Monster Kid Online Magazine #6

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Mysterious Island
Complete Bernard Herrmann Motion Picture Score
Tribute Film Classics
William Stromberg conducting the Moscow Symphony Orchestra

1961 was a pivotal year for some Monster Kids when Columbia Pictures released the Charles H. Schneer production of Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. It was in this movie that many young fantasy fans were first introduced to the work of stop motion animation genius Ray Harryhausen and the music of Bernard Herrmann. This was the third teaming of the two in a Schneer production after The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960).

Mysterious Island takes place during the U.S. Civil War. Some Union soldiers, along with a newspaper reporter, escape from a Confederate prison and hijack a hot air balloon during a raging storm. Carried out to sea, they are nearly swamped in the ocean when they manage to wash up on the shores of the titular location. It could as easily be called “Nemo’s Island” since there are numerous examples on hand of his experiments for ridding the world of starvation. Most dramatic and dangerous are several giant creatures such as a crab, bees, a bird, and mollusk. Adding to their worries are pirates and an active volcano.

Bernard Herrmann

The movie was a show piece for Harryhausen’s stop motion creatures and Herrmann was one of the few composers who was up to providing appropriate musical material that could hold its own with the impressive visuals. The composer created a brilliant score, dazzling in its musical invention, textures and themes. Sadly, unlike the previous two films, there was no commercial soundtrack album released. Those who had been impressed with the music waited and waited and waited some more. Except for network television broadcasts, then local telecasts, there was only silence.

Luckily, Herrmann had success recording various albums of his film music for the London label which featured his non-genre works like Citizen Kane and one album devoted to his work with Alfred Hitchcock. These led to “Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann” a 1974 album that was the first of the London series to deal exclusively with his more fantastic compositions such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Fahrenheit 451, and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. In 1976 “Mysterious Film World of Bernard Herrmann” appeared.

“Mysterious Film World of Bernard Herrmann” included music from The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Jason and the Argonauts, and Mysterious Island. This last title was a godsend for fans who had been waiting fifteen years to own a piece of this score. The sound was big, the orchestra lush. But there was still a problem. In his latter years Herrmann had taken to conducting in a tempo slower than that employed in the films. This album was no exception. Those dissatisfied with the 33 1/3 rpm tempo, which was deemed too slow, tried adjusting their turntables to 45 rpm, which tended to be too fast to be satisfying. And since Herrmann had died the previous year, there seemed little hope we would ever hear the music properly.

Then, in 1984, the late David Wishart’s Cloud Nine Records released an album from the original tracks. They were in mono and not all the tracks had survived. Still, it was a miracle to have even this much of the original score. This was somewhat rectified in 1993 when CNR achieved a second miracle and released a CD containing 12 original tracks totaling 42:30, but still missing several cues. However, it was in stereo. As Wishart explained, though the movie had mono sound, the score had been recorded in stereo with four microphones. While it is Herrmann‘s original, the sonics of this recording, as exciting as it is to have, suffers due to the vagaries of storage methods and age which renders it, in today’s parlance, an archival edition.

Which brings us to the present and the new recording from Tribute Film Classics (TFC-1001). This is a marvelous debut for a new label, the brainchild of Anna Bonn, John Morgan, and William Stromberg. Many soundtrack collectors will be familiar with the Morgan/Stromberg recordings for Marco Polo, then Naxos. With this, and their simultaneous release of Herrmann’s Fahrenheit 451, they stand at around three dozen album releases of notable film music given the loving care they so richly deserve.

Matching the crashing surf over which the titles scroll, “Prelude” assaults listeners, lifting them on a wave of music before dropping them into the churning whitewater, the cymbal crashes signifying a clash of elemental forces with puny humankind caught in the middle, for this is a movie as much about man vs. nature as it is man vs. man. And if a main title is meant to set the tone for an entire movie then audiences knew they were in for a spectacularly grand adventure.

The use of descriptive program music continues in several of Herrmann’s cues. Throughout the “Clouds” series, “The Clouds A-E,” we are treated to various musical interpretations of ascent and descent, tumultuous thunder, and the sense of being feather-light. In “The Giant Crab” Herrmann uses short, stabbing musical notes, amidst dense orchestration to suggest both the scuttling of that creature and its enormous mass. In “The Bird,” a sequence in which a prehistoric Phorarhacos attacks the survivors, Herrmann not only paints a musical picture of a giant fowl, but turns a potentially unintentionally comic moment into one that mixes humor and menace. It raises the question if this sequence was originally planned to be comic in tone.

Herrmann paints “The Giant Bee” in the manner of Rimsky-Korsakov, with the buzzing of the insect, but goes one better with the impression of their fluttering wings. “Attack” sounds like nothing else but the firing of the pirate ship’s battery and the explosion of cannonballs. Both “The Octopus” and “Underwater” draw on similar orchestral groupings from Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef, the harp still present but most of these cues in lower registers to not only suggest depth but a darker and more foreboding menace. Musically, it is possible to hear the Cephalopod’s tentacles unrolling and writhing. “The Ship Rising” struggles and strains musically as the ascending musical line successfully lifts the pirate ship from the ocean bottom.

There are other musical colors. Early in the film Herrmann introduces “The Battle,“ a martial theme the composer will reuse in other aggressive settings such as “The Pirates” and “Gunsmoke” before re-purposing it as a suspense motif for “The Raft” and “The Divers.” The gentle “Exploration,” “The Volcano,” and “The Stream” are full of awe and wonder but also describe an ineffable poignancy, a lament almost for this island. In fact, these cues and others seem designed to create a yearning not just for something gone but something tragically lost.

The highly atmospheric horn fanfare in “The Island,” a forlorn piece with the foreground horns echoed by others in the distant, appears elsewhere. It’s there during the discovery of “The Cliff”and eventually alerts us that “The Sail” of the pirates has been spotted. Although it’s primary purpose seems to create the feeling that the survivors are alone on this island, it could also be a bit of musical foreshadowing, since all evidence of men on the island appears due to visits by the pirates.

One of the highlights is also incredibly short. Clocking in at just :41 is “Captain Nemo,” a dynamic short theme that accompanies one of the great character entrances in film as Nemo rises from the water in his self-devised deep sea diving outfit. Musically, this piece could as easily have introduced Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still a character no less alien in appearance than Nemo.

William Stromberg conducts the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in a virile, forceful manner yet catches the nuances of the more delicate moments in the score. He has an impressive array of instruments at his command and they are arranged across the soundstage for maximum stereo listening impact. This is a recording to be played at high volume and may possibly raise the hair on the back of your neck. It is a rich and satisfying recording from every standpoint. To make matters even better, there are a half dozen cues with music cut from the film and one cue that didn't make it into the finished score at all.

The CD includes a handsome 32-page booklet replete with photos and advertising materials from the film. There are words from composer/conductor William Stromberg, executive producer Anna Bonn, film historian Bruce Crawford, some fella named Ray Harryhausen, composer/producer John Morgan, The Bernard Herrmann Society’s Gunther Kogebehn, make-up artist Craig Reardon, composer Christopher Young and composer/conductor Kevin Scott, who wrote the liner notes on the score.

Each of the earlier recordings of the Mysterious Island score have their merits and are worth having. One is a later recording by the maestro himself and another represents the maestro’s original recording. But if only one version could be owned, for its completeness, fidelity to its composer and magnificent sonic impression, the recording most worth having would be this edition from Tribute Film Classics.

Ryan Brennan





The Blob (and Other Creepy Sounds)
Complete original soundtrack by
Ralph Carmichael
Monstrous Movie Music


David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne’s music label Monstrous Movie Music is  responsible for a series of CDs of particular interest to Monster Kids. They have produced meticulously reconstructed recordings of music from several science fiction/fantasy films, mostly from the 1950s. Their five previous albums -- “Monstrous Movie Music,” “More Monstrous Movie Music,” “Creature From The Black Lagoon,” “Mighty Joe Young,” and “This Island Earth” -- have presented music from films like THEM!, TARANTULA, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, GORGO, six Ray Harryhausen films and almost as many more titles. The goal in each of their endeavors is to faithfully reproduce the original soundtrack sound, except in stereo. With their latest two releases -- THE BLOB and THE INTRUDER -- fidelity to the source is assured because for the first time they are working with the original soundtrack materials.

By the late 1950s science fiction film fans thought they’d seen it all. Seemingly every type of giant monster, bug or alien creature had been thrown at them in Technicolor, CinemaScope or 3-D (though usually just in black & white). Then, along came something new, THE BLOB. Crashing to our planet in a small meteorite, the Blob, a mindless mass of gelatinous ooze, proceeds to consume every warm-blooded creature it can find, mostly the plentiful stock of human beings. With each ingestion it achieves a greater dimension, its ultimate size presumably limited only by its food source. Unstoppable by conventional weapons, impervious to heat or electricity, what can stop it? 

Like some other films of the period, teenagers were the chief characters. Portrayed by emerging star Steve McQueen and Aneta Corseaut (later a regular on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW), these teens aren’t rebels but rather decent kids who are not believed when they try to convince authorities that a malevolent force threatens their community. 

Produced by Jack Harris, it was the first of three films with director Irwin S. Yeaworth, Jr., the others being DINOSAURUS! And THE 4D MAN. The color film, reportedly shot for a very modest $120,000, sported some impressive special effects and achieved box office success (one source claiming $4 million, another over $8 million). The following year an imitator, CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) crept onto screens, and BEWARE! THE BLOB (aka SON OF BLOB), with an emphasis on comedy, followed in 1972. In 1988 a much bigger budgeted remake was released that jettisoned most everything in the original except the small town setting and title monster.

No little part of the initial success of THE BLOB must be attributed to composer Ralph Carmichael. He scored mainly Christian films, several with Billy Graham. THE BLOB and THE 4D MAN would be his only contributions to the science fiction genre.

Carmichael made effective use of his small orchestra. “Violence,“ the unused “Main Title,” begins with a dramatic opening in which horns, building to a dramatic crescendo, seem to rush and leap upon the listener, like the Blob itself. An anguished intertwining of strings punctuated by horns, working against an urgent time signature, eventually give way to short, agitated jabs from the strings and horns as they build to another crescendo accented by pounding percussion that creates a sense of size and mass. 

According to Jack Harris, it was Paramount, who distributed THE BLOB, that wanted a song over the opening titles. One was provided by none other than Burt Bacharach. This catchy pop tune (which kicks off this CD) received ample air play and generated a load of free publicity but it’s comedic tone was entirely at odds with the ominous set up achieved by Carmichael. Regardless, its lyrics, which warn, “it creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor, right through the door,” indicates that Bacharach may have actually watched the movie, or part of it, first.

There are many attractive cues of quiet suspense punctuated by musical stings and, in general, Carmichael’s employments of strings indicates that he, like Bernard Herrmann, understood their possibilities. In “Shooting Star”the strings alternately sound like slashing talons then mimic the “drippy” nature of the Blob.  Elsewhere, some listeners may think of PSYCHO.

Carmichael supplied the Blob with a theme of its own, of sorts. He doesn‘t consistently maintain it but often throughout the score the listener is musically alerted to the creature’s  presence by the use of the bass played in extreme low register. In fact, while different, it may remind one a bit of a similar, later use by John Williams in JAWS. 

There are also many moments in this score that sound as if they could have been tracked into TV programs like THE INVADERS, THRILLER and THE FUGITIVE, which creates the impression that Carmichael would have made a fine composer for television.

A fabulous bonus on this disc is the inclusion of 25 tracks from the Valentino Production Music Library, a European based supplier of “needle drop” music, a vast array of mood and action stock cues ready to play for those producers unable to afford an original score. This is among the hardest music for collectors to obtain, hence the value of stock cue albums like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, THE PRISONER and the collections of music Bernard Herrmann composed for CBS television. 

Included here are cues that were used in movies such as THE GREEN SLIME and TERROR FROM THE YEAR 5,000. Six tracks create a mini-album of music used in THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE. Among the composers represented are Angelo Lavagnino, Michael Reynolds, George Chase and Mario Nascimbene. Particularly refreshing is the inclusion of Roger Roger, a composer who deserves his own film music album based on the 11 cues represented here.

As with previous MMM Cds this is a quality release. The sonics are excellent, the sound bright and David Schecter has provided a generous 13 pages of informative and entertaining liner notes. As usual, there are some bonuses, in this case four extra tracks from THE BLOB, one of which served duty in two other films. The cover art is by MMM stalwart Robert Aragon and features “cameos” in the background by Carmichael, Schecter, Mayne, Bob Burns and THE INTRUDER composer Herman Stein.

Ryan Brennan