CD: Boy on a Dolphin (1957)

March 23, 2011 | By

BoyOnDolphin_Intrada_sScore: Excellent

Label: Intrada Special Collection

Released:  September, 2008

Tracks / Album Length:  19 tracks / (54:18)

Composer: Hugo Friedhofer

Special Notes:  12-page colour booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo and original LP liner notes by Hugo Friedhofer. Limited to 1500 copies.




In 1957, Hugo Friedhofer was one of Fox’ top composers, having composed the music for some of the studio’s most important action and dramatic films – Seven Cities of Gold (1955), The Sun Also Rises (1957), An Affair to Remember (1957).

Friedhofer’s 1946 Oscar-winning breakthrough was The Best Years of Our Lives, a moving portrait of WWII soldiers coming home, and the difficulties of families as well as veterans coping with the physical and psychological changes wrought by wartime trauma; Boy on a Dolphin (1957), in comparison, is outright widescreen fluff, but Fox composer / Music Department head Alfred Newman must have known a Friedhofer score would’ve added some needed subtext to the glossy CinemaScope production; the resulting score, however, gives the film far more than just fashionable dramatic and romantic stabs.

The Oscar-nominated score’s potent anchor is the title theme, adapted from a song (“Tirafio Music”) by Greek composer Takis Morakis, with new English lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. In the film mix, the title theme is sung by Julie London, and by Mary Kaye on the soundtrack album and this CD, due to a contractual boo-boo in 1957. ( London ‘s rendition is apparently available on a 3-CD set, Julie London: The Ultimate Collection.)

The instrumental prelude begins with hard, sustained chords, over which woodwinds play Greek-styled heralds that immediate plant the filmgoer into the gorgeous world of the Aegean Sea . A gliding harp softens the transition towards lilting harmonics, which Friedhofer uses to infer the gentle motion of a an island hopping cruise – a perfect musical design, given the prelude plays over a montage of the islands, where treasure thief Victor (Clifton Webb) will attempt to extract the location of a sunken sea wreck from sponge diver Phaedra (Sophia Loren), while American archeologist Jim (Alan Ladd) tries to intervene on behalf of the local museum.

The pre-credit montage is one reason why the title track has such a lengthy instrumental intro, but it’s more than just padding; Friedhofer isolates the woodwinds, guitar, and light percussion in later tracks, which are often applied to Phaedra as a means to reflect her provocative nature (flirting with both men), as well as her naiveté; she’s completely unaware that she’s a bonus prize to whomever manages to claim the golden statue.

No single musical element in Dolphin is wasted, and most of the score is derived from the title theme; Friedhofer just takes specific aspects and transforms them into sometimes amazingly dramatic cues (which we’ll get into shortly) that bear little resemblance to the lyrical theme.

The title theme’s vocal part is essentially the track’s central (and Americanized) melodic core, and it’s a soothing and provocative blend of low, breathy vocals nestled between delicate strings, and solo acoustic guitar – intimate, and passionate – and the track closes with a gradual addition of string bass, playing the ‘searching’ motif that Friedhofer uses in the film’s underwater diving sequences. There’s no definite closure to the cue, and it’s an aural design mimicking the opening of a camera’s iris: unresolved tones are played against disappearing bass notes, which set up an establishing shot for the romantic fluff we’re about to see.

Friedhofer’s final sonic device in the main titles is having the piano mimic the metal clanging of sail ships – namely the iconic sound of rigging ropes blown by the harbor winds against metal ship masts. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s another imaginative tool the composer uses to ensure audiences are completely plunged into the striking island sights, sounds, and breezes of the Greek isles.

For the land scenes, Friedhofer’s Dolphin score offers a diverse mix of folk tunes, café music, and a marriage between acoustic and orchestral elements. The underwater music, best exemplified in “Phaedra Finds the Boy,” is a lush environment of delicate harp, and thematic quotations that eddy and waft like the kelp and large fish that drift in front of the camera lens as Phaedra swims and sees the submerged statue.

Although it’s a bit of a cliché now, the use of solo, wordless female vocals (sung by Marni Nixon) adds a human perspective to the scene; whether it’s about ghosts from the past, the lonely boy looking to be rescued from the chilly waters, or Phaedra reacting to the strangeness of seeing a frozen golden boy underwater, the vocal gives the mysterious scene more dimensions, whereas Bernard Herrmann’s massive orchestral approach (with harps and brooding tones) in Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953), effective in its own right, emphasizes the vastness and power of the ocean, and seems designed to smother the characters, or at least illustrate the smallness and vulnerability of Man once he’s below the water’s surface.

“Phaedra Finds the Boy” is also a patented Friedhofer suspense cue, meaning in contains the structure used by the composer whenever there’s a moment of deep decision. Whether it’s The Young Lions (a stupendous, dramatic war score screaming for an expanded CD release) or One-Eyed Jacks (a ravishing exercise in romance and betrayal also poorly represented on disc), you know it’s a Friedhofer score in the way he expresses specific dramatic and emotional progressions.

For suspense, the process involved a short fragment that’s repeated by groups of instruments – strings and clarinets, muted brass, and trombones, each shading the fragment a little lower or darker – followed by a sustained chord without a defined time-limit, and the addition of an emerging, step-like pattern on bass, often consisting of brass and string bass. It’s a fluid transition of moods that’s more impressionistic than direct, and certainly for Dolphin, it’s more successful in telling audiences ‘Phaedra is surprised’ or ‘Phaedra is trapped’ without formal (and clichéd) ‘surprise’ and ‘fear’ statements by the orchestra.

The composer also had a knack for creating tension in the way he held deeply saturated chords, giving scenes a smoothness, and using mercurial sounds to craft dramatic statements – sometimes creating subtext that wasn’t really present in the edited scene.

“Phaedra Finds the Boy” has two parts representing the film’s underwater sections, and the windmill locale; the latter is where Phaedra contemplates the riches the statue could bring to her family, and boorish companion Rhif (Jorge Mistral).

The cue’s second part is also one of the score’s most engrossing because of the strange, pinched emotions Friedhofer expresses by colliding the sounds of the land and underwater worlds.

A duet between flute and clarinet provide lonely, almost traumatic variations of the folkloric improv heard in the main title prelude, but whereas the prelude stayed with the intertwined woodwinds, for “Phaedra Finds the Boy,” Friedhofer severs the improv at a point where we expect some melodic closure, and plunges us ‘underwater’ using heavy chords held by strings and harp. We soon re-emerge, close to the ‘water’s surface,’ by a thematic fragment via woodwinds, but Friedhofer keeps the deep chords, reminding us of the statue’s allure, as it remains alone in the ocean depths.

Had the cue been written for a collection of scenes taking place underwater and in Phaedra’s sponge-diving boat, the orchestral allusion would make sense; wholly functional for specific scenes and shots. Whether it was the producer’s decision, or director Jean Negulesco, or Friedhofer himself, the second half of “Phaedra Finds the Boy” isn’t formally functional.

The ‘underwater’ motif is actually played over shots of a spinning windmill, and one has to ponder whether A) the filmmakers knew they had fluff, and went with the composer’s use of emotional subtext to strengthen the film’s dramatic impact; or B) Friedhofer was cleverly setting up the main conflicts of the next scene – where Phaedra is conflicted about following Rhif’s plan to steal the statue for profit – and applying it to a very, very minor scene that has Phaedra chastising her young brother for not looking after the windmill?

It’s possible Friedhofer felt Dolphin was a chance to explore and have fun with modern, popular, and traditional music forms within a single score, but there’s an instinct at play that suggests the composer was aiming for something a bit deeper; he may have started to craft a score to prevent the film from being total travelogue fluff, but there are scenes whose cues are the antithesis of travelogue music.

A case in point is “The Acropolis,” a lengthy sequence where Phaedra (basically an Adriatic hick) heads to Athens (the big city) in search of Jim, an American professor who might be able to confirm the statue’s value. The cue ends as the tracking camera follows Jim as walks through the massive ruins before passing a seated Phaedra, melting under the hard sunlight. It’s a simple montage that would normally have been scored with maybe some exotic folk elements, or some bouncy melody to enhance the audience’s own touristic wonderment in seeing the Acropolis on the big screen.

Not so with Friedhofer. Dolphin is, after all, escapism, but with a slightly dark edge in the form of all the adult men using Phaedra as some bonus prize that comes with the statue (seeing how she’s the only one who knows of its location). But under Friedhofer’s baton, the music makes perfunctory remarks on the location (again, impressionistically), and focuses on aspects a more conventional composer wouldn’t bother with – the blazing heat, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness amid the stark ruins.

Friedhofer’s cue is neither joyous nor celebratory, and given the composer’s sophisticated style, one suspects he was trying to establish – again, in advance of the drama – the parameters of the characters within the film’s simple story: two disparate characters (the genial American archeologist and a country girl wanting a grander and more emotionally fulfilling life) whose relationship as archeological partners becomes romantic when a wealthy, selfish wanker (treasure collector Victor) plays a game of divide-and-conquer with Phaedra’s close friends and associates to get that statue.

One also feels Friedhofer was including the Acropolis location as an equally compelling character: there’s the ancient architecture and relics that literally brought Phaedra to Jim; and there’s Greece’s physicality, which includes hypnotic colours (red and amber rocks surrounded by aquamarine water) as well as foreboding patches of physical bleakness (the virtually treeless Acropolis, the desert-like highway that sends Victor to the monastery, as well as the mountains that house the isolated monastery).

A solo trumpet closes “The Acropolis,” and it’s another lament that perhaps symbolizes ancient history lying in ruins, or more likely the sophisticated theme Friedhofer crafted for the lovers-to-be, and whatever desperate plights they’re destined to experience. (The intro bars of “The Captive,” for example, provide a brief and perceptible variation of the trumpet solo, reinforcing the argument that Dolphin is more that lush travelogue music.)

Dolphin does have it’s light spots, which include “Jockey Boy,” a delicate arrangement of the theme’s vocal part for woodwinds, harp, and guitar with supportive harmonic waves on strings); and the playful theme version “Mondraki Bay,” with lovely flutes, light percussion, and acoustic guitar. There’s also “The Café,” the source cue that plays when Phaedra, fresh off the bus, awkwardly enters an upscale waterfront café in her new high heels, and seats herself beside Victor to avoid eviction from the premises. It’s a vintage lounge version of the title theme, with a great midsection bubbling with thematic improvs on piano, and a punchy rhythm section.


© 2008 Mark R. Hasan



Additional Links:
Editor’s Blog — Composer on IMDB  —  Composer Filmography —  Soundtrack Album  —  Film Review

Select Merchants: — BSX — Intrada — Screen Archives Entertainment

Tags: ,

Category: Soundtrack Reviews

Comments are closed.