This Film Score Monthly release pays tribute to Leigh Harline, one of the
many fine but relatively obscure composers who labored in Hollywood's studio
ranks for many years, crafting competent, workaday scores to mostly run-of-the
mill films. That he also wrote -- and received an Oscar for -- one of the world's
most famous tunes has done little to raise his profile, even among film music
fans. That would be, of course, 1940's "Pinocchio," for which
Harline composed what by now is the Disney empire's universally recognized theme
music, "When You Wish Upon a Star." Prior to that, he collaborated
on the memorable song-score to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
But like anyone who worked for the Big Mouse, Harline did so in virtual anonymity
and he eventually left, spending the next two decades primarily as a freelance
film composer. With his sharp eye for talent, it was natural that Alfred Newman
would use Harline frequently at 20th Century-Fox. In all, Harline would score
more than 80 motion pictures throughout his career, including "Pride
of the Yankees," "The Enemy Below," "The
Desert Rats," and "The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao."
"Broken Lance," a 1954 Western by Edward Dmytryk, may well
have been his masterpiece. The film starred Spencer Tracy as a Lear-like cattle
baron. Richard Widmark and Robert Wagner co-starred, but Tracy's character forms
the heart of both the film and Harline's score, inspiring a dark, starkly dramatic,
5-note theme heard immediately in the opening titles. I admit to not being overly
impressed at its initially treatment in a brass fanfare, but Harline's development
as the cue continues suggests a maturity to the theme that enables it to wear
well as the score progresses. A hint of Native American rhythms is also effective,
both here and much later in the cue ‘Burial.’
Despite its Western milieu, "Broken Lance" is more than
a standard shoot-'em up (screenwriter Philip Yordan, in fact, received an Oscar
for this work) and Harline's score features many soft, reflective cues. His
use of high strings and finger cymbals in 'Portrait' and 'Conversation with
Portrait' reminded me of Alex North. And as a work of functional
film-scoring, the latter cue succeeds admirably in helping shift the story
into the flashback that forms the film's core. In a companion cue (‘Desolate
Home’), Harline sensitively juxtaposes a moody version of Tracy’s theme with
a solo trumpet version of his Western-sounding ‘Home’ melody.
This aspect of the score no doubt reflects Dmytryk's emphasis on characterization,
as in ‘Princess,’ wherein Harline explores the relationship between Tracy and
his Indian wife (Katy Jurado) with some fine writing for English horn. He also
utilizes an Irish folk tune here, which he returns to in a subdued version for
solo French horn later in the cue ‘Matt’s Defeat.’
A second love theme for Tracy’s youngest son (Wagner) and Jean Peters is lighter
in tone, presented initially, and most delicately, in ‘First Kiss’ with Tracy’s
theme juxtaposed in solo trumpet.
Interspersed with cues like these is vigorous action music in which Harline
makes good use of his main theme. Several cues, particularly those involving
the flashback device, also benefit from subtle choral work.
(It’s worth noting that five years later, when Dmytryk made "Warlock,"
another cerebral Western with a multi-star cast, he requested Harline to compose
Apparently, all but one cue from the original score are included in this typically
well-detailed FSM recording, which runs to just under 40 minutes. At that, Harline’s
score is consistently fresh and interesting. My only complaint is that it might
have been nice to double-up another Harline score with it. (When FSM announced
plans to release "Broken Lance," some veteran film music fans
voiced interest in several others, including "The Enemy Below"
and "The True Story of Jesse James" – both from 20th Century-Fox,
the current locale of FSM’s excavation efforts.) Combining a second score might
have delayed this release, though, and we’ve gone long enough without a feature-film
score from Leigh Harline – referred to in Ross Care’s liner notes as "the
composer that time forgot."
"Broken Lance" is an important step toward rectifying that.
And Mark Hockley is enthusiastic too:-
The sleeve notes call Leigh Harline ‘The Composer That Time Forgot’ and there’s
a lot of truth in that statement. When you consider that this is the man who
wrote one of the most beautiful, well known melodies of all time (‘When You
Wish Upon a Star’) it’s quite incredible that he’s not a house-hold name. But
Harline has never really been embraced by mainstream film music fans and remains
relatively anonymous. It’s for this reason more than any other that once again
the illustrious team at Film Score Monthly should be commended for releasing
this fascinating score.
The ‘Main Title’ itself is a rather brooding affair with a subtle Native American
flavour and this piece represents the darker psychological side of this King
Lear-like western. There are a number of unusual, innovative touches in the
instrumentation, particularly with the inclusion of wordless voices heard on
‘The Home Place/Desolate Home/Conversation With Portrait’ and ‘Burial/Joe and
Signora’. As a direct contrast there is a strong romantic element introduced
in ‘First Kiss’, which features a love theme for the story’s young leads (Robert
Wagner and Jean Peters) that is heard at regular intervals on tracks like ‘Joy
Ride’, in a jaunty, upbeat version and the tender, restrained ‘Declaration of
Love’. An Irish folk song, ‘My Love, Oh She is My Love’, is also employed to
illustrate the affection between the patriarchal lead character (Spencer Tracy)
and his Native American wife and is heard to particularly good effect on the
sombre, mournful ‘Matt’s Defeat/Heart Attack’. The score’s most interesting
material however is to be found on cues which explore the dark undercurrents
and jealousies that fuel the relationships between family members as with ’Matt’s
Decision/Matt’s Farewell/Matt’s Death’, which includes a notably bleak and discordant
variation on the ‘Main Title’ and ‘To the East Range’, a frantic, slightly Herrmannesque
action cue. Finally things are wrapped up neatly with ‘Two Moons/Broken Lance’,
very much the kind of heart-on-your-sleeve finale you would expect from this
era, building to the expected dramatic conclusion.
This is an intelligent, at times intense score, although to some extent it
is undermined by the sentimentality of the obligatory romantic elements. In
saying that, it is very much a product of its time and the love theme is very
typical of the 50s and will unquestionably appeal to those who are fond of that
slightly saccharine style. Well worth investigating though and a reminder that
there are other composers of note with a solid body of work out there, if we
only take some time to go and look for them.
To be given access to work of this nature, lovingly produced and presented,
can only be a good thing. Film music scholars along with casual fans should
rejoice in the knowledge that such soundtracks are being made available. In
the end my relative enthusiasm for this individual score is far outweighed by
my continuing support for the crucially important, laudable work of FSM.