CD: Tall Texan, The (1953)

June 12, 2013 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Monstrous Movie Music/ Released: April 10, 2013

Tracks & Album Length: 32 tracks / (50:01)


Special Notes: 20-page colour booklet with liner notes by CD producer David Schecter.


Composer: Bert Shefter




Best-known for scoring with Paul Sawtell the classic sci-fi scores for The Fly (1958) and Kronos (1957), Bert Shefter had done some solo work, and The Tall Texan is one of his earliest film scores, having begun his film career in 1950.

While a fairly standard western score with ‘angry Indian’ music and pseudo-native drum for the clichéd villains and bits of melodic Americana material woven into his main theme, Shefter’s score is nevertheless really well orchestrated to maximize the colours available from a 35 piece orchestra.

As Monstrous Movie Music’s producer writes in his liner notes, there’s a lot of high pedigree in what was a standard low-budget western from indie studio Lippert Pictures (Destination Moon [M]), spanning the cast (Lloyd Bridges, Fox’ in-house character actor Lee J. Cobb), director and ace editor Elmo Williams (1963’s Cleopatra), and cinematographer Joseph Biroc (Blazing Saddles, Bye Bye Birdie [M], 13 Ghosts), and one gets a sense everyone used the film to show they could put more into a straight B-western much in the way similarly skilled, emerging talent elevated Republic’s own wave of westerns and period films.

Shefter’s music also sounds oddly contemporary because of the vibrancy of his writing; thumping Indian material and repeated thematic bits notwithstanding, there are some really beautifully crafted cues which are not standard to the lower-grade, fast-written scores applied to more straightforward genre efforts.

A great example is “Gun Fight,” which Schecter rightly notes as being a bit of a portent to the buoyant style of Elmer Bernstein’s Magnificent Seven (1960) and its fast counter-punctual notes, especially notes fused by flutes and piano. (The coincidence may stem from Shefter and Bernstein’s own background as concert pianists, if not a shared interest in strong melodies and an affinity for Americana.) In any event, there are some really beautiful passages throughout Tall Texan, such as “Gold Glitters,” which builds on the Bernsteinesque motifs with strings in the cue’s finale.

Shefter also makes great use of the celesta which also distances the score from more traditional B-movie music which had a certain generic library sound. There are cues where Shefter works in short bursts of folk tunes, but they work within the context of the score’s narrative, and perhaps act as melodic buffers between some striking effects, such as the eerie, pliable strings at the beginning of “On the Way.” That particular effect is especially otherworldly, and recalls Leith Stevens’ Destination Moon. Shefter’s knack for adding modern sounds during the fifties perhaps made him a natural for scoring sci-fi (Kronos) and horror (The Last Man on Earth).

The album’s best sections tend to be the intro themes heard in the first cues, the suspenseful midsection, and parts of the action-oriented finale (which does get a bit repetitive in a few short cues).

MMM’s CD includes a handful of bonus cues, and David Scheter’s liner notes are typically detailed and appropriately laudatory for a real gem. Bert Shefter’s sci-fi fans will be surprised by the richness of the writing, which differs from the sometimes dissonant quality of his monster music. The mono tracks sound great, and Ray Faiola’s mastering brings out a little bit of dynamic oomph without creating a false stereo image.

MMM’s other Shefter scores co-composed with Sawtell include Virgin Sacrifice, The Last Man on Earth, and the double-billed Kronos + The Cosmic Man.



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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