STEINER: The Son of Kong / The Most Dangerous Game

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Max Steiner (1888-1971)
The Son of Kong
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
Score reconstructions by John Morgan   Lost Worlds and Forgotten Music: Max Steiner's Legendary RKO Scores As much as Babe Ruth, Frank Buck or Will Rogers, composer Max Steiner – or rather his music – fired the imagination of an entire generation of Americans, and during some of the country's most trying times. When King Kong descended upon movie-goers in spring 1933, Americans found a fantastic, faraway refuge, if but for a few hours, from the winding soup lines of the big cities and raging dust storms in the parched, rural Midwest. They found refuge, too, from the hard fact that one-fourth of the nation's workforce was out of work (including 400,000 lost souls right on the streets of Los Angeles) while many others struggled just to hang on. In the vast, darkened palaces that were the movie theaters of the era, viewers could sympathize with the pretty, trembling, blonde damsel in distress portrayed by Fay Wray, marvel at the amazing stopmotion prehistoric creations of special-effects pioneer Willis O'Brien and revel in the strange chords and thundering climaxes of Max Steiner's trend-setting, fully symphonic film score, which made entirely believable the mystery of uncharted Skull Island, the anxiety of intrepid adventurers quite out of their depth and, finally, the fury of a giant, jungle-stomping, dinosaur-busting, native-eating, train-derailing, skyscraper-scaling ape, albeit one with an oversized heart to match. If King Kong was truly the "Eighth Wonder of the World," to quote fictional, marketingsavvy adventurer Carl Denham (as well as RKO's reallife promoters), then Max Steiner's massive, dynamic score certainly qualifies as a "Ninth" in the realm of film music, starkly forward-minded in its highlighting of far-fetched happenings in unlikely places, yet respectfully observant of operatic traditions extending all the way back to Richard Wagner and, in some respects, even further. Steiner, blessed with a largerthan- usual studio orchestra to work with, later singled out King Kong as a picture that would challenge any composer to furnish his very best. "It was made for music," he said. "It was the kind of film that allowed you to do anything and everything, from weird chords and dissonances to pretty melodies." When King Kong was felled at the end, another daring foray into Hollywood film-making came to a triumphant close – and while the film's huge success at the box office immediately brought demands by studio executives for a sequel, The Son of Kong would experience the fate so many sequels do after magic has struck. Although again helmed by producer Merian C. Cooper and director Ernest B. Schoedsack, The Son of Kong was given a mere six months for production – an outlandish expectation for a film involving the painstakingly slow, meticulous process of stop-motion animation. In addition, the budget was roughly onethird that for King Kong and Steiner found himself back to the usual puny orchestral set-up, which really qualified more as a chamber ensemble, even though the adventurers were once again returning to Skull Island and meeting up with other oversized prehistoric beasts, including Kong's snowball-hued offspring. That Steiner rose to the challenge is further evidence of the resilience, energy and industriousness he displayed during his RKO years. His scores from this pivotal, pioneering period, ranging from the lively Most Dangerous Game to the luminous She, showcase imagination and inventiveness, easily eclipsing many of his better-known scores in later decades. With a cut-to-the-bone budget, frantic shooting schedule and less-than-inspiring story that drags till showman Carl Denham (ebullient Robert Armstrong) again arrives on Skull Island, The Son of Kong probably should have been far less successful than it was. In truth, O'Brien's meticulous stop-motion animation in the sequel in many ways outshines that in King Kong. And while Steiner had just over two weeks to write nearly 45 minutes worth of new music (with the film itself being released Dec. 20, 1933 – just three weeks after the hurried soundtrack was recorded), the composer nevertheless furnished an imaginative, thoroughly winning score that today remains one of his most attractive of all. Much of this comes from his crafting of an infectious blues tune – his own so-called "Runaway Blues" – and setting it loose throughout the score, thus endowing both the music and the film with an easy, all-American charm. The tune even resounds, albeit ominously, after the airing of Little Kong's own leaping motif, which introduces the score's Main Title. These two motifs are followed by a more familiar one – that for the unfriendly island aborigines from the original King Kong score – just to remind and reassure us that we will soon be re-entering the realm of King Kong. After Runaway Blues finally erupts in more engaging form about a minute into the Main Title, it cleverly gives way to King Kong's heavy, descending, three-note motif from the earlier film as the sequel's action opens upon a poster of the giant ape – all that remains of Carl Denham's dashed dreams for King Kong and himself. Ironically, the four-note, so-called "courage motif," again from King Kong, and more often used to gauge the anxiety levels of the astonished adventurers while dealing with Kong and his overgrown neighbors, also surfaces as King Kong's motif first airs in the sequel. What's more, in the cue's final seconds, the courage motif sets off on its own, sounding in a humorously mocking way on one woodwind after another, signifying that showman Carl Denham's stealth and daring are now employed in avoiding process-servers around New York City in the wake of King Kong's brief but destructive reign. It is little wonder Runaway Blues is so fitting as a motif, particularly since both Denham and later Hilda, a young American woman he befriends in the Orient, are fleeing one thing or another. Space here doesn't permit a complete analysis of the entire score (though one is provided on an earlier deluxe edition of this album, Marco Polo 8.225166). However, the blues tune dominates The Son of Kong, including in the cue Runaway Blues, where the melody returns in a more intimate setting, suggesting an unfulfilled longing for home as it airs passionately on a cello, then bass clarinet and finally the rest of the orchestra. It also figures in the subsequent cue Fire! When the tension explodes in this cue, accompanying a scene in which a two-bit circus succumbs to arson, Steiner unleashes a hot-footed piccolo (undoubtedly manned by a player with large lungs!) to scamper above it all in short, staccato bursts, suggesting frenzied flames dancing to and fro. The composer's imaginative picture-painting also finds high clarinets flitting about briefly, representing the trained monkeys and seals that quick-thinking Hilda turns loose before the ramshackle tent becomes a blazing inferno. Other highlights in the score show up once our intrepid adventurers land on Skull Island. They include the cue Quicksand – Little Kong, which has us on largely new musical turf with a scurrying figure in the strings conveying the rush by guilt-ridden Denham and animal-loving Hilda to aid Little Kong, mired in quicksand. Runaway Blues sounds as they undertake their good-hearted mission, the last chords resplendent in deep, rich orchestral garb with a very deliberate and
Item number 8570183
Barcode 747313018376
Release date 09/01/2007
Category Film & TV Music
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Makarevich, Leonid
Makarevich, Leonid
Composers Steiner, Max
Steiner, Max
Conductors Stromberg, William
Stromberg, William
Orchestras Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Producers Inc. Betta International
Inc. Betta International
Disc: 1
The Most Dangerous Game (restored J. Morgan)
1 I. Main Title
2 II. Ship at Sea
3 III. In Dakang
4 IV. Runaway Blues
5 V. Fire!
6 VI. An Offer of Help
7 VII. Memories
8 VIII. Chinese Chatter
9 IX. Forgotten Island
10 X. Quicksand - Little Kong
11 XI. The Styracosaur
12 XII. The Black Bear
13 XIII. Finger Fixings
14 XIV. Campfire at Night
15 XV. The Olde Temple
16 XVI. Johnny Get Your Gun
17 XVII. Finale
18 I. Main Title
19 II. The Wreck
20 III. The Approach
21 IV. Russian Waltz
22 V. Incidental Music
23 VI. Agitato
24 VII. The Iron Door
25 VIII. Night
26 IX. The Count Approaches
27 X. Misterioso Dramatico
28 XI. The Chase
29 XII. The Chase Continues
30 XIII. The Waterfall
31 XIV. The Fight
32 XV. Escape - Finale
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