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I'LL CRY TOMORROW
Master composer at the height of his powers offers extraordinary psychological score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 1955 Turner Entertainment Co.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
A film composer without equal, Alex North was phenomenal at every type of film he dabbled in, but more than anything else, he excelled in serious, adult drama. He'd already done A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman and The Rose Tattoo by the time 1956's I'll Cry Tomorrow came along, but it was a film which threatened to replace The Lost Weekend (with its brilliant Miklos Rozsa score) as Hollywood's ultimate portrayal of alcoholism. It was a biopic of actress Lillian Roth (who would live for another 25 years after the film's release), focusing inevitably on the two types of abuse in her life - the abuse to which she was subjected by her first two husbands, and her own abuse of alcohol. Powerful stuff, for 1955 Hollywood.
North was simply the outstanding choice to score the film, and a quick listen to his exceptional main title is enough to prove so: a smokey piece of jazz, perhaps descended from the classic Streetcar theme, it perfectly captured the passion and vaguely-chaotic despair of the main character. The bulk of the score, though, is straight orchestral drama - and how. In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which would follow during the following decade, North portrayed absolute inner turmoil in a way which has never been equalled, musically - and I guess there is a fairly similar approach here.
The arrangements are slightly broader, the strings more prominent, but nevertheless it is quite plain that North is musically depicting a person at conflict with herself. A staggering example comes in the ninth track, "Stood Up / Shattered / Tortured" - North goes on a journey within five minutes from scoring the event which causes the character to drink, with rumbling, suggestive brass; through the crazed atmosphere of desperately trying to find a drink, with a sleazy sax solo; to the hazy, disturbing moment of drinking itself, introduced with a piano crash and continued through a stormy piece for the whole orchestra. It's film music at its best. There's plenty more where that came from, as well - "String Chord / Real Heel" is a mesmerisingly good piece of orchestral violence which manages to be truly powerful and portentous despite never rising above a few instruments. Best of all might be "Hold It", in which North finally explodes with the full force of his brass section, the impact being all the stronger because he has created such brilliant turbulence through more modest orchestral forces up to that point.
Things finally start back towards a more even keel in "Light", which underscores Roth's first trip to Alcoholics Anonymous and finally offers a hint of warmth and possible resolution in the music, before North goes even more warm and reflective in "Fight to Live / Serenity", offering a pastoral closure to the body of the score before the triumphant, brilliant end title.
Sprinkled alongside North's score - maybe not quite from his top tier, but very close behind - are songs recorded by Susan Hayward, playing Roth in the film; and FSM's usual collections of outtakes, alternates and source music. Liner notes come from Lukas Kendall, sound quality is terrific, and this blistering Alex North score is one of their best releases since they stopped mining the Fox catalogue.