AOM Logo February 2001


Film Score Monthly's "Golden Age Classics"

ALFRED NEWMAN Prince of Foxes - Original soundtrack FILM SCORE MONTHLY Vol.2 No.5
ALFRED NEWMAN All About Eve, Leave Her To Heaven - Original soundtracks FILM SCORE MONTHLY Vol.2 No.5
FRANZ WAXMAN Prince Valiant - Original soundtrack FILM SCORE MONTHLY Vol.2 No.7

David Aspinall

For this reviewer the most important film music event of the new millennium has been the arrival of Film Score Monthly's "Golden Age Classics". These three CDs form, we can hope, the vanguard of the most ambitious archeological unearthing of filmmusic masterworks yet attempted.

At least that is the potential. I feel constrained to write this appreciation, late as it is, because of the yearlong hiatus between releases in the Golden Age series. In contrast Film Score Monthly's "Silver Age"' series, concentrating on the 1960s, continues to release new titles. Has the public, even the film music cognoscenti, come to value silver above gold?

I have no excuse for the tardiness of this review except the intimidation factor of having to write about in tandem three of the greatest masterworks of all film music. That these words finally fell out was due in no small part to the realization that the Golden Age series might be in jeopardy. My insecurity about doing justice to these CDs fades away in the face of a sobering reality - the Golden Age audience is, it appears, too tiny to support even a limited edition of 3000.

How can we increase their number? One of the best ways would be to get this music in the hands of the general public. And by "general public" I don't mean the soundtrack fans who have already stated their preference by snapping up every new CD of Horner, Goldsmith, Williams and their inferior imitators. Rather, my hope is that there is out there a public not attuned to the inflated gestures of modern film scores, a public more inclined to prefer honest sentiment and subtlety to showy pyrotechnics - heart-on-the-sleeve to head-in-your-lap. In short, I'm still convinced Newman and Waxman are superior to anything out there today.

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The evidence is here. The arrival of Waxman's Prince Valiant has elicited loud hosannas from those who know the score from its modern incarnations, the Gerhardt RCA Waxman collection or the Paul Bateman Silva Screen performance, to name those I've heard. Valiant is undoubtedly a great score, and should be the easiest of these three for the modern film music fan to appreciate, filled as it is with orchestral fireworks and spectacular, Straussian effects. For those weaned on Star Wars or any number of Goldsmith action scores, Valiant will have instantaneous appeal. Cue Waxman's exhilarating Dash to the Tower, in fact, and hear where much of John Williams' inspiration came from. Face it, Waxman's melodic material is, for lack of a better word, more authentic than anything around today, at least in the action/romance genre [for an argument's sake, I offer Morrecone - Ed] .By "authentic" I mean that as much as I like a lot of Williams, there's something about his themes that strikes me as insincere, as if what we're listening to is an audio clone. Hologram, not actual. I suspect that's because Williams, not to mention his plain imitators, does not emotionally connect at an elemental level with the symphonic, melodic-romantic style epitomized by Waxman and Newman. He can fake it, and fake it real well, but if you've lived with the old guys, you know the difference. It's probably not anything Williams or any one of the moderns can change - the world of chivalry and noble sentiment is just not their (or our) weltanschauung. Anyone growing to maturity since Auschwitz and Hiroshima may have to sound a little ersatz even when being paid to sound life affirming, but Waxman and Newman grew up when people believed in this stuff. When we hear them, we can believe it, too. Well, briefly anyway. And that's even true when Williams has more "authentic" material to illustrate than Waxman does. Prince Valiant, which I have never seen, is by all accounts a much inferior vehicle to Star Wars, or E.T., or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Nevertheless, though Waxman is working with cardboard, he paints a masterpiece - music that will stand on its own.

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Newman, in All About Eve, is not working with cardboard. One of the most literate and witty scripts ever to transfer to celluloid (and herein we might make another comparison with the sorry state of modern Hollywood) meets its perfect complement. But don't expect music to match Joseph Mankiewicz' acrid screenplay. There's another difference with today's composers: give Horner and the gang a pound of action, and they'll give you back 2 pounds of action scoring (pound in a double sense, as in headache). That's even often true of Goldsmith, whom I admire far more than this might sound. By contrast, give Newman a scenario full of characters with more bile than blood, and he gives you back a score with heart enough for all of them. Some would call this sentimentality. Such apparently prefer their bile unadulterated. But I'll say All About Eve is a far richer film for what Newman did with it. I'll go further and say that the Academy-nominated performances of Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm, the three principal female characters, would be much less affecting without Newman. Particularly the unctuous, calculating Eve herself gains what humanity she has from Newman's theme for her, which somehow catches Eve's ambition, in its upward arc, yet infuses her essentially alienating character with a universal yearning which strikes a chord in each of us. Without her musical muse, I submit, Anne Baxter's performance would be one-note, shallow.

But All About Eve conceals a typical Mankiewicz witticism, even in its title. For Eve is not really about Eve. It's really about Margo (Bette Davis). But it is about Eve, too, inasmuch as Eve is the generic name for the female of the species. Thus, it's also about the aspirations and hopes of every woman in the world. This is all reflected in Newman's spare score, which plays under less than a fourth of the running time. The three main themes are all related to the female characters (Karen, the playwright's wife, is the third), and these motifs are closely related to each other. All three start with an octave leap, and, as Doug Adams points out in his perspicacious notes, the Margo and Eve themes share their first five notes. What Adams does not allude to, however, is the significance of the octave itself. That, I would surmise, involves the intrinsic symbolism of the eighth interval - the new beginning, the next generation as it were. Note the subtlety of the film's finale, where Eve meets her own "image" in the character of upstart Phoebe. Newman's underscoring sticks with insistent irony to the Eve theme still, even after Eve has left the screen (for good), before at the finale returning to the main title's theatre fanfare (also built on the octave). Here, while Eve's theme rises to its peroration, we see Phoebe - not Eve - admiring her image in Eve's multiple mirrors, Phoebe staring back at Phoebe into the infinite distance. Yet, of course, the "infinity" of mirrors is illusion - far more persuasive a world of illusion than is created by that appendage of many females we call the vanity. A final irony: this penultimate music cue is titled All the Eves. Margo has gone, Karen has gone, even Eve Harrington herself. Yet, as Mankiewicz and Newman let us see with sublime subtlety and even sympathy, neither the theatre nor vanity herself will ever really plain be bereaved (berEved?).*

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Finally we come to Prince of Foxes. It is difficult to know where to begin with this score, so completely has it become embedded in my psyche. For about a decade, after I first saw the film on TV, the music existed only in the form of an audiocassette of the film itself. I suppose I played that low-fi tape more than any other soundtrack in my CD or LP collection over that period. So staggering an accomplishment is the Newman score, so transcendent, not just of its provenance, the film itself, but also of almost any other music written expressly for cinema, its absence from the commercial recording market for nearly fifty years is a scandal amounting to cultural criminality. Amazingly, not even a single moment of the score existed on either 78, LP or the various compilation discs by Charles Gerhardt and Newman himself. That neglect has nothing to do with the score's quality, but is simply reflects 1949 economics: Newman's gorgeous score for Captain from Castile, two years earlier, had received not only an Academy Award nomination, but that rare distinction in the days of 78, a soundtrack release. Castile, however, performed very well at the box office; Foxes (perhaps because it was in less splashy black-and-white) performed much less well. The net result for Newman: nary a note reached the public save for those poor souls reduced to taping from TV.

This deplorable situation was finally ended in 1997, when a fairly substantial suite of Prince of Foxes finally surfaced on the Koch/Richard Kaufman collection, A Tribute to Alfred Newman. Those of us knowing this score in its original form, while rapturously grateful to Koch, could still only salivate in anticipation of the day when the original soundtrack would emerge from the Fox vaults. Little did this reviewer realize that while we were celebrating the Kaufman CD's arrival, Nick Redman, Rick Victor and the folks at Film Score Monthly, spearheaded by Lukas Kendall, were already planning for that event. Prince of Foxes, in (nearly) all its original splendour - and in 1949 Stereo! - is now available. I stress the "now", for the absence of "Golden Age" releases through 2000 causes me to fear that sales have been disappointing. Therefore, those few of us who love this score have the urgent responsibility to let the rest of you know what you're missing. In the case of Foxes, that is merely the most brilliant film score of Newman's vast and dazzling canon. In this sentiment I'm not alone - the redoubtable Jack Smith of Films in Review, and his illustrious and intrepid predecessor at that magazine, Page Cook, both placed Foxes at or near the pinnacle of Newman's achievement, which is to say, by the standard of these two Newman aficionados, up there with the very best film music ever.

Does the music make it apart from the film? A resounding yes. I cannot think of another example of a movie score that so completely transcends its source. Prince of Foxes was a superior Fox costumer, but little more. Its notable qualities, apart from the music, are a bright and suitably cynical script (based on the bestselling Samuel Shellabarger novel), location shooting in some memorable Italian vistas and palaces, and graceful photography by Leon Shamroy. Other than the sly Everett Sloane and the weighty - yet pre-hefty - presence of Orson Welles, well cast as Cesare Borgia, the performances are not particularly noteworthy. Nevertheless, Newman succeeds where even Franz Waxman fell short with Prince Valiant; that is, he humanizes all the ordinary plot machinations, all the conventions of the costume drama (granted that the material is considerably above the cartoon level of Waxman's task, assigned to him, by the way, by Fox's Director of Music, Newman himself), and simply galvanizes the viewer with music so visceral, so transparently beautiful that the film itself is raised to another level entirely by its composer's art. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the wondrous treatment Newman gives the film's principal female character, played by Wanda Hendrix. A less regal renaissance presence than Miss Hendrix can hardly be imagined, so everyday American is this Fox starlet (Time quipped that her characterization resembled "a bobbysoxer lost in an art museum"). Yet one awaits with baited breath every one of her entrances, so eloquent are the variations Newman spins upon her Madonna theme. Similarly, Tyrone Power, who definitely dripped with decadence as Andrea Orsini, the not-so-princely fox of the title, is made sympathetic even before his "conversion" by the headlong heroism of the title theme, and even more so later simply by appearing in nearly every scene with Newman/Madonna Camilla. Elsewhere in the cast, Newman performs a similar feat of lyrical legerdemain with Camilla's husband, or "Lord", as she winningly calls him (those were the days!). As played by Felix Aylmer, the Lord of Citta del Monte is the image of rectitude. In fact so perfect is he in wisdom, so self-controlled, that the modern sensibility would probably find the character tedious - but for Newman's music. His gentle theme, in its noble simplicity, is as affecting as Camilla's is elevating, as Andrea's is heroic. Listen to Newman's attention to nuance in all of this, and quickly realize just how comparatively enervated - and uninflected - is Richard Kaufman's conducting in the Koch recording. (And, by the way, even the 1949 recording is better, more vivid and detailed, if a little coarse in places.)

The only regret one might have in respect to this release is that not all of the original masters have survived. There are a few sequences near the film's beginning, the longest being Andrea's return to the home of his mother, which are, it seems, gone forever. Sic transit gloria. Other sequences, on the other hand, are here which either appeared not at all in the film, or were used in severely truncated form. Yet the nearly fifty minutes on this disc represent nearly all the principal themes and all but the aforementioned major sequences (24 of the 27 cues in my unofficial count). I have neither the space nor the inclination to describe the rest of this marvellous score. Faced with inspiration on this level, mere language quickly exhausts its potential. All I will add is get this CD. With the "Golden Age Classics" on hold, Prince Valiant, All About Eve and Prince of Foxes, regrettably, threaten to become the first - and the last - of a series which promised to unearth myriad lost treasures.

* The other score sharing the disc with Eve is "Leave Her to Heaven". Heaven's female protagonist, Ellen, is way beneath even Eve Harrington on the list of candidates for redemption. Newman's score, a mere thirteen minutes in toto, makes dramatic use of the tritone, the devil's own musical interval. Even here, though, the parallel string lines reveal a tortured passion which is as close as Ellen can approach to true love.

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