Movie Wave Home
Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer

Composed by

* * * 1/2

Album running time

Performed by
conducted by

Additional music

Produced by

Released by
Serial number
VCL 0505 1036

Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Nice score for unusual period romance


For a man so skilled at scoring intimate drama (he did it better than anyone before or since), Alex North was also remarkably adept at scoring big historical movies.  He got a chance to combine both skills in 1954 with Desirée, Fox's lavish (and presumably fictional) tale of Napoleon Bonaparte's lost love.  Starring Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, it was helmed by The Robe's Henry Koster and was a predictable success with audiences, however ludicrous the critics found it.  It was a pretty high-profile, Cinemascope movie - the sort that North had never really done before - so it's a bit of a surprise that he was considered, though this album's liner notes put that down to the fact that he had scored Fox's Les Miserables a couple of years earlier.

Unfortunately, what the liner notes don't even mention in passing is that the main title theme for the movie is actually by Alfred Newman, Fox's legendary music head.  It's a typical Newman romantic piece, big and swelling and lovely; and later on, Newman appears again for "Desirée Waltz", an extended version.  I honestly have no idea why the theme is by Newman and the score by North, and it would have been nice for the notes to have explained, but perhaps someone will write in to me!  (It would make a nice change from people offering me cheap finance on my house or a penis enlargement - the latter of which I most certainly don't need.)

Of course, Newman and North were very different composers.  North had one of the strongest musical personalities of all film composers and I get the sense on Desirée that he deliberately diluted it to an extent.  Some of the familiar trademarks are here, but the strings seem slightly more cloying than usual, the emphasis slightly more on decorating the scene rather than was the norm for North.  Perhaps I'm being a little unfair - I haven't seen the movie.  Regardless of that, the music is still very attractive, even if it does seem more steeped in Hollywood tradition (of the time) than North's more striking, intensely original style usually employed.  As such, this doesn't really seem to be first-rate North, but second-rate North is still worth hearing. 

There's still some really nice material here, and the composer does manage to slip in his traditional strained, anguished material amongst the romance.  A fine example is "Wooed", in which North uses the high-register, sweeping strings but always seems to be suggesting some underlying torment beneath the surface romance.  More dramatic material comes in cues like "Proclamation / Desertion".  There's a time for more obviously ceremonial music too, with the distinctly French-influenced "Arrival" being an example; though often these processional cues are actual placed music, by a variety of sources.  (There are three cues of this.)  The album is slightly fractured in nature, but this can't detract from the underlying quality of the music, and with the stereo sound, I'm sure this will be a welcome purchase for all North fans (and indeed Newman ones!)


  1. Main Title (1:40)
  2. Adolescence (1:01)
  3. Desirée and Napoleon (2:24)
  4. La Marsellais (1:30)
  5. Youthful Diary (:59)
  6. Napoleon's Arrest (1:06)
  7. Proposal (3:24)
  8. Paris (:12)
  9. The Entrance (2:44)
  10. Unrequited / Cradle (5:26)
  11. Reflections (1:24)
  12. Wooed (3:28)
  13. Piqued (2:23)
  14. Te Deum (2:19)
  15. Proclamation / Desertion (3:45)
  16. The Medals (1:20)
  17. Arrival (:28)
  18. Etiquette (1:38)
  19. Desirée Waltz (3:53)
  20. Montage (1:13)
  21. Transition (1:51)
  22. Decision (:59)
  23. Denoument (2:50)
  24. Farewell (1:57)