John Addison, composer

You may not know it but John Addison is quite possibly one of your favourite film composers. This Englishman (born 16 March 1920, died 7 December 1998) was responsible for some marvellous scores and the signature for TV favourite Murder, She Wrote. He wrote for all media – ballet, theatre, film and TV. I’m including excerpts from some of his screen compositions in chronological order, commencing with his first co-writing credit on atomic age thriller Seven Days to Noon (1950) and his Oscar-winning theme to Tom Jones (1963), the theme for Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (1966) as well as that Sunday afternoon childhood regular, A Bridge Too Far (1977) which should make you whistle along – if it doesn’t it’s probably because you’re German (although given what happens….). There are a lot of other stops on the way, all inventive, inspiring and innovative.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Thunder On The Hill (1951)

Thunder on the Hill Sirk movie poster.jpeg

You did not come here. You were led here by Our Lord. Sanctimonious Sister Mary Bonaventure (Claudette Colbert) is leading the team at the convent/hospital of Our Lady of Rheims, a hillside refuge for a community in Norfolk during a terrible flood. Her colleagues dislike her intensely – but Mother Superior (Gladys Cooper) knows that she is motivated by guilt over the death by suicide of her sister. When Valerie Cairns (Ann Blyth, the wicked daughter from Mildred Pierce) arrives accompanied by the police it takes a while for the penny to drop as to why she’s rejecting Sister Mary’s kindness:  she’s a murderess en route to the gallows at prison in Norwich. She’s due to be hanged the following morning but the breaking of the dyke and the downing of telephone lines now mean her execution is delayed. She insists on her innocence and Mary believes her – because she knows what guilt really is. There are a number of people at the convent who are hiding guilt relating to the death by overdose of Valerie’s crippled composer brother including the wife (Anne Crawford) of the doctor on duty (Robert Douglas) who reacts with shock to a photograph of the murdered man. Her husband promptly sedates her.  As Sr Mary researches the newspapers and is given an unsigned letter by slow-witted handyman Willie (Michael Pate) that implicates a third party in the murder, Sr Mary determines to bring Valerie’s fiance Sidney (Philip Friend) from Norwich by boat with Willie.  The handyman destroys the boat so that Valerie cannot be taken to be hanged. The police sergeant is now going to charge Sr Mary with interfering in the course of justice and the guilty party is closing in on her while she is reprimanded by Mother Superior … Slickly told, atmospheric thriller directed by Douglas Sirk with an unexpected take on the melodrama combined with an Agatha Christie group of conventional characters hiding something nasty all gathered in the one building.  There’s a marvellous scene in a belltower when the murderer reveals themselves. The contrasting figures of the desperate and hysterical Blyth and calm but determined Colbert make this a fascinating spin on a crime thriller with a play on the concept of divine intervention which would also be pivotal in Sirk’s later Magnificent Obsession. An engaging, stylish tale adapted by Oscar Saul and Andrew Solt from Charlotte Hastings’ play Bonaventure, enhanced by some very fine performances and sharp dialogue particularly when it’s delivered by Connie Gilchrist as the acerbic cook Sister Josephine whose insistence on saving newspapers (preferably The Sunday Times) saves the day.

Easter Parade (1948)

Easter Parade movie poster.jpg

When Broadway star Fred Astaire’s dance partner Ann Miller leaves him for a solo act he wagers he can make a star of the next girl he sees – who happens to be Judy Garland. This sheerly delightful Irving Berlin musical comedy is a wonderful backstage romance and even the performance of Kennedy pimp Peter Lawford warbling A Fella with an Umbrella can’t ruin a gloriously atmospheric colourful romp in turn of the century New York. Highlights include the showstopper Steppin’ Out With My Baby and The Girl on the Magazine Cover, plus the final title number. From a story by husband and wife team Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sidney Sheldon. Two accidents caused casting changes – Gene Kelly broke his ankle playing volleyball and suggested Astaire replace him, while Cyd Charisse’s broken leg meant Miller got her big break at MGM (as it were!). Gorgeous stuff as you’d expect from director Charles Walters. Easter blessings and chag Chanukah sameach.

The Shout (1978)

The Shout poster.jpg

Psychiatrist Graves (Tim Curry) is keeping score at a lunatic asylum cricket game where the doctors play the inmates. He tells the story of a wandering man Crossley (Alan Bates) who insinuates his way into the home of an avant garde composer/sound engineer Anthony Fielding (John Hurt) and his psychiatric nurse wife Rachel (Susannah York) and uses his aboriginal magic acquired while living in the Aussie Outback to take over their lives and steal Rachel from Anthony.  He lures Anthony to sand dunes at the beach and shows him how his magical shout can kill people … This weirdly engrossing supernatural horror is the second British production from Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski – he had previously made The Deep End and the deeply atmospheric story takes its lead from the sounds that Anthony records (there’s an amazing soundtrack by Tony Banks) and unusual shot framing that makes the deep Devon countryside appear quite sinister. An odd work that repays multiple viewings.  Adapted from Robert Graves’ story by the director and Michael Austen.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast 1991.jpg

This animation brought Disney back to its classic roots with Linda Woolverton’s screenplay (working from a painstaking adaptation by eleven scribes!) of the French fairytale hitting all the right story points at a rattling pace (84 minutes). It was the first animation to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are pretty great and use a variety of forms including waltz and they are exceptionally well positioned in the narrative:  it helps that they are performed by experienced stage vets, including Paige O’Hara as bookworm Belle, who falls for Beast (Robby Benson) after he’s exchanged her father for her in his enchanted castle. If it falls down anywhere in it’s in the sequences outside – interestingly this is the flaw shared with its progenitor, Jean Cocteau’s magical La Belle et la bete (1946), a live action version whose animated statuary proved a spellbinding lure into the rest of the tale. On a technical level, Disney had abandoned their original hand inking technique in the late 1950s and the new CAPS system developed by Pixar enabled them to utilise a wider and more subtle colour palette in conjunction with digitalisation – just wait for your jaw to drop during the ballroom scene. Angela Lansbury and Bradley Pierce as Mrs Potts and her son Chip (of the teapot Potts) are particularly good, and Lumiere, the candlestick maitre d’hotel (Jerry Orbach) is pretty wild, with a great sidekick in Cogsworth the clock (David Ogden Stiers). All girls should have a library like the one gifted Belle and have the Academy Award-winning title song sung to them. Be Our Guest! Compelling. Produced by Don Hahn, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise.

I Saw the Light (2015)

I Saw the Light poser.jpg

It starts with a marriage in a garage and within the first ten minutes I had switched this off twice. Elizabeth Olsen plays the talentless attention-seeking narcissistic divorced mother Audrey Sheppard, who latches onto Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) like a leech and whines and wheedles her way on his radio show alienating his band, his producers and his manager mother Lillie (Cherry Jones). Her vile off-key nasal voice literally drove me to distraction and the OFF button. It may be true to life but boy did it rile me. Sometimes verisimilitude is fine for dialect coaches but not the audience. This manages to boast a sterling performance by Hiddleston in a story which tells you nothing about how this genius’ mind worked. It has no interest in portraying how he got those demons, how his mother drove his father away, how she ran her son’s life, just the external consequences and incomprehensible relationships. A musical biopic with no interest in music? How a man who couldn’t understand notation came to write some of the century’s greatest songs? No context for those significant radio shows? The wider musical landscape? His dealings with his bandmates? The beating Williams took before his strange death in his own car after being treated by a quack for his chronic alcoholism en route to a concert? Nope. That’s all folks. Hiddleston, who sings all the songs himself, and very well, is wasted. What a shame. If you knew nothing about Williams before you will know even less after this. Stick with Your Cheatin’ Heart  (1964) with George Hamilton.  Or prepare to get really irritated indeed. Adapted from the biography by Colin Escott, George Merritt and William MacEwen by writer/director Marc Abraham.

Pillow Talk (1959)

Pillow Talk poster.jpg

Producer Ross Hunter thought Doris Day could be sexy and her husband Marty Melcher resurrected a script by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene that had been loitering unmade since 1942, and with a rewrite by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin and a co-star in Rock Hudson, a new movie partnership was born. From the titles sequence to the original ending (reshot, making things legal) this romcom about an interior decorator (her) and a composer (him) sharing a party line (ie telephone!) whose lives cross, this skirts all sorts of sex and censorship issues using split screens with hilarious results. It doesn’t hurt that Tony Randall is her besotted suitor and his disgruntled friend, or that Thelma Ritter is the dipso housekeeper with rare repartee. A new era of sex comedy was born, with awards and profits flying in every direction and both Day and Hudson re-inventing their careers in the first of their screen collabs. A great looking film in every respect. Directed by Michael Gordon, who advised Hudson, Comedy is the most serious tragedy in the world. Play it that way and you can’t go wrong. If you ever think of yourself as funny, you haven’t got a chance.

While I Live (1947)

While I Live dvd cover.jpg

The full-on Gothic/noir fusion that was Rebecca birthed a cycle of imitators throughout and after WW2 and this British MGM production belongs to that list. Sonia Dresdel is the nasty but guilt-ridden older sister who can’t overcome her obsession with her composer sister Olwen’s early death leaving her greatest work, a tone poem, unfinished. A wild girl (Carol Raye) enters her home on the 25th anniversary of Olwen’s death, just after her cousin and ward (Clifford Evans) is home from WW2 to be reunited with his wife, a Land Girl (Patricia Burke), whom Dresdel despises. She tries to break up their marriage and persuade everyone that the girl is her sister, Olwen and outfits her in her image. With the full panoply of Gothic tropes – a vaguely Lesbian villainess, a portrait, a staircase, a cliff, a seaside mansion, obsession and a haunting piece of music, this is a welcome and mysterious visit to the genre, with Dresdel recreating her stage role from Robert Bell’s play This Same Garden.  Adapted by director John Harlow and Doreen Montgomery, photographed by Freddie Young,  The Dream of Olwen composed by Charles Williams was a big hit.

Gary Numan: Android in La La Land (2016)

Gary Numan Android movie poster.jpg

Gary Numan appeared like a Kraftwerk clone from another planet at the end of the Seventies with his band Tubeway Army and their earworms, Cars and Are Friends Electric? His appearance drew ire from the critics, who played no role in boosting him since he just … manifested, like a badass machine dream. His unique musical approach was to take Moog synth sounds and feed them through guitar effects pedals. It was the height of the New Wave and even within that loosely defined movement he was an anomaly. Not that you’d really learn this here because this concerns his move to LA a few years ago with his feisty former fan wife, their three lovely daughters and is really about mental health, financial woes and the difficult writing of his make or break album and emigrating to the US because he’s broke and needs to connect with more opportunities. We learn a huge amount about his (few) relationships;  his Asperger’s diagnosis when he was a kid; very little about his tunnel vision and determination; and the eventual difficulties with his manager father when he kept going on expensive tours that led to his folks going to ATMs at night and using their credit cards to pay the bills. He and his wife both succumbed to depression around his 50th birthday and the stress of keeping going and raising three small children whom they struggled to conceive is movingly told. It’s an engaging piece of work with some beautifully staged sequences including several mobile camera shots upside down which is presumably an objective correlative for his view of the world. And his wife’s hair colour is different in every scene. But there’s not enough about the music or what actually happened to make – and break up – Tubeway Army! Darn it! For another film, perhaps, or the Uncut version. Directed by Steve Read and Rob Alexander.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (2016)

The Beatles Eight Days a Week poster.jpg

Who are The Beatles? Get me The Beatles! Get me hepcats that sound like The Beatles! Get me a young Beatles! Who are The Beatles? Imagine a  world where The Beatles never existed. It’s not easy if you try. The story of their early years: the tours, the fans, the madness, the constant travel; the songwriting; the link between Lennon and McCartney; the moment Ringo joined and made them a band; playing in sports stadia through Tannoys;  the impossible demands; not being able to hear themselves onstage, not being able to hear what they really needed, inside;  endless contracts, their democratic structure (all four agreed or not at all); and the constancy of their friendship;  the final concert in Candlestick Park, SF, August 1966; the way they used their difficulties to create even more majestic music when they retreated to the recording studio. And the end. Before any of them had reached the age of 30. Ron Howard uses stills, archive footage, latterday interviews with stars who are fans, journalists who accompanied them, director Richard Lester who made their films – rush-released cos nobody thought they’d last – composer Howard Goodall who rates them with Mozart and Schubert, new interviews with McCartney and Starr (DPd by Caleb Deschanel, not too shabby) and the songs. The songs. I sang along like I was in the front row of their concerts. All of it is contextualised with news footage of another, troubled time and we’ve seen a lot of this before, but it’s the music. The music will never die. Soundtrack of my life. Written by Mark Monroe and PG Morgan.