CD Reviews Lovely to Look At and Freedom Fighters
Lovely To Look At (1952) ***
JEROME KERN, OTTO HARBACH AND DOROTHY FIELDS
23 tracks - 68:10
Midway through the soundtrack of Lovely
To Look At, Kathryn Grayson sings Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets In
Your Eyes" and what had previously been a mildly diverting audio
experience is all at once elevated into the realm of MGM musical
nirvana (a rarefied state of alternative reality that includes Judy
Garland's "The Trolley Song" and Lena Horne's "Where or When").
Relaxing her distinctively operatic performance style, Grayson delivers
her best cinematic singing performance ever (with her vocals in Metro's
sumptuous 1951 version of Show Boat
running a close second).
There is a genuinely poignant and wistful quality to Kern's 70-year old
ballad which has been memorably performed in other films (most notably
by Cher in Tea With Mussolini)
but never has this exquisite and enduring standard been treated as
lovingly as this. In fact, Grayson's sensitive rendering of "Smoke" was
so superb that it was accorded a place of honor in the acclaimed 1976
retrospective That's Entertainment,
Part 2, a dazzling compilation of clips from Metro's matchless
archive of musical films.
The good news continues as Grayson isn't the only showstopper onboard
this limited edition Turner/Rhino Handmade soundtrack. During
Hollywood's heyday, if a cinema marquee boasted the tour de force tap
dancing talents of Ann Miller in a lavish production like Easter Parade or On The Town, audiences were
guaranteed a high octane display of skilled showmanship. For Lovely To Look At, the always game
Annie was handed the invigorating "I'll Be Hard To Handle," a plum
production number which remains exciting minus the spectacle of Miller
surrounded by a pack of predatory chorus boys in wolf masks.
Just as its title would indicate, the primary allure of Lovely To Look At is visual
opulence. This Technicolor remake of RKO's Roberta (1935) certainly makes the
most of its haute couture surroundings. In fact, the emphasis on eye
catching splendor was deemed so vital that the film's director, Mervyn
LeRoy, stepped aside so that Metro's numero uno musical director,
Vincente Minnelli, could helm the climactic fashion show sequence.
While the cameras remain fixated on a parade of ocular enchantments,
the score suffers somewhat from an over reliance on instrumental
reprises of Kern favorites. Nevertheless, the MGM Studio Orchestra,
under the guidance of Leo Arnaud, Carmen Dragon, Saul Chaplin and
others makes the most of this opportunity. A super snazzy arrangement
of "I Won't Dance" is proof positive that MGM not only had more stars
than there are in the heavens but also the most talented musicians of
all the major studios.
Prior to this Turner/Rhino release, the Lovely To Look At soundtrack had
been circulated in an abbreviated format for several decades. In 1974,
10 truncated tracks were paired with highlights from Lerner and Loewe's
Brigadoon (1954) and released
as part of a popular MGM Records series titled "Those Glorious MGM
Musicals." In the 1980s, MCA Records pruned even further and tossed a
handful of Lovely tracks on
to an album with songs from Summer
Stock (1950). As if a pedestrian presentation weren't bad
enough, MCA's edition even awkwardly retitled Grayson's big number
"When Your Heart's On Fire Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." According to Will
Rhys, librarian at The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre, Kern's
verseless "Smoke" is based on a proverb which begins "When Your Heart's
On Fire..." When the stage version of Roberta debuted on Broadway in
1933, that was the line that prompted the song. Hence, the confusion
regarding the title that exists to this day.
This disc concludes with five bonus tracks from the 1951 mini musical Texas Carnival, which features
songs written by the great Dorothy Fields, who also assisted with
lyrics on Lovely To Look At.
The standout among these tracks is "Young Folks Should Get Married," an
overlooked gem in the MGM musical canon. As performed by Howard Keel
(who had precious little to do in
Lovely To Look At), the song not only bears repeated listenings
but should be considered a coveted treasure to those who know it only
from their nearly disintegrated vinyl copies of DRG's "25 Years of
Recorded Sound (1945-1970) From the Vaults of M-G-M
Records." -- Mark Griffin
Freedom Fighters ****
18 tracks - 65:38
Jesper Kyd has written several video game soundtracks, most notably for
the Hitman series, and
recently completed a score for the film Cycles, which has yet to see wide
release. His score for the action adventure game Freedom Fighters has more going for
it than your average film score. Sure, there are the obligatory video
game-sounding electronics that seem an inherited feature from Brad
Feidel's Terminator scores.
But the full sound of the Hungarian Radio Chorus lifts these electronic
ostinatos above and beyond mere aural filler. This choral writing has a
definite Slavic feel reminiscent of Poledouris' The Hunt for Red October and Conan scores. Unfortunately, the
chorus performs on a precious few tracks. Also of note are the score's
techno elements, along with the percussive synth keyboard passages that
sound like Vangelis on steroids.
While each track one its own can be musically intriguing, their sum
total makes for a near-constant barrage of electronic punctuations;
this obviously gets tiresome after a while. Perhaps that's more a
weakness of the genre than a fault of the composer. While many will
pass this album by, video gamers will definitely want to check it out,
as will those interested in electronic music.
The downside -- the packaging is barebones, with no information about
the composer, music, or the game itself in the booklet. Check out http://www.jesperkyd.com or http://www.music4games.net for
more info on Freedom Fighters,
and on other game soundtracks. -- Steven A.