchline or the timing or even in the way the lines gags etc are delivered, and to a certain degree it’s the same with the music in a comedy and indeed a horror movie, the timing must be spot on, or the joke, the moment of horror and the overall effect will be lost. Goldsmith was by the time he began to work with Dante a seasoned film music composer, he fully understood the importance of split-second timings, and how crucial it was for the music to support and underline a scene, a line, or a sequence.

As was Elmer Bernstein, which is reflected in the music he composed for An American Werewolf in London, and although the score was quite sparce compared with other horror scores, Bernstein’s music shone, considering that the soundtrack also included a peppering of songs. I’m not sure if An American Werewolf in London can be categorised as a comedy/horror, or is it a horror that includes some lighter moments? Or is it a send up of all the vintage Werewolf movies that went before it, with all the cliches from these older productions touched upon throughout at some point?

Any-how, the score by Bernstein is one that works and works well.

Pino Donaggio.

Staying with the Lupine theme and The Howling, directed by Joe Dante, with the wonderful music of Pino Donaggio, for me the score for The Howling, is one of Donaggio’s more accomplished works from this period of the early 1980’s.

Again, is it really a comedy/horror, or just an out and out horror, with gentle nods to the legend of the werewolf as depicted in so many Hollywood flicks?

And these acknowledgements were seen as comedic slants by audiences and critics alike. The film itself contains some pretty scary moments, that are effective on screen and affecting as far as the watching audience is concerned.

One film that is often overlooked is Young Frankenstein, this Mel Brooks movie was a homage to the old black and white horrors as produced by Universal during the 1930’s, and it evokes many of the Boris Karloff Frankenstein storylines, Brooks filmed it in black and white, and cast the genius Gene Wilder in the central role, Wilder made the part all his own, and was supported admirably and suitably insanely by Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, and Peter Boyle as the Monster.

With appearances by Gene Hackman as the Blindman and Brooks himself as the Werewolf. The music for the movie was by Mel Brooks long time musical Maestro John Morris, who had also created the music and songs for The Producers which was the beginning of a collaboration that was to last many years and include twenty movies. Many people in the world of film and film music mention great composer director collaborations such as Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, Spielberg and Williams and Herrmann and Hitchcock, but maybe they should focus upon the Brooks/Morris partnership also. It is a partnership that has produced numerous moments of excellence within cinema history, where music and film just come together to create stunning and memorable combinations.

Young Frankenstein is one of those movies where one feels, sees, and hears the composer and the director are in tune with each other totally. Brooks creating his own take on a classic horror film, and Morris scoring the comedy led movie with music that at times is less than comedic but is more melodic and haunting. Morris too paid his own homage to the Universal years with a score that had many nods to composers such as Hans J Salter and Roy Webb who worked on monster movies and others for the studio. This romantic, melodic, yet dramatic approach can be heard within the composition which has become known as The Transylvanian Lullaby, a composition that became the core theme for the soundtrack, the composer introducing the piece within the opening track that played over the films main title credits.

Morris utilised the lilting and melancholy sounding theme performed by a fragile and heartfelt solo violin as the theme for the Monster, which was a masterful way of accompanying Frankenstein’s creation, giving  it heart and drawing the watching audience in and having them feel empathy for it. 

The movie is something of an acquired taste, but then if you have seen anything by Mel Brooks, I am sure you know what I mean, and I have to agree with the film maker when he says in interview many times it was not his funniest movie, but probably his best. The movie itself influenced other productions and considering the film was in essence a comedy or a satire on a classic tale, composer Morris played it straight when it came to the music, and although there were a handful of punchline musical moments, for example when Frankenstein meets Igor and when Wilder declares he is indeed a Frankenstein. For the most part the composer scored away from the comedic content, the music becoming the straight man to the director’s funny man approach which came across wonderfully when the music and image fused and became one as it were.

We felt the anguish and the confusion of the Monster within the score, the music purveying a sense of not belonging and at the same time it underlined the comedy element and probably made that even more prominent because the music was serious and at times over the top dramatically in the good old Universal fashion. It is without a doubt John Morris’s Masterpiece. We could I suppose gone on forever, and discuss horror comedies or comedy horrors, but for now lets stop and ponder the genre that is a combination of two and also an entertaining, inventive and sometimes a nonsensical form of cinema.

ALFRED THE GREAT.

Originally slated for production in 1964, Alfred the Great was delayed by many obstacles, and after a change of directors, producers, and writers the movie finally came to fruition in 1969. It starred David Hemmings in the title role and also included the likes of Ian McKellen, Michael York, Colin Blakely, Julian Glover, Prunella Ransome and Vivien Merchant. Directed by Clive Donner, who’s claim to fame at that time was the successful oddball comedy What’s New Pussy Cat many thinking that he was an unlikely choice to helm an epic. 

MGM did not seem to have much faith in the film doing well at the box office, so remained a backseat driver on the production because they were not sure if it would appeal to the wider audiences. If it looked as if it was going to do moderately well, I think that the studio would have replaced composer Raymond Leppard and had a more high-profile Hollywood or British film music composer write the music.

Raymond Leppard.

Luckily for us film music fans Raymond Leppard stayed on board, and his score is now perceived as a classic piece of movie music history, being regal, and atmospheric, with some wonderful action cues.

The album was originally released on The MGM label and soon became a rarity because of the film’s poor showings at the box office. The LP record was deleted quickly and from time to time would show up for sale with a hefty price tag of more than five hundred pounds and even going for one thousand pounds on occasion. Leppard was not a film music composer and focused mainly upon music for concert hall performance. As well as being a composer he was also an accomplished harpsichord player and a talented and in demand conductor.

British conductor and harpsichordist Raymond Leppard (left) with English composer Richard Rodney Bennett, circa 1970. (Photo by Erich Auerbach/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Leppard did much to attract audiences to Italian baroque opera, he persuaded Glynebourne opera house which is located outside the historical town of Lewes close to Brighton in East Sussex, to present Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, which was presented in his own spirited edition in 1962 and conducted by John Pritchard, it was a runaway success, after which the composer then travelled Italy and to the city of  Venice, where he was hoping to discover a Monteverdi opera that had been lost. Instead,

Leppard unearthed works by composer Francesco Cavalli, who was to Monteverdi, as he referred to it as, “What Schubert was to Beethoven”. Glyndebourne opera also staged Cavalli’s L’Ormindo, in 1967, and then ,La Clisto directed by Peter Hall was produced in 1970. Then in 1972, and at the BBC Proms, Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria was performed to much acclaim.

The four operas were regularly revived, Leppard conducting most of the performances. The collaboration with Peter Hall and the mezzo-soprano Janet Baker in La Calisto, Il Ritorno and, in 1982 Orfeo Ed Euridice brought unforgettable results.  His works for cinema were few and far between and Alfred the Great was his only truly original score, his other contributions to film such as Lord of the Flies, being adaptations of classical music and conducting assignments The score for Lord of the Flies was a sparse affair, the music scored running for less than five minutes.

LORD OF THE FLIES.

The soundtrack to Alfred the Great was re-issued on a bootleg CD in Germany (Wessex 6954) and was sold as a promotional copy not for re-sale, it contained thirteen tracks from the score and included a brief cue from Leppard’s Lord of the Flies with a running time of just over two minutes at the end of the thirty-five-minute compact disc.

The sound quality was dull and distorted, but collectors added it to their collection because the soundtrack had become so rare. The newly re-mastered release on Kritzerland contains sixteen cues, fourteen from the soundtrack and two further bonus tracks which are film versions of certain tracks. The sound quality is excellent, and it is a superb release and one that any film music collector would be happy to add to their collection.

end titles Alfred the Great.

Born in London, on August 11th 1927, Raymond was the son of Albert Leppard, a scientist, and his wife, Bertha. In 1938 the family moved to the City of Bath, where Raymond studied piano, viola and singing with the  encouragement of Eugene Hanson who was the music master at the then City of Bath boys’ school.

In 1944 he both led the violas and played Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto in Sherborne, Dorset. The following year he won scholarships to Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Royal Academy of Music in London, but national service as an RAF radar operator intervened and he did not go to Trinity to study music until 1948. Leppard died in 2019 he was ninety-two years of age. His other works for cinema included, Laughter in the Dark (1969) and The Hotel New Hampshire (1984). 

NOT ANOTHER DEFINITIVE RELEASE FROM ITALY!

RELEASE, RE-ISSUE, REMASTER (SOMETIMES), RE-ISSUE, ADD A TRACK, RE-ISSUE, ADD A COMPUTER GENERATED TRACK, RE-ISSUE,  REPEAT.

More and more Italian soundtracks are making it to CD these days, the sad thing is most of them have already seen a release, and also had further re-issues some including extra cues others being released with the same track line up of either the original LP releases from the 1960’s and 1970’s or the original compact disc release. Many of the CAM soundtracks that were issued onto LP record during the 1960’s and into the 70’s and the 80’s were notoriously short in duration, some running for less than thirty minutes. The question I ask about this tidal wave of “new releases” that labels such as Cinevox, Beat, and Sugar music are re-issuing is do the collectors need them or want them and also is it fair on collectors for so many to be released, with the same track listings for what is seen to be a high price in the retail market.

I think collectors etc would probably be more accepting of so many re-issues if they were to be released on maybe a budget label that is attached to the main record label, as we had in the days before CD’s with labels such as Sunset and even really cheap labels such as MFP and Hallmark both labels issuing some great soundtracks and compilations which were film music related for the princely sum of under a pound sterling. Instead labels that have issued scores several times continue to get more mileage out of them by presenting them with different artwork, or add different liner notes etc, attempting to make them desirable from an avid collector’s point of view, with the music which is the important thing often taking second place. All the time applying a full price tag to them. So are these a genuine attempt for labels to preserve scores or is it merely another way of getting A few dollars more out of collectors.

Ok, re-issues are in many ways a good thing, especially if you missed the soundtrack first time, second time or even third time around. But these re-issues for me personally are surplus to requirement, with some having a re-issue twice in a twelve-month period. Recent examples include The Big Gundown (La resa di Conti) by Ennio Morricone, a classic score, and a big favourite with many, but one that has been re-issued many times in its original form and in expanded and then so-called definitive editions onto compact disc, and with the popularity of vinyl was also issued on an LP record. So, in my opinion this is an example of record labels getting more mileage and of course ultimately generating more revenue from a score that is fifty-six years old this year, with very little outlay or need of a lot of restoration/remastering work. The thing is do they sell? Well, no record company ever says they do not, but often stress that the soundtrack market is “specialist”, so in other words sales are limited then, yes?

I may be wrong, but I am sure that The Big Gundown has been released on at least eleven separate occasions from its initial release on UA records back in 1966 to its most recent incarnation on BEAT records in 2022. And let’s not forget the digital releases too on the various streaming platforms, which have been many.

The so called definitive compact disc version was issued on GDM, which was re-mastered apparently, but the sound quality was as agreed by many critics and collector’s variable and even questionable because of its echoey reverb making it sound as if the mix was not quite correct or badly unbalanced. The same can be said for the recent Beat re-issue, so is it the same master? Who knows and it’s not worth asking because they wont tell you.  

American labels do also re-issue soundtracks, but they tend to be more selective and at least leave a decent gap between any subsequent re-issue of the re-issue if you get what I mean. And in the cases of La La Land, Intrada, and Varese these re-issues in most cases give the collectors content that is worth having and paying extra for, with thick booklets crammed with notes and lots of stills from the movie or movies.

Italian labels in my opinion do not, and just keep on releasing and re-releasing over and over, with some of the titles beggaring belief as to “WHY” they have even considered re-issuing them. Comedy scores for example, are at times are like the movies themselves, with anyone outside of Italy not really getting the humour or indeed the quirky sounding scores, these scores being a wallpaper of sound that accompany many movies that are just not worth the celluloid they are on. Beat records have been guilty of this many times, with some of these soundtracks literally being un-listenable or laughable because they just have no depth or substance, and this is not the fault of the composer, after all they can only do their best and if the movie is bad how can they be inspired to create something that passes as even mediocre at the best.  Again, a case of the labels releasing something for the sake of it not even thinking if they will sell or not. But I suppose that is up to the individual label, well yes, but would you not think that their time, money, and effort would be better invested re-issuing something that collectors might be vaguely interested in?  But that’s another problem, most Italian labels do not listen to the collectors, makes sense I would have thought that if you are going to release something you want to sell it and make money to invest in more releases that are popular to again sell and make more revenue? Maybe not! There are I would guess several scores that are in the music vaults of CAM, Beat, GDM, Cinevox, etc that have been gathering dust for years.

I think it all started to go wrong when, labels like Digit Movies came on the scene, who at first released lots of brilliant music, and I thank them for that. They soon showed signs of slowing their avalanche of releases probably because they realized that the material was just not good enough. But, other labels, producers and self-titled remastering guru’s (for want of a better description) then began to also release material from Italian cinema and TV, and because the number of labels grew the number of good titles dwindled, because every label wanted to issue  certain scores.

So faced with popular titles drying up, labels and producers turned to the not so good items (which there are many) and flooded the market with soundtracks that collectors had not heard of, and the labels relied upon collectors buying these because of the composer. After this the labels started to run out of the not so good items so rather stop or become more selective, they turned to the dire and dismal examples, and that’s what has been happening since. Sugar music acquired the CAM catalogue and embarked upon a re-issue program that was vast, but all had been issued before, many in the original CAM soundtrack Encyclopedia, so what was the point? Well, the point was to try and entice fans to buy again and again, maybe because of new artwork and sometimes because of an extra thirty seconds of music. Because film music collectors do tend to do this, and record labels are well aware of the habits of said collectors. Quartet records from Spain have become heavily involved with the release of vintage Italian film scores, again their programme began with impressive titles which were very well presented and remastered to a high standard, but in recent months maybe the urgency to release certain scores has overshadowed the care and attention that the label once had when releasing a soundtrack. Three releases come to mind two are Italian one is by a British composer from a British movie.

The first time I began to notice a less than remastered sound was on Roma come Chicago, by Morricone and Nicolai, the release seemed to be rushed, containing less than inspiring art work and a sound quality that leaves much to be desired, this was an important release one that had not been available commercially and was released not long after the death of Morricone, but for the few of us lucky enough to have the score already on cdr it was disappointing to say the least, as the Quartet editions sound paled in the light of the quality of something that was basically a bootleg.

This is also the case with Femmine Insaziabili by Bruno Nicolai, again nice to have the extra cues but maybe improved sound would have been a better idea? The Quartet sound quality again being surpassed by the Easy Tempo CD and LP release and only just marginally superior to the original Ariete release.

Then the re-issue of Zulu by John Barry, in both stereo and mono, the mono sounding superior to the stereo tracks, and the extra cues well less than three minutes, and that is distorted. I think Quartet are a good label they do release some great titles, but…..attention to detail especially in sound department is recommended by all. 

Now there is also the computer-generated track, or (Music never available before) there have been a number of Italian scores that have been re-issued with extra music which is great, but then after a while up they pop again with even more music? So why not include the extra music in the definitive edition in the first place? Probably because this so-called extra music on the re-issue of the definitive edition is not from the score but is elements of the score tracks that have been cobbled together by the hallowed and revered person who is supposedly responsible for the re-mastering, in other words this person remixes pieces of tracks and combines them to present them as a rare and never before released cue.

Also, there is the Karaoke version of the song?  So, the instrumental version of the vocal then? Or is it just the vocal track with the vocal taken out? Probably either way it’s what is known as a scam where I come from. And Italian labels and certain re-mastering operatives based in Italy are so guilty of this, prove me wrong, but I don’t think they can. I have been collecting now for 60 years, and I have seen so many releases and re-issues some official some not, but what I loathe is collectors being lied to for the sake of an extra few euros, yes this is an outspoken article, but its one that comes from the heart and one that I hope will resonate with other film music lovers. Of course, there are labels that release soundtracks that are genuine, and their owners etc are all devoted film music fans, and share a love of the music with fellow collectors. But this is aimed at labels that are in essence making a quick buck for very little outlay and to be blunt are conning fans out of their hard-earned cash. They know who they are which makes it even more disgusting. They are not soundtrack lovers but soundtrack mercenaries. This is no way a slight on the Maestro’s that have written so many great film scores, their music forever lives on in the recordings, but do we really need so many releases of the same score? It is also not a slight upon the legitimate people in the industry that produced so many great soundtrack releases over the years, some sadly no longer with us, and others no longer producing because of the shoddy releases that have flooded the market in recent years. In fact I say to those retired or semi retired, please come back. And to others who I think could take this personally, well if the cap fits wear it.

GREAT FILM THEME COMPILATIONS ON VINYL.

What does film music mean to you? It’s a question I have often asked of friends and also of myself, I was amazed that so many people did not realize there was such a thing as a film score, yes ok the film theme has for many years become favourite to listeners on the radio, for example themes such as The Magnificent Seven, Jaws, Star Wars, Gone With the Wind, James Bond etc have all become deeply implanted into the subconscious of the various generations when films such as these appeared, but these were if you like Thematic, tuneful, they had a melody a musical hook for want of a better description, but now it is very different, for example if I asked you to hum or whistle the theme from say, the new version of Dune would you be able too?

Or what about the theme from The Power of the Dog? Probably not I am guessing, because most new movies don’t have what we used to refer to as the Main Titles theme, I thought just the other day why are there no film theme compilations? Well, its easy because there are no or a very small amount of film scores that have a main or central theme. Yes, there are always sections of scores that contain something that is thematic, but nothing on the scale of films from the 1960’s through to the 1990.s although as I have said there are exceptions.

But very few. Gone are the days of people leaving the cinema with the music from a film running round their heads, it is it seems all about the soundscape now and not the film score, the layering of synthetic non-musical foundations on which the composer or the producer of the score builds his or her electronic monotony, which is repetitive to the point of either driving one mad or even sending you to sleep. There is no cohesion, no weave to the fabric, no melody to the works, but that is my opinion. What’s yours?  So, because of the demise of the film music compilation or the great film theme collection, lets go back a few years and look at a few compilations that were on LP initially and were also an essential part of any film music fans collection.

Starting with the 1968 release Great Western Film Themes, which was on the UA label, (SULP 1220) and had a handful of original tracks and a scattering of cover versions of well-known movie themes from westerns. This was to the first of three LP records released under the title of Great Western film Themes, vol’s two and three following a few years after. Its interesting looking at the content of the original compilation that it boasts music from American made westerns, whereas as the second and third volumes appeared it gradually altered and included Italian themes from spaghetti westerns, penned by the likes of Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai. Which I supposed demonstrated the change in style and the change of the cinema going audiences’ taste in the western.

The original compilation containing standards such as The Big Country, The Magnificent Seven, The Way West, The Return of the Seven, The Scalphunters, The Hour of the Gun, The Wonderful Country etc, all great themes and three of those examples being Coplendish in their style and sound, as in filled with Americana and an expansive air.

Volume two (UAS 29064) was released in 1969 and was a little different and more varied including the likes of The Hills Run Red, and Navajo Joe which were score’s that Morricone penned under the name of Leo Nichols, the second volume also contained The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, as well as The Big Gundown, also by Morricone and cover versions of the composers themes from A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars more interpreted by LeRoy Holmes and his Orchestra. Dominic Frontiere’s Hang Em High theme was also in the line-up, as well as covers of River of No Return, MacKennas Gold and True Grit, it also featured Shelley Manne’s theme and song from Young Billy Young, The Misfits from Alex North, and a cover of Rio Bravo.

So, a very varied selection of music from the western genre.

Volume three of the series (UAS 24892) was released in 1972, and contained sixteen tracks of fabulous western music, from the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, David Buttloph, Elmer Bernstein, Marcello Giombini, Stelvio Cipriani, and others, at the time of its release this became a popular LP with collectors because it contained Face To Face and A Professional Gun from Morricone and also Marcello Giombini’s infectious sounding theme from the movie Sabata. In addition to this it featured Indio Black which was the theme from The Bounty Hunters another in the Sabata series composed by Bruno Nicolai, Morricone’s long-time conductor and collaborator. Let’s, not forget that some of these tracks at that time had not been released in the UK and USA.  It was also a compilation that successfully mixed the musical styles of both the Italian and American made sagebrush saga’s including standards such as The Streets of Laredo, alongside Mclintock, The Horse Soldiers, Drango, and Shane.

The album boasted two pieces from Michael Winner westerns in the form of Lawman, and Chato’s Land both by Jerry Fielding. both of which also at that time had not received a soundtrack release. So, this was a groundbreaking album, and the man behind it and the first two volumes was Alan Warner. In 1974 a double LP set was issued by United Artists which included many of the tracks that were featured in the first three volumes, The Great Western Film Theme Collection-(Original soundtracks and hit film music) contained twenty four cues from westerns the majority of which were from the original soundtracks, with a handful of covers. These western compilations were a lifeline for collectors at the time of their release because the full soundtrack albums were not readily available, especially the Italian scores which were often released in Italy and only available on import.

In fact, out of the twenty-four tracks seventeen were original recordings, the remainder being performed by the likes of Nick Perito, LeRoy Holmes, The Hollywood Strings, Ferrante and Teicher etc. The collection was compiled by Dan Burguone and had notes by Alan Warner. Released as a gatefold this was basically a compilation of the first three compilations with a few exclusions and just one addition which was Hugo Friedhofer’s luxurious sounding theme for the Marlon Brando oater One Eyed Jacks (1961) which has been seen as an inspiration for many of the Italian made Zapata westerns.

The theme and indeed the score by Friedhofer is a fusion of both golden age and silver age styles and stands as one of the composers best works.

As I said the man behind these and several other Great Film Theme compilations on United Artists records was Alan Warner, who was not just an expert on film music and films but excelled in his knowledge of all types of music. British-born music historian Alan Warner was in the music industry his entire working life, first with EMI Records beginning in 1961. He later became label manager for United Artists Records in their London office before transferring to the label’s Los Angeles headquarters in 1976. Drawing on his love of vintage movies, he produced a series of successful soundtrack records for UA including “The Golden Age Of The Hollywood Musical” containing previously unissued tracks from Warner Bros’ Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930’s. He also issued a single of “The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine” as sung in a 1937 Hal Roach film by Laurel & Hardy and it reached #2 on the British charts in December ‘75. Warner went independent in ‘79 and began consulting for United Artists Music Publishing in Hollywood. He then created an entirely novel way of promoting vintage song copyrights to record producers, music supervisors and ad agencies via Discography Trade Books which he wrote and compiled for EMI, Warner/Chappell, MCA and Peer Music. Warner was also creative consultant for EMI, Warner/Chappell and Sony/ATV during which time he recorded interviews with such writers and artists as Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Kenny Gamble & Léon Huff, Gerry Goffin, Lamont Dozier, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Neil Sedaka, Allen Toussaint, Dave Bartholomew, Margaret Whiting and Charles Brown; these interviews were used as promotional tools and were distributed worldwide. Over the years, Warner produced hundreds of commercial compilation albums including a ‘Rock Of Ages’ series for Capitol Records plus ‘The Sue Records Story’ box-set and the ‘Crescent City Soul’ 4-CD set both for EMI.

Alan Warner.

Warner always believed in documenting musical history and wrote three commercial books namely “Celluloid Rock” (co-authored with the BBC’s Philip Jenkinson), plus “Who Sang What On The Screen” and “Who Sang What In Rock ‘n’ Roll”. with his wife Pat in their Hollywood Hills home, Warner also began “The Door to Yesterday” website. He passed away in January 2022.

Other compilations that Warner was responsible for were the Best of series as in The Best of Bond, The Best of Ennio Morricone and The Best of Francis Lai. He also compiled Great War film Themes for UA, (UAS 29074) which surprisingly was limited to just one volume even though it contained some classic themes from what are now considered iconic war movies.

Released in 1969 it contained thirteen cues in all, The Great Escape, Bridge at Remagen, Hannibal Brooks, Play Dirty, Judgement at Nuremberg, among them. The LP featured Michel Legrand’s theme for the Michael Caine movie Play Dirty, which has never seen a complete release, with a track appearing years later in the four CD set of The Cinema of Michel Legrand, so Warner was always including rare cues and enticing collectors to buy these compilations. The LP also included Is Paris Burning? The Train, 633 Squadron, Cast a Giant Shadow, The Battle of Britain, The Devils Brigade, Triple Cross, and The Guns of Navarone, like the western compilations this too contained a few cover versions, but of the thirteen tracks just four were non originals.

The Best of albums were at the time of their release popular amongst collectors, with the Best of Ennio Morricone, (UAS 29002) in particular being attractive because it contained tracks from Navajo Joe and Death Rides a Horse which at that time had not received a soundtrack release outside of Italy. The Good the Bad and The Ugly and The Big Gundown, also featured on the compilation.

With each score being represented by three or four cues. The LP was released in 1969 and how little did we know then to call this The Best of from this prolific composer.

The album was re-issued in 1974 with the same track listing on Sunset records, under the title of Western Themes Italian Style. Along with a handful of previously released scores such as The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven/The Return of the Seven, Goldfinger, The Ten Commandments and Phaedra. Sunset effectively becoming the budget label for UA/Liberty.

The format was the same for The Best of Bond (UAS 29021) with five movies being represented, Doctor No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. The collection containing in all fifteen tracks. This however was not re-issued.

The Best of Francis Lai (UAS 29007), too proved popular, again released in 1969 and having selections from four movies, A Man and A Woman, Hannibal Brooks, Vivre Pour Vivre and Life, Love, and Death. The LP contained fourteen cues in total and was an introduction to the music of Lai for many collectors. Compilations were not new too UA  records in fact there had been a number of albums released, that showcased the music from the movies.

All containing themes that would become familiar and stand the test of time, unlike the film music of today which in most cases sadly is instantly forgettable. Bring back the film theme collections, I hear you say, but what would we include within them? I suppose we could release compilations of Not so great droning noises, that are really annoying. (or have I got tinnitus? Vol 1). But it does not quite have the same ring to Great Film Themes does it?  

MURDER, MYSTERY AND AGATHA CHRISTIE ON SCREEN.

AGATHA CHRISTIE.

When we think of murder and mystery what author comes to mind almost straight away? For me it must be Agatha Christie, and although I am in no way an expert or an authority of her works, I do like a good mystery thriller or whodunnit. And it is true to say that many murder mysteries and detective dramas for both cinema and TV are mainly based around the writings of this author, at least they seem to follow very similar patterns.

Even the board game Cluedo has hints of Agatha Christie, as in country house a murder or series of murders etc. and you know the rest.   I suppose the most well-known stories by the author involve the likes of Poirot, and his outings on The Orient Express and even a trip up the Nile, and with the new version of Death on the Nile in cinemas I thought it would be a bit of fun to explore the musical as in the film score world of Agatha Christie movies and television productions. I would like to touch on an Agatha Christie that has not yet made it to the screen small or large apart from a loosely adapted low budget film in India entitled Chupi Chupi Aashey released in  1960 which is The Mouse Trap that has run in London’s west end since 1952, and performances only stopped when the Covid 19 Pandemic hit.

There is a clause in a contract somewhere that no film can be produced of The Mouse Trap until the production has not been staged for at least six months (no one told Bollywood obviously). The play was based on Christie’s story Three Blind Mice, but the title had to be changed due to another play with the same title being performed at the time that had been written in the 1940’s. Whether the stoppage due to covid counts remains to be seen. But I am sure at some point this Agatha Christie story will be transferred to the silver screen or even to television. I think like so many people of a certain age the Miss Marple movies that starred the magnificent actress Margaret Rutherford are now the movies that are seen to be iconic and are the examples of Christie based screenplays that come to mind so readily.

From Murder she said 1961.

Even though at times they had a rather light and comical leaning and tongue in cheek performances more in keeping with Elstree studios. These were part of the Great British movies that displayed so many attributes and, in these cases, not only the genius of Miss Marple but also her eccentric and at the same time brilliant mind and deductions. Then there is super sleuth Hercule Poirot, and although there have been numerous early examples of his adventures on film it is probably the episodes many years later on the small screen with the detective being portrayed by David Suchet that come to mind almost instantly. The original series had an opening theme that would also become as iconic as the series and forever associated with the character.  Written by the masterful and talented British composer Christopher Gunning, it was not only a cleverly utilized and haunting piece of music but one that as soon as it is heard conjures up that inventive opening sequence that the original episodes of the show boasted.

The Poirot character first appeared in a story by Christie which she penned in 1916 but was not published until 1920 entitled The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Poirot became one of the authors most popular and enduring creations appearing in thirty-three books, two plays and over fifty short stories, taking his final bow in her novel The Curtain-Poirot’s Last Case in 1975. In which the author returned to the setting of her original story involving the character. It also re-unites two characters Poirot and Arthur Hastings who had not appeared together since 1937 in Dumb Witness. A story which was adapted for television in 2013. In The Curtain Poirot’s Last Case the ingenious detective dies, ending a long and fascinating series of books. Many of which were adapted into both cinema and television productions. Mention Poirot and everyone has thoughts of Murder on the Orient Express or indeed the original cinematic incarnation of Death on the Nile, the latter containing a score by Italian Maestro Nino Rota, and had Peter Ustinov as the Belgian mystery solver.

Albert Finney.

The former movie casting Albert Finney in the role with the music being provided by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.

Bennett.

The character of Poirot has been interpreted or portrayed by approximately thirty actors over the years and as well as Ustinov and Finney, the likes of Orson Welles, John Malkovich, Kenneth Branagh, Robert Powell, and Charles Laughton have brought their own unique talents to the role, Poirot’s character being larger than life and totally dedicated to finding the perpetrators of various crimes.

David Suchet.

I personally enjoyed the Poirot TV series and thought that Suchet was perfect for the role, I also loved the work that Christopher Gunning did on the series and could not understand the reasoning behind not having him score the more recent additions to the series.

The music being suitably adherent to the period in which the stories were set and wonderfully sympathetic to the scenarios and situations that were unfolding. The composer knowing instinctively where to place the music and what style of music to utilize for maximum effect. I believe without Gunning’s atmospheric scores and infectious title’s theme Poirot may have not been as successfully as it was. Gunning’s use of saxophone was genius, and it was this instrument that not only created the foundation of the scores for each episode but was an integral component of those scores and the storylines.

Christopher Gunning

The series Poirot also included feature length episodes, that included The ABC Murders in 1992 and Peril at End House in 1990, which were often screened at the beginning of a new season or series. Christopher Gunning was and remains one of the most talented and adaptable composers working in film and television today, but sadly has in recent years not been involved in scoring many projects for the screen, instead he focuses more upon his music for concert hall performance. Concert hall’s gain is the film music fans loss. 

From the small screen let’s go back to the cinema and to 1961 when Murder She Said was released, directed by George Pollock, it stars Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, with James Robertson Justice, Arthur Kennedy, Thorley Waters, Richard Briers, Charles Tingwell and Joan Hickson (who would in later years take on the role of Miss Marple herself for TV).  Ms Jane Marple (Rutherford) is on-board a train when she sees what appears to be, a murder – a woman being strangled – in another train that is passing. When the Police refuse to believe her story, she decides to do some investigating of her own. In this, Rutherford’s first appearance as the dithering but beloved sleuth. There are a few things that critics and fans pointed out at the time, one of the most prominent being that Rutherford bared very little resemblance to the character of Miss Marple as created by Agatha Christie, and this too was something that the author was concerned about.

But, when the two women met, they soon warmed to each other and later Christie dedicated one of her books “The Mirror Crack’d-From Side to Side” – to her “friend, Margaret Rutherford”. The movie was successful, and it was scored by composer Ron Goodwin, who penned the now classic theme, which in a similar way to Gunning’s Poirot theme has become synonymous with the character of Marple as portrayed by Margaret Rutherford.

A sequel followed two years later in 1963 in the form of Murder at the Gallop which was based on Christie’s novel After the Funeral. George Pollock again directed, and Rutherford was this time supported by Robert Morley, Flora Robson, Finlay Currie, and Stringer Davis (Rutherford’s Husband), again the musical score was the work of Ron Goodwin. Miss Marple this time investigating what she thinks is the suspicious death of the old and wealthy Mr. Enderby (Currie) who dies suddenly of a heart attack.

But Miss Marple is not content to leave things and wants to know who or what gave him a heart attack? Enderby’s relatives gather at The Gallop, which is a boarding-house and riding school, Marple too decides that she will be there to find out if any of them had any reasons to see him dead. Goodwin’s score is an essential part of the proceedings, the composer lacing the eccentric but clever actions of Marple with harpsichord, strings, and at times adding an upbeat backing.

The familiar theme that Goodwin provided for the Marple films regularly appeared on compilations of the composer’s film and easy listening music on the studio two label in the UK. In 1964 two Miss Marple adventures were released, Murder Most Foul and Murder Ahoy, the former title I think being the most popular in the series. Murder Most Foul was based upon the 1952 Agatha Christie novel Mrs McGinty’s Dead.

Again, helmed by director George Pollock, Rutherford supported by Stringer Davis, Megs Jenkins, James Bolam, Terry Scott, and Ron Moody on this outing. Margaret McGinty is a barmaid and former actor, she is found hanged, and her lodger, caught at the scene, seems plainly guilty. But Miss Marple becomes convinced that the real murderer is a member of a local theatrical troupe, so she joins them to gather information. The clues lead back some years to a single disastrously unsuccessful 1951 performance of a dreadful play written by the group’s hammy director, H. Driffold Cosgood (Moody). Although at that time, several of the current cast members were only children, more murders follow before Miss Marple exposes the killer.

Goodwin’s musical score again added much to the mood and atmospherics of the film’s storyline, and the composer returned for the last movie in the series which was Murder Ahoy which although based around Christie’s character contained an original screenplay by David Pursall and Jack Seddon with no credit given to Agatha Christie.

The movie lacked the spark and the appeal that its three predecessors possessed although the prior releases were adaptations only of the author’s work there seemed to be hardly any Christie in Murder Ahoy. With a more comedic persona enveloping the productions, I cannot say that I enjoyed Murder Ahoy as much as the other three films in the series, but I am not certain why that was?

Maybe I had Miss Marple overload by the time I got to it? The movie featured Lionel Jefferies, Derek Nimmo, Francis Matthews, and Nicholas Parsons. Pollock again directed, and Goodwin provided the energetic, infectious, and jaunty sounding score.

Ron Goodwin.

The complete scores for the Miss Marple quartet of movies starring Rutherford, never received a release as in the music for each of them, but as I have already stated the theme arranged by Goodwin was always featured in concert programmes and included on so many compilations of the composer’s music. A nearly twenty-minute suite of music was released back in 2012 performed by The Odense Symphony Orchestra, which appeared alongside their performance of the mischievous sounding Miss Marple theme and suites from the composers scores for Force 10 from Navarone and Lancelot and Guinevere. The suite included themes from all four scores and highlights just how talented Goodwin was as a composer and what an inventive arranger he clearly was.

From Poirot on TV and Marple at the cinema to a bit of a reverse role scenario, with Poirot on the big screen and Miss Marple occupying the box in the corner but still managing a few interesting outings on the big screen. I have already mentioned Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express, but there was also Evil Under the Sun, in which Poirot once again sniffed out the guilty culprit. I am surprised that this movie can at times be overlooked or even ignored, but why? Well musically it did not have an original score, instead the film was tracked with pieces from Cole Porter, so maybe from a film music fans point of view it might seem less interesting. The film directed by Guy Hamilton in 1982, boasted an impressive line-up of stars, with Peter Ustinov as Poirot, and featured James Mason, Colin Blakey, Diana Rigg, Dennis Quilley, Jane Birkin, Roddy McDowell, and Maggie Smith amongst others.

Hercule Poirot is summoned to investigate a case for an insurance company regarding a dead woman’s body found on a moor, with an important diamond sent to the company to be insured, turning out to be a fake. Poirot discovers that the diamond was gifted to Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg) by Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely), Arlena is on her honeymoon with her husband and stepdaughter on a Mediterranean island hotel. The Belgian sleuth joins them on the island and finds that everybody else there seems to dislike or worse hate Arlena for varied reasons, these being her refusing to do a stage show, stopping a book, and for having an open affair with Patrick Redfern (Nicholas Clay), another guest, in full view of his shy wife. It’s not too long before Arlena is found strangled to death, and it is then up to Poirot to find the killer.

A similar scenario was the plot for Death on the Nile which was released in 1978 and directed by John Guillermin, it was an even more impressive cast that was assembled for this production, which read like a who’s who of both British and American cinema at the time.

Peter Ustinov made his first appearance as Poirot in this movie and was to portray the detective again in Evil under the Sun and Appointment with Death, he also made appearances as Poirot in a further three productions for television which were Thirteen at Dinner, Dead Man’s Folly and Murder in three Acts.

Peter Ustinov.

The Belgian super sleuth who is on the Nile cruise finds himself surrounded by an interesting if not odd assortment of people, which include a wealthy heiress and her husband who are on their honeymoon. It does not take Poirot long to find out that most of the passengers on the ship hate the heiress. The film was scored by iconic Italian Maestro Nino Rota, who provided the movie with a suitably romantic, dramatic, and epic sounding soundtrack. It was rumoured at the time of the film being released that Rota had not actually seen the movie and wrote his score around the details of the script.

Nino Rota.

Whether this is true I cannot clarify. But if it is correct, it did not stop Rota being inspired by the subject matter and delivering an effective score for the production. Filled with mystery, romantic connotations and a decidedly grand sounding opening theme. The soundtrack which was conducted by Marcus Dodd’s was released on the EMI label on long playing record in 1978.

The story has recently been brought back to the cinema by filmmaker Kenneth Branagh who also stars as Poirot in the 2022 release. The film was delayed like so many because of covid 19. Was it worth waiting for, well in my opinion yes I think so, the score by Patrick Doyle who is a long time collaborator with Branagh is most certainly supportive of the action and the storyline, and like other scores by this talented composer has various shades and colours within it.

I did however detect a slight change in the composer’s style and at  various stages of the score I felt that it could have been Hans Zimmer who was in the scoring seat, Doyle utilising layers of sounds that gradually build and subtly develop, yes they are effective, but I was slightly thrown by this, but saying that there are also a number of richly thematic pieces within the soundtrack, the composer mixing these with dark and brooding passages that purvey apprehension, drama and a sinister auras. It is a score I must admit I had to listen to a few times before I began to fully appreciate Doyle’s work on the film.

But it works effectively in the film and has to it an appealing and enriching persona if listened to as just music away from the images. It is a fusion of the symphonic with the synthetic, as so many contemporary film scores are. But Doyle fuses the two mediums flawlessly to create a soundtrack of the highest quality.

The same can be said of Doyle’s score for the 2017 release of Murder on the Orient Express, another Branagh outing, and although it is possibly not as memorable as the original score from the 1974 movie by Richard Rodney Bennet, it has its interesting moments.

Continuing and listing various Agatha Christie stories or stories inspired by her writings that have been brought to both the silver screen and the smaller one as in TV. We go to 1976 and Murder by Death, which was a satirical movie that featured two of Christies characters, Miss Marple and Poirot, the Belgian detective on this occasion being portrayed in a very tongue in cheek manner by James Coco. A year later we were treated (if that is the right phrasing) to The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as we Know it. Which was a low budget instantly forgettable spoof  with actor Dudley Jones as Poirot who for some reason featured alongside Sherlock Holmes (confused I am).

And in 1978 there was Revenge of the Pink Panther, no not an Agatha Christie story but it featured a character played by actor Andrew Sachs who is convinced he is Poirot. Maybe that’s too off the beaten track, but I thought I would mention it. In 1979 the first Spanish film to feature Poirot was released, with Joan Borras playing the sleuth. There were also a number of radio adaptations of Christies works, with actors such as Maurice Denham (1985), Peter Sallis (1986), and John Moffat voicing the role. Moffat being the most enduring performer in the role from 1987 through to the 2000’s.   1986 also saw a TV film based on Agatha Christie’s life entitled – Murder by the Book. With Ian Holm playing Poirot, who surprises Christie (portrayed by Peggy Ashcroft) by turning up at her door in the story. Even comedian Bobby Davro, got in on the Poirot act, when he appeared as Hercule, in an episode of Sketch Pad in 1989. This was the year that David Suchet first sported the famous moustache in the TV series Poirot. As the decade of the 1990’s began, there was a Russian film adaptation of Peril at End House, which starred Anatoliy Ravikovich in the central role. But the 1990’s were not kind to Poirot as in big screen appearances, as the character was basically parodied in things such as Murder on the Disorientated Express, which was featured in an episode of Muppets Tonight, and in 1997 Hugh Lauriespoofs the Belgian in a scene from Spice World alongside Emma Bunton. In 2001 a TV adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express appeared, with a drastically reduced character list than the book and featured Alfred Molina as Poirot. The movie was set in the present day rather than the original time frame of the 1930’s. Another Russian movie was released in 2002 with Poirot played by Konstantin Rajkin, which was based on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but released under the title of Poirot’s Failure. A combination of the stage play Alibi and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was also the stories first adapted into a film that featured Poirot in 1931 entitled Alibi. The first cinematic adaptation of a Christie novel being in 1928, which was The Passing of Mr Quinn, that was released as The Coming of Mr Quinn featuring central character Dr. Alec Portal.

Other popular adaptations included And then There Were None, released as Ten Little Indians in 1945, which had a score by Malcolm Lockyer, who scored a number of British movies including providing the music for the Daleks cinema debut.  This same story was presented as Ten Little Indians in 1974 in the United States and again in 1989.

 In 1957, Witness for the Prosecution was released, directed by Billie Wilder, who also worked on the adaptation from the Agatha Christie 1926 novel and the subsequent 1953 stage play. The film which does have certain affiliations with the film-noir genre, starred Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, and Elsa Lanchester. Set in the court room at the Old Bailey, it is a powerful piece of cinema, which received six Academy Award nominations.

There was another film version of Witness for the Prosecution, which came to screens in the form of a TV movie which was released in 1982. The story was written for television by John Gay, based upon Billy Wilder’s screenplay from 1957 and further adapted by Laurence B Marcus. It starred Sir Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr, Beau Bridges, Donald Pleasance, Wendy Hiller, and Diana Rigg. Directed by Alan Gibson, the TV movie had a score by composer John Cameron, who also provided the music for the Miss Marple movie The Mirror Crack’d in 1980. Which was directed by Guy Hamilton and featured Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple.

The movie like most Christie adaptations had a cast of familiar faces. Set in 1953 in the small English village of St. Mary Mead, which is the home to Miss Marple (Angela Lansbury). The villagers are initially delighted when a big American movie company arrives to make a film telling of the relationship between Jane Grey and Elisabeth I, starring the famous actresses Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak). Marina arrives with her husband, Jason (Rock Hudson), but when she discovers that Lola is going to be in the movie with her, she becomes enraged as Lola and Marina loathe each other. Marina has been getting death threats, and at a party at the manor house, Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett), after boring Marina with a long story, drinks a cocktail made for Marina, and dies from poisoning. Everybody believes that Marina is the target, but the Police Officer investigating the case, Chief Inspector Dermot Craddock (Edward Fox) isn’t sure, so he enlists the help of Miss Marple, his aunt, to investigate. Fairly typical whodunnit material, but also a worthy addition to the Agatha Christie stories committed to celluloid. John Cameron’s score was supportive and at times somewhat understated, but this is probably why it worked so well. Sadly, like so many of Cameron’s film and TV music the soundtrack was never released. (ie his Jack the Ripper score from the 1988 TV mini-series and Frankenstein in 1992).

John Cameron’s composing and arranging covers an amazing array of music genres, from rock, soul, jazz and folk music, through electronic, world, orchestral and choral music, working in film, television, theatre of all kinds, and recording. His career in music started in earnest at Cambridge University where he was Vice-President of the Footlights and busy in many forms of music, most notably the local jazz scene. On coming down, he was soon writing arrangements for artists such as Donovan (within 6 months he had his first no.1 hit in the US with Donovan’s Sunshine Superman that he arranged with Spike Heatley).

John became Donovan’s music director, touring with him, and arranging hit singles Jennifer Juniper, & Epistle to Dippy, & the Sunshine Superman & Mellow Yellow albums, and subsequently arranging Donovan’s music for Ken Loach’s Poor Cow. John went on to work extensively in Television, as music director and arranger for three series of Once More with Felix (with folk-singer Julie Felix), The Bobbie Gentry Show and numerous shows in Stanley Dorfman’s In Concert series, featuring artists such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman. (info: from the composers web-site).  

Agatha Christies Miss Marple has been a regular and popular character over the years on TV with actors such as Geraldine McEwen, (eleven episodes) and Julia McKenzie (twelve episodes) making the role their own in their own distinctive fashion. This was in the series on ITV in the UK which ran from 2004 through till 2013.and featured cast members or guest appearances by the likes of Herbert Lom, Timothy Dalton, Ian Richardson, Joanna Lumley, Juliet Stephenson, and Julian Sands. Who were part of a cast list that numbers over a hundred. Directed by various filmmakers over the years which totalled sixteen in all, the series had music by Dominik Scherrer who scored all twenty-three episodes.

The BBC adapted  all twelve Christie novels about the character during the 1980’s in a series simply titled Miss Marple. Joan Hickson, who first played the role on stage in 1940, played Marple in all of them. The series ran for eight years and Hickson made the role her own, with the actress receiving back-to-back BAFTA nods in 1987 and 1988 for Best Actress as Miss Marple. Hickson also won a 1987 UK Royal Television Award for Best Performance in the Marple series. Music was by composer Ken Howard. So many actresses have portrayed Marple, in fact maybe too many to mention or attempt to list. But for me personally it was Margaret Rutherford and Joan Hickson that did it for me in the role.  If I have missed any title out or overlooked a book or even a composer or a star that has connections with the works of Agatha Christie I do apologise, for now I hope that this article will be interesting for anyone who reads it.