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Editor's Choice

Best of the Month for
January 2008
 



 

 

LAND OF THE PHARAOHS (1955)

Music Composed and Conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin

2 CDs

CD One, Tracks 1-8 = 74:02

CD Two, Tracks 1-5: = 34:49/ Bonus Tracks 6-10 = 9:12

Album Produced by Lukas Kendall. Orchestrations by Manuel Emanuel, P.A. Marquardt, George Parrish, Herb Taylor, Lucien Caillet, Leonid Rabb, Frank Comstock. Digital Assembly by Michael McDonald. Digital Mastering by Doug Schwartz. CD Art Direction by Joe Sikoryak. Music recorded at Warner Bros. Scoring Stage, December 1954; January - May, 1955.

Film Score Monthly Vol. 10, No. 17 (Limited Pressing of 3,000 Copies)

Rating: ****

 

Incredibly this is the 166th CD release by Film Score Monthly, which has provided vintage film fans with countless hours of the most enjoyable and worthwhile film music.

This 2 CD album is a good example of FSM preservation standards.

It is the first time the complete soundtrack with nearly two hours of music has been presented on LP or CD. The only other prominent release was a nine track sampling also produced by FSM in their supreme 12 CD box set, Elmer Bernstein's Film Music Collection, named Best of Month for January 2006.

Dimitri Tiomkin was at the top of his profession in the 1950s. He had already received three Oscars: two for HIGH NOON (song & score) in 1952, and one for THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY score in 1954. His score for LAND OF THE PHARAOHS was not nominated. That might be due to the fact that the film was not a huge hit with audiences. The film was directed by Howard Hawks in one of his rare efforts with widescreen epics. Though he made the most of the dialogue he had to work with, he confessed "I really don't know how a pharaoh talks."

The film starred Jack Hawkins as the Pharaoh Khufu, Serima as Queen Nailla, James Robertson Justice as Vashtar, and Joan Collins as the sultry Cypress princess, Nelifer, who was probably added as sex appeal for the young boys in the audience. Her hammy acting and horrid makeup look doesn't add any prestige to this grandiose production.

The director, Howard Hawks, was reportedly not pleased with the film and Peter Bogdanovich in his DVD commentary said it "Hawks' weakest picture." Because of the sexpot Joan Collins, it has kept the film's reputation alive so that it's now being sold with her on the cover as a "Cult Camp Classic" on the DVD.

What really makes this film exceptional is the Tiomkin score that more than makes up for any deficiencies of the film. And what a score it is!

On Disc One the opening track with over 10 minutes of intensely energetic ceremonial music is an enormously thrilling experience. Straight away this score brings the listener back to the LAND OF THE PHARAOHS.

The "Main Title" (2:10) begins with a brass flourish, then a solo expressive lament is sung by a very accomplished singer, who is not identified. This is a highly ornate theme full of sadness and melancholy. That theme leads into "Pharaoh's Procession" (2:11-8:37), an incredible explosion of Russian-Oriental style march music, pushing constantly forward like the impressive caravan of thousands of people and treasures of war that it accompanies. What an amazing cue this is!

Following that is "Pharaoh Walks" (8:38-10:38), with the second part of the main theme heard sung by the sopranos and then it quiets down with the main theme played on flute. This opening track with three cues alone is worth the price of the CD.

The second track begins with a more subdued exotic treatment of the main theme for "Pharaoh and Hanar" ((2:16), and that leads into "Looking for Vashtar" (2:17-3:23), where Vashtar 's theme played on English horn was given lyrics by Ned Washington and became the song, "This Too Shall Pass." This song was not included in the film. The final cue of this track is "People of Egypt/Recitative/Pharaoh's Decree" (3:24-5:51), including more statements of the main theme.

The third track begins with "Funeral Song of Joy/ Hymn to the Hero" (1:36) featuring a large choral cue with two new themes, followed a darker sounding "Funeral Song of a Traitor" (1:37-2:43), and the longest cue on this track, "Pharaoh's Spoils" (2:44-9:27), with more variants of the main theme employed. Also

The remaining tracks on Disc One continue this exotic mood painting with great effectiveness, such as the exuberant choral number, "Song of the Builders" (tracks 3 and 4), which Christopher Palmer in his book, Dimitri Tiomkin: A Portrait, described as: "the building of the tomb is conceived with a quasi-operatic realism, the mainspring of the musical action being the singing of the myriad workers engaged in constructing the pyramid; the sound of hammering and chiseling is also incorporated in the orchestral texture."

Later on, he elaborates further by writing that this cue is "a long montage-like sequence totally dependent on the music to draw it together and urge it onwards; and the voices form a conceptual part of the dramatic substance." This is yet another impressive cue on the soundtrack, excellently performed by the studio chorus of eighty, directed by Jester Hairston.

Disc Two provides the remainder of the soundtrack. Most prominent are several tracks titled: "Melody of Death" (tracks 2, 3 and 9). This exotic melody is played first on a solo flute by the Pharaoh's son Xenon (Piero Giagnoni) in the film as Queen Naila (Kerima) kills herself in hopes of saving her son from a cobra attack.

Track 5 contains several key cues to the climax of the film. They include a darker cue when Nelifer becomes queen and a busy action one titled "Sealing the Tomb" (4:59-8:00) when the Pharaoh is buried. The last cue for the End Title brings back the main theme for a final majestic statement, reflecting the film's resolution.

There are also five bonus tracks: "Land of the Pharaohs" (Instrumental, 2:33); "Land of the Pharaohs" (vocal version, 2:16); "Council Chamber" (Alternate to disc two, track 1, 2:01); "Melody of Death" (Continuation of disc two, tracks 2 & 3, 1:12); "15M2 Alternate (disc two, tracks 5 & 6, 1:00).

 

 

The lavishly illustrated CD booklet has background on the film and score, including a funny interview ,"Meet the Musical Harchitect," between entertainment columnist Dick Kleiner and Dimitri Tiomkin with his fractured English. Also in the booklet each individual track is discussed and there are several nice candid photos of Hawks and Tiomkin, as well as some publicity film stills.

 

 

LAND OF THE PHARAOHS is Tiomkin's first great epic widescreen score.

Others would soon follow, such as GIANT (1956), THE ALAMO (1960), THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964), and 55 DAYS AT PEKING (1965).

The sound on this 2 CD set is wonderful and thanks must go to Michael McDonald for digital assembly and especially to the restoration wizard, Doug Schwartz, for his digital mastering.

After years of waiting, we now finally getting quite a hefty amount of memorable Tiomkin soundtracks.

Last year it was D.O.A. (Best of the Month November 2007).

Now LAND OF THE PHARAOHS joins that distinguished list. Some past critics, like Page Cook of Films in Review, didn't like this score and even wrote nasty comments about it. I believe they are wrong in their assessment.

This is a must have for any Dimitri Tiomkin fan and should appeal to anyone else who enjoys the thrill and majesty of a great film score by one of Hollywood's past masters.

This score is so much better than any composed for an epic film today.

Because of its overall excellence, I am pleased to give this 2 CD set a Special Merit designation.

Bravo to Film Score Monthly for their continued interest in restoring and releasing great film soundtracks from the past like LAND OF THE PHARAOHS.

This is a total triumph!

 

--Roger L. Hall, 21 January 2008

Comments regarding this review can be sent to: Film Music Review

 

LAND OF THE PHARAOHS may be ordered at

Screen Archives Entertainment

 

LAND OF THE PHARAOHS DVD

 

 

 

 


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