Wide Screen Movies Magazine
edited by John Hayes

Widescreen Music
by Bill Blaney

Until The Robe came along with its four sound tracks, I had never experienced the wonder of magnetic stereo sound. At the time I was disappointed that the film did not begin with the customary 20 th Century-Fox fanfare (composed by Alfred Newman –Ed ), but I did notice that the solemn music behind the credits did seem much clearer than I’d been used to. Speech, too, sounded more lifelike, and the noise of the thunder during the crucifixion scene was most impressive. Subsequent films sometimes had one or two-reel shorts accompanying them to show off the new medium and to demonstrate better the effects possible with stereophonic sound. Many of these were musical in content, though some were in the nature of “travel talks” - now a long-obsolete term in the cinema context. In at least one instance, the short was incorporated as a kind of overture to the film, and was directly followed by the opening credits.

MGM’s first CinemaScope feature was Knights Of The Round Table, and with it came a single-reel, in the same format, of their studio orchestra playing the overture to Nicolai’s The Merry Wives Of Windsor. Rose Marie, their next production, had in support the same orchestra’s rendition of Rossini’s Poet And Peasant overture. These had impressive shots of the entire orchestra, and the music was easy on the ear, but we never did get to hear it in stereo on this side of the Atlantic. We were luckier with Vesuvius Express, a 20 th Century-Fox CinemaScope short about a train journey through some exotic landscapes and using as background music Tchaikovsky’s Italian Caprice. This played in some Belfast cinemas with the full four-channel manetic sound, which greatly enhanced not only the music, but the natural sound as well, in particular one memorable scene where the train crossed a high-sided metal bridge. Commonplace effects nowadays, but in the early fifties this was something unusual. Fox’s second CinemaScope picture, How To Marry A Millionaire had an integrated pre-credit musical sequence, this time with their resident conductor, Alfred Newman, and orchestra performing his Street Scene. South Pacific incorporated a non-musical introduction entitled, The Miracle Of Todd-AO and Paramount managed to get in on the act as well with a couple of James A. Fitzpatrick two-reelers, VistaVision Visits Norway and VistaVision Visits Mexico. These were the usual travelogues, but did look rather classy on the bigger and wider screen. “Mexico” in particular had a good soundtrack made up of familiar Spanish tunes. Both had the flowery Fitzpatrick commentary and ended with the usual golden sunset. “Norway” was part of the supporting programme with the VistaVision feature, White Christmas.

The first film to be made in the Todd-AO process was Oklahoma! , a musical in its own right. Richard Rogers’ tunes sounded wonderful on the six magnetic tracks carried on the 70mm film. The running speed in the camera was 30 frames-per-second, which in theory produced a steadier picture with less flicker, and the faster linear speed better sound quality. But the film was, simultaneously, shot scene by scene in CinemaScope to cater for the vast majority of cinemas who would not have the necessary wide-gauge equipment.

Most of the widescreen epics of the fifties came complete with reels of their own soundtrack music to be played before and after the roadshow performances, as well as during the built-in intermission. The Ten Commandments had separate music for pre-overture, overture, intermission and playout. As far as I can recall, this consisted not only of Elmer Bernstein’s original composition, but also of some themes from DeMille’s earlier production, Samson And Delilah, composed by Victor Young. Doctor Zhivago had similar additional pieces, with the stipulation by MGM that no other non-synchronous music was to be played during the run of the film. Mostly the music was recorded on otherwise blank film, but with The Blue Max an image of the fictitious eponymous medal could be projected in order to decorate the closed screen curtains during the intermission.

When used correctly, appropriate music and widescreen could lend a sense of occasion to the shows, and sometimes a fairly ordinary film could be made to appear more significant than it actually was. The cinema was in a sense imitation theatre. Nowadays, sadly, it is merely imitation television.


Reading Bill’s article, I was reminded that movie fans can be as equally enthusiastic about the music that is written for films. So, bearing this in mind, I thought it might be useful to include a little information regarding some of the soundtracks that are available, and where. ( Many of you, of course, may be already familiar with some of this stuff, or couldn’t care less about film music, anyway. If that’s the case, then please feel free to skip the next bit, and I’ll see you at the next article!)

One of my favourite sites is Film Score Monthly. For readers who may have access to the internet, they can be found at www.filmscoremonthly.com. They have a wide ranging selection, from westerns to sci-fi and thrillers to swashbucklers. Most of the great movie composers are represented here also; Rozsa, Goldsmith, Kaper, Freidhofer, Bernstein and Herrmann. And, all of the FSM collection are limited to 3.000 copies only, so when they’re gone, they’re gone; no doubt to become much sought-after collectors items.

In their catalogue you will find premier editions of never-before-released 50’s soundtracks – the Golden Age – such as Demetrius And The Gladiators; The Prodigal; Prince Valiant; The Egyptian and Beneath The 12-mile Reef, to name just a few. The 60’s and 70’s – the Silver Age – are represented by such rarities as, The Comancheros; The Prize; TheTaking Of Pelham One, Two, Three; Rio Conchos and Never So Few. If you don’t have access to the Internet, their address is 8503 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232, USA. Of course, as their name implies, they also produce an excellent monthly print magazine.

Varese Sarabande have a large and varied selection of titles: the complete Jerry Goldsmith score for The Sand Pebbles – never before released – with over two hours of music, including Intermission and Exit Music. Another long-awaited score from the prolific Goldsmith is The Ballad Of Cable Hogue, which can be found here. The beautiful, Love Is A Many-Splendoured Thing, by Alfred Newman, and Alex North’s haunting, The Long Hot Summer are two classic scores from the fifties along with Newman’s moving, The Song Of Bernadette, from the classic Jennifer Jones movie. Check out their website at www.varesesarabande.com or alternatively, write to them at 11846 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 130, Studio City, California 91604, USA.

Percepto Records at www.percepto.com are well worth a visit, especially for sci-fi and horror film music fans. They have the excellent 2-disc CD set of Bert Shefter’s music from The Fly; Return Of The Fly and Curse Of The Fly. They also have, in their huge catalogue, two excellent “Double Feature” CD’s with The Premature Burial/The Haunted Palace and Invasion Of The Saucermen/It Conquered The World, representing the outstanding work of the talented Ronald Stein. Write to them at PO Box 70075, Pasadena, CA 91117, USA.

Here’s a site that I’ll bet few of you have ever heard of – and you don’t know what you’re missing! Monstrous Movie Music are a small, independent organisation that are dedicated to restoring and re-recording classic scores from some of the great monster pictures of all time. They have produced three CD’s so far – Monstrous Movie Music; More Monstrous Movie Music and The Creature From The Black Lagoon And Other Jungle Pictures, with a further two compilations due early in 2003. Many of the pieces here have never been commercially released before, and the collection of suites and complete scores are truly magnificent. Played by the Radio Symphony Orchestra Of Cracow, they comprise such selections as Them!; Gorgo; ItCame From Beneath The Sea; Tarantula and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, with Mighty Joe Young; DayOf The Triffids and This Island Earth on the aforementioned discs to be released soon. Unmissable! Their address is: Monstrous Movie Music, Dept. 1, PO Box 7088, Burbank, CA91510-7088, USA. While their on-line address is www.mmmrecordings.com

OK, that lot should keep you busy for a while. I will add to these sites from time to time in much the same way as I do with the Recommended Reading list, and I’ll also mention any worthwhile imminent releases that I come across. As usual, I rely on our readers out there to let me know when they stumble upon a juicy bit of soundtrack info that may be vital to the rest of us.

Keep your eyes (not to mention, your ears) open. Happy listening!

J. H.

Copyright © 2002-2005, John Hayes/Wide Screen Movies Magazine

Last revised: 3 December, 2005

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