Until They Sail

Until They Sail (1957) reunited Paul Newman with Robert Wise, who had directed Newman in his breakthrough performance in Somebody Up There Likes Me the previous year. This time, however, Newman had only a third-billed supporting role. The focus of Until They Sail was the four Leslie sisters of Christchurch, New Zealand during World War II. With most of the local men off fighting the war, their town is overrun by American soldiers en route to battle. Repressed Anne (Joan Fontaine) unexpectedly falls in love with Captain Richard Bates (Charles Drake); after he dies in combat, she leaves for America with their illegitimate child to visit his family. Married Barbara (Jean Simmons) loses her husband in the war and begins a chaste romance with cynical Captain Jack Harding (Newman). The youngest, Evelyn (14-year-old Sandra Dee in her film debut), flirts with the visiting American soldiers, but ends up marrying her young sweetheart, Tommy, who survives the war. Meanwhile, tempestuous Delia (Piper Laurie) hastily marries local layabout Shiner (Wally Cassell), but once he is away at war she cavorts with a various Americans; upon his return, he becomes enraged when Delia insists on a divorce and kills her with a sword. At Shiner’s trial, Jack testifies about Delia’s infidelities and an angry Barbara rejects him—before ultimately forgiving him.

Until They Sail was the second film adapted from James A. Michener’s 1950 story collection Return to Paradise: the short story “Mr. Morgan” had served as the basis for Return to Paradise (1953), starring Gary Cooper as an American living on a Samoan island during World War II and featuring a score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Until They Sail underwent a complicated development: it was originally optioned by Aspen Productions, the company run by Wise and his fellow RKO vet Mark Robson, but the project was postponed due to casting difficulties. Hecht-Lancaster-Hill Productions then purchased the rights from Aspen, first with the intention of partner Burt Lancaster playing the male lead, and later not to star but instead to make it his second directing project (following The Kentuckian) with Kim Stanley in the female lead and Richard Collins (Riot in Cell Block 11) writing the script. M-G-M then purchased the rights, intending Glenn Ford to star, and the project ultimately returned to Wise, with Charles Schnee (Somebody Up There Likes Me) producing and playwright Robert Anderson (Tea and Sympathy) adapting the story for the screen.

Wise traveled to New Zealand in late 1956 with art director Paul Groesse and associate producer James E. Newcom, a four-time Oscar nominee for film editing who had shared the 1939 Oscar for cutting Gone with the Wind. According to Wise (in Robert Wise on His Films: From Editing Room to Director’s Chair by Sergio Leeman), “I needed to get a feel of the country and look for locations where Jim would shoot the background plates and long shots that were later worked into the film, which we shot entirely on the M-G-M backlot. In New Zealand, I met several women who had lived through similar situations, getting firsthand information on the kind of love stories we were going to portray in the film. The ingredients of the drama were such that I knew I didn’t have to bend on sentimentality.”

Wise told a reporter before production began that he hoped to shoot the film in color but not in CinemaScope, because “This is a personal story in which character development is more important than plot, and CinemaScope, so great for some types of stories, would be less desirable than general wide screen for this particular story.” Despite Wise’s original intentions, Sail was ultimately lensed in black-and-white CinemaScope. The director was pleased to be working with his two romantic leads for the second time, remarking of Simmons, “Jean is one of the best actresses I worked with. I don’t think she ever was given enough credit for the quality of her acting. She was a star, but I think she should have been a much bigger one than she became.” But despite the success he shared with Newman on Somebody Up There Likes Me, Wise had trouble recruiting the actor for Sail: “He didn’t respond one hundred percent overly enthusiastic. I think he thought the part was a little mild, a little soft. It wasn’t like Somebody, which he was all out for.” Newman was loaned to M-G-M for the project by Warner Bros, with Newman receiving $1,500 a week for his work but Warners earning $2,500 per week for the loanout.

Until They Sail’s 95-minute running time seems insufficient to do justice to its ambitious storyline, which spans the entire length of World War II and features four principal female leads, multiple romances, a murder and an illegitimate birth. Apart from the outstanding performances (especially from Jean Simmons), the film derives much of its dramatic and emotional coherence from David Raksin’s openly romantic score. Over the course of his lengthy career, Wise worked with some of the finest composers in Hollywood, including Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa and Jerry Goldsmith, but Sail was his only project with Raksin. Producer Schnee, however, had several collaborations with the composer during his earlier career as a writer, including the classic The Bad and the Beautiful, whose screenplay earned Schnee an Oscar and which featured one of Raksin’s greatest (and most popular) scores.

Wise’s recognition of Raksin’s talent and his understanding of the role of his music in the film was made clear when he and Schnee learned that the studio was considering previewing the film with “canned [tracked-in] music.” Schnee and Wise each wrote to M-G-M vice-president Benjamin Thau to insist that the film only be screened with Raksin’s score. Schnee’s telegram (from a hotel in Hawaii) stated that the “picture was designed for Raksin score,” while in his own letter, Wise went into great detail about the importance of the music. He explained that he met with Raksin even before production began, praised the “lovely and moving theme” that Raksin had already composed, and opined that “I have never been on a picture where I felt a beautifully composed and constructed score was going to contribute quite as much as I feel it will on Until They Sail. I just don’t see how we will be able to give the show a fair shake at the preview—how we will be fully able to feel and judge the scenes, or know their complete values without the especially composed music. I guarantee it will make a drastic difference in the reaction to the picture—a difference that canned music could never possibly achieve.” Thau promptly assured them that the film would not screen without Raksin’s music.

Raksin’s score is dominated by his title song, first heard in the opening credits, which seem to pause to allow the lyric “until they sail” to match the appearance of the title on screen. Eydie Gormé performed the song, with lyrics by the legendary Sammy Cahn, and its countermelody was whistled by Muzzy Marcellino (1912–1997), who performed similar duties on Hugo Montenegro’s popular cover version of the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and even contributed bird whistles for Disneyland’s Tiki Room. (As Marilee Bradford reveals in her essay for the booklet accompanying this release, Wise did not intend the vocal version of the song to be used over the main title—the studio instructed Raksin to make the change without consulting the director, who blamed the composer for the change despite Raksin’s protestations to the contrary.)

The song is reminiscent of the classic World War II-era ballad “We’ll Meet Again,” and Raksin’s music cleverly balances the wistful quality of the melody line with the upbeat, hopeful countermelody. In the score, Raksin uses the theme to represent the story’s two mature romances between Barbara and Jack, and Anne and Richard. The score also features two other repeated motives, emphasizing the emotional poles of the story, with a charming hornpipe used for the incursion of the Americans (particularly when the citizens of Christchurch find their city overrun by friendly soldiers) and a powerful motive representing loss, first heard when the sisters see boats full of New Zealand soldiers sailing off to war.

The film may be one of Wise’s least remembered efforts but it earned positive reviews upon its release. Variety found it “absorbing” and judged Raksin’s score “distinctive,” while The Hollywood Reporter termed it “piercing and poignant” and “a worthy successor to Since You Went Away,” declaring Raksin’s music “excellent.” — 

This premiere release of the complete score to Until They Sail is presented in monaural sound (enhanced with a light stereo ambiance) from the 17.5mm scoring masters. (Although M-G-M was using three-track 35mm magnetic film by the late 1950s, most scores recorded during 1957 and 1958 were archived on 17.5mm monaural film, likely as a budgetary measure.) One cue—track 4, “The Gorge Rises (Wedding Scene)”—was recorded (for reasons unknown) on 35mm three-track stereo film and is accordingly presented in true stereo.

1. Main Title
A heraldic suggestion of the title song plays through the M-G-M logo, leading to a vocal arrangement of the tune for the opening credits, sung by Eydie Gormé. The jazz-tinged melody, faux-optimistic whistling and bittersweet lyrics by Sammy Cahn capture the film’s themes of loneliness and love as a fleet of ships departs Christchurch, New Zealand in the distance. In the film, a noble passage for brass and strings is tracked (from “Postlude,” track 17) for a transition to a Christchurch courthouse as a title card reveals the date is November 1945: the film begins with Major Jack Harding (Paul Newman) testifying at a trial and the bulk of the film subsequently unfolds as a flashback by another witness, Barbara Forbes née Leslie (Jean Simmons).
2. The Ships Depart
Barbara and her three sisters gather on the balcony of their Christchurch home to watch their menfolk sail off to war. A portentous development of “Until They Sail” unfolds before the women return inside; the main theme’s coda plays warmly as they use colored pushpins to keep track of the locations of their loved ones on a map. In the film, this entire cue is replaced with “But If He Doesn’t,” prematurely introducing a more overtly tragic motive, associated with death later in the film.
3. Most Quiet Need
Raksin develops the main theme yearningly on strings before flute takes up a pure rendition of the melody; this cue does not appear in the film, possibly the result to deleted footage.
Passion Put to Use
Another string-laden version of the main theme is omitted from the film before rhythmic, optimistic material is dialed in for Delia Leslie (Piper Laurie) returning home after a date with her abrasive beau, “Shiner” Friskett (Wally Cassell). She excitedly runs inside to inform her sisters Barbara and Anne (Joan Fontaine) that she and Shiner have just become engaged.
4. The Gorge Rises (Wedding Scene)
A broad, stately version of Delia’s material from “Passion Put to Use” plays during her wedding ceremony. The harmony becomes increasingly harsh when Shiner gives his new bride a smothering kiss—Barbara forces a smile before Delia can catch the look of disapproval on her face.
5. Bachiana Balloneira
Delia tells Barbara she is moving to Wellington: Shiner has gone to fight in the war and Delia has become lonely. In the background, a radio plays an elegiac piece for string orchestra, setting a mood of anguish as Barbara, well aware of her sister’s craving for men, warns Delia to be careful. (Raksin’s cue title playfully references Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasilieras, the style of which Raksin adopts for this heartfelt cue.)
6. Danger—Marines Landing
The score builds shimmering, nautical anticipation as the youngest Leslie sister, Evelyn (Sandra Dee), calls Barbara and Anne outside to observe a fleet of American ships approaching Christchurch. When the scene transitions to the marines filtering into the town square, Raksin introduces a jovial tune on solo trumpet, subsequently passing the idea around the orchestra while the American men flirt with Christchurch’s women. The cue subsides as Anne expresses to Barbara her contempt for the visitors.
7. Wellington
Barbara and Anne worry about Delia’s behavior; grand, transitional material based on Delia’s music follows as the scene segues to Wellington, with Barbara arriving at her promiscuous sister’s hotel. (The opening few seconds of this cue do not appear in the film.)
A Mild Ferment
In a Wellington bar, Delia’s American boyfriend, Andy (Adam Kennedy), introduces Barbara to his friend, the newly divorced Jack Harding. As the initial awkwardness of their encounter melts away and Harding opens up to Barbara, delicate interplay between strings and woodwinds leads to a tender version of the main theme on muted trombone. Barbara excuses herself and the melody continues to play up her attraction to Harding when she turns back for one final look at him. The opening material from “Danger—Marines Landing” is referenced for a transition shot of Barbara flying back to Christchurch. Raksin then reprises the main theme as she attempts to pen a note to her absent husband on the flight home, but her mind is still preoccupied with Jack.
8. But Not Now
A smitten Anne invites Captain Richard Bates (Charles Drake) over for dinner. When he offers gifts to each of the Leslie sisters, Anne becomes offended and retreats to the kitchen. An unused reading of the main theme for strings and woodwinds was intended to underscore Barbara’s explanation of Anne’s behavior to Richard: too many Americans have been using meaningless gifts to seduce Christchurch’s women. The theme is dialed into the film when the captain proceeds into the kitchen and wins Anne over.
A transition to Anne tidying up the living room is scored with a cheerful version of the main theme’s coda and a relaxing descending figure—until she notices something out the window. The main theme builds menacingly, recalling its treatment from “The Ships Depart” as Anne goes outside to watch a fleet of ships sailing off: Richard is gone. The tune regains its warmth when Barbara consoles her sister and they return inside, where Anne studies the family’s map and wonders where the war will take Richard.
9. Farewell to Mark
Barbara withdraws to her room after she receives a telegram bringing news of her husband’s death. Raksin introduces the tragic “death in war” motive amid material from “The Ships Depart” as she clutches his pushpin from the map, sobbing.
10. I Wanted to Know
After Richard is injured in battle, Anne visits him at a New Zealand hospital, the main theme gently asserting itself as they reconnect. The music transitions to a jazzy ballad arrangement of the tune as a montage begins with the couple dancing; a lush, romantic setting of the same material follows for Richard and Anne relaxing at a park, and falling more and more in love.
I Wonder
Playful writing for woodwinds, glockenspiel and strings (with occasional harmonics) underscores young Evelyn running into Barbara’s room and awakening her with news that Anne and Richard are kissing right outside the house. Barbara shoos off Evelyn and goes to observe the couple from her window to a bittersweet, lonesome setting of the main theme.
11. But if He Doesn’t
At a restaurant, Anne and Richard become engaged, even though before long he will ship back out to battle. A reprisal of the “death in war” motive captures Barbara’s quiet concern for the couple; troubled strings and winds continue through a transition to Anne updating Richard’s location on the family map. She confesses to Barbara that she is pregnant, and the cue balances a mournful tone for Anne’s doubts about her fiancé’s well-being with warmth for Barbara’s reassurances that he will return safely.
12. Re-Encounter
Harding arrives at the Leslie home, sent by military brass to investigate Richard’s request to marry Anne. Jack is briefly reunited with Barbara and learns that her husband has died; the main theme underlines their rekindled attraction as he departs.
Until They Sail Fox Trot
A smooth big band rendition of “Until They Sail” plays (ostensibly as source music) when the scene transitions to Barbara and Jack having a drink at a bar. Harding explains his stance that war marriages are spawned by loneliness rather than love.
Okay, What’s Yours?
Raksin supplies a warm variation on the main theme for Jack driving Barbara home. They discuss the other Leslie sisters, with the cue taking a sorrowful turn when Jack brings up the possibility that Richard is dead.
Once they arrive in front of Barbara’s house, the Jack-associated variation of the main theme returns when he retrieves from the glove compartment his own method for fighting loneliness: a bottle of liquor. A pure reading of the main theme on muted trombone concludes the cue as the two stare longingly at one another: they say good night and Barbara goes inside.
13. Farewell to Dick
Raksin reprises the “death in war”/”Ships Depart” material when a despondent Anne enters the living room and sets down a newspaper. She retreats to her room with Barbara following—Evelyn examines the newspaper and learns that Richard has died.
14. Ripples in the Sand
Barbara and Jack enjoy each other’s company near a secluded pond. A contemplative version of the main theme becomes increasingly anguished, hinting at the “Ships Depart” variation, as he confides in her. He insists that he does not love her—his feelings for her are the product of loneliness—before he breaks down in her arms.
15. A Little Less Lonely
Barbara and Jack celebrate Christmas Eve in the Leslies’ guest house. Muted trombone and strings perform the main theme as the friends reflect over their past few months together. Both have been less lonely, although Jack regrets not sticking to the simple comfort of his bottle now that the war is taking him from Barbara: he is shipping out for Okinawa the next day.
And Nothing More
The conversation continues to the accompaniment of reprised material from “Okay, What’s Yours?” Jack tells Barbara he is grateful that they never consummated their love, but the cue’s mournful inflections suggest otherwise for both of them. They promise to write one another and the main theme swells passionately as they kiss, spinning into a tormented conclusion as Jack breaks away from her and leaves for Okinawa.
16. Expeditious Enough
Barbara discovers a personal ad from Richard’s mother in the newspaper: Mrs. Bates is searching for any family in New Zealand who might have known her dead son. Barbara contacts her and Anne subsequently receives a cable and money from Richard’s mother, who wants her and her baby boy to come live in Oklahoma with Richard’s family. The main theme’s coda underscores her and Barbara’s excited reactions to the news. Noble scalar material climbs when a U.S. Marine arrives at the door to help expedite Anne’s travel to America, followed by a reprisal of the jovial writing of “Danger—Marines Landing” for a transition to an airfield where Anne and her son wave goodbye to Barbara and Delia from their departing plane.
17. Banzai
Shiner returns to Christchurch, where Delia plans to ask him for a divorce. A cold clarinet choir underscores their uncomfortable dinner together, the cue turning increasingly threatening when Shiner, sensing Delia’s distance, demands that she speak her mind. He becomes belligerent when she requests a divorce and admits her desire to marry another man. A biting half-step figure supports escalating strings as Shiner grabs a samurai sword, with Delia in turn screaming, to a shrill orchestral exclamation.
Till Death Do Us In
Barbara arrives home to find the police covering up Delia’s corpse; an extended reprisal of the climax from “Banzai” underscores her horrified reaction and subsequent fainting spell.
During a break in Shiner’s murder trial, Jack explains to Barbara that he is being ordered to testify about Delia, and then asks her to accompany him to America when he ships home the next day; upset about his participation in the trial, Barbara declines. When the trial resumes and Jack testifies that Delia slept with at least seven men during her husband’s tour of duty, a distraught Barbara leaves the courtroom, to a brief variation on the main theme (unused in the film). A warm chorale plays on the radio when the scene transitions to Barbara quietly reflecting in her empty home: with Delia dead and her other sisters gone, she is now completely alone in Christchurch.
18. She’s Too Good for S.G.
A radio news bulletin reminds Barbara of the trial and she angrily tears the family map off the wall and tosses it into the fireplace. An outburst of the tumultuous “Ships Depart” material struggles to reach a more contented rendition of the main theme as Barbara proceeds outside toward the guest house where she spent Christmas Eve with Jack. She replays in her head Jack’s offer to live with her in America, the score offering bittersweet, fateful developments of “Until They Sail” as she wrestles with her decision.
In the film, music from the first half of this cue is repeated to underscore Barbara’s arrival at Jack’s hotel in Wellington. She is momentarily shocked to find him entertaining a lady—a false alarm, as his guest turns out to be the wife of a friend. A pure reading of the main theme builds as Barbara and Jack are left alone to embrace. Barbara wonders aloud whether her father would have understood and forgiven his daughters’ behavior, to a final questioning statement of the “death in war” motive, before the main theme reaches a romantic coda.

Bonus Tracks

19. Until They Sail (record version)
This extended version of the main title song was recorded by Eydie Gormé for release on ABC-Paramount Records, her label at the time (where it was the B-side to “When Your Lover Has Gone,” 9852). The song has been newly remixed from the original M-G-M scoring elements, having been recorded at the same session as the film’s “Main Title.” Gormé performed the bridging vocalise as well as the lyrics; the whistler was Muzzy Marcellino.
20. Until They Sail (orchestral demo)
This was the first piece of music Raksin recorded for Until They Sail, on April 1, 1957, a nostalgic melody for strings and winds, at that time likely intended as the theme, but not used in the finished score. (Curiously, nearly two weeks earlier, on March 19, 1957, Bronislau Kaper supervised the recording of a standard, “That Old Feeling,” presumably for use as source music; Kaper was either the intended composer at that time, or was doing a favor.)
21. Until They Sail (demo)
Betty Wand recorded this demo version of “Until They Sail”—essentially the same as the song that appeared in the film—on May 24, 1957, supported by two pianos, guitar and bass. To continue the post-production timeline, Eydie Gormé and orchestra recorded the final vocals for the film (and ABC-Paramount single) on June 7, and Raksin’s score was recorded on July 11 (the stereo “Gorge Rises” only), July 30, August 1 and 2, 1957.  —