Metropolis was a silent German film with German subtitles directed by the great Fritz Lang and released in 1927. Its influence on modern filmmaking is immeasurable, its take on science-fiction, and its commentary on industrialization and the rapidly approaching age of human-less mechanization. It’s a fascinating expressionist masterpiece.
I wouldn’t say that Metropolis’ score is necessarily all that influential, but it certainly is great at least in my opinion. It’s very classical in style, bearing far more resemblance in style to the composers of the 1700s and 1800s than to that of the film composers to come. That being said, the film’s score works wonders for me. Throughout much of the early part of the suite, there is an unmistakable air of grandeur and power and triumph that is simultaneously mixed with this almost magical quality. This technology is wondrous, but not flawless. Throughout the first half of the suite, this magical quality remains, but the tone darkens and so the themes of the film are mirrored more than beautifully by the score.
Copland is my favorite classical composer of the 20th century and is my favorite English-speaking composer ever. His lush, full-bodied, earthy chords and sounds and instrumentations are brilliant in my mind, and all of his music is at once unique and wonderfully similar. His film scores, in comparison to one another, were more on the side of unique. Here are a few excerpts from some great scores of his. I won’t even analyze them at all afterward. Simply enjoy. I will say that what I like a lot about Copland’s film work is how he focused more on atmospheric theme than other things. He would compose based upon the action, whatever was going on in the film at the time, but he would refrain from putting exaggerated emphasis on a specific action (i.e. a gunshot with a fortissimo staccato note or something like that). I also love his incidental music for the play Quiet City, which I won’t post here since it’s not a film.
Of Mice and Men (1939):
If you can find Threshing Machines, that’s my favorite part of the entire soundtrack.
The City (1939):
I couldn’t find any videos with just the score itself, but here’s the entirety of the short documentary The City. Just listen for the score as the film itself is of varying quality, but never of particularly high quality.
Our Town (1940):
While not a particularly good film based on a play that’s pretty good but not great and had no business being made into a film, Copland’s score for Our Town is gorgeous.
The Heiress (1949):
This score won him his only Oscar.
Laura by David Raksin:
A 1944 Otto Preminger-directed film noir starring the unbelievably beautiful Gene Tierney (I think she’s probably the most beautiful actress ever in Hollywood), a great Dana Andrews, and the never better and more pompously amusing Clifton Webb, Laura is quite an underrated film.
David Raksin is not a name you hear often when talking about film scores, though he has been known as the “Grandfather of Film Music” on various occasions. He was a solid composer who occasionally achieved greatness. His nickname comes from his composition of over 400 combined scores for TV and film. Raksin’s work on Laura is brilliant stuff, though. It’s a hauntingly beautiful score that leaves me in awe every time. There’s never really any specific moment I look at and say, that’s masterful composition, or, that’s so haunting. Rather, the entire score as a whole creates this haunting portrait.
The Best Years of Our Lives by Hugo Friedhofer:
The 1946 Best Picture-winning film was directed by legendary director William Wyler and starred Fredric March, Dana Andrew, Harold Russell (a non-actor who actually was a war veteran), Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, and Virginia Mayo. It was a great film that probably won because of its subject matter (it’s one of the absolute best films ever made examining the trouble returning vets face in returning to civic life). It’s a Wonderful Life has always been my favorite. Friedhofer’s score is simply remarkable, so I’ve included 2 videos of various themes from the film.
Unfortunately, the uploader of the videos only has left the two videos I posted as open for embedding. This entire score is quite interesting. I really love how ingeniously Friedhofer weaves the theme of the first video I have into the second I’ve posted. His inclusion of even more themes presented in other tracks (you can find on YouTube also posted by the same person) in the final track is complete and utter brilliance.
The Red Shoes by Brian Easdale:
This 1948 film written and directed by the Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) and starring Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, and Marius Goring is great and arguably the duo’s best. The score is Easdale’s most famous and it’s wonderfully charming and enchanting.
The Third Man by Anton Karas:
Carol Reed’s 1949 film noir starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard is utterly and completely amazing in every sense. It’s score is as well, though in a completely different manner.
Anton Karas’ use of the zither is odd but ultimately brilliant. His selection of it is odd and catches a first-time viewer off-guard, much in the same way Cotten’s Holly Martins is out of the loop pretty much the entire film. Also, the way the zither creates its music makes it sound like it’s always one step behind, just like Martins, and in many ways the viewer, is in understanding what has happened to his friend Harry Lime.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Alex North:
The 1951 version of Tennessee Williams’ brilliant play is classic and ubiquitous. Vivien Leigh is characteristically brilliant, and Marlon Brando gives an absolutely iconic performance. Karl Malden and Kim Hunter are also top-notch.
Alex North holds the record for the most Best Score nominations without ever winning. He was one of the first composers in Hollywood to compose a score based on atmosphere rather than actual action. His incorporation of jazzy string movement and big band-esque brass parts of varying kinds fits the New Orleans locale perfectly. I simply love the score. That he didn’t win for this score is only made easier to handle by knowing that Franz Waxman won instead for A Place in the Sun.
High Noon by Dimitri Tiomkin:
Some don’t like Gary Cooper. I’m not one of them. He’s certainly not my favorite actor, but I think he’s quite good much of the time, especially here, in this wonderful Fred Zinnemann western, also starring the beautiful but incredibly untalented Grace Kelly and the egregiously Oscar-snubbed Katy Jurado, who I feel should have won the Oscar this year, despite her segments of the film being altogether unnecessary for the film itself.
Do Not Forsake Me, Oh, My Darlin’ is a classic film song, and Tiomkin’s variations on it (beginning at about 2:45, with the song itself ending at about 2:30) are wonderful. The rest of the score is brilliant in my opinion, from beginning to end.
From Here to Eternity by George Duning:
A classic war film (even though it’s about what happens right before Pearl Harbor) if there ever was one, Fred Zinnemann’s 1953 film is well-acted, well-directed, and well-written. It’s score is also incredibly well-done by George Duning, a very good, but oft-forgotten composer.
Surprisingly and pretty disappointingly, I couldn’t find a video containing the main theme of the film, so we have this, one of the most famous kissing scenes in movie history. The music is just incredibly pretty.
I also have to include the scene, featuring the brilliant Montgomery Clift.
Around the World in 80 Days by Victor Young:
This film, obviously based on Jules Verne’s novel is overlong and only intermittently entertaining. David Niven doesn’t stand out nearly well enough and Cantinflas is annoyingly over-the-top, completely unfunny, and rather terrible. That being said, Victor Young’s score is wonderfully fun, exuding the adventure and magic of the entire premise of the film. If the main theme of this particular score excerpt sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it’s been borrowed many times. (I’m pretty sure Michael Giacchino even borrowed elements of it for both Up and Ratatouille. Even if he didn’t, the instrumentation quality similarities and influence is unmistakable.)
Giant by Dimitri Tiomkin:
This, the main title theme, of George Stephen’s worthwhile epic 1956 film starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean is very western, especially with its singing chorus and rich orchestrations complemented by bombastic trumpet sections. Simply wonderful.
The Bridge on the River Kwai by Malcolm Arnold:
David Lean’s 1957 masterpiece starring Alec Guinness, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa, and Jack Hawkins also includes Malcolm Arnold’s counter-march to the well-known Colonel Bogey march is wonderful and catchy. It won him an Oscar and rightfully so. The best known version of Arnold’s The River Kwai March isn’t the one in the film, but I’m posting the one from the film.
The Big Country by Jerome Moross:
Though overlong and sometimes uncompelling, William Wyler’s 1958 western, starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, and Charlton Heston, benefits greatly from a brilliant turn by famous singer Burl Ives and a wonderfully catchy main theme by the otherwise unnotable Jerome Moross.
As I’ve said in the past, I love brass, and the brass sections in the theme are great, as are the lightning-fast string parts. It’s very reminiscent (that’s not really the correct word, but whatever) of a film, whose score I will address eventually because I love it, made 27 years later.
Anatomy of a Murder by Duke Ellington:
This brilliantly made 1959 courtroom drama directed by Otto Preminger and starring James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, Lee O’Connell and George C. Scott is also blessed by an incredibly fun score by Duke Ellington.
As a note, the opening only goes until about 1:30 of the video. As the score is by Ellington, it’s obviously jazz-based. I just love the score and I had to use the opening title sequence because of how brilliant Saul Bass was.
Some people may have noticed that I have omitted all of the work of one major composer entirely from this list. I am well aware and will be addressing him in my next post. I hope we are thinking of the same person. I feel like this composer more bridged a gap between the lush and grand scores of old Hollywood and the more atmospheric composers of newer Hollywood.
I think I’m just going to end every post with a couple of videos of interviews between the great Dick Cavett and some Hollywood personality. They’re always incredibly fascinating and are oftentimes hysterical. So here’s 2 hours of Richard Burton and Cavett. If you have the time, I can’t recommend sitting down and listening to this in the background while doing something else. It’s incredibly interesting.