We've sung some songs, now for music without words. Two things to note about the 1936 nominees for Best Score.
The first thing is that only one of them comes from a Best Picture nominee - and no surprise, that movie, Anthony Adverse, wound up winning. But I looked back at the recent years of this category and found that, while it may be more open to non-Best Picture nominees than other categories, 2015 is the last time only one Best Picture nominee made the cut...that was Bridge of Spies, and it lost to The Hateful Eight. There's never been any time when a Best Picture nominee was not also up for Score; the closest you can come is 1972 (when The Godfather's nomination was rescinded) and 1979, but to count those you'd have to ignore the Best Adaptation/Musical Score, and we don't do that here.
The second thing is that the actual composer is not the nominee. Instead, the head of the studio's music department gets all the honor, and that's how things were until 1938. This year, 1936, saw Max Steiner in the interesting position of having two scores nominated, but himself only nominated for one of them. His score for The Charge of the Light Brigade was his first for Warner Bros., but because it was Warner Bros., Leo F. Forbstein got the nomination; his score for The Garden of Allah, however, was with the independent Selznick International, and so he could get the full glory.
Have a listen to the winner Anthony Adverse, both Steiner scores, and more, after the jump:
Leo F. Forbstein
(actually composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold)
first of three official nominations
The movie: To be discussed at length later. Also nominated for Assistant Director, Film Editing (won), Art Direction, Cinematography (won), Supporting Actress (won), and Best Picture.
The nominee: A makeup to Erich Wolfgang Korngold for not nominating Captain Blood the previous year? Maybe, but it's still a damn effective score.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Leo F. Forbstein
(actually composed by Max Steiner)
second of three official nominations
The movie: A major with the 27th Lancers in India must choose between orders and revenge against a formerly favored rajah who's turned against the British; meanwhile, the major's wife is in love with his brother. Another pro-British Empire entry, albeit one with...depth! A charming and not entirely incorrect villain! Gasp-getting action scenes! A strong central performance from Errol Flynn! Emotional complexity! Triumph and tragedy! Also nominated for Assistant Director (won) and Sound Recording.
The nominee: Rousing, stirring stuff. There's a drive to the music, a pulse that seems to keep those Lancers moving, that moves us along with them in their mission. Just terrific.
The Garden of Allah
[My Wild Irish Rose, Life with Father, The Flame and the Arrow, The Caine Mutiny]
The movie: After the death of her father, a devout woman goes to the desert in search of something and falls in love with a man who, unbeknownst to all around him, recently fled the cloister. Romantic melodrama done right. Luscious Technicolor photography. Also nominated for Assistant Director; Honorary Oscar for its color cinematography (W. Howard Greene, Harold Rosson).
The nominee: Oh-ho, how exotic the East is, lust as coiled as a cobra, the soul become as desolate as the unforgiving desert! That's the image the music intends to conjure up, and it does so effectively. Hell, I would say it does so intoxicatingly, every note exhaling the bated breath of Charles Boyer as he regards Marlene Dietrich. Is this what sex sounds like? Yes.
The General Died at Dawn
(actually composed by Werner Janssen)
first of three nominations
The movie: Gary Cooper's an American in China who gets caught between sides in the civil war. Vague enough understanding of Chinese politics to give it the patina of intrigue without any coherency. Indeed, except for Akim Tamiroff's final scene, a wash, an embarrassment as a film. Also nominated for Cinematography and Supporting Actor.
The nominee: The score is the film's strength, a Johnny Quest-ian adventure suite full of danger and intrigue. It's the kind of score you want to listen to after, one that fools you into thinking that, hey, maybe it wasn't such a bad time after all. That's a great score. Sad it's attached to this movie.
first and only nomination
The movie: Years after an immigrant radical is executed for a crime he didn't commit, his son returns to the old neighborhood to find the truth. Some creaky elements, but it's not without its intriguing elements, such as its depiction of the class, cultural and political milieu of these urban neighborhoods. Also nominated for Art Direction.
The nominee: The most generic of the nominated scores. Fine, suitable, not remarkable.
Anthony Adverse almost made it for me, but in the end, my choice for the win is:
THE GARDEN OF ALLAH
Tomorrow, we conclude the musical extravaganza with the nominees for Best Dance Direction: Born to Dance, Cain and Mabel, Dancing Pirate, Gold Diggers of 1937, The Great Ziegfeld, One in a Million, and Swing Time.