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THE VIEW FROM POMPEY'S HEAD
and BLUE DENIM
Pair of excellent scores from legendary composers united on one disc
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
The View From Pompey's Head composed by
Blue Denim composed by
* * * *
Pompey's Head orchestration
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1955/9 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
This release from Film Score Monthly pairs together two scores for movies directed by Philip Dunne, 1955's The View From Pompey's Head and 1959's Blue Denim. Dunne's favourite composer was Bernard Herrmann (stemming from Herrmann's score for The Ghost and Mrs Muir, written by Dunne) but when he proved unavailable for The View From Pompey's Head, he recommended the very young Elmer Bernstein - who had just written The Man With the Golden Arm - in his stead, leading to the famous story of Bernstein phoning up Herrmann to thank him, and Herrmann squealing "If I didn't think you had talent, I wouldn't have recommended you" and hanging up.
The album's liner notes mention that Fox music head Alfred Newman was slightly concerned because Bernstein had never scored a romance before, and so arranged a showing of Love Is a Many-Splendoured Thing to show him how it's done; and the notes also suggest that Newman's style was a huge influence on the score, which also features more than a few hints of Herrmann. While this may be true (certainly, the main title theme seems to be infused with a hint of Newman's famous string sound), to my ears the music is quintessential Bernstein.
When Bernstein scored Far From Heaven, it was frequently noted that he was the perfect composer for the project because he had actually scored the kind of film which was being emulated by that; and it's The View From Pompey's Head that perhaps most fits the bill, a story of racial intrigue in the South. And for sure, there are massive parallels between the two scores, from the feel of the main theme, even down to the dark action music. Check out the brilliant piece "Love on the Beach", unusually long for a film of this vintage (12 minutes) - it's A-grade, vintage Bernstein and couldn't be mistaken for any other composer, even at this early stage of his career. Only towards the end of the piece does Bernstein allow the music to swell beyond what he would later have considered to be acceptable, but that's perfectly understandable.
Pompey's Head is a very good Bernstein score, displaying so many of the wonderful touches he would go on using for nearly half a century thereafter. It doesn't reach the heights of his very best efforts, but is amongst the pick of his earliest scores.
Blue Denim was another slightly provocative film, but like Pompey's Head extremely sanitised to make its way past the censors. I've never seen it, but the album's liner notes suggest it has dated terribly, and even suggest that Bernard Herrmann might not have been the right composer for it, saying he over-romanticised it. It is certainly a surprise to hear the opening of his score to find him in particularly sentimental mode, with a sweeping string theme, the kind of which I would have thought would have sent him into shudders when written by someone else.
That first track develops into more prototypical Herrmann, before the second, "The Playroom", shows the composer at his inspired best, with a playful piece showing off the composer's chosen orchestra of strings, a few winds and four horns to its fullest potential. However, the score doesn't really turn out to be first-rate Herrmann; the "Baby Vertigo" tag applied to it certainly seems fair, as it suggests that later masterpiece without ever really rising to its level.
Herrmann is a composer who was probably just unable to write anything but interesting music, and so even if Blue Denim isn't from the top drawer, it is still eminently listenable and there is much to admire. The tone is surprisingly upbeat, but however the music works in the film, it's certainly good on disc. This is a good album, with reasonable sound (far better on Denim than Pompey) and fascinating notes from Christopher Husted. Recommended.