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AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Sometimes irritating, sometimes impressive music from a different age
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Hit Parade Records; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
The box office phenomenon of its day, Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days seemed to delight audiences everywhere, and won five Oscars - for Picture, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Score. That famous score was provided by Victor Young, a popular composer in his day but one who is all-but-neglected today. The main theme is lush and romantic, and exceptionally old-fashioned - not only can one not imagine it appearing in a modern score, it's actually hard to believe that it managed to find its way into one in 1956!
That theme dominates, but there are plenty of others, as Young takes his cue from David Niven's globetrotting to bring exotic-sounding music to the slew of locales depicted in the film, going through British imperialist marches, Spanish bullfighting music, bells and percussion from the Far East and finally some good old rousing Americana as the touring party reaches the US. It's like a massive-scale It's a Small World - and the music is very much written in the vein of the Sherman Brothers' (in)famous song, flitting about all over the place, being resolutely bright and happy - and often downright irritating.
Indeed, it is rather hard for my modern ears to remain attentive by the time the fourth or fifth cue has been reached - if at any point in the future anybody decides to take me hostage and torture me, then there would be no more effective means of making me confess whatever I'm accused of (I'm sure there will be plenty of things I'll be accused of, mostly with justification) than playing some of this music. However, to dismiss the whole score because of this would be extremely unfortunate, because alongside the banality, some of Young's exuberance produces some top-notch music, which becomes more and more frequent as the score progresses - the madcap "Passepartout Dances", based on Spanish folk music, is nothing short of delightful; "India Countryside" is full of colour, an example of the kind of light and airy music which still sounds great today; "Royal Barge of Siam" introduces a deep male choir and is one of the score's darker moments, providing much-needed relief from all the joy and happiness; and the disc's undeniable highlight, "Sioux Attack", an eight-minute piece of action music of spectacular proportions (though it is almost ruined by the source music stuck in the middle of it).
The score was released on LP at the time of the film, and that 42-minute album was put out on CD by MCA many years ago. This new expanded version has attracted much controversy - it adds half an hour of new music, has detailed liner notes by producer Didier C. Deutsch, the lavish booklet features many photographs from the film - but sadly it was not licensed, instead the label taking advantage of overseas copyright law meaning that sound recordings over 50 years old fall back into the public domain in some territories. This is in line with what Tsunami used to do (but some of their releases went beyond what the legal loopholes allowed), but they were doing their thing at a time when vintage scores were barely being released by anyone. Of course, there is a current boom, and one of that boom's preeminent players has warned that if there are many more releases like this then it may well signal an end to the glorious raft of releases which has been steadily progressing over the last few years.
Regardless of that controversy, judging the CD on its merits leads me to make a (very) cautious recommendation. The better music is absolutely terrific, but younger listeners in particular may well give up before they reach it. Sound quality is also an issue - several of the cues have a very pinched sound which does the music no favours. Needless to say, those who are already familiar with the score are encouraged to check it out - some of the best music is actually found amongst the unreleased stuff, particularly the magnificent "Sioux Attack". Around the World in 80 Days was Young's final film score - he died not long after completing it, and didn't live long enough to pick up his only Oscar statuette.