Gone with the Wind
Reg Otter remembers the Great Days of Hollywood Film
Many years ago (68 to be precise!) I was talking to a friend
about the wonderful film music to which this article is
dedicated. Both of us were 14, both of us had just left
school; both of us had saved, diligently, to amass the outrageously
high entrance fee of 3/6d for a seat at the Ritz Cinema,
Leicester Square, to see what was then promoted as the greatest
picture ever made, and as we emerged from the massive 3
hours 44 minutes showing I enquired of my pal
did you think of the music?"
He looked at me a trifle puzzled and replied nonchalantly
"Not bad, I suppose, but it was the excitement of the
battle scenes and the fire of Atlanta that impressed me."
Personally youthful as I was, I sensed that I had been
present an historical moment of the cinema. I had witnessed
the birth of a genre of classical music that made an impact
at the time, but has been largely ignored ever since, and
with the massive, overwhelming hypes of so-called rock
n roll rap, funk and all the other tuneless
drivel that has ruled (and pierced!) our eardrums since
the liberating (from what? melody?) days of
the 1960s, I fell head over heels in love with the
gorgeous, dramatic, rapturous music of master melody makers
such as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman,
Victor Young, Hugo Friedhofer and Ernest Gold to name but
Max was the unique composer of the symphonic-like score
for this unforgettable Hollywood epic and he became the
creator of just over 350, yes 350 wonderful film-music movies
in an age when melody, beauty, drama, adventure, imagination
and innovation was appreciated by the public, that is from
the early 1930s to the 1970s
I suppose he will always be remembered for the awesome
spine-chilling yet majestic music he composed for "King
Kong" seventy one years ago but just three years later
in 1936, this Master of Harmony, this genius of dramatic,
atmospheric sound, joined Warner Brothers Studios where
he made an everlasting and colossal impact, and became without
doubt the greatest film music composer of all time.
It seemed that the combination of Bette Davis, Paul Henreid,
Claude Rains, George Brent, Henry Fonda and Miriam Hopkins
was a gut-edge winning formula for millions of dollars and
the scintillating, imaginative beautiful scores which poured
from the creative brain of Max Steiner are much too long
to be listed here, but here are a few for contemplation
- "Dark Victory" (the tragic finale music is a
masterpiece), "Jezebel" (a waltz to rival Strauss!),
"The Great Lie" (Max reaches the realms of Tchaikovsky),
"In this our Life" (a superbly melodious theme),
"Casablanca" (you must remember this!), "The
Dark at the Top of the Stairs" (such sweetness, counter-pointing
a story of racial bigotry), "The Treasure of the Sierra
Madre" (a terrific unique tale so cleverly accompanied
to appropriately dramatic music), "Now Voyager"
(Oh, movie fans, lets not ask for the Moon
have Max Steiner!), "The Letter" (Maugham, Bette
Davis Herbert Marshall and Max
who could ask for anything
more?) "Since You Went Away" (such a beautiful
score had one wondering how Max was so talented) "Adventures
of Don Juan", "Dodge City", "Charge
of the Light Brigade", and "Dawn Patrol"
(Errol and Max
what a combination)
a few of the films which had us tendering our hard earned
ninepences with enthusiasm to sink into our seats after
having queued outside and inside the temple of dreams.
Max Steiner died at the great age of 83 in 1971.
I suppose if there had to be a worthy rival for the crown
of the king of film music, which rightly belonged to Max,
it would have to be one of his three contemporaries, Erich
Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman or Victor Young.
Curiously enough, due to the shortness of his career -
a mere twelve years and only 18 scores, Korngold, my own
personal choice, would be that rival. Six films with music
by this sublimely melodic composer stand out as masterly
achievements in originality, atmosphere, dramatic capability
and celestial orchestration and they are "The Adventures
of Robin Hood" (1938) "The Private Lives of Elizabeth
and Essex" (1939) "The Sea Hawk" (1940),
(can there be a more stirring overture?) "Kings
Row" (1942) a Korngold Classic. "Devotion"
(1946) and "Deception" (1946). The very fact that
so few words could command the attention and admiration
of discerning cinema-goers proves that Korngold was somewhat
of a genius.
Film fan enthusiasts of the late 1930s would have
failed to leave the cinema without whistling or humming
the haunting Cathy theme from "Wuthering Heights"
which was composed by another Steiner contemporary, Alfred
Newman. He was one of ten children born in a working-class
family in Newhaven, Connecticut. He became a prolific and
much honoured (9 Oscars!) composer and arranger, responsible
for the world-renowned 20th Century-Fox "Signature"
logo and his Street Scene theme from "Sentimental
Rhapsody" became not only popular but a happy perennial
of the world of film music, in fact Ill wager everyone
reading this would instantly recall the "Manhattany"
tuneful, memorable notes once they heard them. And who will
forget the dynamic suspense-filled, nerve jangling thrill
of Airport, the majesty and tragedy of "The
Robe" and the beauty and scenic happiness of "Love
is a Many Splendoured Thing"? All contributed by Alfred
But maybe my final contender for Max Steiners exalted
crown would be one of my own personal favourites; he was
with us for just over half a century, being a mere 56 when
he died, after a life of excessive drinking and smoking,
yet composing some of the most beautiful, descriptive film
music ever conceived - Victor Young. One has only to mention
"Love Letters", "Golden Earrings". "My
Foolish Heart", "Stella by Starlight", and
"Around the World in Eighty Days" to realise that
here was a man, who, although resembling a prize-fighting
boxer physically, was a renowned sentimental genius of a
musician capable of creating happiness, contentment, love
and peace to millions of people whom he had never even met.
Almost all of the music I have written about is now just
a pleasant memory. All of the composers are dead and the
eras only captured on video and audio tape. The primary
object of this small essay is to recall and rejoice in what
to me was, and still is, the greatest films ever made; to
honour the marvellous composers of film music which has
largely been ignored by the general public, and to regret
the demise of a part of life which was happy, colourful
and oh! so satisfying, despite the rigours of war and insecurity.
There was a place of Directors, Producers, Film Stars and
Composers called Hollywood. Here in this fascinating world
the Land of Make-Believe took its last bow as Reality
and Sex took hold. Here was the last ever to
be seen of glamour, enchantment and spell-binding charm.
Look for it only in books for it is no more than a dream
remembered - a way of life
. "Gone with the Wind".