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RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954) and NIAGARA (1953)

30 Tracks (Playing Time = 62:12)

CD produced by Nick Redman and Douglass Fake. CD Executive Producer: Roger Feigelson. Soundtrack Executive for 20th Century Fox: Tom Cavanaugh.

RIVER OF NO RETURN:
Composed by Lionel Newman, Cyril J. Mockridge, Leigh Harline.
Conducted by Lionel Newman. Orchestrations: Edward B. Powell. Choral Director: Ken Darby. Recorded at Twentieth Century Fox Studios on March 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 23, 23 and April 2, 18, 1954.

NIAGARA:
Composed by Sol Kaplan. Conducted by Lionel Newman. Orchestrations: Edward B. Powell. Recorded at Twentieth Century Fox Studios on September 27, 30, October 6, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17 and November 4, 1952.

Score Restoration: Mike Mattessino. CD Art Direction by Joe Sikoryak. Production Assistant: Regina Fake. Motion Picture Artwork and Stills from Fox Photo Archive.

INTRADA CD Special Collection Volume 137

Rating: ***

 

I was looking forward to this CD release when I noticed it was available. Both of these films were milestones for Marilyn Monroe's film career because they showed her ability to act in higher caliber Technicolor films with more action in scenic outdoor locations. She also proves she can act.

Unfortunately, there was a big letdown when the songs sung in her breathy though appealing voice by Marilyn Monroe were left out due to rights clearance issues. Were the song recordings so expensive that they couldn't be included as bonus features? After all, the main songs, "River Of No Return" and "Kiss" from NIAGARA are included with other singers.

Of the two film scores, RIVER OF NO RETURN is the most appealing. Even though composed by three different composers, it holds together better than NIAGARA, with only one composer involved.

 

The title song for RIVER OF NO RETURN is a memorable one, with music by Lionel Newman and lyrics by Ken Darby [see Centennial Tribute]. This song and the other three songs, not heard on this CD, are important elements of this film soundtrack.

It was beautifully sung over the Main Titles by Tennessee Ernie Ford. But on the opening track of this CD, he sings the song with only guitar accompaniment which doesn't due justice to it. There were two Fox staff composers used for this score. The action themes, including the wonderful American indian ones heard on tracks 3 and 11 are very effectively scored by Leigh Harline. The quieter cues were composed by Cyril Mockridge and are pleasant and sound like nostalgic Americana.

 

 

The title song theme is used prominently throughout this score. One of the most elaborate and interesting is track 7 with a combination of it with another song sung by Monroe, "Down In The Meadow," which is heard at the beginning of this track again without the vocal by Monroe.

The title song is reprised on the final track of this rather short film score (33:54), again sung by Tennessee Ford, this time with vocal accompaniment.

 

On the other hand, the score to NIAGARA, features only one song. It is titled "Kiss" with music again by Lionel Newman and lyrics this time by Haven Gillespie. This song is heard on track 30, nicely sung by The Starlighters, but again not without Monroe's vocal. As Julie Kirgo points out in the CD booklet notes, this song has a key role in this rather sordid story. However, I found Kirgo's descriptions to be way overboard with such descriptions as:

NIAGARA is that rare beast, a Technicolor film noir, with Monroe, a sex-crazed vixen bent on murdering her was-scarred husband.

How does this qualify as a "film noir"? Yes, it is a sordid story but why not just call it a murder mystery? That's basically what it is, but maybe that's just too tame for today's over hyped media world.

Calling Monroe's character "a sex-crazed vixen" is just too extreme and not one that would be used during the early 1950s. Sure, Marilyn Monroe's characters is devious and seductive but I wouldn't call her "sex-crazed." She actually seems somewhat vulnerable and sad more than being "a vixen."

Also, in her descriptions, Kirgo write more like a press agent for Twentieth Century Fox than an impartial writer. For example, she claims,

Only at Fox, it seems, could several composers, a conductor, an orchestrator, a department head, and a superlative group of players work together so smoothly, bringing a harmonious whole out of chaos.

That is both unfair to other studio departments like Universal and MGM and also open to dispute. It is true that Fox was one of the better studios for music but it wasn't necessarily the only one with a team of talented musicians working together.

One person that Kirgo mentions is indeed worthy of high praise and that is Edward Powell, a superb orchestrator responsible for making many scores sound better, including the two on this CD. That takes a bit of doing for the mundane score composed by Kaplan, who in my opinion was not a first class film composer. Capable composer, yes, but not one of the best.

All in all, this is good CD for those wishing to have the scores for two well made films of the early 1950s. But without the songs sung by Marilyn Monroe in RIVER OF NO RETURN and NIAGARA they are incomplete representations of the total film soundtracks.

 

-- Roger Hall, 15 February 2011

 

 

 


 

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