Tag Archives: heroic acts and patriotic themes.


Recently I was looking at a list of the so-called best War movies of the 21st Century, a bit previous really as the century as only just started. The titles in the list were in my opinion ok, but they I dont think, will ever attain the status of films that were released during the 1950’s through to the 1970’s which also were within the genre of war movies. Another thing that struck me was the new movies as in BLACK HAWK DOWN, etc that are on the 21st century list, are not exactly filled with musical scores that are brimming with anything that was as thematic and memorable as say, 633 SQUADRON for example. Lets put it this way, I cant see a Great war film themes compilation being released any time soon of the music from recent war movies, can you?  Talking of which remember this.



I suppose it all comes down to the way in which the art of film music has evolved, the attitudes and approaches of the composers and of course the ideas and influences of the directors involved. Back in the day as they say, it was ok to basically glorify war movies with stirring scores and marches, but more recent examples of films about armed conflict whether they be fictional or based upon real life events such as DUNKIRK do not seem to do this, DUNKIRK I must admit I was not too keen on but the score by Hans Zimmer worked within the movie which is what it was designed to do after all. And the use of a familiar piece of classical music such as Nimrod or at least an arrangement of it too added a touch of poignancy and was effective, because the older generation would have associated this music with the remembrance services around the UK which many had watched on TV or attended. But what is missing is the theme or the core sound which is the actual connection between the audience and the film musically. I know a lot has been discussed about this theme vs drone battle that seems to be going on in film scoring of late, but I thought it would be a good idea to look back on certain films and their scores or even just their opening themes, and maybe focus on films that were released in the 1960,s and through to the 1970’s.



Let us start then with the already mentioned 633 SQUADRON, a classic war movie? Well depends I suppose what your opinion is of the film, it was a relatively low budget production, but it was also one that was popular at the cinema with audiences of all ages. It had a pretty strong cast as well, there were a number of familiar faces in the line up and it was in many ways like a who’s who of the international acting fraternity. Released in 1964, directed by Walter Grauman the movie starred Cliff Robertson, George Chakaris, Maria Perschy, Harry Andrews, Donald Houston and Angus Lennie. The films screenplay was by James Clavell and Howard Koch who based their script upon a novel by Frederick E.Smith which had been published in the mid 1950’s. 633 SQUADRON was the second production for the Mirisch company in the UK which was a subsidiary of United Artists. The plot was about a fictional fighter bomber squadron who are given a dangerous mission the outcome of which could change the course of the war.

The movie was also the first film that concerned a world war 2 aviation tale to be shot in colour and in Panavision widescreen. The musical score was by British born composer Ron Goodwin, who provided the picture with a suitably dramatic and atmospheric soundtrack, but it was the central or main theme from the movie that caught the ear of many a cinema goer, and soon became a firm favourite not only of film music fans but also to a wider audience due to Goodwin releasing a single of the theme which he arranged, and including the theme on his various compilation released on EMI studio 2 records which were popular during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The theme was a regular player on the radio and entered the British hit parade during 1964. Because the film and the music were such a great success an album was released on United Artists records with striking art work and later during the early 1970’s was re-issued by Sunset records (SLS 50203) as part of the Golden film music series which was released via Liberty/UA records along with soundtracks such as THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, PHAEDRA, THE BIG COUNTRY and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS amongst others, with a budget price tag.


The score was also issued onto compact disc on the MGM/UA label paired with WHERE EAGLES DARE which is another iconic war movie and score also by Goodwin and then later film score monthly issued it on a limited-edition compact disc as part of their Silver Age Classics paired with SUBMARINE X1. The film has many similarities to THE DAMBUSTERS which was released nine years previously, 633 having Mosquito bombers taking centre stage as opposed to the Lancaster bombers used by 617 squadron in THE DAMBUSTERS and of course 633 was fictional whereas THE DAMBUSTERS storyline was based upon true events. Goodwin’s simple but stirring theme has become a part of film music history and when discussing the composer, one invariably recalls the theme and it ranks alongside other themes for war movies such as Eric Coates DAMBUSTERS and Elmer Bernstein’s THE GREAT ESCAPE, which brings us to the next movie on the list.



THE GREAT ESCAPE was actualy shown with 633 SQUADRON after both had been released and become successful, they were then paired with 633 SQUADRON becoming the B feature, this was in the days when you got value for money at the cinema, and were also allowed to pay your money and stay all day if you wanted to. But what a great way to spend a day, sheer escapism (forgive the pun), watching these two classic war movies, kia-ora orange in hand and maybe a little tub of lyons maid ice cream, watching and listening to both movies which had wonderful soundtracks and catchy opening or main themes.

Elmer Bernstein’ s theme for THE GREAT ESCAPE is every bit a classic and has since the film was released become a staple of many a film music collector, and also familiar to football fans because the England team fans adopted the opening theme or march as their signature tune. But there is far more to Bernstein’s score than a rousing march and a slightly cheeky little somewhat akward sounding martial motif. The score is dramatic obviously given the subject matter, but it also purveys melancholy, hope and solitude that is tinged with an underlying sense of darkness and frustration. The soundtrack has been released on numerous occasions and on a variation of labels, the original LP was on the United Artist’s label, and was in the shops when the movie was in cinema’s then came the Sunset Records cheap label version, then we were treated to a veritable onslaught of CD releases, on Intrada, Ryko, Varese Sarabande and then again on Intrada with a three CD set. The thing is I don’t know about you but I loved my original United Artist’s LP record, the one with the black and silver label, mine was in mono too (it still is as its in the collection now). Anyway that is still my favourite version, I think sometimes with classic soundtracks such as THE GREAT ESCAPE etc, less is so much more, its ok having all these expanded versions with an extra track here and there, but we loved these scores before any definitive edition didn’t we? Well I did, and with some of the later releases on CD there were even dialogue excerpts, not for me thanks. The movie was based upon the true story of a group of allied prisoners of war who had a track record of attempting to escape captivity, so the third Reich in their infinite wisdom decided to put all their bad eggs in one basket as it were. But the plan backfires when the inmates of the prison camp plan and execute a mass break out. The first part of the movie is played for laughs mostly at the expense of the German guards and the commandant, it makes them out to be buffoons with the prisoners running rings around them, digging a tunnel and causing many distractions to their jailers. The latter part of the movie is far more serious as we see the escape take place and many of the prisoners being re-captured or killed whilst trying to avoid capture, utilising any mode of transport they can to make their getaway, hence the famous motor cycle chase sequence with Steve McQueen jumping over fences and all sorts before being captured. Bernstein matched the action wonderfully with his driving and atmospheric score, and even though a great deal of the score was action led music, it still maintained a high level of melody and thematic properties. The cast of THE GREAT ESCAPE was an international one and also was all star in its line-up, RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, STEVE MC QUEEN, JAMES GARNER, CHARLES BRONSON, JOHN LEYTON, DAVID MC CULLUM, GORDON JACKSON, JAMES COBURN, ANGUS LENNIE, NIGEL STOCK, JAMES DONALD, DONALD PLEASANCE to name but a few.

Directed by John Sturges the movie is a regular on British TV at holiday times, and even though many groan and say not this again, they always sit and watch it. This is an iconic war movie and has a score that is head and shoulders above anything that has been written for a war film in recent years. Another movie that contained a rousing march was the 1970 release PATTON LUST FOR GLORY, music courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith, again the words iconic and classic come to mind and even though these words are overused on scores for movies from bygone days, they are in this case once again more than fitting.


Goldsmith’s thunderous and powerful score was an important and integral part of the movie, it not only supported the action scenes and many battle sequences, but it managed to elevate the inner character of Patton including his patriotism and his undying devotion to his flag and country, Goldsmith also gave depth to his human side and his religious beliefs. The use of organ in the opening part of the central theme is masterful the track building slowly but surely with the composer adding timpani and brass as it reaches its peak. The soundtrack was released on a Stateside LP and in the UK, it contained some great eye catching art work on the front cover, this cover art was later utilised by Silva Screen when they re-issued the soundtrack on LP a few years later, the score contained a number of themes, the central one being the most dominant with the echoing trumpets introducing us to the commanding and vibrant PATTON march, then there was the ATTACK theme in which the composer combined both the central march theme or at least variations of it with the theme he had created for the German forces, the two themes sounding as if they were themselves doing battle as they intertwined and overlapped each other, plus there was WINTERS MARCH which for me personally was the most outstanding track on the LP (Final cue side 1).


Again a slow burner to begin with but building and rising into a sweeping and dominant piece for strings and percussive elements. The score was re-recorded but I could never get into that edition, it seemed, well to subdued, Film Score Monthly then re-issued the score, with extra tracks, but again, and this remember is just a personal view, I still preferred the Original LP recording. A case of what you know and what you are used to I suppose. Directed by Franklin J Shaffner, PATTON-LUST FOR GLORY caused some controversy at the Oscars with the star of the movie George C Scott refusing his Oscar. He had previously told the Academy he did not want the award as his opinion of the ceremony and the Awards system was shall we say pretty low, the Academy however refused to take his name off the list, Scott did not attend (as probably Patton would have not done either) and the rest as they say is history.


John Addison was a composer who scored a few films that were set in the second world war, I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE (1958) REACH FOR THE SKY (1956) and in 1977, A BRIDGE TOO FAR. Addison had himself been involved in the real events that the movie was based upon, being a member of XXX corps he took part in the failed OPERATION MARKET GARDEN, so it was fitting that the composer won an award for his score to the movie. Directed by Richard Attenborough, with a screenplay by William Goldman based upon the book A BRIDGE TOO FAR by Cornelius Ryan, this movie had a cast list that was certainly impressive.

Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman, Hardy Kruger, Liv Ullmann, Maximilian Schell, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford and Sir Laurence Olivier. The film told of the allied operation that took place in and around the town of Arnhem in the then German occupied Netherlands. In September 1944, allied forces had broken out of their Normandy beachhead and were in pursuit of fragmented German forces who were retreating across Northern France and Belgium. The initial idea was to carry on moving onto the German Siegfried line and push on into Germany to attempt to secure a surrender from the third Riech. But Field Marshall Montgomery insisted on a new plan that would bypass the Seigfried line and open up a way into the industrial heartland of Germany which was in the Ruhr, the operation was at first codenamed COMET and was to be a Polish and British venture, but was soon dropped and then included elements of the first allied airborne army and became operation Market Garden. The operation which was fated from the start with the British forces becoming trapped in Arnhem and fierce hand to hand fighting ensued in the streets of Arnhem, Oosterbeek, Wolfheze and Driel with entire sections of the towns being levelled by intense German bombardment and also allied fire. The film was a homage to the troops that were involved in the action and also to the people of Arnhem and the surrounding towns, it was a gritty and poignant story brought to the screen by director Attenborough, and John Addison’s score was rousing but also sympathetic to the more emotive side of the story and underlined the suffering and the sheer desperation of the troops that became trapped by the German forces. on the United Artists label when the movie was in cinemas, the LP was presented in gatefold cover, it was later issued on compact disc by Ryko who also re-issued several UA soundtracks onto the CD format. A BRIDGE TOO FAR is in my opinion one of Addison’s best scores, it is sad that this composer is sometimes overlooked and at times forgotten, he wrote the music for many cinema hits, these included, TOM JONES, THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, SWASHBUCKLER, SLUETH, JOSEPH ANDREWS, THE HONEY POT and notoriously was known for replacing Bernard Herrmann on Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN.

So, where to next? We are all aware that WWll was not confined to Europe but for the next example of a classic movie and also a respected score to the movie we head to Norway and go back to 1965 when THE HEROES OF TELEMARK premiered in cinemas. This was a war movie with a difference, no big battle scenes and certainly no pomp circumstance or heroic sounding marches. Directed by Anthony Mann, it was based upon the true story of the Norwegian heavy water sabotage, based upon the book SKIS AGAINST THE ATOM by Knut Haukelid, it has the feel of an Alistair Maclean novel. The movie stars Kirk Douglas as Dr. Rolf Pedersen and Richard Harris as Knut Straud with Ulla Jacobsson as Anna Pedersen Filmed entirely on location in Norway.


It tells the story of a commando attack on a plant being used by the Nazi’s in Telemark Norway to manufacture heavy water which could be used to manufacture an atomic bomb. The first raid by British commandos is quelled by the Germans with the commandos all being killed, the allies and the Norwegian resistance then enlist the help of Dr Pedersen and eventually the plant is sabotaged, but the Germans soon have it up and running again, so the resistance and Pedersen decide to sink a ship that is carrying barrels of heavy water to Germany as it makes its way across a fjord. The music for the film is the work of Malcolm Arnold, (credited as Malcolm Henry Arnold) who was known for his score for THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI from 1957. The score for THE HEROES OF TELEMARK is an atmospheric one, stirring in places and I have to say very much in the style of Sir William Walton, the sound and style achieved is very much akin to the music from the war movies that were produced in England during the 1950’s and featured a German marching song. Arnold fashioned a vaguely thematic soundtrack, but the music reflects mainly the drama and tense action that is played out on screen. There are certain similarities to this and BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS also by Arnold, in fact on close inspection a couple of the cues are almost identical and it this central theme that the composer utilises within these scores is also recognisable in other scores such as ROOTS OF HEAVEN, it does sound as if the composer has simply re-cycled music from these works and placed them into THE HEROES OF TELEMARK. But saying this I suppose it’s ok for a composer to borrow from himself especially when they are Malcolm Arnold. The soundtrack from THE HEROES OF TELEMARK was originally released on MAINSTREAM records, and more recently made available as an MP3 download by Master Classic Records, a download that contained the same tracks as the original LP recording. A CD was also released by Intrada in 2015 the label pairing the score with Jerry Goldsmith’s STAGECOACH. The Arnold score is a rousing one in places, but I am loathed to say not one of the composer’s better works for the cinema.

So, to another prisoner of war camp for the next movie, KING RAT. Set in a Japanese POW camp in Malaysia the film was directed by British film maker Bryan Forbes, Released in 1965 it starred George Segal as Corporal King who was a smart mouthed fast talking entrepreneur who utilises bribery and corruption to take control of things within the camp. The screenplay was based upon a novel by James Clavell who collaborated with Forbes on the script for the movie. John Mills also starred with Tom Courtney and James Fox, filmed in black and white which made it even more hard hitting in all the right places, Segal was excellent in his role and the film also received an Oscar nomination for the superb photography by Bernard Guffey. An underatted movie and one that is not that often seen on TV these days.


Music is by John Barry who had written music for a handful of Forbes movies and contains a particularly rousing march where the composer brings into play martial sounding timpani and pipes with trumpet. The score also contains a beautifully lilting opening theme performed by a combination of harps and piano which acted as a background to a woodwind solo that purveyed a solitary and melancholy musical aura. Barry also made effective use of Cymbalom within the opening theme and smouldering strings that are subdued but effective, solo trumpet and faint use of brass is also added to create a tense and slightly apprehensive atmosphere in a very similar way to his theme for SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, in it is undeniably melodic but at the same time is sinister. The soundtrack was issued originally on LP record on Mainstream records in the USA and Fontana records in the UK. Later it was re-issued on compact disc by Columbia/Legacy which did have slightly improved sound quality. Sony also released the score on compact disc in 1995. The soundtrack contains a handful of slow burning cues which seem to underline and support without anyone really noticing, but this is probably a good thing because film music is supposed to enhance without encroaching. There are also the usual Barry trademarks within the score, which one can instantly identify as being the work of this renowned composer. From a well known and respected British composer to one just as revered who hails from France, Francis Lai scored the Michael Winner war movie HANNIBAL BROOKS in 1969, the composer had already had major success’s with his scores for A MAN AND A WOMAN in 1966 and LIVE FOR LIFE in 1967, and in 1970 the composer would again collaborate with director winner and write the music for THE GAMES. Which was the same year as his landmark score LOVE STORY which put him and his music firmly in the public gaze.

HANNIBAL BROOKS was an action/comedy with Oliver Reed heading the cast and supported by Michael J Pollard who portrayed a happy go lucky American escaped POW who was intent on winning the war single handed if he had to, Packy and Brooks paths cross on a number of occasions throughout the movie and in most cases these encounters are hilarious. Packy cannot understand why Brooks is not interested in fighting the Germans but one can see that he admirers him despite this. The look of the movie I always felt was a little too contemporary it seemed that they had just gone to an area and started to film without really scouting around for locations. Lai’s score too was a little different from other WWll movie stories, the composer utilising a more romantic sound via soaring strings and rhythmic brass that had a more pop orientated sound especially in tracks such as ELEPHANT SHAKE (Lucy’s theme). But saying this the music in the movie worked to a degree at least, the opening theme is a memorable one, thundering upbeat percussion being accompanied by cascading string flourishes that segue into a beautiful soaring and lush and romantic sounding theme that is supported by choir and also piccolos that enhance and punctuate the proceedings whilst piano gives added support in the background. I remember buying the LP record many years ago with its black cover and artwork from the film on the cover being seen through binoculars. It was released on United Artists, later the score was issued on a UA/Liberty/MGM compact disc paired with THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Then it was released again on CD as part of the FSM MGM SOUNDTRACK TREASURY. As mentioned previously Lai seemed to totally discount the drama and war background of the movie and scored it with light and romantically slanted themes, and even gave the score a kind of circus sound which I suppose was suitable considering the story did involve an elephant from a zoo being taken over the alps to freedom. Lai had worked with Winner before in 1967 on I. LL NEVER FORGET WHATS IS NAME which also starred Oliver Reed. HANNIBAL BROOKS I think always will be a favourite of mine, it has to it an alluring and attractive sound and one that is not ordinarily associated with the genre of the war film, it entertains totally.

Composer Gerald Fried was in my humble opinion an underatted talent within the world of movie and TV music, it is obvious that Fried was talented and also well versed in the areas of both composition and orchestration, he is often overlooked by collectors and critics alike but his contributions have been many and also varied, and I would like to say consistently very good. One score and also a movie that has always stuck in my memory is TOO LATE THE HERO, a WWll film which has its story set in the Philippines and focuses on a patrol of soldiers who have been sent out into the jungle to destroy a Japanese radio station that is sending out propaganda and attempting to get inside the heads of the British troops that are based on the island. If I remember correctly THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALL (1959) had a similar plot.

too late


TOO LATE THE HERO starred an array of acting talents, Michael Caine, Cliff Robertson, Harry Andrews, Sam Kydd, Ian Bannen, Lance Percival, Denholm Elliot and Robert Frazer amongst them. Directed by Robert Aldrich, its one of those movies that everybody seems to have seen and one that everyone knows of but it is overlooked and rarely discussed. Cliff Robertson gives a great performance as a reluctant participant in the patrol, he plays a US naval officer that has been attached to the British and comes into his own when the commander of the mission is killed by the Japanese, he then realises that this is a suicide mission and decides he must see it through. Like other movies directed by Aldrich the cast is strong and the script too entertaining. But, I do not think that TOO LATE THE HERO attained the popularity and the status that his other movies such as THE DIRTY DOZEN. The same can be said for Fried’s excellent score, although a wonderfully thematic and dramatic work it too fell by the wayside, maybe because it was not released officially, I am not certain. It was long on my list of wants and finally was issued on a promo CD (remember those) back in the 1990’s, was it an official release? I don’t know and at the time I did not care much to be honest I had it at last. The CD contained thirty-four tracks from the score and was billed as part of the Gerald Fried collection and carried a hefty price tag. But it was worth it and is a score that I and I know many others treasure.

1970 too late the hero
Director Sam Peckinpah made so many great contributions to cinema, the film maker often was controversial and delivered movies that shocked and were ground-breaking. THE WILD BUNCH I think is the movie most associate with him but let us not forget STRAW DOGS and of course CROSS OF IRON. This gritty and realistic WW ll movie was released in 1977. Set on the Eastern Front during the Russian Caucasus operations against The German Kuban Bridgehead in the latter part of 1943, the film focuses upon the division of German soldiers because of class, and concentrates on a newly arrived officer Captain Stransky who is Prussian and intent on winning the Iron cross even if it means lying to get it and a battle hardened veteran infantry non-commissioned officer Steiner who has become disillusioned with the cause he is fighting for and totally has lost confidence in his commanders.



After Steiners squad is involved in a bloody battle with Russian troops his Lieutenant Meyer is killed, Stransky sees an opportunity to gain favour with his superiors and also get his Iron Cross and claims to have led the squad in the action, he enlists the aid of Steiner and another officer to verify his claim and act as witnesses, but Steiner refuses to take part in the lie, so when the Germans are ordered to leave a position by a high ranking officer Stransky does not give the order to Steiner and his squad and they are left alone to fight off overwhelming Russian forces. The film is graphic in places, but there again so is war. It starred, Charles Coburn, Maximillan Schell, James Mason, David Warner, Senta Berger and Klaus Lowitsch.


The music was by veteran film music composer Ernest Gold who had been responsible for writing the scores to movies such as EXODUS, SHIP OF FOOLS and IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD. The score for CROSS OF IRON although dark and at times fairly subdued remains thematic and entertaining, with Gold introducing cues that are based on German songs of melodies. In many ways this is a vintage sounding score and one which is more akin to say the style of the golden age than anything else. Gold created a varied and fully symphonic work which added a greater depth and atmosphere to the proceedings. The soundtrack was released on EMI in the UK on LP (EMA-EMI782) in 1977 and then in 2001 on CD by Artemis records,(Artemis 004) but this edition was somewhat suspect many referring to it as a bootleg, it contained the same tracks as the LP release. Then in 2010 the score was released in an expanded edition by Kritzerland records (KR-20014-9) and also contained the same tracks and was paired with GOOD LUCK MISS WYCKOFF another score penned by Gold.

From the big screen to television for the next example of a wartime drama. HOLOCAUST THE STORY OF THE FAMILY WEISS, was a four part mini series that was released in 1978, it tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of a fictional German Jewish family the Weiss,s. It also focuses upon another German family the Dorf’s who are Christians and out of their need to survive become Nazi’s, Erik a member of the family becomes an SS officer who works his way up through the ranks to become an unforgiving and sadistic war criminal who is responsible for so many atrocities, and thus we see the Weiss family become the victims and the Dorf family or at least certain members of it become the oppressors. The series concentrated upon several events that happened throughout the Holocaust and on events that led up to and continued throughout WWll. The series was a popular one and won several awards (8 Emmys and 2 Golden Globes) and was applauded by many critics, but others despised the series labelling it as offensive and an insult to those who were lost during the Holocaust and an afront to the survivors. The series highlighted the creation of the Jewish Ghettos, the Crystal night and the use of the gas chambers in concentration camps. It is a subject that has been filmed many times and an event that should continue to be committed to film so that we never forget the terrible suffering that was endured by the Jews under the Nazi’s, in the hope that it will never happen again to any race or people of a certain faith. Directed by Marvin J Chomsky, the series featured, Timothy Bottoms, Meryl Streep, James Woods, David Warner, Fritz Weaver, Sam Wannamaker, Rosemary Harris and Michael Moriarty. The musical score was by composer Morton Gould who penned an emotive and haunting soundtrack for the series. His powerful and emotive sounding HOLOCAUST THEME opening each new episode and setting the scene perfectly for what was about to unfold. It is without a doubt an accomplished and a revered musical work. The soundtrack was released in 1978 on an LP record on the RCA label, it was a lavish presentation with a gatefold cover and striking artwork. Certain cues were made available via a recording entitled ECHOES OF THE HOLOCAUST in 2011, but these were not conducted by Gould and were cover versions. It was not until 2018 that the original soundtrack was issued onto CD by Notefornote music (NFN 1001) which was a limited edition of just 1,500 copies. This edition is still available, but the numbers are dwindling, it is a large-scale symphonic score that any film music aficionado should own.

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