This is a direct reissue of the original soundtrack album of the 1977 Sam
Peckinpah war film Cross of Iron. This was Peckinpah's last significant
work, unusual for a Hollywood feature in revolving around a group of German
soldiers fighting on the Eastern Front, but typically uncompromising in its
portrayal of conflict.
Ernest Gold, who died last year at the age of 77, is one of those many film
composers who is largely forgotten today, and would be almost completely
unknown where it not for one track which became a stalwart of film theme
compilation albums in the 60's and 70's; the title music for Exodus (1960).
Cross of Iron proves the power of this melody was not a one-off, offering a
dark-hued, emotionally intense main theme ('Steiner's Theme') which, had not
the war movie more or less died out by the late 70's, would doubtless have
become a staple of future war movie theme albums. This is a stark, brooding
score, as befits the subject; the music here far more tragic than heroic;
Gold interpolating the core nobility of 'Steiner's Theme' throughout in
variations which range from anger to desperation to resignation.
The 'Main Title' is a jolly song for children's choir. Sung in German with no
translation, I have no idea what it is about, but it has the character of a
carol crossed with a nursery rhyme, martial interjections casting a dark
shadow over this happy interlude. 'Mikael' is impressionistically nostalgic,
leading to 'Steiner's Report', a quiet elegy which anticipates the low-key
funereal landscapes to follow. Gold underplays the inevitable carnage, the
icy inevitability of his cues, the sense of cold fatalism being far more
chilling and moving than more conventional blood-and-thunder writing.
'Memories and Hallucinations' opens with a solo mouth organ, a beautiful
melody which gives way to atonal choir effects, as if the murmuring of
distant winds across a frozen landscape, or the song of dead souls lost in
no-mans-land. A montage cue, this writing gives way to the ebb and flow of
nightmare, a sheer wave of sound fading into the achingly tender love theme,
One key cue, 'The Massacre' features an especially heartfelt and rending treatment of
'Steiner's Theme', but unfortunately suffers from some distortion (particularly noticeable
on the left channel) at the string rich climax of the piece. Setting this aside, and
some other momentary snatches of distortion, this is a good presentation of an outstanding score,
and we have to thank Artemis for returning it to the catalogue. It is actually a music better
representation of the quality of the composer's work than
Ernest Gold Film Themes Vol. 1
which I reviewed in September. Gold wrote the music for at least 60 films and TV movies;
I wonder how many more of his fine scores lie unheard in the archives.
Gary S. Dalkin