Tag Archives: four faces of 60’s film scores. part two the war film.de vol

FOUR FACES OF THE 60’S FILM SCORE, PART TWO-THE WAR FILM.

war

Like the Western, War movies were tremendously popular during the 1960’s in fact their popularity and appeal had not really faded since the end of the 1940’s and were always of interest to cinema audiences in the aftermath of WWll. There were some classics produced during the 1960’s and I hope that the four I have selected meet with your approval as being iconic cinema and also have scores that sometimes fit into that category.

The_Great_Escape_(film)_poster

 

“Wait a minute. You aren’t seriously suggesting that if I get through the wire… and case everything out there… and don’t get picked up… to turn myself in and get thrown back in the cooler for a couple of months so you can get the information you need”?
The first has a theme that has certainly stood the test of time and is now still as popular with everyone, even if the younger members of the community do not realise it came from a movie and who composed it. THE GREAT ESCAPE was a movie I went to see at an early age and have continued to watch it every Christmas, Easter and bank holiday when it is aired on television. It is what I call essential viewing and to not watch it would I think be sacrilege. Its not just the movie though, it’s the robust and haunting score from composer Elmer Bernstein, one thing you can say about composers who worked in the 1960’s is that they knew how important it was to have a memorable theme for a movie. A theme that the audiences could latch onto and leave the cinema humming or whistling. Bernstein’s GREAT ESCAPE theme not only opened the movie but popped up here and there adding an identity to certain characters and scenarios, the composer at times presenting the theme in a dramatic or even a melancholy fashion, but aswell as the familiar theme the composer also provided the movie with a handful of themes that themselves could have easily acted as core musical foundations for any number of movies.

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I suppose what I am saying is that Bernstein produced a score that was not only an essential component of the film and the drama being acted out on screen, but he also wrote themes that were easily listenable away from the images, which I think was the appeal of a lot of movie scores from te 1960’s. The GREAT ESCAPE theme even had a vocal version that was released in the USA as a single entitled I MUST BE FICKLE.

 

 

 

GREAT ESCAPE MARCH, THE (from ‘The Great Escape’)
Lyrics: Al Stillman; Music: Elmer Bernstein

The Kirby Stone Four

Mabel – I love you, Mabel,
Love you as much as I am able.
Although I’m crazy for little Daisy,
She is the one girl for me.

(Chorus)
Fickle? I may be fickle,
But it’s a dollar to a nickle,
That when I’m kissin’, the one I’m kissin’,
She is the one girl for me.

Carrie – I need you, Carrie,
But I don’t think that we will marry,
For that would hinder my love for Linda;
She is the one girl for me.

(Chorus)
Fickle? I may be fickle,
But it’s a dollar to a nickle,
That when I’m kissin’, the one I’m kissin’,
She is the one girl for me.

Fickle, fickle, dollar to a nickel,
Fickle, fickle, fickle me!

I love Matilda, she is very nice,
But that Hilda makes it paradise.
I love Matilda, but Hilda is very nice.
She is the one girl for me.

Fickle, fickle, dollar to a nickel,
Fickle, fickle, fickle me!

(Chorus)
Fickle? I may be fickle,
But it’s a dollar to a nickle,
That when I’m kissin’, the one I’m kissin’,
She is the one girl for me.
She is the one girl for me.
She is the one girl for me!

It reached number 23 in the billboard 100 but I think I still prefer the Bernstein score version of the theme. THE GREAT ESCAPE was in my opinion along with movies such as THE LONGEST DAY one of the first movies that boasted what is now referred to as an all-star cast. It had names from the world of cinema and theatre from all over the globe. Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Garner, James Donald, David McCallum, Nigel Stock, Gordon Jackson, Angus Lennie and many more. Directed by John Sturges and released in 1963, the film was based upon true events, with writer James Clavell working on the film’s screenplay.

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A group of allied prisoners that are notorious with the third Reich for their expertise in the art of escaping, the German high command decide the best way to deal with them is to put them all in one Stalag, which is supposedly escape proof. But the POW’s see this as a bigger challenge and set out to prove that the Stalag is not escape proof at all. The leader of the prisoners plans a mass escape that will see hundreds of prisoners escaping all over Germany keeping the Nazi’s tied up hunting them down, thus depriving the German army of much wanted troops. The first part of the movie comes across as a comedy in places as we see various prisoners outwit and belittle their German jailers. However, the second part of the movie takes on a more serious and darker tone as we see the prisoners escape and follow individuals and pairs of comrades making their way across land, sea and air in an attempt to stay free. Bernstein’s score at times gives the watching audience little snippets of respite that come in the form of lilting melodies, that are lush and ooze a style and sound that is filled with melancholy and hope.

escape3
But in the main the composer manages to apply the pressure with music that is martial and robust, the theme being the foundation of the entire score with each cue on the soundtrack having elements of it or at least variations of the theme within it, THE CHASE I think is a great piece the composer pulling out all the stops to accompany Steve McQueen’s character as he attempts to make his escape into Switzerland on a motor bike he has stolen from the Germans, the only thing standing in his way is a twenty foot fence, which he intends to jump over on the bike.

 

 

Bernstein’s music adds even greater atmosphere and tension to the sequence, and we all are rooting for the bike rider to make it over the fence, even if deep down we know that it is not possible. THE GREAT ESCAPE is a classic film and has a classic soundtrack to enhance and support it. When they say they don’t make like that anymore, they are most certainly referring to the movie and the music.

 

battle
“We’re not easily frightened. And we have the Channel, which is not easily crossed. The last little corporal to try it came a cropper”.
The same can be said for a movie that was released some six years later, again a cast full of stars and a musical score that was rousing and vibrant if not a little controversial. THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN was released in 1969, and I think was probably one of the big war movies of the 1960’s and also the type of film that never seemed to make a comeback once the 1970’s got into full swing. This was the British stiff upper lip at its most taught.

 

A large scale production that originally was to be scored by Sir William Walton, but because of scheduling and Walton’s pace of writing the producers became concerned, and one they heard the score and just how sparse it was they decided to engage another composer, enter then Ron Goodwin. And the rest as they say is history, all that remained of Walton’s score was the cue BATTLE IN THE AIR, the films main score being written by Goodwin.

Rongoodwin
BATTLE OF BRITAIN was filmed in three countries, England, Spain and France, the movie cost over thirteen million dollars to make and was produced by Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fitz, released in 1969, the movie recounts the tense and uncertain days during the summer of 1940, when Hitler unleashed his formidable Luftwaffe on England, and the brave and courageous pilots, ground personal that against all the odds flew and fought off the overwhelming German forces and saved the island from invasion. The film was directed by Guy Hamilton, the film was a faithful re-creation of the events with superb aerial photography by Johnny Jordan and Skeets Kelly whos talent and attention to detail was second to none, along with the collaboration of assistant director, Derek Cracknell and the excellent cinematography of Freddie Young.
Sir Laurence Olivier, Trevor Howard, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Kenneth More, Susannah York, Robert Shaw, Ian McShane and Edward Fox starred in the movie with Lord Olivier portraying the Air Chief Marshall, Hugh Dowding. It had been at Olivier’s request that Walton had been engaged to write the score for BATTLE OF BRITAIN as a director Olivier had used Walton on a number of his movies, Most notably HENRY V. Ron Goodwin who had made his mark on the world of film music via his infectious theme for MISS MARPLE and the now iconic 633 SQUADRON was deemed to be perfect as composer for the film because he had also been successful with his soundtracks for WHERE EAGLES DARE and THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, and he was able to write quickly, which was something the producers of the film wanted as the release date was looming and they had a movie with no score.

battle6

 

Goodwin in my humble opinion made an excellent job of the score in a short period of time, and in my opinion must have heard some of Walton’s score whilst spotting the movie as there is a definite homage within some of the cues to style of Walton, as in the use of woods and strings and brass. Whether this was accidental or done out of respect for the great composer I do not know but remembering how amiable Goodwin was, I would like to think it was the latter. Walton’s score ran for just nine cues, whereas Goodwin’s score boasted some nineteen cues on the compact disc, both scores were released by Ryko on one disc, and listening to the Walton score now I fail to see what was wrong with the actual music apart from there not being enough of it. I remember going to see the movie at the REGENT cinema in Brighton and in the intermission was able to buy the Goodwin soundtrack LP on the U.A. label in the foyer of the cinema. It has remained one of my favourite scores, and the RYKO CD showcases the differing styles of both composers when scoring the same movie. The film was also issued onto DVD and on the disc, there is an option for one to watch the film with either the Goodwin score or with Walton’s music.

battle5
I have to say Walton’s score is surprisingly supportive of the film and oozes with a regal sounding richness and just a hint of that stiff upper lip that is expected of us Brits in situations that seem to be most dire or hopeless. Goodwin’s score too has some wonderfully crafted and stand out moments, THE LUFTWAFFE MARCH or ACES HIGH for example and the central theme for the movie which is a highly charged full piece for driving strings, trumpets and horns.

But BATTLE IN THE AIR by Walton for me personally is the outstanding piece within the film, as the music takes centre stage as there is no sound of gunfire, plane engines or explosions, it is just images of the RAF against the Luftwaffe over land and sea accompanied by Walton’s urgent and swirling composition, which is also at times chaotic and frenzied, but essentially this is truly masterful film scoring. Andre Previn once said. “If they can reject the music of Walton, what chance do us mere mortals have”?

sink

 

Take a message: “Request pleasure of the company of Second Officer Anne Davis at dinner.”

From a battle in the air to a film that focused upon battles upon the Ocean, a movie that is often wrongly mistaken for being released in the 1950’s or before because it has the look and also follows the style that ad been established in films such as THE CRUEL SEA (1953), THE DAMBUSTERS (1955) and REACH FOR THE SKY which was released in 1956. SINK THE BISMARK was released in 1960, directed by Lewis Gilbert this black and white British classic was based upon true events that had occurred during WW ll. The movie starred Kenneth Moore and Carl Mohner and relayed the events which took place between 1939 and 1941. The film opened with newsreel footage of the launching of the hull of the battleship in 1939 which was overlooked by Hitler himself. During the post war period in England war movies such as this became the staple diet of cinema going audiences. And kept the British film industry in gainful employment in the less than affluent days after the war. SINK THE BISMARK was received well by both critics and public alike, with one magazine at the time of the film’s release commenting “THIS IS A FINE FILM, WHICH FULLY CAPTURES THE TENSIONS, DANGERS AND COMPLEXITIES OF BATTLE”. The film also focused upon the human side of events and not just from the British side, it also showed respect to the German forces involved. The musical score was by much revered composer Clifton Parker, Parker’s score is to this day, mentioned and marked as a work of quality by critics, film music collectors and audiences alike. The march from the movie is particularly memorable and is an intensely patriotic and stirring composition in a true Walton/Elgarian fashion. The proud and inspiring score not only matches the action but also adds a tense and dramatic atmosphere to the picture and its impressive battle scenes.


Parker had worked on numerous movies before he came to scoring SINK THE BISMARK, and had received much acclaim for his music to the 1957 horror movie THE NIGHT OF THE DEMON, the composer also providing memorable scores for movies such as SEA OF SAND (1958), THE BLUE LAGOON (1949) and HMS DEFIANT (AKA DAMN THE DEFIANT in the US. (1962).

 

It was Parker who also worked on films such as TREASURE ISLAND and THE SWORD AND THE ROSE. He was like other composers such as Walton, Alwyn and Mathieson a giant in the world of British film music. Sadly, the majority of his film scores were lost or destroyed, but there is hope as a number have been reconstructed and sections have been recorded on the Chandos label.

 

dirty

 

“Very pretty, General. Very pretty. But, can they fight”?

 

The 1960’s was a decade that was for me personally filled with a variety of movies, there always seemed to be something that one wanted to go and see at the cinema or the PICTURES as we used to call them, Sometimes there were so many movies released and I mean good movies that a Saturday would consist of a trip to sometimes three maybe four cinema’s. By this I mean we would start with te matinee, then go to the afternoon and early evening screenings then to the night time performance and at times if we had enough money and could stay awake would head off to the all nightery at the Curzon. Yes, those were the days and we still had change from 4 pound. A film I did go and see a couple of times was THE DIRTY DOZEN,(1967) well I actually stayed in the cinema and watched it through again, because in those days you could go in at any time and sit there and watch the film over and over and not have to pay again. And don’t forget in the sixties there was always a B feature which screened first then the main feature took to the screen. I can’t remember what was on with THE DIRTY DOZEN, but it was not that good because all I remember was the main feature. Although I enjoyed the film, I don’t think at the time I appreciated it or indeed the array of stars that featured in it, to me at the time it was a knock em down and drag em out movie, which when you think about it I suppose it was.

I also never actually liked the score, by composer Frank De Vol. he was a composer who’s music I could take or leave and very often I left it in the record racks. In later years I re-watched the movie and then began to take in the storyline and also appreciate more fully the acting talents that were on offer.

 

 

The score however I still cannot really get into, its not that this is a bad score, no in fact it fits like the proverbial glove, but there are certain things that one just cannot accept and De Vol’s soundtrack is one of them as far as I am concerned. Like most war movies that were released in the 1960’s THE DIRTY DOZEN had a brief but suitably stirring martial sounding opening theme. But on listening to the score again, I still feel that De Vol was playing it is for laughs and was basically sending the whole movie up. Which spoilt the entire experience for me, there was even a song, THE BRAMBLE BUSH sung by Trini Lopez who also starred in the film. The composer also incorporated DON’T SIT UNDER THE APPLE TREE into one of the cues, which was in a way effective, but not for me. I do know that many film music collectors consider this soundtrack a kind of mini classic, but it has a long way to go to attain that status, personally speaking that is. The same can be said for the other scores that De Vol penned for the movies, McLINTOCK, KRAKOTOA EAST OF JAVA to mention just two, the composer was popular no two doubts about it, but I think the popularity was not really as a film music composer, but more as a light music artist, arranger and orchestra leader, in a very similar way to that of Henry Mancini, but of course not as successful. So why have I included this movie here as a face of the 60’s film score, well because the film was so successful, but it’s a sad thing that people who are fans of say THE GREAT ESCAPE, 633 SQUADRON or even to a degree THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN do have an idea of at least the films opening theme, I don’t know, but I am quite confident that people coming out of THE DIRTY DOZEN when they went to the cinema to see it, did not come out whistling anything from De Vol’s score apart from maybe the Trini Lopez song and that’s debatable. The film well, after re-visiting it a few times, yes I can see why there were so many fans of the movie.

 

 

The cast alone is enough to attract much attention, and Aldrich’s direction is quite stunning, the plot is entertaining, and the performances are believable. Set in WWll, an insubordinate and rebellious U.S. army officer (Lee Marvin) is given a handful of convicted murderers who he is expected to train and turn into fighting force and lead them on a mission which is to assassinate a number of top German officers who are taking time out at a French Chateau.


Train them! Excite them! Arm them!…Then turn them loose on the Nazis!

The movie is quite an amusing one and the comedy aspect shines through amongst all the brawls and tense situations whilst the 12 men are being trained and put through their paces, the realy hard hitting stuff comes I would say in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie, when the dozen trap the Germans in a bomb shelter, and throw grenades into the air shafts, which causes chaos underground, the Germans not realising that the pins are still in place on the grenades, but then our merry band of heroes decide to pour petrol down the shafts and then throw a grenade into the mix, which causes an inferno.

 

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It’s a good war movie, and an entertaining one, which was then mimicked over and over, most notably in THE DEVILS BRIGADE one year later in 1968 and to a certain degree in KELLYS HEROES in 1970. THE DIRTY DOZEN is a classic to many, but just an entertaining picture to others. The film starred, Telly Savalas, Clint Walker, Donald Sutherland, Trini Lopez, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, John Cassavetes, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson and George Kennedy amongst others. The soundtrack was released originally on an MGM LP record, and later re-issued on MCA classics, the score received a handful of compact disc releases, including one on the TCM label paired with the score for DIRTY DINGUS MAGEE and also on the UA/MGM label with HANNIBAL BROOKS.