April 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Khartoum / Mosquito Squadron  
Music composed by Frank Cordell
  Available from Film Score Monthly FSMCD Vol. 7, No. 2
Running time: 78.55 (for details see below this review)
Available from: Film Score Monthly, 8503 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA90232; Tel: 1-888-345-6335; overseas: 310-253-9595; fax: 310-253-9588 e-mail: Info@filmscoremonthly.com

khartoum mosquito squadron

The first line of the booklet to this release reads, "Khartoum was one of the last widescreen epics…", which is certainly an unusual point of view. Whatever, this album presents two scores by the often overlooked British film composer Frank Cordell. The film recording of Khartoum (1966) has been lost, so the current album begins with a remastered presentation of the soundtrack LP (taken from ¼ inch stereo tapes), which was a re-recording retaining the original orchestrations. To this the CD adds the 'End Title/Closing Music' taken direct from the film. The CD is completed with the first ever release of tracks prepared for a soundtrack LP of Cordell's music for Mosquito Squadron (1969). Again the original recordings have been lost, and though an LP was prepared it was never issued. The 37 minutes of music on this CD are taken from the stereo LP master tape.

Khartoum is certainly one of the forgotten epics of the 1960's. A 70mm spectacular starring Charlton Heston as General Gordon, Laurence Olivier, Richard Johnson and Ralph Richardson. Produced by MGM, presumably in telling the story of another British military hero in the Islamic world the studio hoped to repeat the success of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), the film was not a significant hit and today is generally overlooked.

Cordell's score certainly has something of the Arab/desert flavour of Maurice Jarre's music for Lawrence, but only in passing, for this is a much more traditionally conceived work. Cordell's music is firmly in the English film music/classical tradition, with military marches, Elgarian grandeur and yet with almost kitsch exotic touches which could have been used to depict the Arab world in a 1940's Hollywood adventure. Indeed, as the booklet points out, "Cordell's portrayal of Sudanese mysticism would very much parallel (John) Williams's beloved work for ancient civilizations unearthed in the Indiana Jones films." The booklet also spots that Cordell's Walton-influenced theme for Gordon anticipates Williams' 'Throne Room' theme from Star Wars, and certainly there's a dash of Goldsmith's The Mummy (1999) prefigured here, as well as some echoes of Alex North's music for Cleopatra (1964). Grand stuff, from the rousing 'Overture' to the tense 'The Cattle Raid' to the majestic 'Main Theme – Khartoum', this is fine music for those who like their film scores bold, melodic and resolutely old-style.

Mosquito Squadron was a lesser entry in the 1960's cycle of British RAF action dramas. Something of a poor man's 633 Squadron (1964), the comparison can be applied right down to the score. Cordell contributes music again influenced by Walton (who ironically the same year had his score for The Battle of Britain replaced by music from Ron Goodwin, who of course scored 633 Squadron) plus a pulsating theme clearly designed to emulate the rat-a-tat-tat of Goodwin's 633 Squadron theme. Unfortunately Cordell's theme is no where near as memorable as Goodwin's, though he does offer some stirring battle music and a fine tender-hearted love theme ('Beth's Theme'). This melody is developed through such cues as 'Beside the Lake' which hark back to the great tradition of British film music and sound as if they come from a movie much older than 35 years. An elegantly crafted work for a decidedly second-rate film, Cordell's music deserves to be heard by all admirers of fine British film scoring.

It barely needs saying, but sound and presentation are excellent.

Gary Dalkin

**** 4

  • 1 Overture 4:07
  • 2 Prologue 4:11
  • 3 Hicks's Army 2:27
  • 4 Gordon Meets Gladstone 1:25
  • 5 Up the Nile 1:19
  • 6 Gordon Enters Khartoum 1:51
  • 7 Gordon Enters the Mahdi's Camp 1:21
  • 8 Intermission Music 1:37
  • 9 Main Theme -- Khartoum 1:53
  • 10 The Cattle Raid 4:46
  • 11 The Siege of Khartoum 4:47
  • 12 Wolseley's Army 3:02
  • 13 Severed Heads 1:52
  • 14 Prelude to Battle 2:09
  • 15 Death of General Gordon 2:13
  • 16 End Title/Exit Music 2:04
  • Total Time: 41:46
Mosquito Squadron
  • 17 Mosquito Squadron (Main Title) 3:59
  • 18 Beth's Theme (Love Theme) 4:38
  • 19 Take Off 0:43
  • 20 Beside the Lake 1:24
  • 21 Airfield Alert 1:33
  • 22 Poor Beth 1:17
  • 23 Bandits 4:16
  • 24 Beth and Quint 2:36
  • 25 Charlon 1:19
  • 26 Plans for Escape 1:17
  • 27 Take Care, Priest 1:31
  • 28 The Priest Is Shot 1:14
  • 29 The Escape/Battle 7:47
  • 30 The Story Ends 2:59
  • Total Time: 37:08
Total Disc Time: 78:55

FSM Press Release

This CD presents two scores by English composer Frank Cordell (1918-1980): Khartoum (1966) -- arguably his greatest work -- and Mosquito Squadron (1969), both featuring melodic British themes pertaining to military action.

Khartoum is a widescreen historical epic starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles "Chinese" Gordon, who in 1885 defended the city of Sudanese city of Khartoum against an uprising led by the Islamic militant, the "Mahdi" (Laurence Olivier). The film is well-regarded for Heston's performance as well as those of its British stars: Olivier, Ralph Richardson (as Prime Minister Gladstone) and Richard Johnson (as Gordon's second-in-command).

Gordon's story has passed into folklore in England and Cordell aided the film's romanticized approach with a patriotic British fanfare, plus a long-lined theme for Gordon focusing on the pride and dignity of the commander. On the flipside, Cordell painted the Mahdi and his followers with sharp strokes of Egyptian exotica. Fans of John Williams (an admitted Anglophile composer) will find many similarities in Cordell's writing and orchestrations, especially the Arabic-flavored music which parallels Williams's work in the Indiana Jones films.

Mosquito Squadron is a WWII adventure starring David McCallum (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) as a fighter pilot whose leader is downed behind enemy lines. McCallum starts a tentative romance with the man's wife, then learns that his friend might be alive after all. Cordell provides aggressive, rhythmic scoring for the film's aerial missions and German assaults, a noble British melody for the RAF pilots, and evocative, romantic scoring for the love story.

The CD is entirely in stereo. Khartoum features Cordell's re-recorded LP tracks (faithful to the film orchestrations; the original soundtrack recording is lost) with a bonus track of exit music from the film itself. Mosquito Squadron is from an LP assembly that was prepared by United Artists Records but never released -- until now.

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