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Volume #1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006
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Music Criticism

Monstrous Movie Musics's: Mighty Joe Young and Other Ray Harryhausen Animation Classics
Review by Ryan Brennan

In three previous CD releases the creators of Monstrous Movie Music have brought us suites and individual cues from such science fiction and fantasy favorites as It Came From Outer Space, Them!, Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and the M-G-M Tarzan movies. Fans of these previous recordings will rejoice to know that they are now joined by two more albums, Mighty Joe Young and This Island Earth.

Monstrous Movie Music website: www.mmmrecordings.com

Mighty Joe Young (and other Ray Harryhausen animation classics) (MMM-1953) kicks off with Mighty Joe Young (1949), a follow-up and a reunion, of sorts, for the team that produced King Kong (1933) and Son of Kong (1933). Producer Merian C. Cooper, director Ernest B. Schoedsack, screenwriter Ruth Rose, special effects genius Willis O’Brien and leading man Robert Armstrong were all back. So was a new kid on the block, Ray Harryhausen, a major fan of O’Brien’s who would ultimately be credited with over 80% of the stop motion animation chores.

Rose’s story covered familiar territory but with a comic twist, Armstrong often lampooning his original Carl Denham character (and, by extension, Cooper, who was the role model). Joe is a much smaller ape than Kong, raised from infancy on a jungle plantation by Terry Moore. While hunting wild animals, Armstrong comes across the curiously human simian and decides he must have him in his show. As in Kong, Joe is exhibited in public, but the unnatural surroundings play havoc with his spirit. Moore and cowboy boyfriend Ben Johnson (in an early film role) spring Joe from his cage and along the escape route encounter a burning orphanage where Joe saves several lives. But all’s well that ends well and Joe is safely returned to Africa.

The music of Roy Webb is featured in a 35 minute suite that captures all the main themes of the movie. Webb was a prolific composer for RKO where his music could be heard in horror films, westerns or Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. His music for Mighty Joe Young is among his most memorable. From the opening "Main Title" a majestic jungle mood is suggested. It is here we first hear the powerful theme for Joe himself. Later, we learn that Joe is calmed by the Stephen Foster standard "Beautiful Dreamer." It is used during Joe’s first public appearance, heard first as a simple piano rendition, played in the film by Terry Moore on a revolving stage that conceals Joe beneath it.

As the stage rises the theme is joined by strings and then horns, the strings shimmering in rising anticipation of Joe’s appearance.

The music builds dramatically and crescendos into a fully orchestrated version of "Beautiful Dreamer" as Joe is revealed, revolving with Moore’s piano stage held high. (Listeners will hear Ray Harryhausen, he who was responsible for the Clashing Rocks in Jason and the Argonauts, in charge of the Clashing Cymbals.)

Webb’s music runs the gamut from some excellent source music in the nightclub, to some sweet "mickey mousing" during the comical moments, to mock serious fanfares for Joe’s wrestling opponents, to fearless and heroic action cues once Joe goes on the run.

The second featured suite on this album is 20 Million Miles to Earth (1956) the Harryhausen classic that brought his memorable stop-motion creation, the Ymir, to life. Brought back to Earth by a doomed space mission, the doll-size Ymir escapes from a gelatinous "egg" and, exposed to Earth’s atmosphere, begins to grow to monstrous proportions before being felled, Kong-like, from atop the ruins of the Colosseum in Italy.

Although Mischa Bakaleinikoff is the credited composer here, a large number of cues came from the Columbia Pictures’ music library. It was a common practice during the studio era and, later, on television to save time and money by using music already available. Herein lies a treasure chest of cues written for other films but re-used again and again, compositions originally written by Daniele Amfitheatrof, David Diamond, George Duning, Werner Heymann, Frederick Hollander, David Raksin, Miklos Rozsa, Hans Salter and Max Steiner. These contributions, exactly where they occur and from which films they were originally cribbed, are detailed in David Schecter’s excellent liner notes. Since some of these pieces were used again in other films like The Giant Claw, Zombies of Mora Tau, The Werewolf, and Atom Man vs. Superman it‘s like getting bonus cues.

Regardless, over half the cues are credited to Bakaleinikoff. His lovely "Sicily" evokes a gentle, warm Italian afternoon (heard again in "Village") while his other cues provide solid emotional back-up for the on-screen proceedings. Of particular interest to fans will be the Ymir theme, appropriately titled "Creature," that chilling five-note theme given an otherworldly ambience by the Novachord. It recurs often on several different tracks and is the signature piece of music in this film.

Appropriately, the last piece returns us to another joint collaboration between Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien. The Animal World (1953), an Irwin Allen documentary, featured a stop-motion sequence starring dinosaurs brought to life by the special effects duo. The film has fallen into legal limbo and been unavailable officially for decades but much of the stop-motion can be seen in the Joan Crawford film Trog (1970) and survived in 3-D on a set of ViewMaster discs.

The music here is by frequent Irwin Allen collaborator Paul Sawtell. The featured track begins pensively then flutters like a butterfly before a sense of great mass sets in. Since much of the stop-motion depicts dinosaurs in conflict, the music reflects this aspect, the horns musically rearing up in a manner appropriate for any large creature whether dinosaurs, elephants or the one-horned Cormoran in another picture Sawtell scored with his partner Bert Shefter, Jack the Giant Killer (1962).

As a bonus, the piece titled "Heaven," used both in The Day The Earth Stood Still and 20 Million Miles to Earth, but composed by Frederick Hollander for Here Comes Mr. Jordan, is played in its entirety. As mentioned David Schecter’s liner notes are excellent, 40 pages of background information on each film, extensive details on the scores and recordings, and biographies of the composers. Masatoshi Mitsumoto, conducting the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Slovakia, has done an admirable job re-creating the sound and pace of these scores from the reconstructions of Kathleen Mayne.

This album is highly recommended to the soundtrack collector and to those who love science fiction and fantasy films.

All five of the Monstrous Movie Music albums are available, for $18.99 plus shipping and handling, from:

Monstrous Movie Music
P. O. Box 7088
Burbank, CA, 91510-7088, USA
Monstrous Movie Music's Website
www.mmmrecordings.com

COMPLETE MONSTROUS MOVIE MUSIC REVIEWS:

Monstrous Movie Music
More Monstrous Movie Music
The Creature From the Black Lagoon (and other jungle films)
Mighty Joe Young (and other Harryhausen films)
This Island Earth (and other invasion films)

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The Thunder Child Music Index

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