Something of Value
Something of Value (1957) is one of Miklós Rózsa’s lesser-known credits, but the film was a significant production for M-G-M. Based on a bestselling book by Robert C. Ruark about the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya of the 1950s (the studio bought the film rights prior to publication), the picture reunited producer Pandro S. Berman, writer/director Richard Brooks and star Sidney Poitier from their earlier topical hit, Blackboard Jungle (1955). Moving from inner-city youth to race relations and violence in Africa, the studio hoped for another mainstream success based on current events.
Ruark’s book, crafted in part on his own experiences in Kenya, tells of two men raised as brothers—an African named Kimani (Poitier) and a white settler named Peter McKenzie (played by Rock Hudson, on loan from Universal Studios)—whose relationship is destroyed by the racial strife of the nation. (The title refers to what happens when colonialism destroys a native people’s customs without replacing them with “something of value.”) As Kimani reaches adulthood, he realizes his people’s place as a permanent underclass and becomes involved with the dangerous Mau Mau rebels for nationalistic if not humanitarian reasons, despite his essential revulsion to violence. As the conflict grows, Peter becomes involved on the white side of the struggle, participating in anti-guerrilla raids and watching his supposedly enlightened people become more and more like the violent thugs they deplore. Peter finds Kimani and persuades him to agree to a reconciliation, but whites attack Kimani’s group first and kill his wife; Peter pursues Kimani into the wilderness, desperate for peace, but Kimani dies an accidental death (falling into a booby trap) while attempting to perpetuate their fight.
The film’s ending was criticized as sentimental, but the novel had to be revised significantly due to its (at the time unfilmable) subject matter: from violence to salacious depictions of the native Africans’ tribal rituals and a dark climax in which Hudson would have been required to strangle Poitier to death. Brooks’s politically liberal take on the story was a noble attempt to make a statement on race relations and the perils of colonialism while retaining the structure and expectations of mainstream entertainment. The film failed to find the same audience as Blackboard Jungle, but it advanced Sidney Poitier’s career on his way to super-stardom.
Miklós Rózsa’s score for Something of Value—like Crisis and Bhowani Junction before it—consists almost entirely of ethnic atmospheres that function as mood (and most often source) music. The film’s spotting notes, dated November 15, 1956, state at the outset: “It is the intent of Dr. Rózsa in this score to employ voices primarily for the background scoring as well as those on-scene uses of vocal material.” Most cues are for a cappella voices, while others add percussion to the vocals (the stalking, heavy music for the Mau Mau guerrillas). Thematic material is relatively simple and—by design—repetitive, but Rózsa carefully chooses the use of male vs. female voices: male voices sing a theme of “brotherhood” for Kimani and Peter, while female voices express a “lament” often heard as Kimani falls deeper and deeper into a tragic alliance with the violent Mau Maus in his quest for justice for his people.
While still a student in Leipzig, Rózsa was befriended by Karl Straube, choirmaster and organist at Bach’s Thomaskirche. The experience the composer gained singing in Straube’s choir and the advice and practical help the older man gave the promising young musician were things Rózsa remembered fondly throughout his life. These are reflected in his skilled vocal writing, both in his film compositions and in the few concert works he penned for chorus.
Although a modern ear might find Rózsa’s version of ethnic African music obviously inauthentic (especially due to being performed by presumably white Hollywood singers), it should be noted just how daring and unusual it was in the mid-1950s to eschew a traditional orchestral score for ethnic music. The score humanizes and warms the film—providing a considerable jolt of melody, atypical as it might be—even as it circumvents the sort of Hollywood clichè that no doubt Brooks, Rózsa and the studio were in agreement to avoid. Rózsa considered the score “something of value,” as he remarked in his autobiography, Double Life: “I did research into Kikuyu music and wrote my own Kikuyu music for an African choir. I have to confess that I also wrote my own Kikuyu words—somebody found me a dictionary and I picked words at random. I hoped the Mau-mau would never see the picture, knowing that I could expect no mercy from them if they did.”
Only three scenes in the film are scored instrumentally, and all involve Peter and his betrothed, Holly (Dana Wynter). Rózsa’s original theme for their relationship (tracks 7 [second half], 16 and 21) is slightly alien and mysterious, as if the exotic land has similarly colored their romance; the composer provided a rescore for two of the scenes (tracks 7 [first half] and 20) with a tender, pastoral theme for alto flute over harp that is more optimistic, yet still intimate.
Rózsa’s score for Something of Value is presented here for the first time—in complete form from the original monaural (and, for a few cues, two-track stereo) magnetic film. Between the two-track cues (the “Prelude” and “End Cast”) and the Mau Mau music—which combined separate percussion and vocal tracks—the entire score has either been mixed to stereo or recorded with a stereo reverb for a consistent listening experience.
- 1. Prelude
- The main title introduces Rózsa’s choral themes for the picture. (The finished film tracks “Mount Kenya,” track 7, for the M-G-M logo, which Rózsa intended to be silent. In fact, the film was originally to open with no less than Winston Churchill speaking on camera about colonialism, but this prologue was cut after a preview screening.)
- As the film’s spotting notes describe the opening action: “On the dissolve to Mt. Kenya and the superimposition of the title of our picture, vocal scoring in. This theme will be a work chant, typifying Africa at peace. Continues throughout shots of workers, which is the backing of the titles. Continues through stills of our six principal white characters. Continues into picture as we see Elizabeth [Wendy Hiller] driving up to the shamba, meeting her brother and her husband, and as they go to the cemetery. As we cut to Peter [Rock Hudson] and Kimani [Sidney Poitier] broadjumping, introduce Peter-Kimani friendship theme. Continues as we see them playing in the soccer game and board dissolve to next cue. Note: Work chants will be sung by female chorus and the ‘friendship’ theme by male chorus.”
- 2. Lament #1
- The white settler family interrogates African workers to find out which one of them stole a rifle.
- The spotting notes: “On the dissolve to the line-up of Africans with Henry McKenzie [Walter Fitzgerald] walking towards us, we hear the sound of a lament—a single high female voice accompanied by a chorus of female voices.”
- 3. Work Song
- Work resumes in the fields after the culprit is identified; the “work chant” of the “Prelude” is reprised for female voices.
- 4. Friendship
- Peter rescues Kimani from wild dogs after Kimani had run away (in anger over having been slapped by the white settler, Jeff Newton [Robert Beatty]). Male chorus intones the wordless “friendship” theme.
- Lament #2
- Kimani is distraught by the jailing of his father, a tribal leader who ordered the death of a newborn out of superstition. Kimani seeks out the “Mau Mau” African rebels; the “lament” theme for female voices is heard as he runs across the veldt.
- 5. Celebration Song
- The Mau Maus dance around a campfire in celebration of a successful gun theft, in which Kimani played a part. Rózsa introduces a new theme for mixed chorus and percussion, presumably as source music.
- 6. Evening Chant
- Kimani protests to the Mau Mau leaders that in order to get the guns, an innocent African was murdered. The spotting notes: “Sneak female chorus in—a quiet sort of evening chant which will continue throughout remainder of scene.” This is one of many scenes in which Rózsa’s music appears primarily for verisimilitude, rather than drama, although the presence of voices cannot help but humanize the narrative surroundings.
- As action moves ahead to 1952 and the urban environment of Nairobi, three cues from Rózsa’s “ethnic” score to Bhowani Junction were repurposed as street music. The selections appear on the Something of Value recording logs but not the master tapes; the film itself used the original Bhowani Junction performances, which can be heard on FSM’s Green Fire/Bhowani Junction CD: “Bhowani Station No. 1” (track 23), “Street Music No. 1” (track 25) and “Bhowani Station No. 3” (track 31).
- Also heard in the film, but not on this CD (and not recorded by Rózsa), is “Presently” by Jeff Alexander, to which Peter and his fiancèe, Holly (Dana Wynter), dance upon her return from school in England.
- 7. The Earth—New
- The first instrumental underscore appears 38 minutes into the picture, a delicate duet for harp and alto flute for a romantic moment between Peter and Holly as she sights majestic Mount Kenya from their vehicle. This was, in fact, a late addition by Rózsa, recorded on January 28, 1957 (along with “Nocturne—New,” track 20); the bulk of the score was recorded in late December 1956.
- Mount Kenya
- The original version of Holly’s sighting of Mount Kenya (not used in the film ) is more alien and exotic, with an eerie whistling sound (possibly a musical saw) over a gentle, rhythmic pedal.
- 8. Song of the Field Hands
- Henry and a disgruntled white settler, Joe Matson (Michael Pate), interrogate an African woman about unusual activities that suggest guerrilla action by the natives. Female chorus chants “in a tense manner to indicate that things are not well” (per the spotting notes) as an ambient backdrop.
- 9. Lament #3
- The Mau Maus formally indoctrinate Kimani into their group. The “lament” theme is heard as he talks afterwards with the group’s leader, Njogu (Juano Hernandez).
- 10. Lathela’s Chant
- Peter and Holly talk at night during their honeymoon safari; their loyal gun-bearer, Lathela (Ivan Dixon), sings and hums in the background.
- 11. Mau Mau #1
- Kimani receives orders to lead a Mau Mau attack on the Newton family—testing his loyalties. The event marks the introduction of Rózsa’s “heavy” music for the marauding African guerrillas: “As we cut to the file of Mau Mau silently going through the woods, we hear the ‘Mau Mau’ theme which will be played in a manner that Miki [Rózsa] will devise that will give a unique, tense, shivery quality to it—maybe vocal, maybe instrumental, maybe a combination of both also using saw.”
- For the Mau Mau attack itself, the film soundtrack consists of the violent sound effects as well as whistles blown by the Africans, not included here.
- Mau Mau #2
- Additional statements of the Mau Mau music were recorded but not used, the scenes evidently deleted. The spotting notes describe the intended screen action:
- “On the cut to Peter rousing up in his tent, we immediately hear the same unique Mau Mau sound that we heard in the previous scene at the campfire when Peter sensed something about to happen. Lose in the dissolve to the Land Rover coming towards us in the distance.”
- Mau Mau #3
- The spotting notes continue, describing another deleted scene: “As we dissolve to the prison hospital and see Kimani with the basket of fruit coming in with the nurse, music in again employing the unique Mau Mau sound. Continues as nurse and Kimani come to the Chief’s room and as Kimani enters. Continues out to the end of the reel.”
- As a state of emergency commences in Kenya, army troops receive brief source music (“Bugles & Drums” on the cue sheet), a “pre-recording” not by Rózsa and not included here.
- 12. Lament #4
- The “lament” theme returns for female voices as Holly sits down to dinner with her family.
- 13. Mau Mau #4
- Peter spies upon the Mau Mau camp in preparation for a counterattack by the whites. The malevolent “Mau Mau” music is heard, as if originating from the camp while Peter evades detection by hiding in a swamp.
- 14. Interrogation
- The whites interrogate their African prisoners—brutally so—in an attempt to locate the Mau Mau leadership. The spotting notes describe the lengthy musical backdrop: “On the dissolve to the stockade, we hear moaning of mixed chorus. This should be of a mournful nature and expresses the feeling of the prisoners.”
- The whites locate Njogu via a tortured informer: “Throughout all this, the moaning continues with a higher voice coming in from time to tme, as Miki sees fit. At the point where Peter and the rest take Njogu and leave the informer inside, the sound will increase in intensity and pitch, this to support the attack upon the informer by the rest of the prisoners.”
- 15. Earth
- Peter returns home to recuperate after his ugly experience capturing and interrogating the Mau Mau. He relaxes in a field with Holly, taking comfort in “the earth” as Rózsa’s spectral instrumental from “Mount Kenya” provides a calming effect.
- 16. Njogu
- Rózsa reprises the “Interrogation” music as Henry takes a turn at questioning Njogu, to no avail.
- 17. Mau Mau #5
- The Mau Mau music returns as the McKenzie household is violently attacked.
- Mau Mau #6
- Peter and Lathela go to the Mau Mau camp to speak to Kimani, but find themselves apprehended in the woods. The “Mau Mau” music appears softly in the finished film (it is relatively loud on the CD), as if coming from the camp in the distance.
- 18. Understanding
- Peter pleads to Kimani to make peace; the “friendship” theme returns to recall their childhood affection.
- 19. Nocturne—New
- Peter speaks with Holly in an alleyway behind the hospital where Peter’s sister, Elizabeth McKenzie Newton (Wendy Hiller), is in labor. This is a reprise of the “new” music Rózsa created (at the rescoring session) for alto flute and harp that also appears in the film as “The Earth” (track 7).
- 20. Nocturne
- The original, unused version of the dramatic music for Peter and Holly is the more abstract selection previously heard in track 7 and 16.
- 21. Surrender
- Kimani leads his people to a prearranged meeting place, expecting Peter—but the vengeful white settler, Joe Matson, has gotten wind of the location and leads an attack against the natives. Rózsa’s intended choral piece for the scene features mixed chorus for the natives’ procession (singing the “Work Song” from the “Prelude”—Africa in a happier time); it was replaced by a “lament” in the finished film.
- 22. Pursuit
- After a violent battle, Kimani flees into the jungle carrying his infant son. Peter and Lathela follow in pursuit, with Peter determined to convince Kimani that Matson acted alone. Male voices underscore Kimani’s flight, first with the brotherhood theme, then the Mau Mau music—as if to indicate Kimani’s mindset shifting from wounded to vengeful. The music is considerably longer on CD than in the film.
- 23. Finale
- Peter and Kimani fight, the result of which is Kimani’s accidental death in a booby trap. The brotherhood theme appears as a lament for Kimani, closing in a fully harmonized (and westernized) finale as Peter pledges to raise Kimani’s son with his nephew—“Maybe for them it’ll be better.”
- End Cast
- Rózsa composed a reprise of the “Prelude” music to close the film under an end cast of (according to the spotting notes) “six shots of our Negro actors” but ultimately the end cast was dropped from the finished film.—