9 Oscar-Winning Scores In Need of a Release

The Academy Awards have played a big part in my love of film music. In the late 1970s, as a film score virgin, I figured that any organization that awarded my beloved OMEN soundtrack must know what they’re doing. (No comment.) Awards are no harbinger of quality and that certainly applies to the Oscars. But since they are the only public forum that celebrates film music on such a global scale, I stand by them. Plus, they have introduced me to composers and film scores I may have otherwise overlooked.

For this month’s list post, I look at nine Oscar-winning scores that still have not been released on CD.

ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY (1941)

Bernard Herrmann’s only Oscar came for this slice of Americana courtesy of Stephen Vincent Benet. More commonly known by its alternate title, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, Herrmann rearranged five cues into an orchestral suite that has been recorded many times and you can still find it performed on the occasional concert program. Though his score for CITIZEN KANE (also nominated that same year) is considered the superior score, ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY is devilishly good. If the original tracks even exist, they’re probably in lousy shape. A complete digital release would be most welcome.

NOW, VOYAGER (1942)

Max Steiner’s first Oscar contains one of his most famous melodies, known as the popular song, “It Can’t Be Wrong.” Steiner wrote some of his finest music for Bette Davis and NOW, VOYAGER is one of his best. The lush, romantic score practically defines the sound of 1940s Warner Bros. melodramas. The DVD contains four tracks from the recording sessions but that just whets your appetite for more. Unfortunately, the original acetates, which used to be issued by the now defunct Max Steiner Society and are now housed at Brigham Young University, are in lousy shape. This is a score that screams for a lovingly recorded new performance, perhaps on Tribute Film Classics.

A DOUBLE LIFE (1947)

Miklos Rozsa won his second Oscar for this Ruth Gordon-Garson Kanin-penned drama starring Oscar-winner Ronald Colman as an actor who falls under the jealous, murderous spell of his performances of Othello. Rozsa writes quasi-Baroque music for the Shakespearean scenes onstage and sinks into his dark, film noir musical language for the tense scenes offstage. Four musical cues from a radio broadcast of the story were released on a bootleg LP, but the original tracks have never been released. Released by Universal Pictures, that studio is the last remaining bastion of the major studios that refuses to release older scores. Now that Paramount has tentatively opened its doors with the iminent release of AIRPLANE!, perhaps Universal will follow suit.

THE HEIRESS (1949)

Aaron Copland’s experience on THE HEIRESS was such an unpleasant one, he left Hollywood for good and never even picked up his Academy Award. Unlike many of his other film scores, Copland never turned his HEIRESS score into an orchestral suite, feeling that the music didn’t stand alone outside of the film. With Naxos’ release this fall of the newly recorded complete scores to OF MICE AND MEN and OUR TOWN, talk is in the air of a complete HEIRESS recording as well.

A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)

With A PLACE IN THE SUN, Franz Waxman made Oscar history when he became the first composer to win back-to-back Oscars for Best Original Score, following his 1950 win for SUNSET BOULEVARD. Director George Stevens would become notorious for his tinkering with composers’ scores (especially with Alfred Newman’s THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD), and A PLACE IN THE SUN is one of the most notorious cases. Stevens felt Waxman’s score was too “Teutonic” and brought in Victor Young and Daniele Amfitheatrof to rescore approximately forty percent of the film. This lush, romantic score is in dire need of the full Film Score Monthly treatment, with detailed liner notes on the score’s tortured history.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (1967)

Elmer Bernstein’s Oscar-winning score for this 1920s musical spoof certainly qualifies as one of my holy grails. The film is guilty pleasure fun, and though the songs have been released, Bernstein’s original score–which encompasses everything from ragtime and flapper jazz to melodramatic orchestral cues, faux Chinese music, and silent movie piano music–has not. This is another Universal picture, so I sit and wait not-so-patiently until those walls come a-tumblin’ down.

THE RIGHT STUFF (1983)

Bill Conti won his Oscar over some very high profile scores, including RETURN OF THE JEDI and Jerry Goldsmith’s UNDER FIRE. While my personal favorite, Leonard Rosenman’s CROSS CREEK, didn’t stand a chance, I’m still a big fan of Conti’s score. An excellent suite was coupled with his NORTH AND SOUTH on an earlier Varese Sarabande recording, but the original RIGHT STUFF tracks have never been released. A bootleg of the original tracks was coupled with the composer’s THE KARATE KID made the rounds some years back. Varese and Intrada have both released a number of Conti scores lately, so I believe it’s only a matter of time before we hear Conti’s rousing score in all its glory.

[UPDATE 7/09: Varese Sarabande has just released Conti’s score. Snatch it up fast!]

THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR (1988)

Dave Gruisin won an unexpected Oscar for Robert Redford’s sophomore directing effort. Slight but charming, the story dances nimbly along the melodic strains of Grusin’s joyful score. Grusin compiled an all-too-brief 11-minute suite of most of the themes for his MIGRATION album. The suite won a 1989 Grammy for Best Arranging On An Instrumental. The original tracks have been floating around for years, but it’s another Universal film. This means war!

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)

No composer in recent memory has spurred such immediate dislike in the film score community than double Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla. His first win for BROKEBACK shocked fans, winning over John Williams’ preferred MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. His second, for BABEL the following year, practically sent fans over the edge. While you can argue the appropriateness of his win in both cases, his memorable score for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN defines loneliness and heartbreak and is essential to the mood of the film. Only a handful of tracks were included on the domestic CD release, with the rest of the disc taken up by songs featured in the film. The entire score was provided to Academy voters as a “For Your Consideration” CD and has sold for astronomical sums on eBay ever since. Though the FYC CD doesn’t necessarily add anything to the listening experience, it would be nice to have as a proper release.

* * *

I hate having holes in my Oscar collection and this collection of nine scores represents just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll cover the rest of the Oscar-winners in a later post. Outside of the talk of a complete recording of THE HEIRESS, whether or not any of the above scores ever see the light of day remains to be seen.

What Oscar-winning scores would you like to see released?

6 comments

  1. Not exactly on point, but considering that the cheapest Chinatown soundtrack CD at Amazon is $114.99, it might be time for a re-release.

    One of the problems with releasing some of these early soundtracks might be they were recorded to 35mm optical. Even the later ones that were magstripe going to optical were mono and recorded with the knowledge they’d be trashed in release by the optical sound printing process.

    These scores would need to be re-recorded with modern orchestras and methods to be listenable on modern equipment by all but the hardest core among us.

    1. I’m willing to take whatever condition I can get them. But either way, it’s going to take some deep pockets (and some cooperating studios) to make any of these happen. CHINATOWN is good but I don’t know about $115 worth of good.

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