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ROCKETSHIP X-M (1950)

Music composed by Ferde Grofe.

Produced by David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne. Digital editing and mastering: Ray Faiola. Layout: Gina Vivona. Liner notes: David Schecter.
Cover art: Vincent Di Fate.

16 Tracks (Playing Time = 37:16)

MMM-1965

Rating: ***1/2

 

Previous albums from Monstrous Movie Music have been of the type which gives the label its descriptive name: THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, PROJECT MOONBASE, IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, THE BLOB, THIS ISLAND EARTH, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and the first two compilations: MONSTROUS MOVIE MUSIC and MORE MONSTROUS MUSIC.

And there are three non-monster music titles which are all worth considering for your CD library. One is an underrated film and memorable score by Herman Stein, THE INTRUDER (Sammy Award for Best Vintage Score). Also two excellent CDs with music by Ernest Gold: SHIP OF FOOLS (Best of the Month) and THE McCULLOCHS (Special Merit).



For those who are old enough to remember the popularity of outer space films in the early 1950s, ROCKETSHIP X-M was the first of that genre, though not as well received as DESTINATION MOON in 1950, or THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and THE THING, both from 1951 and with superior scores by Bernard Herrmann and Dimitri Tiomkin respectively.

The score for ROCKETSHIP X-M is by a composer not generally known for film music, Ferde Grofe. He is better known for arranging George Gershwin's landmark composition, Rhapsody in Blue, for Paul Whiteman's jazz orchestra in 1924, and for composing a series of wonderful pictorial orchestral pieces, Grand Canyon Suite, Mississippi Suite, Niagara Falls Suite, and others.

The one instrument which became almost a fixture in 1950s science-fiction flicks was the Theremin. It had first been used in the 1940s, especially by Miklos Rozsa in SPELLBOUND and THE LOST WEEKEND. In ROCKETSHIP X-M, the theremin was played by the best known player at that time, Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman, who was also a foot doctor! Other instruments used prominently include the electic keyboard known as a Novachord, also harp, vibraphone, woodwinds and strings. Yet, the score is somewhat of a patchwork, as David Schecter explains in his informative liner notes:

"The major disappointment with Rocketship X-M's score is that Grofe, a pioneering jazz arranger, did not orchestrate it...Although Grofe was paid only $1,250 to compose the music, the low-rent budget couldn't also cover paying him to orchestrate and conduct. Those tasks fell to Musical Director [Albert] Glasser, and unfortunately, orchestrating and conducting were not two of Glasser's major strengths...the score sometimes sounds like it's 75% Grofe and 25% Glasser, and there are definitely times when the orchestra can't summon the necessary force or dexterity that the writing calls for - without almost bursting at the seams."

Because of that decision this score has problems. But what is there is evocative of outer space music as it came to be known at least in the early 1950s.

I have to admit this score is a guilty pleasure of mine having enjoyed it immensely when I first watched ROCKETSHIP X-M as a youngster on televsion. As I listened to it now I hear its defects, esepecially in the thinness of the orchestra.

Yet there are very effective cues as well, such as "The Landing on Mars" with the eerie Theremin, which as Schecter correctly mentions,

"sounds like it's straight out of Bernard Herrmann's The Day the Earth Stood Still, composed the year after Rocketship X-M."

Could it be that Herrmann was somewhat influenced by this Grofe? Perhaps, but Herrmann would have never admitted it!

This score is actually an important part of film music history since it was at the beginning of outer space film scoring. Though the Theremin and Novachord are seldom if ever used today, the fact is that electronic instruments and sound effects may be said to begin with Grofe's score as orchestrated by Glasser. Perhaps Glasser should be given more credit for his work on ROCKETSHIP X-M.

There was an LP release for ROCKETSHIP X-M in 1977 from STARLOG Records...

ROCKETSHIP X-M (ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK LP, 1977)

The Monstrous Movie Music CD is a re-issue of that 1977 LP with improved sound quality.

It is recommended to all outer space film fans (yes, that includes STAR WARS devotees) who want to have a landmark film score from the beginning of the genre.

Another in a long line of outstanding releases from Monstrous Movie Music.

-- Reviewed by Roger Hall, 29 May 2012

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