CD Review: Rhapsody of Steel

RHAPSODY OF STEEL (1959) is that rarest of industrial films–one with commercial distribution and an A-list Hollywood composer attached. By 1959, Dimitri Tiomkin had recently won the fourth of his four Academy Awards (for 1958’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA) and was once again sitting on top of the film music pantheon. Securing his lauded, and probably expensive, services must have been quite a coup.

Written and produced by John Sutherland and narrated by actor Gary Merrill, the 22-minute industrial film utilized the talents of Disney animator Eyvind Earle (SLEEPING BEAUTY) and Maurice Noble (HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS) to tell the story of steel from the earliest meteorites through the dreams of man riding rockets into space.

Accompanying bold, colorful strokes of animation, Tiomkin’s equally bold score runs at a continuous, breathless pace, never once letting up. The animation speeds up as the Industrial Revolution takes hold and Tiomkin is equal to the task.

The score begins with a flourish and a bold main theme that occurs in various guises throughout the score. Tiomkin’s music, as always, moves through a multitude of moods, musically conveying the hammering of steel one moment,¬†weaving and sashaying along with the Oriental dancers of Damascus the next.

My favorite segment shows husband and wife in a late-1950’s household. As they go through their day, the house and the world builds around them showing all the daily uses of steel. Tiomkin’s music, like the animation, never stops moving and his trademark brand of Mickey-Mousing humor is on full view.

Time magazine said, “Unhappily, the music of Oscar-winning Dmitri Tiomkin, who is probably the world’s loudest composer, bangs away on the sound track like a trip hammer.” A valid statement. The music is brash and bold, much like the metal that ultimately transformed the world. A subtle score would not have been in keeping with the style of animation, nor the subject matter.

Since the score is broken up into four lengthier cues, I’ve decided to not include them in this post. Instead, visit the Kritzerland website to hear audio clips, or better yet, check out¬†AnimationArchive.org to watch the complete film.

Tiomkin’s music, for me, often sounds like it could use a dose of Ritalin. Ideas flit in and out and seldom have a chance to grow into full-blown musical statements. RHAPSODY OF STEEL is no different. But the film is such a beautiful, dated (and I mean that in the best way) piece of animation, and so much of the viewing enjoyment comes from Tiomkin’s music that I’m willing to forgive it. The score is enjoyable on its own, but it takes on an added level when heard in context of the film. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra gives a lively performance of Tiomkin’s many musical moods.

At 22 minutes, the score probably wouldn’t be worth the price of a single CD. But the Kritzerland release has included the unadulterated score, as well as the narrated version that appeared on LP so many years ago. If you’re a fan of Tiomkin’s music, this is a must have, especially at only 1,000 units. Others may not see the need for it, but at $12.98, even for two versions of the same score, it’s still a bargain.

Film Score Click Track [rating:4/5]

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