Across the Wide Missouri

Across the Wide Missouri (1951) was a frontier adventure starring Clark Gable as Flint Mitchell, a mountain man and fur trapper who leads a dangerous expedition into Indian territory in the Rocky Mountains of the 1830s. Mexican actress María Elena Marqués plays a Blackfoot Indian woman whom Flint marries out of convenience (hoping to forge an alliance with her tribe), but he gradually falls in love with her and comes to respect and prefer the ways of her people. John Hodiak, Adolphe Menjou, J. Carrol Naish, Jack Holt, Alan Napier and Richard Anderson are among the supporting cast, with Ricardo Montalbán as an imposing Indian adversary, Ironshirt. (It was on this film that Montalbán fell from a horse and aggravated a congenital spinal condition, leading to health problems in recent years.)

William A. Wellman (a legendary Golden Age helmer whose career began in the silent era) directed the film, which features striking Technicolor photography of the Colorado and South Dakota wilderness. While the film is beautifully shot (almost entirely on location) and conveys a wonderful atmosphere of the unspoiled land and the people who inhabited it—whites as well as Indians—the narrative is somewhat problematic: after a lackluster test screening, the film was cut down to 78 minutes and the timeline restructured via narration by the son of the main characters, now an adult (voiced by Howard Keel) and telling the story in flashback. The narration was written by the film’s screenwriter, Talbot Jennings (who with Frank Cavett adapted a book by Bernard DeVoto), but the idea for it came from M-G-M producer Sam Zimbalist, otherwise unassociated with the film and called in by studio head Dore Schary for advice.

One benefit of the film’s somewhat radical recutting is that it resulted in even more music recorded by David Raksin. Raksin’s score is one of the film’s highlights, incorporating frontier folk music (the song “Shenandoah” as a main and end theme, and “Skip to My Lou” in some revised cues) and a poetry and atmosphere conveying the home and hearth of the people who tamed the land. Among the major themes are a charming and slightly sad tune for the Blackfoot Indians, a folk-like ditty for the white frontiersmen, and a heraldic piece of transitional music that propels the story along. Raksin did not simply write melodies as much as fully developed musical compositions that recur from time to time: Across the Wide Missouri features a distinct passage associated with the beauty of the land, and another for the loss experienced by the characters; still other passages underscore the recurring violence between the settlers and Indians. Throughout the score, Raksin writes in his own voice what other composers might have made more overtly and simply “Coplandesque.”

Variety wrote of the score, “Music by David Raksin is also an asset,” while The Hollywood Reporter commented, “David Raksin’s music is arresting.” Over a half century later, David Raksin’s complete score to Across the Wide Missouri is presented here from ¼″ monaural tapes made from the original 35mm optical units, supplemented (for missing cues) by monaural acetates stored at the USC Cinematic Arts Library.

A note regarding the program commentary below: the film’s recutting makes it difficult to chronicle exactly what some of the original and unused cues were intended to underscore. (Listeners may wish to print these notes and use variously colored highlighter pens!) Recording slates and dates are provided to help make sense of the selections. Some of the cues in the bonus section were composed and/or adapted by M-G-M orchestrator Albert Sendrey and conducted by the studio’s head of music, Johnny Green, as a deadline consideration when the studio requested changes in Raksin’s score. (For more information, see Marilee Bradford’s essay in the booklet accompanying this release.)

1. Main Title (film version)
(1M1, 12/28/50; 1M1A, 7/3/51) The finished film’s opening credit sequence begins with a symphonic rendition of the frontier dancing song “Skip to My Lou” (arranged by Albert Sendrey for an earlier version of the “Main Title,” see track 26). This segues to Raksin’s lovely and elegant rendition of the folk song “Shenandoah” for the balance of the credits. The music continues under narration by Howard Keel (as the adult son of the film’s main character, Flint Mitchell, played by Clark Gable) introducing the frontiersmen of the period. A charming folk-like tune (another of the score’s main themes) underscores the frontiersmen engaged in their annual July “rendezvous” celebration; the cue returns to “Shenandoah” as narration introduces an eccentric Scotsman, Capt. Humberstone Lyon (Alan Napier).
2. Pony Go Where Kamiah Go
(1M2, 7/3/51) This short presentation of the Native American-flavored theme for Kamiah (María Elena Marqués)—the Blackfoot Indian girl who will become Flint’s wife—appears in the finished film for an early scene of Flint setting off on a trapping expedition as Kamiah and other Indians look on.
3. Hunted/Hare and Hounds/Quarry Escapes/Rendezvous
(2M1, 2M2, 2M3, 2M4, 11/28/50) This music covers a lengthy and exciting sequence, which in the finished film was repurposed to appear after “Stockade” (track 9): while trapping on remote land, Flint’s friend Du Nord is killed by the Blackfoot; after burying his companion, Flint finds himself surrounded by the tribe. The Indians, led by Ironshirt (Ricardo Montalbán), give Flint the chance to “run for his life,” which Flint does, killing an attacker in a pond and hiding from the rest of the tribe; Raksin’s full-throttled action music captures the adrenaline of the chase.
The final cue in the sequence, “Rendezvous,” was written to segue from the action sequence to the beginning of the frontiersmen’s celebration that opens the finished film. This does, in fact, appear in the finished picture, underscoring the arrival of the trapper Brecan (John Hodiak) at the rendezvous after the revised “Pony Go Where Kamiah Go” (track 2).
4. Looking Glass Arrives/Wolves
(3M1, 3M2, 11/29/50) These two cues do not appear in the finished film, as the related scenes were evidently deleted. The character of Looking Glass (J. Carrol Naish) is a Nez Perce Indian chief whose tribe abducted Kamiah when she was a child; the Blackfoot theme (which attaches to all Indians in the story) appears, presumably for his introduction. The American Film Institute plot synopsis of the movie (possibly made from the film’s shooting script) includes information on the action that “Wolves” may have accompanied: Flint is rescued from a pack of wolves by trapper Pierre (Adolphe Menjou) and the aforementioned Humberstone Lyon; the suspenseful, action-oriented nature of the cue seems to confirm this hypothesis.
5. Pony Go Where Kamiah Go (original version)
(3M2, 11/29/50) This unused, longer cue was written for the scene described in track 2. The cue title refers to dialogue as Kamiah flirts with Flint but he brushes her off: Flint says he would be interested in trading for the horse Kamiah rides (but not in her as a wife), to which Kamiah responds (via Pierre’s interpreting), “Pony go where Kamiah go.” (The finished film repurposes a portion of this cue for a scene between Flint and Kamiah much later in the story.)
6. Kamiah Gets Ready/Where’s Freddy?
(4M3, 12/4/50, 11/29/50; 5M1, 11/28/50) None of this music appears in the finished film—which, moreover, does not feature a character named “Freddy.” Musically this sequence features the Blackfoot theme followed by the frontiersmen theme. The cue may have been written for an scene that remains in the finished film, but is unscored: Kamiah prepares to be married to Flint—who does so not out of love but to form a strategic alliance with Kamiah’s tribe—but when a drunk Flint arrives at her teepee, she chases him out. He calls for Pierre to interpret.
7. Now He’s Ready/Rendezvous C’est Fini
(5M2, 5M3, 11/29/50) “Now He’s Ready” underscores Flint returning to Kamiah’s teepee freshly bathed, shaved and bearing flowers; she receives him warmly. Raksin’s original, unused music for the scene features a tender interweaving of the Blackfoot and frontiersmen melodies. “Rendezvous C’est Fini” spotlights a reprise of “Shenandoah” as the frontiersmen ride out for their annual expedition after the conclusion of their summer rendezvous. Action music at the end of the cue accompanies an attack on the trappers’ advance scouts by a group of Indians, led by Ironshirt.
8. Divide/Pass/Valley
(6M3, 6M4, 6M5, 11/29/50) The trappers must make a harrowing journey through the mountains (guided by Kamiah) to avoid the dangerous Indians. Raksin based his original scoring of the sequence (replaced in the finished film by “Trek,” track 23) on a dirge-like figure out of which emerges sophisticated counterpoint for the physical and emotional journey, culminating in a heartfelt statement of “Shenandoah.” (The finished film repurposes a portion of “Pass” for a subsequent traveling scene.)
9. Stockade
(6M6, 11/28/50) The trappers establish a stockade in Kamiah’s Blackfoot country as the base of their operations. The frontiersmen theme kicks off this cue (of which only the passage from 0:25 to 0:55 was used in the finished film); the subsequent, unused music features sensitive scoring of the Blackfoot theme, presumably for Kamiah.
10. Du Nord, My Brother
(7M1, 11/29/50) Flint shows Du Nord’s burial site to the man’s brother, Roy (Louis Nicoletti); lovely woodwinds accompany the melancholy moment. (The cue also appears later in the finished film prior to “Printemps au Cutting Room,” track 13, as the settlers’ Christmas celebration is sullied by Ironshirt killing a sentry with a long-range rifle.)
11. Marauders/Flint Follows
(7M2, 7M3, 12/4/50) This up-tempo, action-oriented music appears in the finished film as written: Ironshirt and his warriors steal horses belonging to the settlers, causing Kamiah to ride to her grandfather, Blackfoot chief Bear Ghost (John Holt), for assistance; Flint, in turn, follows her.
12. Bear Ghost Dies
(8M3, 11/28/50) Bear Ghost comes to visit the stockade but is shot by Roy Du Nord (to avenge the death of his brother); Brecan shoots and kills Du Nord. Action music for the violence yields to the Blackfoot theme as Bear Ghost dies; a solemn mood appears not only for the death of the wise chief, but the dire result that Ironshirt will now lead the Blackfoot tribe, and is certain to bring hostilities in the spring.
13. Printemps au Cutting Room
(9M1, 11/29/50) Raksin’s sarcastic cue title (which translates to “Spring via the Cutting Room”) refers to the use of stock footage to indicate the changing of the seasons—the settlers prepare to go out and hunt, while Kamiah has given birth to a son. Raksin’s “nature” theme (which has appeared several times throughout the score, including in track 1) gives way to the frontiersmen theme.
14. Flint et Kamiah/Journey
(9M2, 9M3, 12/4/50) “Flint and Kamiah” is sensitive scoring featuring the Blackfoot theme for a tender moment between the couple: Flint confesses that despite the language barrier, and his initial ulterior motives, he has come to love his wife. In “Journey,” the frontiersmen head back to the annual rendezvous accompanied by their theme as well as “Shenandoah”; they stop at a watering hole, where Kamiah is slain by an arrow as Ironshirt attacks with a war party. This is Raksin’s original scoring of both cues, replaced in the finished film by track 24.
15. Ironshirt Bites the Dust
(10M1, 11/29/50) Flint rescues his baby boy (who was in a papoose strapped to the saddle of a runaway horse) and kills Ironshirt; Raksin’s cue enters in the aftermath with somber, even ghostly strains as Flint holds his crying baby.
16. Blackfoot Village/Flint et Brecan
(11M1, 11/29/50; 11M1B, 12/4/50) None of this music appears in the finished film; the accompanying (deleted) scenes, inferred from the aforementioned AFI plot summary, involve Flint taking his son, Chip, to the Blackfoot village to live, believing Kamiah would have wanted that. “Blackfoot Village” features the Blackfoot theme, while “Flint et Brecan” uses a sensitive rendition of the frontiersmen theme.
17. Boy/Maybe Next Year—End Title and Cast
(11M2, 12/4/50; 11M3, 11/28/50, 11/30/50—choir) “Boy” does not appear at all in the finished film: featuring the Blackfoot theme, it was presumably written for a sequence showing Chip (played as a boy by John Hartman) growing up. The film as released abridges this footage and conveys the story via Howard Keel’s narration: Chip spends the next few years with his father, and although Flint intends every year to send Chip back east for a proper education, he perennially defers the decision—resulting in the happiest years of the boy’s life. The cue is reworked editorially in the finished film but both film and cue (as written) end in a powerful vocal statement of “Shenandoah.” Raksin intended the vocal to appear for most of the cue’s final minute (doubling the melody), but this was the only recorded take of the Across the Wide Missouri score missing from both the score’s acetates and studio tapes; the brief vocal finale has been taken from the finished film itself.

Alternate Score

18. Main Title and Foreword (original version)
(1M1, 11/28/50, 11/30/50—choir) The bonus section of the CD begins with Raksin’s original, entirely unused “Main Title,” comprised largely of a stately rendition of “Shenandoah” with a vocal passage for the ensuing foreword.
19. Creatures of the Forest
(1M3, 11/28/50) This contemplative music was meant to be heard under a campfire scene early in the film’s original configuration. The low strings in the opening 0:32 were meant accompany Flint singing “Skip to My Lou,” the vocal track of which was recorded during production but no longer exists. If the tone darkens for the last minute, it is because “Ironshirt enters scene,” as noted at 1:57 on the conductor’s score.
20. Quarry Escapes (revised)
(2M3, 11/28/50; 2M3X, 12/4/50) This revision of “Quarry Escapes” (see track 3) features a different recording for approximately the last minute—essentially the same as the original version, but with subtle differences of timing and orchestration.
21. Pony Go Where Kamiah Go (intermediate version)
(3M3, 12/4/50) M-G-M orchestrator Albert Sendrey composed this second version (out of three; see tracks 5 and 2) of music for Flint and Kamiah flirting early in the film (conducted by Johnny Green), featuring a new theme (rather than the Blackfoot theme) as the basis of delicate romantic suggestions for Flint and Kamiah.
22. Now He’s Ready/Rendezvous C’est Fini
(3M2, 3M3, 7/3/51) This is the music heard in the finished film for the two scenes described in track 7. For each cue, Raksin makes the revised music more thematic and forceful compared to the earlier version: the finished film version of “Now He’s Ready” features a tender rendition of “Skip to My Lou” rather than the Blackfoot and frontiersmen themes, while “Rendezvous C’est Fini” has a more martial and propulsive version of “Shenandoah” (compared to track 7). The latter cue also features an interlude of the Blackfoot theme (interwoven with “Skip to My Lou”) for a warm moment between Flint and Kamiah, and the Blackfoot theme overtly stated for the Indian attack at the end of the cue.
23. Trek
(6M3, 6M4, 6M5, 12/4/50) Albert Sendrey wrote (and John Green conducted) the music heard in the finished film for the mountain-crossing sequence presented earlier as track 8. M-G-M deemed Raksin’s original approach (track 8) too grandiose but time pressures prevented Raksin from handling the rewrite himself. Sendrey’s scoring (track 23) features a more pervasive use of “Shenandoah.”
24. Flint et Kamiah/Journey
(7M3, 7M4, 8M1, 7/3/51) This is the version of track 14 used in the finished film. Among various changes (the cues are much shorter), “Flint et Kamiah” is spruced up with statements of “Skip to My Lou,” and “Journey” features the more martial version of “Shenandoah” heard in the revised “Rendezvous C’est Fini” (track 22).
25. Final Episode/End Title and Cast
(10M1, 12/28/50; 11M3, 11/28/50, 11/30/50—choir) This instrumental ending to the score was adapted by Albert Sendrey (from Raksin’s thematic material, conducted by John Green) and was intended to segue into “End Title and Cast” (replicated here from the same recording heard in track 17). This configuration was not used in the finished film.
26. Main Title (intermediate version)
(1M1, 12/28/50) This is the full-length version of the intermediate, Albert Sendrey-arranged and John Green-conducted “Main Title,” a celebratory “Skip to My Lou” scherzo—the first 0:30 of which were used in the finished film (track 1).  —