CD: Blue Max, The (1966)

March 26, 2014 | By


BlueMaxLLLCDScore: Excellent

Label: La-La Land Records

Released:  February 24, 2014


Tracks / Album Length:  CD1: 25 tracks / (52:20) + CD2: 28 tracks / (71:23)

Special Notes:  Colour booklet with liner notes by Jeff Bond / Limited to 2000 copies.




Jerry Goldsmith scored The Sand Pebbles, Seconds, Stagecoach, The Trouble with Angels, Our Man Flint, and The Blue Max in 1966 – a melange of orchestral, a little avant garde, jazz lounge, and classical romantic – and with the exception of Seconds, each score was a sizeable effort, but alongside The Sand Pebbles, The Blue Max was among the composer’s bigger works that year.

Both Sand Pebbles and Blue Max are war scores, and they certainly share a similar level of gloom (if not similar fates for their central characters), but the latter is easy to regard as more epic, due to the size, emotional scope, and orchestral bulk which immediately transplants the listener to the romantic world of an ace fighter pilot.

The soundtrack albums for Blue Max vary significantly, in terms of overall length, deletion / addition / expansion of cues – nearly one-third of the 1966 Mainstream LP was filed with national anthems and march music of the WWI era – and Blue Max may be among the rare Fox scores released by disparate labels, none of which were owned by studio Fox. (The order spans indies Mainstream, Citadel, Varese, Intrada, and  La-La Land, plus major label Sony.)

At least from the first LP releases, Blue Max lacked the sonic depth one would expect from Fox scores – even the Varese CD, the first real attempt at restoring the score’s scope and length – had a slightly pinched, dry quality – and finding descent masters and tackling the challenges of the original tapes must have been tough for each label’s sound engineer.

LLL’s release offers the best sound, benefiting from the dedication of engineer Mike Matessino and recent innovations in sound restoration, but what will immediately impress listeners is the wealth of music not used in the film. Goldsmith purists will lament the quantity dialed down in the film mix in favour of natural and plane sound effects, but director Guillermin was correct in most of his decisions – there’s no denying the plane engines add great authenticity to the exciting dogfights – but there are many stellar cues whose A or B sections could’ve been retained in the final mix without detracting from a scene’s impact.

“The Attack” is a lengthy work with a slow, careful dramatic build, and the stellar “The Bridge” is filled with rhythmic twists and turns, grungy vibratos, and sterling contrasts between high register strings and deep brass. “The Bridge” is also representative of the rich colours within the score’s spectrum – the heavy chords on double bass alone provide a sense of buoyancy for the pilots swooping through clouds and attack formations; and the severe thickness of the vibrato mimics the pliability of canvas and wooden planes as they’re put through stressful turns and dives. Goldsmith’s elegant, romantic theme captures the dynamism of being a pilot with an open cockpit, breezing through the natural elements and gliding over the serene beauty of colourful fields, but it’s the colours from the brass, woodwinds, and strings which capture the physicality of the flying machines in peak form.

The colours in the score, plus the main theme – heroic, majestic, ridiculously noble – help soften the coldness and selfishness of the film’s generally unlikable characters, giving some depth to leading character Stachel and offering some hint of genuine affection between Stachel and Kaeti when their relationship is often seen as purely carnal, and a little emotionally sadistic on both ends.

On CD, the Blue Max score also feels very complete, especially with action cues buffered by short thematic renditions, soft piano and chamber versions. There’s a clear progression from romance to victory, self-accomplishment, and the tragic finaley. (The only humorous moment in the score comes from some wry fiddling in “A Small Favor,” composed for a rare lighthearted scene in which Stachel asks the house butler for some aid as he romances playfully with Kaeti, and uses a snare drum to coax out a little ire from his lover– an obvious turn-on for the pilot.)

LLL’s 2-disc set features the full score on CD1, and CD2 contains the original 1966 Mainstream album + source music (the marches and anthems) + alternate cues (some of which do appear in the isolated score tracks on Twilight Time’s 2014 Blu-ray). Lengthy liner notes by Jeff Bond highlight the score’s prime spot in the composer’s sixties output, often regarded as his most creatively fertile period, and the perfect lead-in to the large-scale works that became his signature sound during the seventies, especially in thriller (The Boys from Brazil) and science-fiction films (Alien, Outland, Star Trek: The Motion Picture).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



Additional Links:
Composer on IMDB  —  Composer Filmography —  Soundtrack Album  —  Film Review

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Category: Soundtrack Reviews

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