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Mister Moses
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Prometheus / 2014 / 41m

1965’s Mister Moses is an old-fashioned adventure story based on Max Catto’s novel.  Set (and filmed) in the newly-independent Kenya, it stars Robert Mitchum as a conman making money by fleecing the natives, natives who he then has to lead across the country when their home is at threat by a new dam.  Directed by The Poseidon Adventure‘s Ronald Neame, the film was met with lukewarm reviews and has almost completely disappeared today, unavailable for purchase and rarely if ever shown on television.

The film’s score had become legendary amongst John Barry fans – coming in the middle of a particularly fertile period for the composer, yet almost completely unknown.  Appetites were whetted further when a suite from the score – reconstructed by Nic Raine by ear from viewing the film – appeared on a Silva Screen compilation 15 years ago.  With the original tapes long since lost, hopes of a release seemed slim indeed, until 2014 when Prometheus Records commissioned a re-recording from producer James Fitzpatrick; since the original scores were also lost, Raine had to reconstruct the whole thing by ear from that same poor-quality video cassette of the movie he had previously used to put the suite together.

Mr and Mrs Barry

Mr and Mrs Barry

The results of their toils are heard on this album, with Raine conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic.  In the Barry chronology, Mister Moses appeared a year after Zulu and a year before Born Free and I suppose there are hints of both of those African-based scores (the latter, of course, also set in Kenya).  Many years later the composer would say about Out of Africa that “the movie is set in Africa but it’s not about Africa”, explaining the lack of “native” sounds in that score.  But 1965’s John Barry was a different composer and he certainly “went native” for this one, primarily through the extended percussion section, tribal rhythms – and, uncharacteristically, not great melodic themes – providing the score’s heartbeat, expressive woodwind writing frequently evoking birdsong some of its colour.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Barry score without at least one theme or two – and there are in fact two of them, relatively simple but memorable.  The first – introduced in the opening title and used throughout the score – is like a noble but slightly ominous treatment of the expansive but dangerous landscape.  The second is more playful and heard in extended form in “The Elephant”, which has a lovely innocent quality to it, the effect not entirely unlike Henry Mancini’s famous piece for a junior version of the animal from another African-set adventure released three years before this one.

Both themes are used like building blocks for the score’s melodic content, but it’s with the percussion that Barry keeps things always moving along.  There are a couple of explosive action cues but generally speaking Barry’s using it like thousands of pounding feet on the march.  I love a pair of cues in the middle of the album – the raw “We’re Off / The Dam”, full of mystery and adventure, contrasting with the explosive, expansive “Crossing the Dam / 80 Miles of Desert” which has just a hint of James Bond about it.  Just before the end titles, “Ubi Burns” is a very impressive and very dark, angry piece which is another highlight.

In all honesty Mister Moses is a relatively minor Barry score by his standards, but it’s an entertaining one and it’s great to finally be able to own it – particularly in this flawless recording, which ironically is of course far easier on the ears than the album we would have if the original tapes had survived.  The score is pretty brief – barely breaking the half-hour barrier – but there’s a nice bonus in the shape of a new recording of the suite Raine had put together in 1999.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. Stephen Ottley (Reply) on Wednesday 7 January, 2015 at 19:02

    I just happened to take a look at the Tadlow Music website on the day this score was released. I couldn’t believe my luck and ordered a copy immediately. The recording (and performance) is, as you say, excellent. I am delighted with the album and find that I agree with all your comments except that it is a minor work in the John Barry catalogue; before the film’s release few would have predicted it’s rapid demise, certainly not Mr Barry judging by the effort he put into the score. This is exciting, rhythmic, momentous music that sits outside the more usual style of the composer in the same way as does Jagged Edge. I have a very rough copy of the movie, probably from the same source as was used to reconstruct the score, and I can confirm Nic Raine has done an amazingly faithful job in bringing this otherwise lost score to life. If you think you know John Barry prepare to be surprised – again.

  2. Rolf Brittinger (Reply) on Friday 23 January, 2015 at 10:26

    I fully agree with Stephen Ottley response and I’d give this CD five stars. This unusual exciting and hilarious Barry score is an essential addition to any soundtrack collection.