Band of Angels; Death of a Scoundrel* (plus short excerpts
from: Four Wives; Charge of the Light Brigade; The
Searchers and A Stolen Life)
Warner Bros Orchestra; RKO
Studio Orchestra* conducted by Max Steiner
Label X LXCD 3 MONO
Although I could not agree with the writer of this albums booklet notes
who asserts that Max Steiners score for Band of Angels (1957)
was one of the composers most memorable scores, I do agree that it
has been unjustly ignored. There is plenty of good material in it but
insufficient to justify 38 minutes devoted to it, for tedium sets in after
a time on some tracks notably The Slave Market at eight minutes
The film Band of Angels starred Clark Gable and Yvonne de Carlo (the
Catherine Zeta Jones of the 1950s). Ms de Carlo played a Kentucky Belle who,
on the death of her father, not only discovers she is penniless but worse,
that she has the wrong coloured blood coursing through her veins! As a result
she is sold into slavery, bought by a New Orleans millionaire (Gable) and
becomes his mistress. Warners spent a pile on the misguided production directed
with a wooden spoon by Raoul Walsh hoping that it would become a second Gone
With the Wind. In the event it turned out to be a burlesque of almost
every pre-Civil War story ever filmed complete with rambling deep
south mansions, spiritual intoning black slaves, exotic mulattos, powerful
cotton barons from New Orleans and sadistic slave traders etc. The supporting
cast included Torin Thatcher as a sea captain and Efrem Zimbalist Jnr as
a Union officer.
Steiners Prelude is written in his grand, sweeping Late Romantic style.
There is the big romantic tune and material suggestive of the rich comfortable
living of the deep south aristocracy surrounded by submissive slaves
with equally cosy I know my place material on banjo and sentimental
cellos. But there are also dramatic undercurrents too epitomised by a wild,
strongly rhythmic dance that menaces.
For Starwood there is more feminine music commencing with material
that seems to suggest a heroine dressed in flowing crinolines and big hat
carrying a parasol to shield her from the sun as she rides stately in her
carriage. When the tempo changes you can visualise her exchanging it for
an evening at the ball. In The Slave Market Steiner toughens
this theme and gives it a swagger that one would associate with Gable. The
rest of the track includes material that quite clearly alludes to the vicious
slave trader and the sea captain and there is a distinct French flavour to
the music appropriate to the films New Orleans location.
Amantha is much darker full of menace; with swirling strings
and biting brass and canting/galloping rhythms. The big romantic tune in
Pointe du Loup is rudely interrupted by a call to arms by bugles and drums.
One of the strongest tracks is Burning if the Cotton Crops in
which Steiners heavily accented rhythms and harmonies give an intensely
dramatic and very realistic picture of the scene. Hamish Bond
has tragic overtones and the concluding Reunion brings the big
romantic tune to a full flowering.
Much more impressive is the other rarely heard Steiner score on this disc
for the tough melodrama Death of a Scoundrel (RKO, 1956). Quoting
from Octopus book, The RKO Story, "
two hours worth of
rakes progress, complete with betrayal, thievery, multiple seduction,
suicide, murder and the added fillip of watching George Sanders cavort with
his actual ex-wife (Zsa Zsa Gabor) and stab his real-life brother (Tom Conway)
in the back." The film also starred Yvonne de Carlo. Sanders played the ruthless
Clementi Sabourin, killed by one of the business associates he has trodden
on, on his way up the ladder. The Opening Theme is one of the
most darkly powerful that Max Steiner ever wrote. The music is convoluted
and there are agonised cries from the horns as though they emanate from some
wild beast. This music then softens into a typical bitter sweet romantic
melody, followed by a little jazz-inflected music to indicate the New York
setting, plus material featuring the cimbalom suggestive of Sabourins
middle-European background (he had betrayed his brother to the secret police).
Mother, mother pursues this middle-European association further
with the cimbalom prominent in a string based mournful folk tune.
Waltz is another cimbalom led folk tune. Stephanie
(played by Nancy Gates) is a warm romantic melody for the young actress Sabourin
promotes but cannot seduce.
Charles Gerhardt recorded the Forward the Light Brigade cue (from
The Charge of the Light Brigade) in his tribute to Steiner
in Now Voyager in RCAs Classic Film Score series. It was
one of the highlights of that album and here conducted by the composer it
sounds even better, crisper and thrilling even if it lacks
Gerhardts stereo image. This is one of those occasions where you wish
that they would repeat the stirring middle section rather than the more prosaic
strict-tempo march that begins and ends the composition.
The Symphonie Moderne from Four Wives was also recorded by Gerhardt
on the same album described in the preceding paragraph but this time I do
prefer the added vibrancy of this Gershwinesque composition on the stereo
From The Searchers there is Indian Idyll a lovely work that has a
Delian delicacy with its steady but gentle rhythmic ostinato for harp and
little bells. The final excerpt is from the Bette Davis vehicle, A Stolen
Life, the Petit Valse - witty and full of character.
Recommended to all Steiner enthusiasts