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City of Fear
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Intrada / 2011 / 29:24

A very low-budget film noir from the end of that genre’s initial period of popularity, 1959’s City of Fear seems a criminal carrying a canister of radioactive material (which he believes to be something else) around Los Angeles, threatening himself and others.  These days, if the film is known for anything, it’s that it is one of the very earliest on which the legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith worked.  He was working fairly regularly in television at the time but had only scored one feature beforehand (Face of a Fugitive).  The composer went on to become one of film music’s most distinctive, but in those earliest days of his career, the influences of the styles of others – in particular his film music hero, Alex North – are fairly clear.  There’s a hint of Bernard Herrmann about this, too.

The music is not particularly melodic – while it doesn’t share too many characteristics with his later scores (more little fragments here and there which would be explored in the decades to come), Goldsmith’s famous ability to write compelling suspense music is to the fore here, with heavy reliance on serial techniques (though not the strict 12-tone system).  It is assured, confident music – sometimes aggressive, sometimes exciting, always with something interesting going on.  Perhaps the highlight is the terrific, climactic action piece “End of the Road” with a stirring pace and dynamic performance (speaking of which, the score’s pianist was a certain Johnny Williams).  It’s all rather impressive – great for any Goldsmith fan to finally have on CD.  It’s certainly not one of his best, but the interest here isn’t purely historical, there’s plenty of musical interest too.  Sound quality might euphemistically be called “archival” but that is to be expected; interesting liner notes from Jeff Bond and Douglass Fake add to a solid package.  ***

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