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Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis
Max STEINER (1888-1971)
Now Voyager (Warner, 1942) [5:51]
Dark Victory (Warner, 1939) [6:20]
A Stolen Life Warner, 1946) [1:37]
In This Our Life (Warner, 1942) [4:31]
Jezebel (Warner, 1939) [2:17]
Beyond the Forest (Warner, 1949) [5:07]
The Letter (Warner, 1940) [1:06]
All This, and Heaven Too (Warner) (1940) [7:38]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Warner, 1939) [1:47]
Juarez (Warner, 1939) [2:50]
Alfred NEWMAN (1900-1970)
All About Eve (20th Century Fox, 1950) [1:36]
Franz WAXMAN (1906-1967)
Mr Skeffington (Warner, 1944) [2:48]
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Gerhardt
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, February 1973
SONY RCA RED SEAL 88697 812722 [41:00]

Experience Classicsonline

This album in the Classic Film Score series was originally released on LP as RCA Red Seal ARL1-0183. It was devoted to another leading Warner Bros. star, Bette Davis, who understood the importance of music in bolstering her films. She took a keen interest in the scores to the extent of conferring with the composers on the lot. Heightened emotional music was frequently required for her melodramas or ‘women’s films’ - a term not necessarily regarded as derogatory in the days of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The CD’s opening music, commences with Max Steiner’s Warner Bros. Fanfare, This leads into a lush rendering of the hit song ‘It Can’t Be Wrong’ from Now Voyager; more music from that ‘weepie’ can be heard on the album devoted to the film scores of Max Steiner, ‘Now Voyager’.

Dark Victory was about Judith Traherne, a wealthy socialite, who discovers that she has an incurable brain tumour. It is her courage, when she is told that the prognosis is hopeless, that forms the basis of the screenplay. It was one of Bette Davis’s best roles and Steiner provided an especially sympathetic score. The suite comprises a formidable musical ‘dead sound’ for the cue ‘Blindness’; the music speaking so eloquently, so sympathetically of Judith’s bravery in accepting her fate; ‘Winter’ is joyful Christmas music for a sleigh-ride. Steiner had a genius for underscoring such little scenes so vividly, often capturing their spirit in just a few bars. This is followed by the cue ‘Resignation’ that might sound, to today’s cynical ears, rather corny but it perfectly represents Judith’s determination to make the best of what’s left of her life, ‘a victory over darkness’.

The music for All This, and Heaven Too is the most substantial suite in the album. Again Steiner demonstrates his sympathetic and unrestrained empathy for the characters of romantic fiction. This early 19th century costume drama, set in France, had Davis cast as Henrietta Deluzy Desportes a governess to the Duc de Praslin’s (Charles Boyer) two children. His resentful wife becomes madly jealous of the innocent Henrietta so much so that the Duc, exasperated and provoked beyond endurance, kills her. The suite commences with Steiner’s Warner fanfare modulating into a dramatic flourish followed by warm tender music for Henrietta underlining her warm and caring nature. There is sympathetic music suggestive of the growing but constrained affection between Henrietta and the Duc. Although the picture ends in sadness, the film’s ‘End Titles’ roll to an upbeat and joyous reprise of the main theme.

Steiner provided a bracing ‘Main Title’ for A Stolen Life, a melodrama centred around two identical twins - so many films of this period did! - one aggressive, the other more retiring and both wanting the same man (Glenn Ford). There is another grandiose Steiner ‘Main Title’ for In This Our Life about southern aristocrats fallen on hard times. Again two sisters are involved; one selfish (Davis) the other warm and loving (Olivia de Havilland). Steiner’s music cleverly characterises the sisters’ temperaments in ‘Stanley and Roy’ - the sisters were given boy’s names! The suite includes one of Max Steiner’s loveliest melodies announced first as a cello solo.

The Letter was based on a play by Somerset Maugham about a woman who shoots her lover in a jealous rage. The film’s very brief ‘Main Title’ demonstrates Steiner’s skill in creating a deadly dramatic atmosphere and a far eastern location - all in just over one minute. Warner Bros’ 1939 production, Jezebel had Davis cast as a southern belle whose headstrong nature ruins her romance with Henry Fonda. Here we have Steiner’s lilting Viennese-style waltz played at the 1850 New Orleans ball. Davis scandalises everybody by turning up wearing a scarlet ball-gown rather than the white in which all unmarried girls were expected to dress. Bette Davis won an Academy Award for this role.

Towards the end of her career with Warner Bros, Bette Davis was growing ever more disenchanted with the sort of stories in which the Studio wanted her to star. The hokum film noir that was Beyond the Forest was typical of the sort of story she shrank from. It was about Rosa Moline, a bored housewife married to a doctor (Joseph Cotton) whom she hates and her little mid-west town that she loathes. She craves the excitement of the big city and hopes to escape there with a hot-shot industrialist (David Brian). As so often, Steiner provided an A-list score for a B-worthy picture. The ‘Main Title’ is uncompromisingly bleak for Rosa’s character. Swirling strings suggest her machinations. There are extraordinarily vivid train evocations for the locomotives that first symbolise her desire to escape and ultimately her death from peritonitis (after aborting her baby) as she rushes painfully to catch the train.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold scored three films for Bette Davis: Juarez; Deception and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. All three are represented in this Classic Film Score series, with two in this present album. From The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex about the doomed love of Queen Elizabeth I for the much younger, Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn) there is a love theme ‘Elizabeth’ written in the unusual key of F-sharp. Juarez was about Carlotta the wife of Maximilian, set up as Napoleon III’s puppet ruler of Mexico. Here is a bitter-sweet tender theme for Carlotta who is doomed to be childless, to lose her husband and to descend into madness.

Franz Waxman wrote the music for Mr Skeffington. This was a story about Fanny, a beautiful spoilt married woman - wedded to the long-suffering Claude Rains - with many admirers who, at length, is laid low by diphtheria. The excerpt here is an extraordinarily effective but horrific cue for ‘Forsaken’ where Davis looks in the mirror, sees her disfigurement then witnesses all her admirers deserting her – all except her faithful Mr Skeffington.

Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic give nicely unrestrained readings of these powerfully emotional, melodramatic scores.

Ian Lace


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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