May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Collection: Monstrous Movie Music: The Mole People; Them!; It Came From Outer Space; It Came from Beneath the Sea   Radio Symphony Orchestra of Cracow conducted by Masatoshi Mitsumoto    [ (]   MMM-1950 [68:38]

Collection: More Monstrous Movie Music: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms; Tarantula; Gorgo; The Monolith Monsters   Radio Symphony Orchestra of Cracow conducted by Masatoshi Mitsumoto  
[e-mail: (]  MMM 1951 [59:03]

Ian Lace offers introductory remarks and his rating:-

In Hollywood's Golden Age, the major studios had their own music department and thankfully, directors and producers did not dictate or sway the style of the film music of that period. The good taste and sense of the heads of music departments carried real weight. It is a great pity that we cannot return to that system. I raise this point because these two albums reminded me that the studios had their own policy regarding music and the music of these studios, particularly Warner Bros., had their own quite unmistakable special sound. Warner Bros had a significant music department headed by Leo Forbstein who was responsible for hiring first rate talent such as Korngold, Steiner, Waxman and Tiomkin. Warner Bros. valued music highly and, significantly, they gave their major composers sole screen credits like their leading players and directors. For their major productions, the scores were practically all original.

On the other hand, Universal (or Universal International as it was known through the period of the films featured on these albums) valued music much less, more often than not allowing only a small credit in their technicians `page' listing and usually just: "Music supervised by Joseph Gershensen" or similar. Gershensen was not a composer but he was a very able administrator. Universal's budget-conscious policy was to use existing material over and over again, when suitable, so that many of their scores were really scissors and paste jobs. The wonder is that so much good work came from this albeit expert gluing process peppered with some sharp and adept original material. Amongst the composers working at Universal at this time was Henry Mancini whose work went uncredited.

It is quite noticeable, and not surprising therefore, that the best scores in these albums are from Warner Bros (and M-G-M) productions.

These two albums are quite remarkable. Having seen most of these films in their theatrical releases when I was in my teens I was bowled over by the accuracy of the sound world that had been created - particularly that recognisable Universal International sound I remembered hearing in the 1950s. But this is but one facet of the extreme care which David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne have lavished on these productions. Besides many film poster illustrations, the texts of the sumptuous booklets are crammed with carefully and meticulously researched detail - one gets the impression that no stone has been left unturned. (One also speculates that they have unearthed even more material that cannot easily be revealed, certainly they suggest that valuable material is being hoarded illicitly in selfish private collections.) Kathleen Mayne has done a remarkable reconstruction job and they have been fortunate in finding a pliant conductor and orchestra. They have an engaging attitude to this music viewing it with great affection and humour but also appreciating its limitations.

I leave Gary to give a detailed review of these albums and I look to further volumes in the series. But I hope that David and Kathleen will expend their undoubted talents in resurrecting more worthwhile scores from Hollywood's Golden Age. There is still plenty of scope. I recommend them to research all the Academy Award nominations as listed in Robert Osborne's marvellous book, 70 Years of the Oscar for starters.


Ian Lace

Gary S. Dalkin writes the main review

Ian Lace has already covered the sound and presentation of these albums, but I have to just mention that these discs offer a fantastic recreation of the 50's B picture ambience, while the booklets written by David Schecter are the result of astonishing dedication. Beautifully printed, incredibly detailed, phenomenally knowledgeable, and written with real wit this is the work of people who really love film music. Schecter, and Kathleen Mayne - who even suffered a spider invasion nightmare in the course of duty - really should be given some sort of special award for services to film music far and beyond the realms of duty. Monstrous Movie Music even features 5 short bonus tracks, music from It Came From Outer Space (1953) already featured, but now with the theremin parts removed and with instructions as to what noises to make for your own Karaoke versions. Resistence really is useless, and much less fun than going "Ooooo - wooooo - wooooo"

Now that might suggest that this is all a bit flippant. Nothing could be further from the truth, though it does indicate a health sense of humour and an acknowledgement that this was functional music that shouldn't be elevated too highly. Schecter and Mayne genuinely love 1950's B picture monster and SF movies, though they are not so blind in love that they can not see the flaws in these movies as well as the virtues so often overlooked by the mainstream. And if the films have gone generally unrecognised, so much more so the music. Now while it would be a mistake to lump all these films together as being much of a similar quality - like any other genre there is an enormous difference between the best and the worst - one can safely make the generalisation that none of these pictures where scored by the big name composers of the day. Whether an iconic classic such as Them! (1954) or the negligible The Mole People (1956) names such as Rózsa, Herrmann and Steiner were conspicuously absent from the soundstage.

The films were usually made quickly and cheaply, but often with much rough-hewn invention, and the same applied to the music scores. Writing this music was just part of the daily job to such almost completely unknown (even to film music fans) composers as David Buttolph and Irving Gertz. Yet if the names are unfamiliar, the music will be instantly recognised. Not, probably for individual pieces, or even for the work of any one of the composers, but for the overall sound: in the best possible way, the music on these albums is generic. Which is to say, so powerfully evocative is this music that it defines forever and always a particular time and place in cinema. Hear this music are you simply know you are in the world of black and white monsters, probably busy menacing Manhattan. As such, if you have any nostalgic love for these films at all, and if you grew up in the 50's, or in the 70's watching them over and over again on TV surely you must have, then you will find these discs an absolute treat.

There are quirks. Each disc essentially features three lengthy suites from classic or semi-classic SF movies made between 1953-61, so that it seems a little odd to have much shorter extracts from one much lesser film on each disc - The Mole People on the first album, The Monolith Monsters (1957) on the second. Still, more music from these is promised on a later volume, and soon we are going to be able to enjoy further releases featuring The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), Mighty Joe Young (1949) and This Island Earth (1955).

After Monstrous Movie Music opens with The Mole People, things really get going with Them! This tale of radioactive giant ants, which culminates in a terrific battle in the Los Angeles storm drains, was a major Warner Brothers production and was the studio's most successful film of 1954. The score was by Bronislau Kaper, now remembered most for his work in the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. The disc offers 27 minutes from the score, and it is simply great stuff, developing the sound of film noir as established by Miklós Rózsa in the 40's in such hard-bitten crime/thriller scores as Brute Force and The Naked City to new levels of atmospheric monstrousness. Here is the template for many of the insect rampages which would follow throughout the 50's, and let us not forget that without Them! there would be no Aliens (1986) and no Starship Troopers (1998). The bug-hunt starts here.

It Came from Outer Space (1953) was part of the 3-D boom of the early 50's, a terrific little SF thriller (and not a monster movie at all) directed with great economy by the king of 50's SF film world, Jack Arnold. A script by Ray Bradbury ensured that this was superior fare. The music, a collaboration between Herman Stein, Irving Gertz and Henry Mancini (a decade before entering the big league with The Pink Panther) delivers considerable brooding suspense and archetypal menace. There's even a hint of Rite of Spring in 'Visitors from Space', though Stravinsky never used a theremin! The Beast From 20, 000 Fathoms dates from the same year, and is nominally based on the Ray Bradbury story The Foghorn. The film is a true monster flick in the tradition of King Kong (1933), getting the jump on Godzilla (1954) by a year, and by making $5 million on a $200 000 investment probably inspiring Warner's Them! in the first place. The dinosaur-on-the-loose film is notable today for being the great stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen's first feature, and thus a half-way stage between King Kong and Jurassic Park. To say that David Buttolph's does exactly what is expected of it, lending real quality to what is a really rather ponderous and technically limited film, is high praise. The suite from Mischa Bakaleinkoff's score for It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) is comparatively short at 9 minutes, but offers all the giant-octopus-wrestling-with-the-Golden-Gate-bridge action most people will probably ever need.

Tarantula (1955) was Universal Studios entry into the rampaging giant insect stakes, and not only features a very young Clint Eastwood, but again offers the talents of Stein and Mancini, this time without Gertz. Once more this is terse and explosive music, leaving just Gorgo (1961), a film from the tale-end of the monster boom years scored by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. This was a rare British attempt to make a monster movie - as opposed to a Hammer horror movie - and provides the rare chance to see Big Ben get the sort of punishment usually reserved for American landmarks. The score suffered considerably in the release version of the film, but 19 minutes are restored here for all to enjoy, including the surprisingly romantic and rousing finale music. How fitting that for once, as the cycle of monster movies drew to an end, the beasts should have a happy ending.

It has to be said that the music between the scores from these various films is really rather similar. However, there are gems throughout both discs and I wouldn't be without either and am eagerly looking forward to further releases. It might be that to really appreciate these albums you have to have that special love for these wonderful old films that some people simply have, and other's just don't get. But even so, anyone who loves film music should really have at least the first of these discs in their collection, while for true monster movie fans both these albums packed full of world premiere recordings are simply essential.


Gary S. Dalkin

(both albums)


Ian Lace

Gary S. Dalkin


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