Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger



Collection: Alex North at the Movies - Cheyenne Autumn; Dragonslayer; Cinerama South Seas Adventure. Alex North conducting: Symphony Orchestra of Rome; Sessions of London and Cinerama Symphony Orchestra   LABEL X ATM CD2004 [67:14]



This album is a compilation of music from three soundtrack releases, and while generally I am in favour of recycling, in this case it rather makes me want to rush out and buy two of the originals. I don't know if they are still available, but if they are you may find this album ultimately functions as an expensive advert.

First we have 18:13 minutes (the cover claims 17:34) from John Ford's last film of note, Cheyenne Autumn (1964). I won't comment on the film, as being a Super Panavision 70 epic which failed at the box-office, hardly anyone can have had the opportunity to see the film properly in 35 years. In his informative notes John Steven Lasher comments that John Ford hated the score, adding that the director "knew absolutely nothing about the function of original music in films", quoting Royal S. Brown to the effect that the North's score "stands as the one jewel in the midst of the otherwise incredibly mediocre canon of scores for John Ford films…" Well, there is How Green was my Valley, The Quiet Man and The Searchers, but these do seem to be the exceptions one might expect by the law of averages. Lasher also mentions that the writing reflects "to some degree" Copland's ballet scores, Billy the Kid and Rodeo, astutely asking "(What Western film doesn't?). All I can add is that this is superb, first rate scoring, coming at a particularly fertile period in North's career, which is to say shortly after his wonderful Spartacus and Cleopatra. The music has a pastoral warm, a tender lyricism and contemplative character ably set against more dramatic passages featuring expectant, questing brass and low-key, brooding textures. The stark percussive rhythms of 'The Battle' are tellingly understated, and given the friendship between the two composers, Jerry Goldsmith admirers may see an influence on his powerful marital music for The Blue Max and the savage sound world of Planet of the Apes. The sound is very clear and precise, though a little dry and restricted in range.

Next comes 20:09 minutes (the cover says 21:35) from Dragonslayer (1981), an under-rated fantasy adventure which fell into the trap of being too dark for children and too light for the Excalibur audience to fully embrace. This is complex, dark-hued, sometimes atonal writing of considerable density. The score worked brilliantly with the film, conjuring a world of bleak and austere beauty, and stands up very well on disc. The more lyrical parts of the music were drawn from North's rejected score for 2001: A Space Odyssey and appear here as 'Ulrich Explodes; Verminthrax's Plunge' and 'The White Horse; Into the Sunset'. The original setting of this music can be heard on Jerry Goldsmith's recording of North's 2001: A Space Odyssey: track 7: 'Space Station Docking'. Anyone who likes Trevor Jones scores for Excalibur and Merlin and fancies a journey into the fantastical heart of darkness will probably appreciate this stark odyssey. The 1981 sound is unsurprisingly the best on the album.


So far, so brilliant. If only more of the album had been given over to the first two scores, instead of allocating the greatest running time [29:22 minutes - the cover reads 28:42] to the jaunty, lightweight and syrupy score (complete with 'native' voices) for the Cinerama travelogue South Seas Adventure (1957). Of course being Alex North, the score is superbly crafted, but it now seems very dated and sentimental, composed as it was to accompany the bland optimism of an America boldly going forth and discovering brave new islands full of quaint and charming natives to stare at in wide-eyed wonder. There is appealing music here, but at virtually half-an-hour the effect becomes cloying, with the rather muddy sound not helping at all. Perhaps in a new recording a suite from the best of this score might make the music might sparkle afresh.

With 38 minutes of great film music on offer this album is certainly worth owning, but perhaps only really worthwhile if you can not either find, or afford both the separate soundtrack albums for Cheyenne Autumn and Dragonslayer.

Cheyenne Autumn


Cinerama South Seas Adventure


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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