CD: Sunset Boulevard – Classic Film Music of Franz Waxman (1974)

April 4, 2011 | By

Return toHome Soundtrack  Reviews / S


Rating: Excellent

Label: RCA Red Seal/ Released: March 1, 2011

Tracks & Album Length: 8 tracks / (53:00)


Special Notes: n/a.


Composer: Franz Waxman




Franz Waxman will always be a giant among Golden Age film composers, largely because even a brief sampling of his writing, regardless of what film score, elicits awe. Romantic, lush, and emotionally unbridled at times, sure, but the musical power he created with an orchestra made him versatile in any genre – and that’s perhaps the strongest impression from this 1974 album in Charles Gerhardt’s Classic Film series.

Prince Valiant (1954), for example, is great giddy Wagnerian fun, with rich tongue-in-cheek zest that guarantees the audiences understands they’re watching an early comic book movie adaptation (with Robert Wagner sporting the worst wig of his career).

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – the score that largely put Waxman on the map as an A-list composer – is filled with eerie mystery. Every cue seems to build towards the grand finale where Dr. Frankenstein creates a bride for his poor monster, and just as the creature anticipates life with a partner crafted similarly from spare parts, so does the audience. Eddying strings and flaring brass create little musical whirlpools of tension, while powerful bass notes, chimes, and the eerie woo-woo sound of the Ondes Martenot maintain a weird ambiance before a final, grand theme recap that brings the mad world of Dr. Victor Frankenstein to a fitting close.

Old Acquaintance (1943) is represented by the exquisite “Elegy for Strings” and shows off a romanticism that’s vintage Hollywood – in terms of its crushing sentimentality – plus Waxman’s roots in classical concert music, deftly balancing the extreme vibrato sounds of high register notes and deep Wagnerian tones on strings.

1940’s The Philadelphia Story (complete with MGM’s Leo the Lion roar) dips into Gershwin lyricism (rhapsodic brass, swelling strings, and cascading piano with little jazzy side figures), and the short extract focuses on the wry theme for the kind of romance the characters must verbally and physically fight for within sedate surroundings. Gerhardt’s arrangement includes a sax solo, which he also uses as a sonic link with the album’s more meaty and contemporary suites – Rebecca (1940), A Place in the Sun (1951), and Sunset Boulevard (1950).

The Gothic gloom and doom of Rebecca is perhaps the best example of Waxman’s knack for robust orchestrations. The film’s main theme – beautifully strained, and evocative of the film’s desperate personalities – sort of ebbs above a constant current of deep notes which Waxman frequently uses to create a score that comes in like a tide, leaving small melodic trinkets, or receding to let the evening’s stillness dominate before a big orchestral surge of emotion. Passion is strained and overwrought, jealousy is propelled by rumbling bombast, and the suite concludes in a baroque, mordant fandango with massive percussion and an eerie theme lament.

A Place in the Sun is similarly dominated by gloomy tones and bursts of romance, but Waxman’s love theme is among the most lush compositions of the fifties – if not the definitive statement on pure, unbridled passion between two mismatched, doomed lovers.

The alto sax teases and lures the film’s poor anti-hero towards his rich object of desire, and Waxman indulges in one of the best uses of string schmaltz: extremely high waves of notes sustained to ridiculous heights on strings. Place in the Sun is filled with contrasts, as low strings evoke the furtive nature of fate, slowly closing in on the hero as he makes a series of increasingly bad, obsessive moves. By introducing such extreme sounds for the lovers and later focusing mostly on low tones and percussive cues, Waxman reminds listeners of the illusive nature of George Eastman’s love affair with Angela Vickers, and their theme is largely held back until the finale, where it’s given a thoroughly tragic rendition with full orchestra.

For Sunset Boulevard, Waxman created another score with watery motions – waves, ebbing and flowing orchestral densities – that tie in to the whirlwind energy of Hollywood, as well as the hero being a drowned man narrating the film before he wafts away into the ether of eternity.

For ex-actress Nora Desmond, Waxman’s theme is heard in wry muted brass incarnations; exotic variations that match her bigger than life persona; and the crashing dance that underscores her final walk towards the camera, since she’s lost her sense of reality by the end of the film. Muted trumpet somewhat infers the little-seen seediness and craziness that few in the fifties saw in Hollywood, and underscore Joe Gillis’ position as an outsider slowly drawn into the delusional world of the has-been stars shuttered behind elegant but high-maintenance palaces.

With all the doom and gloom present in the album’s meatier suites, the mini-concert closes with a gusto version of Waxman’s Taras Bulba (1962) theme. Akin to Russian folk music processed through the Hollywood filter, it’s an imaginative approach that colours the film like a circus show, filled with acrobatic action and extreme emotional displays of machismo – all encapsulated by swirling strings, heavy brass, and rambunctious percussion.

With the exception of Old Acquaintance and The Philadelphia Story, the represented scores have appeared in original score or re-recorded score LPs and CDs, but Gerhardt and co-producer George Korngold’s album ensures each suite and theme flows with slight musical or instrumental links to the next piece, and with an extraordinary sonic range, this particular album ranks as one of the best in the Classic Film Score series. It’s the most organic, and the most concert-like, delivering every range of emotion within Waxman’s extensive and high rewarding film music canon.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  Prince Valiant (1954)  — Rebecca (1940)


External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography— RCA Classic Film Score Series Links: 123


Return toHome Soundtrack Reviews S

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Soundtrack Reviews

Comments are closed.