October 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Legendary Hollywood: North by North/Journey into Fear
  CITADEL STC 77114   [73:37]

Conducted by North himself, I'm sure this will be a treat for his many admirers. For myself though, on the evidence of these selections (although I am a fan of both Spartacus and The Agony and the Ecstasy), I find myself less enthusiastic.

The 'Main Theme' from the little known 1955 film Unchained later metamorphosed into the Righteous Brothers hit song 'Unchained Melody' and remains North's best known work. A dramatically sentimental piece, this demonstrates a flip-side to his more remote and often jarring compositions. The 'Love Theme' from The Racers (also 1955) is another very fifties, rather mushy piece, but unfortunately it pales in comparison with the previous track and is pretty much instantly forgettable.

'Josefa' from Viva Zapata! (1952) is a gentle Mexican folk style melody that is adequate rather than compelling, while The Bad Seed (1956) contributes an interesting 'Lullaby' which becomes disturbing in context of the story of a murderous eight year old, always with a sense of underlying tension.

'Blanche' from A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is somewhat syrupy in the old school manner with an odd discordant music box intruding towards the end. The Bachelor Party (1957) has another 'Love Theme' that's low-key and reflective, becoming more appealing as it develops.

'Denise' from The 13th Letter (1951) is more 50's romanticism, which to be frank does very little for me. To my ears it is all rather bland. And the 'Love Theme' from I'll Cry Tomorrow (1956) and 'Eva' from Stagestruck (1959) are really just more of the same. A selection from Les Miserables (1952) is also similar in vein, although it does become more interesting and dramatic mid-way though.

The lush strings of 'Bacio' from The Rose Tattoo (1955) feature in another romantic offering, as is the case with Desirée (1954) and its 'Love Theme'. In fact this section is dominated by similar pieces and it would have been far more appealing to hear a greater variety in style.

The second half of the CD is dedicated solely to the score for the 1975 remake of the Orson Welles produced Journey into Fear.

The 'Main Title' begins as pandemonium, a cacophony of sound and never really lets up. Next comes 'Dead Agent', which while rather more restrained than the virtual madness of the 'Main Title', still retains its inherent dissonance.

A romantic interlude is found in 'Loneliness' but it's really only of middling quality and this is followed by a run of strident suspense cues including 'The Weapon', 'Deadly Quest' and 'Desperate Straits'.

There are also a number of previously unreleased tracks, the most prominent being 'Deep Water' with its growling, atmospheric low bassoon in what is the most satisfying cue from the entire score. The dramatic 'Beneath the Surface' is of interest too, building to an intense conclusion. Also worth a mention are 'Love Theme: Painful Memory' which features a quite affecting, very brief reprise of 'Loneliness' and 'Native Mood', a Middle Eastern source cue with flute and exotic percussion. It's actually quite odd really that these reinstated tracks are far and away the best pieces on offer.

The CD concludes with 'End Title (It's Over)', with anxious tinkling piano and dark bassoon creating a sense of uneasiness, before strings begin to build into more of North's familiar tumultuous clamour.

At the risk of upsetting North fans, the truth is that he's not really the easiest composer to like, certainly not nearly as accessible as contemporaries like Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rozsa. His lighter, somewhat sentimental side is too mawkish and banal for my taste (at least during the 50's anyway) and the discordant, jazz influenced assault on the senses that figures in so much of his other work is too coldly austere to illicit anything more than vaguely unsettled indifference.

Mark Hockley



Mark Hockley


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