August 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)
House Of Numbers (1957)
Music composed and conducted by Andre Previn
  Available on FSM Vol 7 No 7
Total Time: 76.11
The Fastest Gun Alive: 37.36
House of Numbers: 38.35
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fastest gun alive

See also:
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
A Streetcar Named Desire
Previn Conducts Korngold

In the late Sixties Andre Previn announced that the only film music of his of any merit was that for MGMís ambitious 1962 filming of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. Of course Previn was being too harsh on a body of work that by then comprised over thirty film scores, all worthy or significant. He may have been disgruntled by the recent rejection of his score for Blind Terror, starring his then wife Mia Farrow, but more to the point by then he had his sights set on aspirations other than scoring films, and soon realised his ambitions by becoming a classical conductor of world renown and a composer of notable concert works. It may well be that Previnís apparent rejection of his film work was politically rather than artistically motivated.

Many would agree that Previnís music for The Four Horsemen Of the Apocalypse was his masterwork, an epic symphonic poem, but this is not to disparage the superior soundscapes of Bad Day At Black Rock, The Subterraneans, Two For The Seesaw and Elmer Gantry among many other of his scores. But Andre Previn commenced composing for film at a very young age Ė just seventeen Ė and much of his early work, often for films now relegated to late night television, is just not known, or worse, forgotten. This yawning gap is filled to some considerable extent by this enterprising new release from the always reliable, ever surprising FSM label, who doggedly unearth soundtrack treasures perhaps thought lost to posterity. Here they resurrect Previnís music for two films which span 1956 to 1957 and which deliver a duo of powerhouse scores providing excellent evidence of the high standard of music that enhanced many workmanlike Hollywood films of earlier decades.

The Fastest Gun Alive was a standard western, albeit well made and acted, and expanded from a short television drama, which recounts how a legendary gunfighter, played by Glen Ford, rejects violence but cannot avoid his longstanding reputation and is forced into one final fatal gunfight. Previn kicks off his score as he means to continue, with an exciting, broad but infinitely detailed overture to adventure, easily conjuring galloping horses and mustering frontier excitement via the kind of musical devices already well established for the Hollywood western by original masters like Max Steiner. But the Previn trademarks we have come to cherish in later years are also prominent Ė a jagged modernism and a precise delineation of instrumentation which was more radical than the dense orchestral clusters favoured by many of film musicís originators.

The same attributes distinguish Previnís score for House of Numbers, with the dynamic Jack Palance cast as twin brothers who hatch a devious plan to assist one of the two to escape from San Quentin prison. But here the music is even more stirring, introduced by frenzied motifs, distinguished throughout by complex invention, slipping sleazily into jazz motifs, and incorporating some poignant nocturnes. There are even pre-echoes of the illustrious music for The Four Horseman Of the Apocalypse. The arresting cues for House of Numbers are something of a discovery and must count as one of Previnís finest and indeed most archetypal and representative scores.

The album is immaculately produced with the mono sound clean and full-bodied and the accompanying 20 page booklet bulging with notes on the films, numerous stills and a track by track breakdown on all the compositions. An important archival release. A previously illusive part of the Previn jigsaw now falling neatly into place.

David Wishart

**** 4

The Fastest Gun Alive

  1. Main Title 3:39
  2. George 2:34
  3. Hiding the Gun 2:44
  4. George Is Troubled/McGovern's Story 2:37
  5. Same Look/They've Got to Know 2:00
  6. The Fastest Gun 2:51
  7. Posse 2:59
  8. I Hate Water/Cross Creek 1:42
  9. I'll Pray Hard/Three Guns 1:33
  10. You Ain't Top Gun 1:57
  11. Five Minutes 2:03
  12. Afraid 2:07
  13. Exit Swope 2:04
  14. Switch/End Title/End Cast (film version) 2:40
  15. Switch and End Title/End Cast (original version) 3:26
Total Time: 37:36

House of Numbers
  1. Main Title 2:25
  2. Separate Beds/Do It Yourself 3:02
  3. Breaking In 4:41
  4. Cell Block 2:07
  5. Dig 5:16
  6. I Had Mine/15 Minute Visits/Inmate Missing 2:59
  7. Prison Tobacco 3:50
  8. Arnie and Bill 2:35
  9. Mr. and Mrs. Judlow/They'll Never Put Me Back/End Title 5:23
  10. Main Title/Supplies/Bridge/San Quentin (music & effects) 5:56
Total Time: 38:34
Total Disc Time: 76:10

Film Score Monthly Press Release

Andre Previn is regarded as one of the world's pre-eminent conductors, a respected composer of orchestral works, chamber music and opera, and an accomplished pianist. Yet in an earlier time he was also a talented jazz musician, popular recording artist, songwriter and -- during a glorious two-decade span -- one of the most gifted composers of film music Hollywood has known. His most famous scores from this period include Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962) and Inside Daisy Clover (1965). Yet there are a number of now-obscure pictures for which Previn provided arresting music, including The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) and House of Numbers (1957), both directed by Russell Rouse when Previn was under contract at M-G-M.

A psychological western starring Glenn Ford, The Fastest Gun Alive tells the story of a mild-mannered storekeeper in the town of Cross Creek who harbors a dark secret: he is an expert sharpshooter but refrains from informing his friends and neighbors for fear that he will become a target for thrillseeking gunfighters. Circumstances conspire to put his abilities with a gun -- and the principles of the citizens of Cross Creek -- to the test. Andre Previn's score is dominated by a main theme that suggests both Ford's personal turmoil as well as his eventual nobility and heroism, but also includes a touching love theme, quintessentially American string writing and gripping music for a trio of criminals led by Broderick Crawford.

House of Numbers is a jailbreak film like no other: Jack Palance plays both convicted murdered Arnie Judlow and his gentle brother Bill, who actually breaks into San Quentin Prison in a complicated scheme that results in Arnie's escape. The implausibility of the storyline provided Andre Previn an opportunity to compose a score that is at times gloriously over-the-top: his main theme captures the violent temper of Arnie Judlow and the recklessness of the plan to extricate him from prison, while a secondary theme attaches itself to Arnie's wife, Ruth (Barbara Lang), and Bill's unspoken feelings for her. Two lengthy sequences are played without dialogue and Previn's inventive scoring, featuring constantly varied orchestral colors, produces an aura of genuine tension.

These two film scores offer examples of the distinctive, often exhilarating, music being produced by a young man with plenty of experience and an abundance of talent -- a Hollywood veteran still two years shy of his 30th birthday. This CD features the premiere release for each score, both complete and in the best possible monaural sound (as they were recorded). Liner notes are by Jeff Eldridge.

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