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The Misfits Alex North RYKO/MGM 10735
Elmer Gantry Andre Previn RYKO/MGM 10732
by Keith Barrett

    Lately, the Soundtrack business has been booming, if the flood of new releases is any indication. Between releases of brand new scores, reissues of classic scores, and re-recordings of classic scores, not to mention the original Broadway Cast recordings, we are living in amazing times. These two discs are part of a new series put out by RYKO/MGM. These ‘Deluxe Editions" not only include music originally issued on LP’s long out of print, but also include bonus tracks and CD-ROM material featuring the film’s original trailer or other related material. The booklets aren’t actually booklets, but fold out to a large size, with lots of pictures, commentary and a copy of the original theater poster. The production values score high marks.
    The Misfits features a score by one of my favorite film composers, Alex North. A highly eclectic composer, he could write a melting, melancholy tune, whip up some jazzy sounds, or pen some brilliantly, exciting, modernistic orchestral writing. All can be found in The Misfits. We begin with The Misfits theme which is hot, sultry and brooding and can haunt you for days; this film was written for Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable after all. A perfect start to the film, it serves the composer well appearing in various guises, sometimes slow and bluesy, other times dark and menacing. North’s masterful use of various forms come into play in this score, from the clarinet tinged jazz combo music of "Rendezvous" to the knock out big band sound of "Rosyln" and the rock and roll heard in "Paddleball." However it is North’s brilliant orchestral music in the extended cue "The Round-Up Suite," that steals the show. Most of this music was not put onto the earlier LP. Over 14 minutes long, North later stated that he wrote this as a ballet. It underscores a long scene where Gable and Montgomery Clift set out to capture wild horses. The cowboys are on the fringes of society and sell these beautiful wild creatures for meat! Rosyln (Monroe), tries to stop them. It is an action filled sequence, reflected in North’s incredible music. The cue starts with an uneasy but not too confrontational stating of the love theme. Then ominous and dissonant brass fanfares announce the beginning of the chase, which is derived from the main theme. Finally the music slows for a bit, only to reach a great climax of pain! Pick up the CD and marvel at the great music of Alex North. (Just avoid track 8, which is a hillbilly number so banal it sticks in you head for days, playing ad nauseum!).
    Previn’s score for Elmer Gantry, features a similar openness to a wide variety of styles. The music underscores a great movie, based on the novel of Sinclair Lewis, featuring Burt Lancaster as the somewhat soiled Gantry - a huckster who turns to evangelical preaching to make a buck and leaves a trail of ruined women and burned out (literally) temples in his wake. Previn gives us a brilliant American inflected score, with nods to Copland and more importantly William Schuman and Roy Harris. (you do remember my review of 3 Schuman symphonies in the March/April 98 Guide, don’t you?) Well anyway, this score features exciting orchestral writing with a strong dose of dissonance. In fact Previn’s dissonant chords are a joy to hear, glowing and shimmering under and in the flowing brass lines and angry fast passage work in the strings. "Lulu’s Room" is a period jazz/dance band number and later, a sultry trombone and muted jazz trumpet are heard. The film also features vocal and instrumental versions of the revival hymns, "Shall We Gather at the River" and "Stand Up for Jesus." All these music styles combine to give us a score as thoroughly American as its subject matter. A great score for a great movie, and I’m thrilled to have is on disc. The bonus material includes a short suite of the orchestral score, and special numbers. A demented rendition on trumpet and drum of "Onward Christian Soldiers" heard when a Revival meeting has gone very, very bad, and most importantly the rendition of "I’m On My Way." This wonderful piece of source music occurs when Gantry wanders into a black church, and receives his calling as it were. Lancaster then joins the congregation and chorus in his rich baritone at first intruding and then soon leading the congregation in song. It is a pivotal and thrilling moment on the screen and on record.
   We will hear both these great scores and more on February 22,1999 for our bi-monthly Monday Night at the Movies program on Monday Classics, only on WWUH.

Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 1999

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