October 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s RECOMMENDATION October 2003

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Night and the City  
2CD set presenting both the original British Territories score by Benjamin Frankel
and the International score by Franz Waxman
  Available on Screen Archives SAE-CRS-0008  
Running time: 107.55
Benjamin Frankel score: 45.15
Franz Waxman score: 62.40
Purchase from: Screen Archives

night and the city

Its quite a common event for a film score to be rejected and a second composer commissioned to pen a replacement score. Rather less common what happened in the case of the Fox produced London set British noir classic, Jules Dassinís Night and the City (1950). In Britain and British territories the film was issued with a score by Benjamin Frankel, while everywhere else the movie came out with music by Franz Waxman. Today when the film makes one of its occasional appearances on afternoon television in the UK it is ironically with the American score, the original UK version long ago seemingly having dropped out of circulation.*

Even the usually reliable Internet Movie Database makes the mistake of recording that Frankelís score was rejected. This was certainly not the case, as he had not even finished writing it before just four weeks later Waxman was hired to write his version. It has also been suggested a new score was needed due to differences in the edits between the UK and US versions of the film, but in fact other than the opening and closing scenes, virtually the only difference arises from the scores. The real reason Frankelís music was replaced appears to have been to do with the rights to exploit the music away from the film. British composers traditionally retained the rights to their music, the film company only having the right to use it within the film for which it was written. In Hollywood composers were paid much more, but effectively sold their work outright to the studios. It would seem Fox was determined to retain complete musical control and was prepared to pay heavily to do so Ė Frankel received £750, Waxman $12,500!

The movie itself is a film noir starring Richard Widmark Ė the obligatory imported American star Ė set against a wrestling world in post-war London. A very detailed essay by Christopher Husted in the booklet discusses in depth the different effects produced by the two composers. I am not in a position to comment on Mr Hustedís observations, only having seen the film once, in the Waxman version, many, many years ago. I currently have access to neither version Night and the City in any form. However, those seriously interested in film history, studio politics and the psychological effects of different choices in film scoring will find this essay very illuminating. It is the highlight of an exceptional booklet which also features a four page biography of the composer by his stepson, Dimitri Kennaway, and extensive cue notes by album producer Ray Faiola. Printed on very high quality paper with finely reproduced stills and posters, this booklet sets a new standard for film music presentation on CD. Those who dislike the trend to slim-line double jewel-cases for 2 disc sets will be delighted that this album is properly packaged in a full double "clam case".

Disc One presents Benjamin Frankelís score, and being penned first by a British composer for a film set in London taken from a novel by British author Gerald Kersh with an almost entirely British cast should, despite the film being paid for with American money, be considered the "real" score for the definitive original version of Night and the City. The music plays for 45 minutes, is in mono with fairly good sound and includes a considerable amount of source music material penned by Frankel himself. Frankel was an extremely versatile composer, having an early background in jazz, and alongside the dramatic score he is able to provide anything from the hymnal folk-like melody "Instructions" to the New Orleans flavoured "Harry Buys Information From Taxi Driver" to the smooth lounge jazz of "American Bar" Ė and thatís just to select three consecutive tracks more or less at random. Whatever the style, Frankel captures it perfectly, creating the entire musical world of the film in an achievement which would be almost unthinkable in todayís film music world with scores compiled by music supervisors mixing and matching score with commercial tracks.

Frankelís "Main Title" opens with a dramatic rhythmic pulse, like a clock ticking away to doomsday, suggesting both relentless urgency and a fatalism entirely appropriate to the film noir genre. The cue flows into a portrait of "The City at Night", an urban landscape filled with dark shadows and enticing, intoxicating energy of London. "Maryís Apartment" (shouldnít that be "Maryís Flat"? No one in London would have talked about having an apartment in 1950) introduces tender music which points towards a love theme stated more fully with gorgeous woodwind writing in "Mary Gives Money to Harry". Offering balance, of the many source cues in the early part of the disc the big band swing of "Harry Amuses Phil" is particularly infectious, the drama becoming more serious in tone with the scurrying immediacy of "Harry Tries to Raise £200", the city filled with melancholy menace in "Mary at the Silver Fox". By "Philís Office After Chilk Leaves" a chill bleakness has come to inhabit the woodwind writing, painting an atmosphere of unsettled insecurity which with its subtly and underlying sense of sadness marks Frankel as a British kindred film musical spirit to Bernard Herrmann. With "Phil Overhears Helen" the agitated strings take the music further into thriller territory, yet are immediately offset by a jaunty "Restaurant Mambo". Three short and diverse suspense cues lead to the more developed set-piece of "Harry Gets Money From Maryís Apartment" and on towards darker pieces such as "Kristos Offers Reward For Harry", music with a palpable sense of danger and excitement. "Phoney Licence" is an exercise in tense romantic indecision, the score building to an intense climax with the furious "Harry Escapes From Figler", the lyrically yearning "Mary Finds Harry at Anna OíLearyís" and the chillingly powerful "Denouement". A score of dazzling diversity covering almost every imaginable mood and ambience, composed with fine craftsmanship and imagination.

Disc Two offers just over an hour, in stereo with for the time superlative sound, of Franz Waxmanís alternative international score for Night and the City. Like Frankel, Waxman was of European Jewish extraction and had a background in jazz. The previous year he had score the classic Sunset Boulevard and had a well established track record in film noir, having penned music for Dark Passage, Whiplash and Sorry, Wrong Number. As with the first disc, various source cues (such as the jazz standard "Donít Fence Me In") are mixed with the score proper, the style being necessarily more in keeping with Hollywood noir drama, powerful, forbidding and at times blisteringly intense. Waxmanís music in powerfully designed with rich string writing offering darkly romantic melodies and suspense/action scoring of a very high calibre. If the music is more familiar than therefore perhaps slightly less interesting to modern listeners than Frankelís it is only because Waxmanís style is in general much better known to film and film music fans. His work here is more obviously suggestive of tragedy from the beginning than Frankelís, a portrait of people trapped in a hostile urban landscape from which we know there can be no escape. Set beside Waxmanís other suspense scores, from Rebecca (1940) onwards, it increases our knowledge of the composer and adds another fine work to his discography.

What would be fascinating now would be to see both versions of the film back to back to see how the different approaches to the music affect the drama - a suitable project for some enterprising DVD label such as Criterion perhaps. For now serious film music buffs and fans of both Frankel and Waxman should seek out this superb set as soon as they can. Only the first complete release of The Adventures of Robin Hood prevents me from making this my choice of the month.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

* Oddly enough here is a direct parallel with Ridley Scottís Legend, released in Britain and continental Europe with a superb score by the American composer Jerry Goldsmith, and in America re-edited with a completely inappropriate electronic score by European electronic band Tangerine Dream and songs by UK rockers Jon Anderson and Bryan Ferry Ė only to regularly appear on UK TV in the American version. To add insult to injury, the UK DVD also features the American print, while the US DVD offers the full European Directorís Cut. An insane situation which demonstrates that in Hollywood the madness never ends.

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