Wednesday, October 12, 2022

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1946: Musical Score

Back in the 40s, musical films were so ubiquitous, they needed their own category to honor the underscore! The category has gone through a lot of name and qualification changes since, from Adaptation and/or Treatment Score (like Marvin Hamlisch doing Scott Joplin riffs for The Sting) to Original Song Score (like Yentl) to its current designation, the unused Original Musical. 

In 1946, it was simple: Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture was the category name. And these were the nominees:

Blue Skies
Robert Emmett Dolan
adapted from music by Irving Berlin

It's Irving Berlin, hard to beat. From a beautiful arrangement of "Blue Skies" to the dance-and-sketch orchestrations of "A Couple of Song and Dance Men" to a montage of various ethnically-themed novelty songs to underscore Crosby's character's theme restaurants, plus a brand new Berlin tune, it's a great showcase for the songwriter's decades-spanning output.

Centennial Summer
Alfred Newman
adapted from original music by Jerome Kern

I am fated, it seems, to fall in love with these families-at-the-fair musicals. But just listen to Newman's score, underscoring the morning chores and the movement that takes us from the sidewalk, through the yard, to the butter-churning on the porch, the music giving us a hint of what's to come before those strings come in for a group number. And the whole movie's like this! Newman adapting Kern, what could be better?

The Harvey Girls
Lennie Hayton
adapted from original music by Harry Warren

Isn't it perfect? Not an arrangement of tunes it knows the public already likes, but a genuinely brand new musical experience. So is Centennial Summer, mind, but The Harvey Girls is The songs are great, the underscoring witty, the dance arrangements infectious. Good heavens, when that jaw-harp suddenly occurs - this is how you do it!

The Jolson Story
Morris Stoloff
adapted from various composers

Consistently good, never sounds either anachronistic nor dated, and there's a wide variety of styles to choose from. As I said before, this is a cut above other biopics, even other music biopics, and this element is no exception.

Night and Day
Ray Heindorf / Max Steiner
adapted from the music of Cole Porter

Distinguishes itself with two arrangements: "In the Still of the Night," which I play here, and the final rendition of "Night and Day" at its climax. Both notable for starting with mild instrumental accompaniment and dependence on the human voice to demonstrate how effective, romantic, wonderful these songs are. It's Cole Porter, for Chrissakes. His music doesn't save the film, but it certainly makes the soundtrack worth purchasing.


Stoloff and The Jolson Story won the Oscar - I would not have voted so. Mine goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actor: Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives), Laurence Olivier (Henry V), Larry Parks (The Jolson Story), Gregory Peck (The Yearling), and James Stewart (It's a Wonderful Life).

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