Fans of Dimitri Tiomkin have reason to celebrate this year. We’ve already seen the premiere of Tiomkin’s score for the 1947 film noir THE LONG NIGHT and the first complete recording of his epic THE ALAMO. Later this year we’ll have a 2-CD release of the original tracks from 1950’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC. The latest release is the original soundtrack to Tiomkin’s 1949 Oscar-nominated score for the Kirk Douglas boxing flick CHAMPION.
The film and Douglas’s performance as scheming, ambitious pugilist Midge Kelly are bold, brash, and not particularly subtle, as is Tiomkin’s score. But that’s half the fun. This is Tiomkin in late ’40s contempoary mode. The orchestrations, especially for the love theme (the song “Never Be It Said”) and its melodic fragments worked into the score, consist of a lot of saxophones, muted trumpets, Gershwin-esque piano riffs and other dance band instrumentations. While this certainly dates the music, it also gives the score a lightness and charm that are missing from some of Tiomkin’s more bombastic efforts.
As to be expected from a boxing film, there is plenty of dramatic underscoring as well. The album starts out with a plodding low brass theme and a staccato trumpet fanfare for the “Main Title”. Over the credits is a rousing march that captures all the furious energy of the boxing ring. All three motifs and themes figure prominently throughout the score.
Arguably the most famous–or infamous, depending on who you ask–cue is the training montage, and no other cue better demonstrates why Tiomkin is such a polarizing composer among film music fans. For two minutes we watch Midge in training accompanied only by the music. As the images change through the various training routines, Tiomkin uses snippets of the opening fanfare and march combined with humorous Mickey Mousing that matches Midge’s every move. While not the subtlest of cues, it is entertaining and very much a product of its time.
You won’t find pristine stereo sound here, as to be expected in a score of this age. But the 60-year-old acetates are in remarkable shape and engineer Ray Faoila works his usual magic in cleaning them up for modern ears. The hisses, pops, and clicks are minimal and that shouldn’t detract from the joy of listening to the music. Thanks goes to producers Faiola and Craig Spaulding for bringing this score into the ring. Visit the Screen Archives website to hear more audio clips.