30 March 2012

Friday Double: (11) Remember these

Elmer Bernstein is another of my favorite film composers, and his theme from the 1962 movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird has recently gotten quite a bit of play on the Streaming Soundtracks site.  While some of the folks who've requested it might have also been mulling the Trayvon Martin case, it's more than pretty enough to stand on its own.

Here's an odd thought I've always had about Bernstein:  Even though his résumé covered a much wider range of movie genres, I tended to associate him with action films like The Ten Commandments (1956), The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1960), or later comedies like Animal House (1978) and Ghostbusters (1984).  It fell to TCM host Robert Osborne, only a few years ago, to notify me that Bernstein also penned To Kill a Mockingbird.  It still surprises me, even though Bernstein himself considered this one of his most important works.

Walter Schumann is best remembered as the composer of the Dragnet theme, but it's another, completely different work of his that's always come to my mind.  When I was very young, The Night of the Hunter (1955) was my favorite movie.  It aired on local television when I was two or three, at the age when most of us start keeping memories.  Its signature scene, as young John and Pearl Harper first escape the clutches of Reverend Powell*, is one of the first things I actually remembered.

Part of that has to do with the way the escape is shot.  Even casual inspection exposes elements of the scenes as unrealistic.  Spider webs don't hang this way, the sun doesn't rise or set like that.  But the sequence remains convincing despite all the unreality, because Schumann's music meshes so well with the visuals.  Now that I've had several chances to watch this as an adult, I still feel as though I'm witnessing the escape, not through John's eyes or Pearl's, but through those of a spectral third child.

What makes the movie truly great, though, is the "Lullaby."  Weary, scared, and still desperate to avoid capture, John and Pearl hide in a barn for the night.  All the while, a voice tries to sing them to sleep.  Here's the end of the escape, my first cinematic memory.

* Here's one reason why neither Palpatine nor Darth Vader made it past Episode XI of the Star Wars cycle:  they didn't bother to study Robert Mitchum's portrayal of Rev. Powell.  I'm hard put to imagine a villain as monstrous, clever or effective as Powell, but I'd bet a few credits that Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi both got hold of a Night of the Hunter DVD.

1 comment:

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