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Outstanding music from one of the greats


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Album cover copyright (c) 1955/6 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall

Hugo Friedhofer was one of the greatest film composers of them all, but mysteriously his large output is scarcely represented on CD, with only about ten of his scores actually having been released.  This, from an Oscar-winning composer who wrote groundbreaking music and - along with Elmer Bernstein, Leonard Rosenman and Alex North - was at the forefront of the group of composer's who moved film music on to the next level during the 1950s.  There has been a very slight burst of activity in terms of releasing his scores lately, but I imagine it takes considerable effort to actually sell his scores to people, given that most of the younger generation of listeners will simply have no idea what they sound like.

Film Score Monthly's first Friedhofer release was this coupling of and Between Heaven and Hell and Soldier of Fortune, both from the Twentieth Century Fox archives.  Between Heaven and Hell was an intelligent war movie, following the path of a young soldier called up to the Pacific during World War Two, and featured one of Friedhofer's most-admired scores.  His score sees a coming-together of two styles, exhibited by the score's two main themes - a gorgeous love theme, used for flashbacks of the main character with his wife; and a vigorous, pulsating setting of the Dies Irae for the war sections.

After an exquisite presentation of the love theme in the first track, the main title appears, and it's a thunderous, brutal piece showing off the composer at his modernistic best.  There is some truly uncompromising action music here - remarkably so, for a score written in 1956.  "Millard's Death" is a truly bleak, miserable piece, quite brilliantly so.  "Parade George" is a quintessential piece of war music, driving and forceful through the deep brass and percussion, but with a human dimension provided through the delicate, intricate wind writing.  Perhaps the best cue is "Don't Argue / Desperate Journey", a phenomenal piece of film music which begins with rumbling piano and percussion before building and building into a truly ferocious, uncompromising action cue.  Film music doesn't come much better.  The score then comes to an end with a brief reprise of the love theme for the end title.

So astonishing is Between Heaven and Hell, so breathlessly exciting, that the listener is left feeling almost exhausted at the end; what better cure for this, than another Friedhofer score!?  And Soldier of Fortune opens in perfect way, with a rapturous theme for solo piano.  Sadly, the sound is somewhat damaged, as it is throughout the score, but the quality of the music still shines through.  The film is a Hong Kong-set adventure starring Clark Gable, and allowed Friedhofer to flex his muscles and integrate Chinese sonorities into the western orchestral setting.  He joked that "the score came easily.  I attribute this to the fact that I have a passion for Chinese food."

After the piano introduction, the theme is given a sweeping rendition by the full orchestra for the main title.  "Marine Patrol" sees Friedhofer use distinctive string harmonies, bells and wood blocks to create the Chinese textures, a technique identical to that used by Jerry Goldsmith on his magnificent The Sand Pebbles, which was surely influenced by this score.  It's a colourful, very pleasant score, sadly lacking some of its important action elements because they were simply too damaged to include.  It's still very impressive.

Lukas Kendall describes Friedhofer in his excellent liner notes as the greatest unsung film composer of his generation; he's right.  Hopefully some more of his music can be released in future.  In the mean time, fans of classic film scores can buy this album and enjoy it over and over again.

Between Heaven and Hell tracks

  1. Sam and Jenny's Theme (2:08)
  2. Main Title (2:23)
  3. George Company (1:40)
  4. Retrospect No 1 (2:50)
  5. Retrospect No 2 (2:42)
  6. Strategic Sam / Scared (7:27)
  7. Death of Colonel Cozzens (1:54)
  8. Berserk (:48)
  9. Norzagaray (2:02)
  10. Millard's Death (2:42)
  11. Parade George (2:45)
  12. Flash Reid (2:21)
  13. Sniper (1:33)
  14. Death of Little Joe (1:01)
  15. Don't Argue / Desperate Journey (4:44)
  16. End Title (:31)

Soldier of Fortune tracks

  1. Theme (1:25)
  2. Main Title (3:11)
  3. Marine Patrol (1:43)
  4. Lee's House / Restaurant (2:02)
  5. Inquisition (3:12)
  6. Search Montage (2:05)
  7. Dak Lae (1:53)
  8. Macao Ferry (1:11)
  9. Lee in Action (2:14)
  10. Lee and Jane (4:10)
  11. End Title (1:36)
  12. Hong Kong (1:22)
  13. Tweedie's (3:43)
  14. Theme (reprise) (2:06)