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Artwork copyright (c) 1971 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Two horror scores: one chilling and difficult; the other lilting and beautiful


Director Paul Wendkos's 1971 movie The Mephisto Waltz is a highly-unusual, and rather unsettling horror piece in which a concert pianist (played very well by Alan Alda) gets mixed up in a Satanic cult.  Outright scary at times, though probably ludicrously over-the-top at others, it's well worth seeing, particularly since it showcases an outstandingly creepy score from composer Jerry Goldsmith.  One of his most effective and chilling works, it is also among his least accessible.  He quotes liberally from Franz Liszt's piece (after which the movie is named) and also from the Dies Irae, but by and large this is 100% Goldsmith.  Written entirely for traditional orchestra, the composer shows just what a varied sound such an ensemble can produce given the right circumstances.  With the creativity he was consistently showing at the time, he extracts a range of terrifying noises from the instruments, from screeches and scratches to crashes and bangs.

Of course, while this approach may be wonderfully effective, it is difficult to like it very much on an album.  As a study of composition or how to score a film, it's fascinating, but I think you have to be of a certain persuasion to enjoy listening to it very much.  A shorter, ten-minute suite of highlights might actually be a considerably more attractive prospect.  It's incredibly good - but incredibly demanding.

After The Mephisto Waltz comes the score for another 20th Century Fox horror movie from the early 70s, The Other, the story of twin brothers, one good and one evil, with an incredibly tragic story involving child kidnapping, murder and the like.  Unlike the dissonance of the previous score, here Goldsmith scores against the picture in many ways, for one thing coming up with an extremely lyrical and attractive main theme for harp and strings, a childlike lullaby that has an incredibly creepy effect when put up against the picture.  It's a truly superb theme that deserves to be heard on a considerably wider stage than it has been.  It's actually vaguely reminiscent of the beautiful Americana of scores like The Waltons or A Girl Named Sooner, full of childhood innocence (a great irony on the part of the composer) and incredibly attractive.  The score, presented here in a single twenty-minute suite, also contains a beautiful secondary theme, heard in a most beautiful arrangement for piano in the middle of the track.

These two scores, entirely different, are an excellent demonstration of how ably Goldsmith could turn his hand to different projects; on the face of it, they may both be creepy horror films, but the composer was able to delve far below the surface when coming up with two scores that could barely be more different.  Good sound and production values, as we have come to expect from producer Nick Redman, and interesting liner notes from Jon Burlingame (easily the best in the business) round off a good package of two great scores - one almost impossible to listen to, the other difficult to stop listening to!

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  1. Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (:14)
  2. The Mephisto Waltz: Main Title (2:27)
  3. The Library (1:38)
  4. A New Miles (5:12)
  5. The Funeral (3:26)
  6. A Night in Mexico (2:16)
  7. Part of the Bargain (3:41)
  8. The Hospital (2:18)
  9. The Latest Victim (5:14)
  10. Dogfight (2:07)
  11. Roxanne's Demise (1:37)
  12. End Title (3:45)
  13. The Other: Suite (22:02)