Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Green Mansions - Bronislau Kaper/Villa-Lobos


Composers: Bronislau Kaper, Special Music Created by Heitor Villa-Lobos Orchestrations: Robert Franklyn, Sidney Cutner, Leo Arnaud– Film Score Monthly vol 8, no 3, TT: 79.53, 21 tracks (stereo)  ***** 

Producer: Lukas Kendall Performed: MGM Studio Orchestra  Conductor: Charles Wolcott


Green Mansions is a 1959 MGM CinemaScope film based on the 1904 novel by British writer, W. H. Hudson. The classic fantasy concerns Rima (Audrey Hepburn), a mysterious “bird-girl” living in the unexplored depths of the Amazon forest (the “green mansions” of the title), and her ill-fated romance with Abel (Tony Perkins), a South American political refugee. 

These two leads are certainly photogenic, and the film has its moments, but some novels  just do not translate to a visual medium. Though director Mel Ferrer removed most of its overtly fantastic elements, Green Mansions remained one of these elusive literary properties and the film was a commercial and artistic disappointment at the time of its release.


Today the film is best remembered for a lavish symphonic score with a controversial creative history. Brazilian classical composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, was originally signed to do the music but, due to a series of circumstances well documented in the liner notes, MGM’s Bronislau Kaper, himself a classically trained musician well-versed in concert techniques, was also brought in. Kaper both adapted and augmented the Villa-Lobos music and created a title song that is judiciously used in the underscoring. 

Villa-Lobos rearranged his music as Forest of the Amazon; his last great concert work for orchestra with soprano and chorus, and recorded it for United Artists Records. (It was recently redone with Renee Fleming as soloist). This, however, is the first recording of the original film soundtrack. A 5.24 “Main Title/Chase/River Boat” sets the tone and modus operandi of the entire score. An exotically mysterious Villa-Lobos opening (including dramatic statements of his “Rima” motif) is intercut with a brief phrase of Kaper’s title song that will also serve as the film’s love theme. Kaper’s wild “Chase” seems influenced by the “Dance of the Earth” from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as do other minor bits of his work.

The restrained title song is more in the mode of a folk song than Kaper’s other great pop standards  (“Invitation,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Hi Lili, Hi Lo”). Tony Perkins, who had a moderately successful (but today mostly forgotten) secondary career as a singer and recording artist in the ‘50s, performs it in a substantial sequence in the film, but his version is not included here. 

One of Tony Perkins' LPs for RCA Victor

Orchestrally the song’s refrain (“Tell me, Rima, where are the meadows of June?”) is heard at various points in the score, notably the opening, of “It’s Gold” and “Is It You?” Villa-Lobos created the ethereal Rima theme, magically orchestrated in “At the Pool/First Visit” (the latter, however, submerged under real birdcalls in the film). The 79.53 score is allowed much time to develop, and builds to a series of profoundly moving final cues in which poignant new Villa-Lobos themes underscore revelations of Rima’s past and her tragic demise.

Green Mansions is (aside from its tumultuous, somewhat schizoid “End Title”) no conventional Hollywood offering of the period. It’s a sumptuous, expansively symphonic score that captures the magic and menace of an otherworldly, ultimately lost Eden with a power and mystery sorely missing from the often unpleasantly literal film itself. The sound is remixed in stereo from original 3-track recordings and beautifully showcases the impressionistic, opulently Ravel-ian orchestrations. 

Charles Wolcott, a Disney studio veteran who became a part of the MGM musical staff, conducts, and also had the delicate executive job of liaison between Villa-Lobos and Kaper while the score was being finalized.

Bill Whitaker and Jeff Bond’s notes discuss the film’s history and the score’s involved Kaper/Villa-Lobos issues, as well as providing a cue-by-cue description of the mostly seamless meshing of the two composers’ contributions. Kudos to FSM for making this magnificent score finally available in such a complete and definitive version.

Ross Care

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Miklós Rózsa's SPELLBOUND Twice


Stereo ReRecording of Miklos Rosza's complete score for the romantic Hitchcock suspense classic.

Originally released on Warner Bros. records with Ray Heindorf conducting the Warner Bros. studio orchestra. ReReleased on a Stanyan Record CD.

Includes one of thde most beautiful love themes to come out of Hollywood and some incredibly intense psychologically suspense scoring.

CD of Stereo ReRecordings of the Film Music of Miklós Rózsa from the original 1974 LP.

Includes The Thief of Bagdad, The Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity, The Jungle Book, Ivanhoe, and other scores.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Rhino MGM Download -  24 tracks (stereo)  ****  Film:  Warner Archive Blu-ray.

Performed: MGM Soloists, Studio Orchestra & Chorus , Conductor/Music Supervisor: Adolph Deutsch
Arrangers: Alexander Courage, Hugo Friedhofer, Robert Tucker (vocals).

by Ross Care

Deep In My Heart (1954) is one of the last big all-star musicals from MGM, and also the last of their (in)famous musical biographies, in this case one freely adapted from the life of Sigmund Romberg. Like its predecessors (Words And Music/Rodgers and Hart, Till the Clouds Roll By/Jerome Kern, etc.) it also showcases a broad cross section of the composer’s hits and rarities performed by most of the stars still glimmering in the MGM heavens.

The real Romberg was born in Europe and became one of the most successful American operetta composers of the early 20th century. He moved uneasily into musical comedy in the ‘30s and ‘40s, though many of his operetta favorites (such as “Lover, Come Back to Me”) had a contemporary edge which allowed them to remain popular into the Big Band era. Like many film composer émigrés, Romberg was able to fuse Old World lyricism and schmaltz with American popular appeal. He had a long-standing connection with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Several of his operettas (The New Moon, Maytime) provided hit vehicles for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in the ‘30s, and in the ‘50s MGM remade his most famous work, The Student Prince, in CinemaScope.

Also like many film composers, Romberg had a secondary career as a recording artist. Thus RCA Victor released their own “Deep In My Heart” album with Romberg’s own recordings at the time of the MGM release.

              Helen Traubel and Jose Ferrer

Deep In My Heart, produced by MGM’s renaissance music man, Rodger Edens, stars Jose Ferrer as Romberg, and ex-Wagnerian soprano, Helen Traubel, as his platonic but supportative lady friend, Anna Mueller. There is also the obligatory transfusion of romantic interest, but anything resembling a plot is subsidiary to the on-going musical numbers that provide the substance of both film and this new “download only” Rhino soundtrack. MGM Records originally released Deep In My Heart as a deluxe boxed LP (a packaging format later followed by their Ben Hur and Mutiny on the Bounty releases). But like most of the MGM musical STs of the era, numbers were cut and edited to fit the track timing demands of the period. This new Rhino edition provides all the musical numbers in complete versions, plus a few incidental cues and out takes, and all in true stereo.

The angular Ferrer comes off as just rather odd as Romberg, especially in a virtuoso, if bizarre number in which he performs a one-man version of one of his shows (“Jazzadadadoo Medley”) to impress (?) his society sweetheart (Doe Avedon). However, the still golden-voiced Trauble is appealing and versatile, able to turn “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”  - is there any other kind? – into a moving art song at one moment, then launch into an obscure bit of ersatz ragtime called “Leg of Mutton” with equal conviction. All this still leaves lots of room for a roll call of Romberg show excerpts performed by the likes of Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Vic Damone, Rosemary Clooney, William Olvis, and Tony Martin, right down to Gene Kelly and his brother, Fred.

                                Ann Miller Jazzes "It" Up

Ann Miller has one of her best production numbers with the frantic “It,” a lesser-known Romberg excursion into the Jazz Age. Dancers Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell perform a sensual “One Alone” from the popular Desert Song. While Charisse is voice-doubled by Carole Richards (who dubs Newman’s “Resurrection Song” in The Robe), no vocals are necessary to get the erotic charge emphatically across in this opulently staged and orchestrated (probably by Hugo Friedhofer) production number.

But then a spacious stereo mix and composer Adolph Deutsch’s conducting beautifully enhance all the lush orchestrations by Alexander Courage and Hugo Friedhofer. While I miss the informative liner notes that came with the Rhino CD releases, downloading seems like a convenient and effective process and I hope more new MGM releases will be forthcoming. And who knows, perhaps the entire catalog of MGM films (including such less familiar titles as Deep In My Heart) may eventually be available in this format as well.

Deep In My Heart was recently released on a gorgeous Warner Archive Blu-ray.

Into the future!

Ross Care

Monday, January 18, 2016

Untamed - Franz WAXMAN


Orchestrations:  Edward B. Powell, Leonid Raab – Film Score Monthly vol. 4, no. 4, Total Tracks: 65.43,  23 tracks (stereo)  *****  (Absolute Tops)  
Producers: Nick Redman, Lukas Kendall Performed: 20th Century Fox Orchestra  -  Conductor: Franz Waxman

by Ross Care

The 1950s were a great period for Franz Waxman (1906-1967). The composer won two back-to-back Oscars, for A Place in the Sun (1950), and Sunset Boulevard (1951), and the decade also saw the creation of some of his major scores for two giants of the late studio era, 20th Century-Fox and Warner Bros. His work at Fox included two certified masterpieces, Prince Valiant in 1954, and Peyton Place in 1957, but he also scored a number of lesser-known films for the studio that introduced CinemaScope in 1953. Among these epic scores for the wide-screen era is one for a somewhat obscure and mostly forgotten epic, Untamed (1955). 

The film, hyped as “Africolossal!” in the never-understated studio ad campaign, stars Fox stalwarts Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, and ‘50s discovery Richard Egan, and deals with the Dutch colonization of South Africa and its ensuing, inevitable conflicts with the region’s Zulu natives.

Waxman’s great score is both epic and memorably melodic. It’s composed of three major elements, a heroic Main Title theme, a determined traveling motif, and a lyrical love theme. The recent Film Score Monthly restoration opens with Alfred Newman’s extended Fox CinemaScope fanfare  and immediately segues into Waxman’s thrilling Main Title (track 2) that opens with antiphonal fanfares from three choirs of French horns, these in turn embellishing the score’s heroic main theme. After a rather abrupt conclusion the horns, spread across left/middle/right channels in ‘Scope’s then-new 4-track stereophonic sound system, continue with track 3, “Fox Hunt” for the film’s opening sequences in Ireland. (Herrmann used similar stereophonic effects in his Garden of Evil ‘Scope score.)  

The main theme and an ensuing traveling motif (introduced in track 7, “Vorwarts”) are then inventively developed in an on-going series of epic symphonic cues over the course of the one-hour-plus score. The beautiful love theme is held in reserve until the cue “Paul Finds Katje/Hoffen Valley” with its ecstatic climax at about 3.20 on track 11. Another (very) brief haunting, almost Wagnerian statement of the main theme for massed French horns with distant trumpets and tremolo strings can be heard at about 1.25 in the lengthy (7.04) “O’Neill’s Garden/Cape Town Street” cue. (The moody Main Title in horn solo is heard again at the conclusion of another extended cue, “After the Fight/By the River”). In a livelier mode track 10, “The Commandos,” suggests Waxman’s thrilling Cossacks music for Taras Bulba (1962).


Several source music cues vary the underscoring, these including a short polka by Johann Strauss, Sr., and “Zulu Attack,” the latter composed of “wild” percussion tracks supervised by Waxman. If you stay tuned after the “Finale” (track 23) you get some first-hand insights into the recording of these primal sounds. A 14-page booklet of interesting notes by Jeff Bond and Jonathan Z. Kaplan are included and feature comments about the prolific composer’s creative methods and the Fox music department in general from John Waxman. Waxman never wrote a score that is less than fascinating and his lesser-known Untamed is an excellent and dramatically epic companion piece to his later and more celebrated Taras Bulba.