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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

CD REVIEWS - Two from Monstrous Movie Music

Mighty Joe Young (and other Ray Harryhausen animation classics)
Monstrous Movie Music MMM-1953
66 Tracks 61:48 mins

It is no wonder Monstrous Movie Music releases take so long to appear when you consider the time and effort that goes into the preparation of each recording. Firstly, there's Kathleen Mayne's painstaking reconstructions of the music, then there's the actual recording by conductor Masatoshi Mitsumoto and the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Slovakia, excellently reproducing the feel of the original recordings, but of course in superior sound, and lastly the huge amount of research and writing that David Schecter puts into each booklet, so much information in fact that not all of it can be contained in each 40-page volume, the remainder being accessible through the label's website at
This first of two new recordings is dedicated to stop-motion genius Ray Harryhausen, now 85 but still able to clash some cymbals on a cue for this album, the bulk of which is devoted to Roy Webb's score for 1949's Mighty Joe Young, a film which producer Merian C. Cooper hoped would emulate the success of his famous King Kong of 1933. Sadly, as the liner notes on the movie relate, this was not to be, but I saw the film some years back and found it enjoyable enough in its own way. Webb's score opens suitably adventurous with a jungle feel, but soon softens when the infant Joe comes on the scene, becoming light and playful. Joe's favourite song becomes Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer," first heard on a music box, but later reprised orchestrally as source and as a glorious conclusion to the film. Along the way there is a bustling city theme, romantic strings for the film's young lovers, some exciting action sequences and a good deal of original source material for the stage show in New York, where Joe is of course the "big" attraction.
The second score on the album dates from 1957 and is 20 Million Miles to Earth, scored by Mischa Bakaleinikoff, with additional music plucked from the Columbia Pictures music library. This music comes from all kinds of films, even westerns, and from the pens of such illustrious composers as Frederick Hollander, George Duning, David Raksin, Daniele Amfitheatrof, Werner Heymann and Max Steiner, and works surprisingly well considering. Schecter's research is so detailed that you even get a history of each cue in his accompanying notes. Bakaleinikoff's original material includes some suitably otherworldly material, as well as some easy-listening Mediterranean music for the film's initial Sicilian setting. The film features a Venusian monster on the loose in Rome, ending in a big fight at the famous Colosseum, and so there is a good deal of exciting action music to be heard as well.
The final film featured on this disc is 1956's The Animal World, which featured prehistoric scenes, the music for which, by Paul Sawtell, is included here. Starting off mysteriously, the cue turns into some exciting action writing for scenes involving a battle between a Stegosaurus and a couple of Ceratosauruses.
A bonus cue features the complete version of Frederick Hollander's "Heaven," featured in 20 Million Miles to Earth.
The aforementioned accompanying booklet, in addition to its guides to the films and their music, features many behind-the-scenes photos and musical examples, and also includes biographical information on the composers, conductor Mitsumoto, restorer Mayne, the album's artist Robert Aragon, and of course Harryhausen, whose skill and imaginiation made these films so memorable.

This Island Earth (and other alien invasion films)
Monstrous Movie Music MMM-1954
47 Tracks 60:12 mins

This second new release employs all the same creative forces and is accompanied by its own splendid 40-page booklet, and features music from four films, starting with the "Main Title" from 1958's War of the Satellites by Walter Greene, a fast-paced brassy effort. Next up is the complete score for 1955's This Island Earth, probably best remembered for its stunning design of the mutant aliens, one of the more recognisable images of sci-fi of the period. Herman Stein wrote much of the music for the film, except for the final scenes, which were handled by Hans J. Salter and Henry Mancini. Stein came up with some pretty menacing material, and a good deal of otherworldly mystery, often featuring splendidly eerie use of Novachord, an early electronic keyboard. Balancing this, there is some pretty heroic material, like in the soaring "Jet West;" the energetic "Interocitor Montage;" and a love theme, at times warm and intimate, at others quite sunny, which concludes the score gloriously in the "End Cast," after the triumphant conclusion to the "End Title." Salter scores this cue, and the preceding action is very much cut from the same cloth as his music for the old Universal horror films, being somewhat at odds with Stein's contributions. Mancini fares better, although "Amorous Mutant" is straight out of "Creature from the Black Lagoon." It's a pity Stein wasn't given the time to finish the score, but such was life in the old studio system and, although he scored 75% of the music, it was, as was often the case at the time, Universal music chief Joseph Gershenson who received the sole credit.
Daniele Amfitheatrof's menacing "Main Title" from 1956's Earth vs. the Flying Saucers follows; with 20 minutes of Ron Goodwin's score from 1962's The Day of the Triffids concluding the album. The much-missed Ron Goodwin, a great raconteur, is best known for his memorable melodies for films like 633 Squadron, The Trap and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, but none of his melodic gifts are present in this largely suspenseful and menacing score, though there is some sentiment in "Susan and Bettina," and some Latin swagger in cues like "Spanish Square."
So, two long-anticipated releases from Monstrous Movie Music again prove worth the wait and deserve the attention of every sci-fi fan and devotee of film music of a more golden age. Again, I would urge you to visit the label's website at, not only for further information, but to order your copies of these splendid albums. Let's hope the future holds similar delights from this enterprising label.


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