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George Bassman is one of the many gifted composers to have worked in Hollywood whose name is virtually unknown. He contributed uncredited additional music to The Wizard of Oz, and scored the classic 1946 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Then after composing the music for two minor films in 1947 Bassman fell foul of the House of Un-American Activities and was blacklisted, not working again in Hollywood for six years. His career never really recovered, and he only worked on a handful more films before retiring from the movies in 1965, aged just 50. This album presents his last two scores, and demonstrates what can be lost in the blind rush to conformity.
As one career was coming to an end another was moving into top gear, and after various TV westerns and a less than successful debut feature film – The Deadly Companions – Ride The High Country (released in the UK as Guns in the Afternoon) marked the first full flowering of director Sam Peckinpah's exceptional talents. The story is a beautifully made and exceptionally moving story of the last adventure of two former friends, now set tragically at odds, played by aging western icons Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. The film marked Scott's farewell to the screen, and was something of a swansong for McCrea, who only made occasional film appearances afterwards, and never again in a film of such quality. Marking the end of a time in the West just as much as Peckinpah's more famous and celebrated The Wild Bunch, Bassman scored the film to powerfully enhance the elegiac tone of the piece, perhaps seeing a reflection of his own career in the tale of two men coming to the end of their particular road. Bassman provided Peckinpah with a romantic, nostalgic, bittersweet score which perfectly enhanced the on screen drama.
The album presents the brief score, running just over half-an-hour it is a perfect example of not over-scoring a film, with excellent sound taken from the original 3 track 35mm master tapes. The sound is very full and clear, which coupled with the music eloquently evokes the way we remember classic westerns should have sounded, rather than the way they so often actually did. Bassman's score summons melodic, nostalgic, tender, noble and romantic images of the West, all woven around a memorable stirring main theme which harks back to the folk roots of Westerns. It is an often more intimate and reflective score than the bombastic bluster we associate with Steiner or Tiomkin, rightfully occupying a place somewhere between traditional old school Hollywood scoring, and a more modern, psychologically attuned approach to film music. The more joyful aspects of the writing hark back to Copland, while the darker side of the score has suggestions of Bernstein and North.
It is appropriate to couple Bassman's penultimate score with his final screen work for more than the most obvious reason – that these were his last two works for the movies. Mail Order Bride was a sort-of companion piece to Ride The High Country. Lighter in tone, much more of a comedy adventure, the Burt Kennedy directed feature reunited some of the cast and crew of the earlier film, as well as aspects of the story. Consequently Bassman went ahead and scored the film as essentially a sequel to Peckinpah's movie, going so far as to reuse Ride the High Country's love theme and action music, while adding more humorously playful and folk-like material. The result then is an almost seamless continuity through the album, with the supporting feature actually taking up the greater running time, clocking in at 44 minutes. There is a plethora of material to enjoy, though at 76 minutes the disc does somewhat outstay its welcome when played all at once, the answer being to play one score or the other, not both one after the other together.
Film Score Monthly are to be commended on releasing what might be something of a hard sell, music from an all but unheard of composer from two films, one a little known classic, the other an almost entirely forgotten 'b movie'. Yet anyone who has fallen under the spell of Ride The High Country, or is interested in the work of Sam Peckinpah, or simply in good film music, will find this a worth addition to their collection. The album and booklet are produced to FSM's usual very high standard, going so far as to recruit Peckinpah expert (and soundtrack producer) Nick Redman to provide some excellent notes.
Nick Redman in conversation with Gary Dalkin at Amazon.co.uk
Ride the High Country
- Main Title/The Contract for Gold 2:46
- The Trek Begins/Elsa's Mad Dash/Arrival at Knudsens 1:27
- Elsa's Long Gown 1:05
- Heck Tempts Elsa 1:49
- The Boys Reminisce 1:22
- Love in the Hay/The Bigot 2:08
- The Trek Continues/Philosophy of Life 1:19
- The Big Pitch 1:33
- The Romance Deepens/Elsa's Concern/The Hammond Camp 3:58
- Attempted Rape/Elsa's Hysteria 1:20
- The Return from Coarsegold/Caught Red-Handed 3:26
- The Challenge/The Enemy Arrives 1:48
- The Gunfight Begins 1:17
- Heck's Grandstand Play/Turndown 1:10
- Elsa's Homecoming/Elsa's Promise/The Hammonds' Ambush/The Big Fight Begins/The Fight to the Death 3:37
- So Long Partner (Finale) 1:44
Total Time: 32:25
Mail Order Bride
- 17: Main Title 2:13
- 18: The Cocky Wiseguy*/Can't I Sonny* 1:49
- 19: The Lonely Cemetery 2:35
- 20: The Hilarious Brawl* 2:01
- 21: They'd Hang You*/A Fist of Solid Iron*/Ain't No Hurry at All* 1:34
- 22: Jess Brings Lee Home 2:21
- 23: Outhouse Inspiration/Will Lane's Research 1:01
- 24: Kansas City Walks (including When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder) 2:33
- 25: Hanna's Decision*/Lee Visits Marietta 1:45
- 26: Annie Remonstrates/First Meeting 1:20
- 27: Wedding Polka 2:18
- 28: Lee's Confession/I've Been Kissed Before* 4:23
- 29: Cooking/First Kiss/Building Montage* 2:06
- 30: Annie Tells Lane All 3:44
- 31: Jace Guns Lane*/Will Lane's Ultimatum 1:12
- 32: Matt's New Bedroom 1:41
- 33: A Letter for Annie/An Evil Jace*/Fire by Arson* 4:17
- 34: Help Me Get 'Em Back*/The Shoot Out* 2:33
- 35: We Want You to Stay/Return to Kansas City* 2:23
Total Time: 44:28
Total Disc Time: 76:54
FSM Press Release
Released by Special Arrangement with Turner Classic Movies Music
Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) ranks high on any list of great directors. His films The Wild Bunch (1969), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), Straw Dogs (1971), The Getaway (1972) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) established an uncompromising voice on violence, masculinity, and most often the American West. Peckinpah's first masterpiece was Ride the High Country (1962), a tale of two aging lawmen (Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott) whose friendship and values are tested in one last job. The film established Peckinpah as a major creative force and is still viewed by some as his best work.
Peckinpah's most famous musical collaborator was Jerry Fielding; however, Ride the High Country was made several years before Peckinpah and Fielding met. Ride the High Country was instead scored by George Bassman, a veteran songwriter and composer whose Hollywood career (including M-G-M's The Clock and The Postman Always Rings Twice) was interrupted by the blacklist. Bassman's High Country score is utterly different from the music most associated with Peckinpah. His approach is melodic and almost cheerily old-fashioned, adding a dimension of Hollywood nostalgia for the film's aging stars. Bassman's main theme -- a wistful, melancholy tune capturing the reflection of the characters -- ably assists in the film's central relationship and heartwrenching conclusion.
Two years after Ride the High Country, producer Richard E. Lyons reassembled some of the cast and crew -- and story elements -- for Mail Order Bride. Buddy Ebsen, Keir Dullea and Warren Oates star in a light comic "B western" of an oafish heir (Dullea) forced into a mail-order marriage to claim his family ranch. Bassman's score (for his last Hollywood feature) is a perfect counterpart to Ride the High Country in that it even reuses the earlier film's love theme and action passages.
FSM's premiere release of Ride the High Country/Mail Order Bride features the complete underscores for both films in stereo, remixed and remastered from the original 35mm three-track elements. The CD booklet features an essay by Peckinpah authority Nick Redman, as well as FSM's usual program commentary.