663 Squadron (1964) isn’t a particularly important film, but it is a memorable one with a nostalgic appeal for all sorts of reasons. In the era of 1960’s blockbuster epic war movies the film is quiet modest in scale and running time, and dramatically it certainly is nothing particularly special. Yet a generation grew-up with the film, if not at the cinema then on television – on a personal note 633 Squadron was the first film my parents ever let me stay up to watch on TV at night – and something about it stayed with us. That something being the excitement of the flying and action sequences accompanied by Ron Goodwin’s stirring score. A theme which would frequently be re-recorded and must have ended up in many a living room on a once hugely popular Ron Goodwin War Movies themes LP. Oh, and the finale of the film did, along with the finale of The Dam Busters (1954), inspire the climax of Star Wars (1977). And of course composer Ron Goodwin would go on to write equally inspiring scores for such war features as Where Eagles Dare (released on FSM and reviewed previously on FMOTW) and Battle of Britain (1969). As well as the far less well known second feature on the current release, Submarine X-1 (1969).
I’ve long owned a reissue version of the LP, one put out on the Sunset label in the 1970’s. The sound was never very good, but I put that down to either the album production process or the original recordings, or some combination of both. It transpires that sound was as good as it could get, because the somewhat hard edged, steely audio proves to be inherent in the soundtrack itself. As such this FSM reissue – and it is essentially a reissue of the original album, with a jazz source cue moved to the end and a short bonus suite of previously unissued material (taken from Ron Goodwin’s own mono tapes) tacked on after that – really doesn’t sound any better here than on the old LPs. This is a little disappointing, as we have become used to FSM discs sounding far superior than previous issues of any material in question, but this time there simply is no room for improvement. That said the sound is not bad in itself and film music buffs are certainly used to listening to far worse. It is, by way of comparison, much better than some of the sound on FSM’s issue of The Poseidon Adventure, and that film was recorded almost a decade later.
Still, the music is the important thing, and what a fine, rousing score this is. The main theme, virtually punching out the 633 of the title is simply one of the most exhilarating and memorable film themes ever written. There is patriotically emotive underscore, compelling suspense and a notable love theme. Every British fan reading this review will know and hopefully love the music already, others should prepare to fall in love now. Here is one of the prototypes for the modern action blockbuster score, both sufficiently ‘classical’ to hark back to an earlier age of film music – there is nothing of the jazz-pop sensibility John Barry was then introducing into British cinema – yet not so rooted in the Golden Age sound to appear especially dated today. An essential purchase for, well, just about everyone reading this site.
Keeping things short and sweet, Submarine X-1 is, as I have said, is a Goodwin score for a much less well known British war film. The themes are really not in the same league as in the composer’s more celebrated wartime musical missions – perhaps he knew at the time the film was second-rate, and saved his best inspirations for other projects – but the military adventure is here in full, this time bolstered by some unmistakeably nautical colours. It is good stuff, but FSM have done the right thing in coupling this score with 633 Squadron in that while good in its own right, few would buy it as the main event. This is the lower half, in every respect, of a double bill.
633 Squadron: 5
FSM Press release:
Submarine X-1: 3
On the heels of FSM's release of Where Eagles Dare/Operation Crossbow (FSMCD Vol. 6, No. 21) comes another 2CD set of classic Ron Goodwin war soundtracks: 633 Squadron (1964) and Submarine X-1 (1969). Both of these films are United Artists releases of Allied missions (led by North American commanders) during World War II to attack Axis positions in Norweigian fjords -- one by air, the other by sea.
633 Squadron is one of Ron Goodwin's finest war scores, with a magnificent "chattering brass" theme that captures the exultation of flight. (Goodwin ingeniously composed the theme to reflect the "633" of the title, with alternating bars of six and three beats.) The film stars Cliff Robertson as the leader of a squadron of Mosquito bombers, with George Chakiris his comrade operating behind enemy lines. Goodwin's score is full of action and triumph, as well as a love theme for the film's romantic subplot.
Submarine X-1 is a lesser-known production staring James Caan as the leader of three experimental midget submarines in a mission to sink a German battleship. The film is a no-nonsense "mission procedural" and the score features moody suspense and action for its underwater battles. Goodwin also provides a soaring, nautical British anthem amongst gentler moments, and his octatonic "underwater" colors will thrill fans of his distinctive adventure writing.
Disc one of this release features 633 Squadron: first the album program (as previously released on LP and CD, remastered for the best-possible stereo sound), followed by a suite of additional cues from a 1/4" monaural tape in Goodwin's possession. Disc two features the complete score of Submarine X-1 (minus one brief cue), mastered from Goodwin's personal 1/4" stereo tapes.
Music Composed and Conducted by Ron Goodwin
DISC ONE: 633 Squadron
1. Main Title -- 633 Squadron 1:51
2. Memories ofNorway 2:54
3. Love Theme 2:13
4. The Attack Begins 3:06
5. MurderMission 4:31
6. Crash Flight 3:04
7. Love Theme 1:57
8. Escape FromNorway3:20
9. Peace and War 3:11
10. Apprehension 4:35
11. End Title -- Love Theme -- 633 Squadron 3:58
12. Public House Jazz 2:54
13. BonusSuite 8:24
Total Time: 46:36
DISC TWO: Submarine X-1
1. Main Title 4:39
2. Secret Arrival 1:05
3. Training Begins 5:41
4. Quentin's Rescue/Quentin's Bolt/Bolt Hits Mirror 2:29
5. Air Raid 1:10
6. X-Craft Introduced/X-Craft Dives/X-3 Through Net 4:50
7. X-3 Hits Net 2:50
8. X-3 Recovered 1:10
9. German Parachutist 2:00
10. Defeat 1:03
11.BoltonDefeats Parachutist 1:13
12. Operation Jonah 1:36
13. Jonah's Journey/Minefield 3:52
14. X-1 Escapes 2:10
15. Sognefjord 2:07
16. E-Boat Patrol 3:53
17. Depth Charge Attack 4:35
18. Target Directly Above/Hesitation 1:55
19. Homeward Bound -- End Titles 2:18