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Vertlieb's Views

Vertlieb's Views

Commentary on movies past and present by Steve Vertlieb

Monstrous Intruders

Reviews of soundtracks for The Blob and The Intruder.

Scoring music for "B" science fiction and horror films in the genre-defining decade of the 1950s was among the more thankless assignments handed a composer, particularly at Universal where musicians toiled in relative obscurity to create much of the most memorable, if indefinable, music of the period.

Multiple composers were often assigned to work on a single picture, each scoring separate segments in the same film, comprising a seamless musical tapestry that identified no one. The Universal factory used an assembly line approach utilizing the talents of many anonymous musicians, few of whom ever received distinctive, individual credit for their work.

So perfect was the blending of these disparate styles and inspirations that it became impossible to determine who had written what. Of course, this conglomeration posed little or no problem for the studio since none of the, usually three, composers conspiring in shadows was ever acknowledged for their contributions to the genre, nor did any of these gifted musicians ever receive proper recognition for the miraculous caliber of their artistry.

Henry Mancini

Only one of the three "horsemen" of the Universal apocalypse ever managed to break out of their imposed anonymity at the horror factory, and carve out a singular career for himself, evolving into one of the most powerful voices in popular music and film composition...a fellow by the name of Henry Mancini. Of the remaining two reigning specialists in the field, only the most dedicated film music enthusiasts would recall their names with any degree of respect or regard in the ensuing years, and yet the importance of their work cannot be dismissed or denied.

Hans J. Salter

Hans J. Salter toiled in the Universal trenches most notably during the studio's second horror cycle in the 1940s, and during the resurgence and explosion of both horror and nuclear, catastrophic filmic proliferation in the fifties, while Herman Stein...perhaps the definition of unsung heroism..both labored and produced spectacularly throughout the Eisenhower years.

While studio music head Joseph Gershenson most always received sole screen credit for the efforts of these faceless composers, utilizing a public "front" identifying his contribution as "music supervision," the generic face of company men whose work was virtually stolen quickly became a public affront with strangling ferocity whose lingering effects continue to prevent deserved recognition even today for these silent artists.

Herman Stein

However, in stubborn retrospect, it has grudgingly been determined that composer Herman Stein wrote a preponderance of notable thematic material identifying both the studio and the genre it came to be associated with. In short, Herman Stein came to eloquently define an era and a sound that gave voice so memorably to our nightmares and nervous coming of age, most notably composing the familiar, terror filled three notes announcing the Black Lagoon’s most celebrated inhabitant, while enjoying his Creature comforts.

Stein also composed much of the music for two of Universal's most revered creations of the period...the early science fiction classic This Island Earth, along with Richard Matheson’s fantasy masterpiece The Incredible Shrinking Man. Among Stein’s other contributions to the beloved genre were extended extracts from It Came From Outer Space, The Mole People, Tarantula, The Monolith Monsters, The Land Unknown, and two remarkably successful sequels: Revenge of the Creature, and The Creature Walks Among Us.

Some years ago, Monstrous Movie Music record producers David Schecter and his wife Kathleen Mayne heroically attempted to rescue Mr. Stein from the trash heap of obscurity by mounting an often thankless campaign to recapture the recogniton that had so painfully eluded him during much of his life and career. The pair opened their home to the elderly composer, showering both Stein and his wife, Anita Shervin (a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic), with the respect and affection that they had been denied, and yet so richly deserved.

The Intruder

Until his death on March 15th, 2007, at age 91, the aging composer found himself both a frequent and delighted guest at the Schecter home. Now, out of ultimate respect and caring for the work of this gifted artist, they have released the soundtrack recording of one of his most ambitious efforts, the score for Roger Corman’s daring 1961 exploitation film, The Intruder. A cautionary tale of racism and incendiary hatred in the modern South, Corman's courageous independent film starred William Shatner as a rabble rousing bigot inciting the smoldering flames of ignorance and upheaval in a town haunted by its own tormented psyche.

The score by Herman Stein, preserved for posterity in this sobering CD release, is a revelation...a gritty, brilliant, intense realization of searing, raw emotions captured by the composer in a realistic, jazzy motif, uncompromising in its presentation. With a memorable, deeply powerful melodic thread at its core, Stein’s work on The Intruder is a startling, savage symphony...an enraged and raging gem rescued from oblivion as a tribute and testament to the restoration and legacy of an artist’s work and career.

The Blob

Of another caliber entirely is an additional presentation by Monstrous Movie Music of Ralph Carmichael’s score for the cult classic, The Blob. The low budget 1958 horror film both sired and inspired an entire generation of gooey confections invading Earth from outer space. Featuring a first starring performance by mega star Steve McQueen in an economically deficient "Rebel Without A Cost", the independent production filmed in the Philadelphia suburbs by Irwin S. Yeaworth (who often wondered what a Yea was Worth) featured a youthful McQueen (billed in the opening titles as Steven) as a bewildered, disaffected teenager fighting a molten mound of jello from the stars.

Carmichael had previously composed the music for a religious film for Yeaworth and so the director knew his work, believing that he could deliver an efficient background score in the limited time allowed. Carmichael's work is serviceable and often effective but it never manages to rise above the material. While Stein, Salter and Mancini triple handedly created an unforgettable genre of their own spectacular design and creativity, Carmichael’s work on The Blob is merely adequate. While Stein's incomparable artistry aspired to the ethereal in the final, poetic moments of Jack Arnold's spiritual masterpiece, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Carmichael's score for The Blob is merely adequate.

A better example of a low budget scoring triumph, for another gem of the paranoid genre, might be Carmen Dragon’s bone chilling work on Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Efficient and spare, yet frighteningly memorable in its intensity, one might dare to dream that this influential, thrilling score might similarly be rescued from the pyres of oblivion by Monstrous Movie Music’s valiant mavens. Yet, even in the ashes of disappointment, comes redemption and applause for these musical archivists courageously preserving and protecting our less obvious musical heritage. For that, both Schecter and Mayne deserve our support, recognition, and commendation.

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Radiation Theater: 1950s Sci Fi Movies Discussion Boards
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