The Comedians

These liner notes from the original LP releases of Hotel Paradiso and The Comedians, along with the full text of a 2010 interview with composer Laurence Rosenthal, supplement the essay by John Takis found in the booklet accompanying FSM’s CD release of these scores. These online notes are also available as a PDF file for more convenient printing.

From the original MGM Records LP…

The course of any Graham Greene novel is almost as predictable as the path of the sun. Step 1: Critical acclaim. Step 2: Best-sellerdom. Step 3: Successful translation into another medium—the screen, the stage or television.

But success is about the only predictable element in the works of Graham Greene. For each new entry is dramatically different from the last one. A different mood. A different setting. A different cast of characters.

Greene has explored the cloak-and-dagger world of wartime London (Confidential Agent, Ministry of Fear). The now-vanished Africa of British Colonialism (The Heart of the Matter). The broody Vienna of the Occupation (The Third Man). The mixture of comedy and corruption that was pre-Castro Cuba (Our Man in Havana).

But few settings have offered the novelist a stage more exotic, more violent than that he chose for The Comedians: Haiti today.

For present-day Haiti is a land of stunning contrasts. Of bumbling pettifoggery and brute force. Of sun by day and terror by night. Of primitive voodoo mysticism and very modern M-1 rifles. And against this background, Greene has woven one of his most powerful narratives.

The Comedians is a love story. A satire. A political indictment. And a no-holds-barred, good-to-the-last-shot thriller.

In bringing the Peter Glenville production to the screen, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has appropriately assembled a remarkably diverse gathering of talents.

Greene himself wrote the screenplay (his first since Our Man in Havana). England’s Glenville (whose screen credits include Becket, The Prisoner and Summer and Smoke) both produced and directed. And the cast of players reads like a “Who’s Who” of international movie-making.

Richard Burton is the expatriate Brown, drawn back to Haiti by private ambition and his tempestuous affair with Martha (Elizabeth Taylor)—the wife of a pompous South American diplomat (Peter Ustinov). Sir Alec Guinness is Jones—mystery-man, con artist and self-styled “Major”—whose machinations accidentally plunge Brown and Martha into the nether-world of Haitian intrigue. And, in brilliant portrayals, Paul Ford and Lillian Gish are American innocents abroad—unable and unwilling to comprehend the terror that surrounds them.

As integral to the film’s success as the distinguished script, direction and stars is the compelling score of Laurence Rosenthal.

For a young composer, Mr. Rosenthal has racked up an astonishing list of credits—film, stage and television.

A graduate of Howard Hanson’s composition classes at Eastman, Rosenthal pursued his studies—as had Aaron Copland and Marc Blitzstein before him—with France’s Nadia Boulanger.

In the last dozen years, he has divided his talents between Broadway and Hollywood.

His name is a Playbill familiar to theatergoers, via the incidental music to such prestigious plays as the David Susskind production of Rashomon, the Peter Glenville-directed Becket, and the Alec Guinness vehicle Dylan.

In the lighter-hearted world of musical comedy, Rosenthal created the ballet music for The Music Man, Take Me Along and, more recently, the entire score for last season’s hit musical Sherry.

No less impressive is his list of motion picture scores. Among the most memorable are A Raisin in the Sun, The Miracle Worker, Requiem for a Heavyweight and, of course, Becket (for which he earned an Oscar nomination).

Two successful television series have brought Laurence Rosenthal’s music into America’s living rooms: the highly acclaimed Twentieth Century, and Coronet Blue starring Robert Goulet.

Interestingly enough, it was TV that brought about the first coupling of the Rosenthal-Graham Greene names, when Larry provided the musical setting for a special dramatization of Greene’s The Power and the Glory.

Now, in his second realization of a Graham Greene work, Laurence Rosenthal offers a score as rich, as colorful, as full of astonishments as the motion picture itself: the dramatic adventure of The Comedians.