The Egyptian (1954) received a rough ride from the critics and it was not
popular with audiences. (One reviewer remarked that it was "more risible
Marlon Brando was originally slated to play the Doctor hero, Sinuhe, but
he pulled out to be replaced by the wooden-faced (or rather glum and
glowering-looking) and uncharismatic Edmund Purdom who seemed to be the kiss
of death on so many films of this period. The film also starred Victor Mature,
Peter Ustinov (the only actor to make any impression in this film) Bella
Darvi (as the temptress Nefer, Nefer, Nefer) Gene Tierney, Michael Wilding,
and Jean Simmons (as the martyred Merit). I add this detail because the usually
excellent notes although analysing the cues in admirable detail, do not outline
the plot in sufficient detail.
I will leave Rob Barnett to expound upon the detail of the score save to
say that I was very impressed, and admired the way the music of Herrmann
and Newman blend so well together. Their styles were quite different so this
score is a tribute to their adaptability, sensitivity and supreme musicality.
Herrmanns contribution is more lyrical than usual and as in Citizen
Kane he deploys his characterisation skills supremely well note
his damning portrayal of Sinuhes lust and Nefer Nefer Nefers
greed and treachery. On the other hand, Newman tends to rein in his more
refulgent tendencies and moves towards Herrmanns more austere writing.
His Valley of the Kings and Hymn To Aton are particularly
successful and can be counted amongst his best creations. Both composers
create a potent evocation of Ancient Egypt.
The sound is bright and clear and altogether I would place this new recording
amongst the very best produced by the John Morgan/William T. Stromberg team.
Rob Barnett adds:
We are becoming accustomed to this. Every new disc from this source is well
prepared, the repertoire is chosen with acumen, the music is played and recorded
with relish and the accompanying written material is as close to comprehensive
as a 28 page booklet in one language (English) can get. Clearly Marco Polo
had access to stills this time as they handsomely adorn this issues 28 page
booklet (English only).
The Egyptian is one of those sword and sandal epics at which Hollywood excess
excelled. Music plays a key part in the success of such things. Newmans and
Herrmanns music is complementary and the seams are not obvious. Newman is
a priest of the swooning string (and vocal) choir. Herrmann can do virtually
anything and is easily the superior of the two composers. His imagination,
translated into music and orchestral effect, is matchless although emotionalism
is something that does not come easily to the Herrmann palette.
John Morgan does his usual masterful job and boils down a 100 min score to
71 min choosing the best. This is still a great deal of music.
Herrmann has us in the cupped palms of his hands from The Prelude (with its
foreground-grabbing snarling trombones) onwards. Newman pulls off the same
trick in The New Pharaoh with horns echoing and re-echoing. Herrmanns
salty dynamism and choler enliven The Chariot Ride with its exciting
antiphonal horn chase, the chaotic clamour of Pursuit and the
snorting brass of Violence.
In more atmospheric vein he gloriously portrays gloom (Ruins),
serenity (strings and plaintive woodwind in The Red Sea and
The Nile) and shifting exotic dreams
(Nefer-Nefer-Nefer). The harp and tambourine provide additional
colour in The Temple. The Deed is celebrated in quiet serious
strings following a tune of Prokofiev-like bearing. The Harp and The
Couch and the following track (The Perfection of Love)
wallow lightly and pleasantly in languor and contentment accompanying a
strollingly high string theme.
Drama and local colour also come into Taia- an awkward dance
and, speaking of dance, listen to Partys End for some sleekly sinuous pirouettes
out of Balakirevs Symphonies or Ippolitov-Ivanov. Sibelius 1 and 2 are the
wellsprings of The Rebuke - all brassy defiance. As for The
Homecoming, this must have been a sour return with its howling Scythian
clamour slashed through with Sibelian gusts. The Tomb is sepulchral
in the manner of Tchaikovsky 5 and Sibelius 1. Dance Macabre caterwauls in
a glorious chaos indebted to the battle music from Prokofievs Nevsky
The Newman tracks are fascinating. Her Name Was Merit is strikingly
similar to a John Barry theme: Bond in sleepy romantic form. Akhnaton - those
serene strings sphinx-like as in Red Sea and The Nile. The Valley of
the Kings is the longest track here - a tone poem in all but name.
The repetitive tread of The Hymn to Aton with chorus is hypnotic
while Tchaikovsky must be the model for Live For Our Son. So
too in its different gloomier way is the militaristic Am I Dead?
with its Mahlerian slouch (The Titan).
An indifferent film, maybe, but this score is a narcotic jag and a half.