February 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Broken Lance  
  FILM SCORE MONTHLY Vol. 4 No. 15   [38:40]

Broken Lance

Available from Film Score Monthly, 8503 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA90232; Tel: 1-888-345-6335; overseas: 310-253-9595; fax: 310-253-9588;

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 the score.)

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.

John Huether


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.

Mark Hockley


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