CD Review: Casablanca – Classic Film Scores for Humphrey Bogart
In addition to albums devoted to certain composers, Charles Gerhardt compiled a series of albums devoted to various film stars as part of his Classic Film Scores. The second album (the first was devoted to films of Bette Davis), and the sixth in the series overall, was CASABLANCA—CLASSIC FILM SCORES FOR HUMPHREY BOGART, released in 1974. Since Bogart did most of his work on the Warner Bros. lot, much of the album is devoted to music by Max Steiner.
The first half of the album belongs to Steiner and begins, appropriately enough, with his famous Warner Bros. fanfare. This leads into one of Gerhardt’s best suites, from Bogart’s best-known film, CASABLANCA. Gerhardt condenses Steiner’s classic score into an 8-1/2-minute tone poem that tells the entire story and illustrates the composer’s talent of weaving in instantly recognizable tunes (“La Marseillaise”) and popular source music (“As Times Goes By”) into his own unique voice.
PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE’s “Rescue at Sea” features English and French patriotic songs woven among one of Steiner’s most sweeping melodies. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRE MADRE is marred by an unpleasant wobble on the first chord which should have been fixed in the mastering. It is less noticeable on the digital version, but it’s not there in the earlier incarnation of the album so I’m not sure why someone didn’t catch it and fix the error. Thankfully, the moment is quickly gone and the the Mexican trumpets herald one of Steiner’s best scores.
The “Love Themes” suite from THE BIG SLEEP highlights Steiner’s sweeping grasp of melody, especially in his waltzes. One of the Golden Age holy grails remains Steiner’s 1954 Oscar-nominated score for THE CAINE MUTINY. Based on Herman Wouke’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Bogart gives one of his best performances as the mentally unbalance Captain Queeg in the Naval courtroom drama. Gerhardt’s performance of Steiner’s rousing march is tight and crisp, once again arguably surpassing the original soundtrack.
Steiner also closes the album with two tracks from wildly different films. Bogart was fourth on the bill for the 1940 Confederate western VIRGINIA CITY, behind Errol Flynn, Miriam Hopkins and Randolph Scott. Like Tiomkin, Newman and so many others, Steiner was inspired by the open plains of western-themed films. His “Stagecoach” cue pulses with galloping energy and a memorable trumpet theme, while the gentle love theme is pure Steiner in its gentility and its dotted rhythms. John Huston’s 1948 gangster drama KEY LARGO is not one of Steiner’s more well-known scores, but its muted trumpet theme captures the disillusionment of Bogart’s Frank McCloud.
Not everything on the album is devoted to Steiner. Franz Waxman’s trademark intervalic melodies and surging harmonic progressions for TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS are reminiscent of the composer’s more famous work on REBECCA—equally as dramatic if not as well-known. The main title for Miklós Rózsa’s score for the World War II drama SAHARA contains the composer’s trademark minor chords, plus a bit of period martial patriotism thrown in.
Two of my favorite tracks on the album come from films in which Bogart sheds his tough guy image. The sparkling waltz from the 1954 romantic comedy SABRINA allows the music of the underrated Frederick Hollander to shine. But it is Victor Young’s heartbreaking love theme for Bogart and Gene Tierney from THE LEFT HAND OF GOD that brings me to tears. Young was no slouch when it came to memorable melodies and this is one of his most subtle and moving. Gerhardt’s strings play the cue with simple, heartfelt emotion.
Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra seem more comfortable with the composers featured on this recording than they did with Newman on the earlier CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE album. This was one of the LPs that I never repurchased on CD so it has been years since I’ve heard this recording. Steiner fans should truly appreciate the album since much of the music has never been released in its complete form. This delightful disc serves as a fitting musical tribute to one of the giants of cinema.