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THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE
Modernistic war score for old-fashioned war movie
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
The flagwaving WW2 film The Devil's Brigade was released at a time when the American public's appetite for such things was not what it once was (at the height of the Vietnam War). It was also competing with the similar, but superior, The Dirty Dozen which had been a success the previous summer and, consequently, didn't do as much business as its financiers must have hoped (it was a big-budget film for its day). Surprisingly, given the old-fashioned nature of it, the choice of composer was Alex North, whose bitingly modern music was often not just ahead of its time then, it would still be ahead of its time today.
This is illustrated perfectly in the remarkable main title. Almost frighteningly aggressive, North takes the Scottish tune "Scotland the Brave", mixes in a rousing main theme of his own creation, and turns it into a stunningly intense piece with emphasis on brass and extended wind and percussion sections. Ron Goodwin, it ain't. The 8-minute "30 Mile Hike" sequence which follows is vintage North, with little folk tunes incorporated in between the aggressive low-end piano, the harsh brass and occasional moments of warmth. It's brilliant film scoring, so full of North's usual emotional and intellectual intensity. And all that, for a suspense sequence.
There are occasionally the more usual patriotic histrionics ("Graduation Ceremony", for instance) but by and large this is North at his most modernistic, with obvious comparisons to his darker dramatic scores of the day. Despite the prominence of brass and percussion, this is by no means an action-dominated score, instead North (as usual) focusing on emotion when possible, but he does find time for an occasional set-piece, perhaps the finest being the brilliant "Continue the Climb", whose harsh tonalities mix well with the main theme.
I guess this could be described as being like Spartacus without the love music - exciting, modern music which could only have come from this man's pen. However, the score is monothematic - North hurls that theme through a huge number of variations, sometimes making it virtually unrecognisable, but that just makes it a tiny bit less enjoyable than some of his other works. The album is long, but over a third of it is made up of source music and other bonus tracks which are nice to have for completeness, but it's the 43 minutes of original score which is of course the driving force here - if not quite classic North, then it's not far behind, and this release from Intrada - of a score long believed to be completely lost - came as a welcome surprise to all North fans.