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



Dark scores blessed with outstanding theme


A project put into production by Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck as a direct retort to those who claimed that his pet project, Cinemascope, could only be used on big, epic productions, Hell and High Water was his attempt to refute that by using the process for that most claustrophobic of genres, the submarine film - his way of saying "if we can use it on this, we can use it on anything!"  Unfortunately, the doubters were proved right, with director Samuel Fuller frequently using contrived shots just as a way of showing off the technology rather than to add anything to the story - which is, in a nutshell, about an attempt by an American submarine to stop a Chinese one starting World War III, which they plan to do by launching a nuclear attack on China and blaming it on the States.  With China being ruled by nasty commies, clearly this was intended as a flag-waving, feel good move.

The film was really quite a minor one, but because it was one of the earliest Cinemascope pictures it got a lot of attention from Fox, including having its music being written by Alfred Newman, who probably wouldn't have gone near it otherwise.  The main theme is pure dynamite (an appropriate adjective, given that it's called "The Atom Bomb") - portentous and extremely dramatic, it's one of Newman's most memorable.  However, one of the facets of Newman's career was his constant recycling of his old material into new films, and this is no exception; the liner notes say that the theme is actually originally from Newman's 1944 score The Fighting Lady.  Of course, that doesn't diminish its impact, but given how debate continues to rage about certain modern-day composers reusing music, it's interesting to reflect on just how often Newman himself did it.

Virtually all the good things about this score centre around the main theme; the highlight is probably the nine-minute "61 J Capsule / The Red Sub / Up at Sub", a particularly dark and brooding action track; and the fine "The Sub's Rising / The Victorious Sub".  After that, the most notable music is the love theme, but this isn't actually by Newman at all, but rather his adaptation of "Mam'selle", written (somewhat improbably) by director Edmund Golding for The Razor's Edge a few years earlier.  Its best arrangement comes in "Denise", when it's performed - touchingly - by solo harmonica.  Reflecting the nature of the film, there's a fair amount of rather claustrophobic suspense music, which doesn't translate so well to album.  "The Ocean Floor" is technically impressive, full of very deep, brooding music, but it's not exactly thrilling to listen to apart from the film.

This is not top-drawer Newman by any means, but it certainly contains some great moments, especially "The Atom Bomb".  This album from Intrada represents the score's debut appearance on CD, but it's a limited edition and copies are sure to be hard to come by now.  Liner notes by Jon Burlingame and Douglass Fake are excellent but the sound quality is archival, at best; given that the music was recorded over fifty years ago, of course that's completely understandable.  Hell and High Water is an interesting score and one which shows a different side to Newman, so I'm sure his fans will be delighted to finally have the album.


  1. The Atom Bomb (2:16)
  2. Paris (1:21)
  3. Denise Enters / World Broadcast (2:41)
  4. Rendezvous (1:26)
  5. His Own Price for Dying (1:05)
  6. There's No Tomorrow (2:32)
  7. Submerged Submarine / Choppy Seas (4:56)
  8. Denise (2:27)
  9. Captain Jones / Sub Through Choppy Seas (1:01)
  10. 61 J Capsule / The Red Sub / Up at Sub (8:56)
  11. The Ocean Floor (7:27)
  12. The Sub's Rising / The Victorious Sub (5:21)
  13. We've Sighted Land (1:57)
  14. Oil Tank Explosion (2:04)
  15. Stormy Sea (1:04)
  16. Keylock Island / Your Record, Captain / The Enemy / The Killing (7:48)
  17. Escape (1:32)
  18. Chin Lee's Burial (:51)
  19. The Bomber is Destroed / Homeward Bound (4:29)
  20. Mam'selle (2:42)
  21. To Romance (:40)
  22. Don't Fence Me In (1:24)
  23. Wild Bomb Mushroom Effect (vibraphone version) (1:56)
  24. Wild Bomb Mushroom Effect (cymbals / gong version) (2:06)
  25. The Atom Bomb (alternate) (2:16)