Just in time for Halloween, here's a repackaging of material from three earlier releases in Marco Polo's series of scores from Hollywood's Golden Age. Although the subject is horror, these three worthy scores are cleverly contrasted, and there's no risk of monotony over the course of this chilling hour.
Max Steiner's music for The Beast with Five Fingers is a Gothic treat. This is one of those murderous severed hand pictures, and what makes things worse this time is that the hand belonged to an unbalanced concert pianist! The theme to Bach's Violin Chaconne in D minor is central to the film's plot, as it is to the score. (Steiner was reluctant to allow a suite from this score to be recorded because he used another composer's theme, but now that Steiner has been dead for nearly thirty years, we need not have such scruples!) The film stars Peter Lorre, and Steiner's thunderously stalking and lurching music perfectly evokes Lorre's trademark neurotic horror.
In The Lodger, Hugo Friedhofer paints an impressionistic picture of London, which is as much of a character in the film as the human beings that populate it. (And is the mysterious Mr. Slade Jack the Ripper?) Next to Steiner's score, Friedhofer's is more subtle; it creeps up behind you before putting its cold hands around your throat. One of the notable things about Friedhofer's work for The Lodger is the distinctive sound of the orchestrations; while it does include moments of lush strings à la Steiner, it is the writing for low woodwinds and brass that really gives this score its flavor.
Finally, Victor Young's score for The Uninvited reveals the romantic side of being scared. In this film, a couple from London move into a seaside house and find that it is occupied by unhappy ghosts who seem unwilling (or unable) to give up their former personalities. Fellow film composer Miklós Rózsa called Young's music "Broadway-cum-Rachmaninoff," but it is the latter that predominates here. Nevertheless, The Uninvited spawned a hit tune, "Stella by Starlight," and it is central to the suite; it sounds very much better than you may have remembered it as sounding. Eerie as it as, Young's score for this film is like a delicious wallow in rose-water, and it brings this CD to a very satisfying close.
The reconstructions for these scores have been done by John W. Morgan, and he has fashioned suites that are just as convincing as those that the late Charles Gerhardt recorded more than twenty years ago in his Classic Film Scores series (for RCA Victor). Although the Moscow Symphony Orchestra isn't quite London's National Philharmonic, they do this music justice, and they are within the idiom. This disc is a good sampler of what Marco Polo's fine series has to offer.
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle