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OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE
and THE 25TH HOUR
A pair of very different - but equally beautiful - scores from the gallic genius
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2003 Turner Entertainment Co.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
A pair of films scored by the great Georges Delerue in 1967, Our Mother's House and The 25th Hour have nothing else in common - except that soundtracks for both were issued at the time by MGM Records, making them available to Film Score Monthly to reissue them on CD as part of their Silver Age Classics series. The release came in 2003, the label's first (and so far, last) Delerue album.
Our Mother's House was directed by occasional Delerue collaborator Jack Clayton; the offbeat film was about a group of siblings who disguise their mother's death and try to continue living as before, pretending to the authorities that she is still alive. Given that Delerue was able to pluck lilting lullaby themes from the air seemingly at will, one would have high hopes that he would bless a film about children with one - and the hopes are fulfilled, with a gorgeous main theme - so gorgeous in fact, that when Quincey Jones appropriated it for The Colour Purple two decades later, he and his entourage were given Oscar nominations for doing so (something Delerue wasn't afforded for actually writing it in the first place).
While the theme certainly dominates the score, there's plenty of other material too: a more sombre theme representing the mother, usually heard on solo piano; sombre, but this is Delerue, so still heartmeltingly beautiful. There's an elegaic, anguished piece, "Gertie is Punished", which displays the composer at the peak of his powers; and a jazzier theme, "Charlie", played by clarinet, representing the children's father, played by Dirk Bogarde. Add in an engaging piece of source rock and roll, "The Party", and you get a great Delerue score.
The 25th Hour is a different kettle of fish entirely, a film about a Romanian man (played by Anthony Quinn) who is put into concentration camps and spends eight years there because the Nazis think he is Jewish, even though actually he isn't; and when he is identified as being "pure Aryan", he is actually used in Nazi propaganda. While the film has some curious attempts at being a comedy, Delerue plays it straight in his score, with fine results.
The opening track presents his simple, haunting theme for cymbalom, accompanied by the other main idea of the score, using a deep male voice choir, which is chillingly effective. Of course, this is not the kind of uplifting music which Delerue wrote so often, but a very base, very direct, very dark portrait of humanity. For all that, a piece like "Johann and Suzanna", still manages a kind of stark beauty. (A curiosity, but I'm sure I can't be the only one who thinks it: the theme for strings and deep male choir actually sounds just like John Williams's music for the death of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi; listen to "Deportation of the Jews" to see the best example of what I mean.) The stirring, martial "Arrival of the Germans" is another fine piece; and there's even a sweeping waltz which appears occasionally, most notably in "Johann in Budapest".
Some years ago, somebody somewhere (I forget who, and where - my memory is fading quickly) said that the mark of a bad review of a film music CD is if it uses the word "haunting", such a cliched and meaningless adjective it is - in which case this is going to be a very bad review indeed since I can't think of a more appropriate word to use for Delerue's brilliant score. It is perhaps not so striking as his very finest efforts, but shows a sign of the composer not often appreciated, particularly by those only familiar with his American scores. Both Our Mother's House and The 25th Hour are fine scores indeed, and this release is highly recommended.