Moonfleet was a 1955 MGM adventure concerning smuggling in the titular (fictional) Dorsetshire (today shortened to Dorset) coastal village. The film was a lavish CinemaScope, Technicolor production with a $2 million budget, and suffered considerable studio interference such that the finished result was, given the pedigree of director Fritz Lang, much less than could have been. One thing that did not suffer (though the composer did, having to constantly rework parts of the score to fit the changing edit) was the quality of Miklós Rózsa's music.
Rózsa had worked with Lang before on Ministry of Fear (1944) and Secret Beyond The Door (1948), and was apparently looking forward to working with the director again. It was not to be, as Lang had already left the project before Rózsa arrived. These difficulties did not distract from what must, from one of the greatest careers in film music, be considered one of the composer's most significant scores. This album contains Rózsa's complete score together with half-an-hour of supplementary material consisting of alternative cues and source tracks. The material is taken from the original three track 35mm magnetic film recording and sounds – considering the recording is 50 years old – absolutely spectacular. The presentation is full, wide, rich stereo with not a hint of distortion. All that is missing from the album is some source flamenco guitar music. But this was written and performed by Vicente Gómez, not Miklós Rózsa, and in any case, FSM promise they will attempt to "include it on a future release of related material."
While bearing in the main all the hallmarks of the composer, the score manages to tap into the deep folk roots of English music, mining in places the same rich veins as Vaughan Williams and other great English 20th century composers. The rousing, sweepingly melodic 'Prelude / Foreword' is an example of Miklós Rózsa at his most grandiloquently romantic; one can almost see the ships sailing along the coast to harbour, the sails billowing in the wind, smell the salt in the air. 'Graveyard / Letter of Introduction' is darkly pensive to begin, but gives way to a lovely, English pastoral setting of the main theme and the supporting Mohune melody. A folk dance-like melody carries the exhilarating 'Escape' into the menacing Gothic territory of 'Garden' and unsettling, urgently intense writing which would not have been out of place in one of the composer's 1940's film noirs.
Remarkable high woodwind writing gives 'Preceding Nightmare' a decidedly surreal quality, before the 'Nightmare' itself arrives with powerfully orchestrated multi-part string writing and a sense of anguish which foreshadows the composer's music for the tormented latter cues in Ben-Hur (1959). 'Summerhouse' contrasts this material with another strong English folk style theme and some eloquent horn writing.
'Smugglers' offers as a highlight some humorous woodwind scoring, leading into a version of 'Passepied from Bovary', a source music cue and playful imitation French dance Rózsa originally penned for the 1949 version of Madame Bovary.
Further cues offer more action writing and variations on the established themes, all leading to the epic five minute plus 'Crossroad / Finale' which eventually resolves the drama on a bittersweet but ultimately optimistic note. Rózsa is at his most dramatically compelling with this intense material, and true Rózsaphiles have the remarkable opportunity to hear how this music changed and developed, as the bonus cues contain no less than four alternate versions of the finale. There are also alternate versions of six other cues and three Rózsa crafted source cues, including a delightful 'Bourrée' and a lyrical 'Ayre'.
A must have for fans of the composer, and a major score which belongs in any good collection.
Film Score Monthly press release
Released by Special Arrangement with Turner Classic Movies Music
The mid-1950s were Miklos Rozsa's "historical" years, during which he provided superb scores for M-G-M's costume dramas and adventures including All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953), Knights of the Round Table (1953, FSMCD Vol. 6, No. 7), Tribute to a Bad Man (1956, FSMCD Vol. 5, No. 19), Diane (1956) and Lust for Life (1956, FSMCD Vol. 5, No.1). The studio's 1955 Moonfleet was in many ways a routine swashbuckler starring Stewart Granger, but also a unique film directed by the legendary German expressionist, Fritz Lang.
Moonfleet -- set in 1757 Dorsetshire -- follows an orphaned boy (Jon Whitely), who is placed in the custody of a cultured rogue (Granger) only to find his would-be caretaker in league with smugglers. Man and boy form an unlikely bond in pursuit of a legendary diamond from the boy's family, and eventually the scoundrel is rehabilitated in his concern for the youth, though not until after a treacherous journey dotted by character actors such as George Sanders, Joan Greenwood, John Hoyt, Jack Elam and Alan Napier.
The real star, however, was behind the camera: Lang turned the generic tale into an impressive series of visual strokes, from gothic backdrops to ghoulish imagery. The director had departed the picture by the time his "old friend" Miklos Rozsa arrived to do the music (Rozsa reported to producer John Houseman), but Rozsa responded with a melodic score driven by a soaring seascape evoking the British Isles, one of his loveliest themes. As was typical for Rozsa, he also provided a wealth of secondary themes -- for the film's menacing smugglers, the mysterious bonds between man and boy, the frequent moments of shock and fright, and more -- and setpieces for dynamic action as well as haunting reflection.
FSM's premiere CD of Moonfleet features the complete score in stereo from the original 35mm master elements. The program features a chronological assembly of the complete underscore (46:48) followed by alternate score cues (including four alternate endings) and source cues (30:22). Liner notes are by Jeff Bond and Lukas Kendall.
Total Time: 46:48
- Prelude/Foreword 2:14
- Graveyard/Letter of Introduction 3:53
- Escape/Garden 3:37
- Preceding Nightmare/Nightmare/Summerhouse 6:40
- Cave/Redbeard 5:00
- Smugglers/Passapied From Bovary 2:11
- Denouement/Murder 5:03
- Cipher 3:14
- Hollisbrooke Castle 1:29
- Well/Diamond/Snare Drums 4:17
- Imposter 1:06
- Forsaken 1:58
- Crossroad/Finale 5:30
Letter of Introduction (original version) 2:09
Total Time: 30:22
Total Disc Time: 77:11
- Garden (original version) 0:50
- Redbeard (film version) 0:51
- Cipher (original version) 3:16
- Well (film version) 0:30
- Forsaken (original version) 1:54
- Finale (original version) 3:54
- Finale (with 2nd ending) 3:36
- Bourree (source music) 1:47
- Ayre (source music) 3:01
- Hurdy Gurdy (source music) 1:49
- Finale (with 3rd ending) 3:07
- Finale (with 4th ending) 3:07