January 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Alfred NEWMAN All About Eve. Leave Her to Heaven  Conducted by the composer FILM SCORE Vol. 2 No. 7 [44:21]

The most immediately striking thing about this album is how short the cues are, followed swiftly by how little music there is. Two complete scores are presented over 33 tracks, and in fractionally less than three-quarters of an hour.

Even including bonus stereo versions of the last two tracks, All About Eve (1950) just passes the half-hour mark, while Leave Her to Heaven (1945) features a mere 13 minutes and 25 seconds of score, for a film with a running time of 111 minutes. What is so surprising is that we often take it for granted that films from the 'Golden Age of Hollywood' featured more or less wall-to-wall music, that the subtle placing of limited amounts of score was something which developed later, in the 60's and 70's. Well no one told Alfred Newman what to do, he was the head of the music department at 20th Century Fox when these two films were made, and he surely scored these movies the way he saw fit. At 138 minutes, All about Eve features more than an hour-and-three-quarters of screen time without music.

Leave Her to Heaven was made just as film noir was gathering pace, and pitches itself somewhere between that genre and the often disparaged 'women's picture'. Gene Tierney plays Ellen, according to Fox's own production notes, a 'psychopathic demon', and clear forerunner of Glenn Close's vengeful jealous lover in Fatal Attraction (1987). This is similar dark psychological territory to that explored by Miklos Rozsa in Double Indemnity (1944) and Lost Weekend (1945), and Bernard Herrmann in Jane Eyre (1944) (Newman hired Herrmann for the job.) There are seven cues, dominated by the slow, remorseless (heart)beat of a drum, brooding strings and acerbic, biting brass writing. Taut, cruel and far removed from any sentimentality, at least until the triumphant end, this is not the more familiar Alfred Newman of Wuthering Heights (1939) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Today we are used to this style from the better known Rozsa scores mentioned above, so that without being especially distinctive, it does reveal another facet of Newman's craft, showing how he approached each film according to the particular needs of the drama. That said, the very limited and sometimes distorted 1945 sound is such that the tracks are more interesting for the serious film music buff, rather than simply enjoyable in their own right.

All About Eve a highly theatrical film in more ways than one, won six Oscars in 1950, and a nomination for Alfred Newman for best score. The dialogue dominated nature of the film (the drama revolves around three stage actresses, most notably Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis) meant there was little room for extended musical sequences. There are bold fanfares for the opening and closing sequences, while most of the cues last less than a minute, and accompany transitional scenes, portraying the characters of one or more of the leading actresses. On the album there are also short extracts from Liszt and Debussy, as well as stereo versions of the final two selections. Presumably Fox were experimenting with stereo prior to the launch of CinemaScope.

As with Leave Her to Heaven, this is psychological film scoring, with brief statements of themes, and a low-key romantic hue like a faint echo of Max Steiner's Gone With the Wind (1939) yet stripped of much of the glamour. Unlike Bernard Herrmann's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, or The Trouble With Harry, where Herrmann's use of short, self-contained cells of material allows short tracks work well as independent music, many of the cues here are too fragmentary and locked to the fabric of the film to be of especial interest as pure music. This is not to say that this is not a good score, indeed, some would argue that it is a great one, but that as far as album listening goes, Newman is at his most enjoyable in those scores in which he can stretch into longer, more sustained compositions. Here the music is essentially even-tempoed character-delineating underscore, an interwoven set of variations on the three main themes, which, while it functions wonderfully as part of the film, is not something for which I can, try as I might, feel especial warmth.

Doubtless I shall be called a philistine, but for me this is simply too fragmentary and too repetitive to encourage making the required allowances for the (comparatively) poor sound quality. This is a release to delight hard-core film music buffs, for whom only the original will do, but perhaps many younger fans such as myself might prefer a newly recorded suite with the music re-sequenced into longer cues. On a more positive note, the packaging is superb, with a beautifully reproduced colour publicity still on the front cover, colour poster reproductions for both films, a good selection on black and white stills and excellent notes by Doug Adams. Even the CD itself is elegantly designed, with stills from both films. Those with a taste for the 'Golden Age' and an infinite love of its classics will cherish this album, others may be less enthused, but all should applaud the fact of the release itself, and the enthusiasm for film music which makes such albums possible.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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