9 Oscar-Nominated Film Scores That Deserve (Re)Discovery
With over 75 years worth of Academy Award-nominated music to choose from, there are certainly more than nine Oscar-nominated film scores that deserve discovery (or re-discovery). For this list, I had to set myself some ground rules. The main rule was no CDs. Sure, a CD does not necessarily guarantee discovery by general film music fans, but the odds improve significantly. LP releases were eligible.
These scores are not necessarily my “favorites” per se, as in other posts, though I heartily recommend them all. Instead, these are scores, and occasionally some films, that deserve a second (or occasionally a first) look and listen. The titles are listed chronologically.
LADY OF BURLESQUE (1943)
Based on a novel by none other than Gypsy Rose Lee, who ought to know a thing or two about burlesque, this murder mystery is pure fluff. So just sit back and watch Barbara Stanwyck flash her gams and ham it up in this backstage battle of the divas. Arthur Lange‘s sparkling score captures the brassy burlesque atmosphere and tweaks enjoyable numbers like “Take It Off the E-String, Put It On the G-String” with an enjoyable musical wink.
GUEST WIFE (1945)
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a bit more music released from the under-represented Daniele Amfitheatrof. The story of a reporter (Don Ameche) who convinces his best friend’s wife (Claudette Colbert) to pose as his wife to fool his boss is pure ’40s hokum. But Sam Wood’s nimble direction, the chemistry of Ameche and Colbert, and Amfitheatrof’s jazzy big-band score and its memorable main theme give the film the proper lightness of touch.
JOAN OF ARC (1948)
Maxwell Anderson is one playwright whose works have not exactly stood the test of time. Occasionally Hollywood adaptations succeeded, like THE BAD SEED and ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS. But most are now either dated (WINTERSET) and/or talky historical dramas like JOAN. And yet the conviction of Ingrid Bergman’s performance, coupled with the pageantry and majesty of Hugo Friedhofer‘s score overcome many of the play’s stodgy trappings. It’s my understanding that the original masters are long gone which, if it’s true, is a shame. This would be a great project for Stromberg & Morgan.
BEYOND THE FOREST (1949)
This long-forgotten Bette Davis film is known for only one thing–the famous line “What a dump.” (Though Davis always credited Elizabeth Taylor’s reading of the line in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF as making it famous.) Davis’ performance as the slatternly Rosa Moline is not one of her subtlest, nor is this melodrama set among the smokestacks of Chicago. What it does contain is a fantastic Max Steiner score, cleverly weaving in Fred Fisher’s classic 1922 song, “Chicago,” into the underscoring. Steiner’s harmonies are appropriately darker than many of his other scores and the music belches and surges with proper unrequited passion.
NO SAD SONGS FOR ME (1950)
This little-seen drama stars Margaret Sullavan as a dying woman who must arrange for the well-being of her husband and daughter after her death. In what must have been brave subject matter for the time period, the film’s unsentimental tone is offset by the equally unsentimental, yet lovely, score by George Duning. The score is anchored by some beautiful melodies and Duning’s trademark spare orchestrations.
IN COLD BLOOD (1967)
With offbeat orchestrations, finger snaps, grunts, and groans, Quincy Jones’ jazz masterpiece captures the attitude of Truman Capote’s legendary killers, who think they’re far cooler than they really are. Jones’ eclectic score is an essential aspect of the film’s atmosphere of doom and gloom. Why this score hasn’t made it to CD yet is beyond me. [UPDATE: IN COLD BLOOD was released by Music Box Records as part of the 6-CD The Cinema of Quincy Jones box set, now OOP.]
The hit Tony Award-winning murder mystery is a grand acting showboat for Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. John Addison‘s delightful score raises the curtain with a grand overture and then proceeds to be equally as sly as the actors and Anthony Shaffer’s script. Brimming with energy and fun, the score is thoroughly delightful from beginning to end. This is one LP that deserves to be released on CD (and ditch the dialogue excerpts). [Note: Intrada released the soundtrack in 2011.] Addison’s score was a last-minute nominee after Nino Rota’s THE GODFATHER was disqualified because parts of the score had appeared in the 1958 Italian film FORTUNELLA. [UPDATE: SLEUTH was released by Intrada, also now OOP.]
Georges Delerue’s brief score for this multiple Oscar-nominated film is not one of his most well-known efforts but deserves to be. A delicate string quartet main theme pulls us back into writer Lillian Hellman’s (Jane Fonda) memory as she relives her complicated relationship with activist friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave). Containing superb performances by Fonda and Redgrave, Jason Robards and Maximillian Schell, this seldom remembered film contains one of Delerue’s deepest and darkest scores. The score was released on LP as the B-side of Michel Portal’s THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE. Hopefully, it will find its way to CD someday.
Richard Attenborough’s bloated, bland epic had two elements going for it–Ben Kingsley’s Oscar-winning performance and the score by Ravi Shankar and George Fenton. Shankar’s sitar cues give the film an authentic Indian voice that is missing from much of the rest of the film, while Fenton captures the drama and emotion missing from John Briley’s snoozer script. Fenton seamlessly blends his orchestral colors with the ethnic elements into one unique whole, much as he would do later with Jonas Gwangwa in CRY FREEDOM.