Tribute Film Classics has done an admirable job of putting new luster into the golden age of Hollywood film scores, a truly lost time when epically brazen, note-filled music gloriously had no shame in highlighting every emotion, and action you were seeing on the screen in big, orchestrally lavish colors. These were love letters to the pure romance of the studio system, a wonderfully overblown style particularly practiced by such giants as Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner.
They don’t make overpowering soundtracks like these anymore (sometimes to the movies’ detriment), which hasn’t stopped Tribute from sumptuously restoring, and re-performing such Korngold and Steiner gems as THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER and SHE. But if there’s one score they’ve done that stands as the label’s ultimate crush object, then it’s their new release of Max Steiner’s ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN soundtrack, whose blazing performance by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra gives thrilling musical Viagra to Errol Flynn’s famed Latin lover.
Steiner did his best to keep Flynn an ageless object of matinee desire through their 17 movies together, especially in such manly period pictures as THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON and CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (also on Tribute). Sure Korngold got nearly all of the Aussie’s swashbucklers like THE SEA HAWK and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (and was supposed to do this one until Errol’s binges helped delay production), but damned if Steiner wasn’t going to try to out-duel his fellow Eastern European scoring rival at his own cliffhanging game. Even amidst Steiner’s own romantic pantheon of GONE WITH THE WIND and CASABLANCA, DON JUAN arguably stands as the composer’s most purely enjoyable work, especially given the gusto that Tribute’s put into his orchestral sword, and bedwork.
Driven by an instantly memorable theme that’s attached at the heroic hip to the Don, Steiner unleashes a dazzling array of symphonic spills and thrills, breathless melodic energy that’s matched by a brass-winking sense of self-aware humor. But beyond its lilting violin seduction and rousing peril that’s resplendent of royal Spain, what truly sets these ADVENTURES apart is how Steiner stages a good deal of the score like a dance, acrobatics and court intrigue played to the string and percussion rhythms of boleros and habaneras. One can see how the score worked so brilliantly when tailor-fitted years later to suit all of ZORRO THE GAY BLADE and the climax of THE GOONIES. Now given his whole, unfettered work, THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN bounds with a sense of daredevil joy, as always in Tribute’s case thanks to conductor William Stromberg, his Moscow symphony and producers Anna Bonn and John Morgan.
With DON JUAN leaving space for another Steiner, Tribute’s chosen to further show the composer’s range by including his delightful black comedy score to 1944’s ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. The song “Here Comes the Bride” (or Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” as it’s more properly called) certainly gets a workout as Cary Grant has a killer wedding day on Halloween night, courtesy of two murderously crazed aunts who are determined to make a man’s happiest day anything but. Steiner uses deliberately saccharine bells and gossamer orchestrations as a way to unleash his orchestra’s poison pills, lurching brass and alarmed strings that further slam in the hellzapoppin,’ though not-so-menacing jolts with quotations from “There’s No Place Like Home,” Chopin’s Funeral March, and even “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
It’s like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, as scored for a comedy of terrors. Tribute tops one of their best releases with trailer music from both films, with even Steiner’s coming attraction music for HOUSE OF WAX to boot (a movie he teased without ending up scoring). While both CD’s could have been put into a smaller jewel case, Tribute makes their’s bigger to include a wonderfully designed mini-booklet, chock full of enough production stills and Hollywood tidbits to delight fans of the days when movies were movies, and scores weren’t afraid to treat them as such.
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Article: CD Review of THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN and ARSENIC AND OLD LACE soundtracks