Spring 2005 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Marc Bridle
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Thing from Another World / Take the High Ground  
Music composed by Dimitri Tiomkin
  Available on Film Score Monthly Vol. 8 No.1
Running Time: 78:42
Purchase from: Film Score Monthly Vol. 8 No.1
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

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Just 27 minutes or so of this album is devoted to Dimitri Tiomkin's complete score from Howard Hawk's production, The Thing from Another World (RKO, 1951). This is, however, landmark music in the sci-fi genre and an important Tiomkin score. The film was a paranoid, science fiction thriller set in the Arctic wastes. Its non-star cast was headed by Kenneth Tobey, Dewey Martin and 6'7" James Arness as the shape-changing monster.

Tiomkin scored and assisted in judiciously spotting the picture as it was being shot allowing him to compose his own cues (music, after the opening credits, was only used when the monster is seen or its presence implied). Tiomkin's scoring, using where appropriate, unnerving atonality, is trenchant and wholly effective adding a sense of nervous tension and terror.  (Yet it is maintained that Tiomkin disliked the music and never again wrote for films of this genre: he preferred creating beautiful melodies rather than bellicose sounds. But The Thing… remains one the most popular and seminal science fiction film scores.)

The Main Title music opens with a proud military march which is quickly overcome by chill music for the Arctic and eerie measures depicting the menace from outer-space. Woodwinds and piano runs characterise the snowstorm while theremin and bursts of growling brass propel the concept of the invading space creature. This material spreads over the 'Flying Saucer Sequence I' (it is blasted out of the ice after having lain dormant there for 20 million years). In Flying Saucer Sequence II, the music grows evermore menacing and atonal, warning of the terrible danger the men are to unleash. This track is a veritable tour-de-force of scary sci-fi scoring. Tiomkin's 'Melting Sequence' music, all snaking, mysterious tones, theremin to the fore, screws up the tension still further as the ice melts to release the monster.  The 'Greenhouse Sequence' scoring is another highlight - very creepy music for the scene in which then party's 'mad' scientist feeds the monster's reproductive pods with plasma in a misguided bid to further the interests of science. 'Plasma' and 'Plasma Plants' are further eerie cues imaginatively using piano, theremin and softer but even more menacing growling brass staccatos.

These Film Score Monthly transfers are from the composer's personal acetate collection and this is the first-ever release of the original soundtrack. Tiomkin enthusiasts may recall that Charles Gerhardt recorded portions of the score in an altered orchestration for the final miscellaneous film scores LP in his Classic Film Scores series for RCA (never to my knowledge transferred to CD format).

The album mainly comprises music for the relatively obscure 1953 M-G-M war film Take the High Ground that starred Richard Widmark, Karl Malden and Elaine Stewart The stereo sound quality is much superior.

As was so often the case, Tiomkin's superior music lifts an otherwise mediocre film. As befits a war film there are urgent, energetic - sometimes sinister - rhythms and cross-rhythms, and those Tiomkin-trademark, heavy dominant bass ostinati. The Main Theme march is memorable (perhaps over-repeated here) and its lyrics sung by a men's chorus sets an uplifting patriotic note in its tribute to the U.S. Infantry serving in Korea (although the film's action is based at a basic training camp in the U.S.A.). There are also moments of comic braggadocio and a tender theme for 'Julie' that dominates the film's subplot. Its tune would not disgrace any leading pop-chart romantic ballad of its day. It is, of course, subjected to some interesting and varied dramatic variations according to the subplot development. A sprinkling of tenderly harmonised source music (such as 'Home on the Range') serves in scenes where the platoon receives mail to remind the soldiers of loved ones at home.

The album booklet notes are up to Film Score Monthly's usual high standards. Quite rightly the majority of its 24 pages are devoted to the superior The Thing… score. Much detail is devoted to the production of the film, its difficulties and challenges together with over twenty photographic stills including a montage of shots showing the development of the monster design. Added to all this, are the usual track-by-track analyses.

First-rate Tiomkin. A must for all of the composer's fans.

Ian Lace

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