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THE NIGHT DIGGER (1971)

Music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann.

8 Tracks (Playing Time = 44:30)

 

Produced by J.S.R. Lasher. Performed by The Sessions of London Orchestra. Rosemary Green, viola d'amore. Tommy Reilly, harmonica. Recording Engineer: Bob Auger. Sony CD Mastering and Remix Engineer: Michael Lynch, Sydney, Australia. CD Authoring and Editing: Ben Chesterman.

Recorded at Barking Assembly Hall, London.

Label X LXCD 1002 (Distributed by Hot Records UK)

Rating: ***

 

This film has the following description in its promo ad:

"A lonely woman in a decaying mansion...A young stranger on a big, black bike.
A tale of the strange and perverse."

Does this sound a little bit like scenes from Hitchcock's PSYCHO? Well, Bernard Herrmann's music certainly has strong hints of that classic Hitchcock horror film score he composed in 1960. It also has hints of a Herrmann score to come: SISTERS from 1973. Is THE NIGHT DIGGER as good as either of these scores? Let's look at the details first.

The film (titled THE ROAD BUILDER in the UK) starred Patricia Neal as Maura Prince, a lonely spinster who cares for her blind and irritable mother, played by Patricia Brown. The other main character was Billy Jarvis, a depraved motorcyclist who has raped and killed young woman and buried them near country roads. This grisly character is played by Nicholas Clay. While the acting is good in the film, after I watched this film on television many years ago I swore never to watch it again because of its depraved storyline. But the soundtrack is a different matter altogether because it was composed by the great Bernard Herrmann.

THE NIGHT DIGGER soundtrack is broken down into what Herrmann called

"Scenario Macabre for Orchestra" (tracks 1-7, 43:28)

There is also a short bonus track titled "Billy's Theme"- Harmonica Solo (1:02)

The harmonica is what the psychotic killer Billy plays in the film. On the soundtrack the solos are played by harmonica virtuoso, Tommy Reilly.

The opening Scenario with relentless themes by the strings, strongly resembles themes in PSYCHO from over a decade earlier. Yet, it is still quite effective in establishing the mood of "the strange and perverse." As in PSYCHO, Herrmann uses the strings most prominently. He also makes prominant use of a solo viola d'amore and the harmonica.

After the exiting opening string theme the remaining tracks are quieter but at the same time dark and menacing. These quieter string themes are appealing though somewhat repetitive.

The CD notes by producer John Lasher provide helpful information about the film, the score and the composer. The sound quality of this reissue is better than the earlier release but mixed at a lower volume level and the harmonica is often hard to hear. According to Lasher's notes the "Scenario Macabre for Orchestra" is according to the instructions given to Lasher "by the composer in 1974" and "arranged in sequential order."

To return to the question earlier -- is this score as good as either PSYCHO or SISTERS? I would say no. It does have that distinctive Herrmann sound to it with darker strings. But it still sounds too much like PSYCHO. What is different is the menacing harmonica, not usually an instrument used for such a mood.

Many people consider Herrmann the greatest American film composer from the past. I am one of those people.

As with these releases from Australia on Label X, this soundtrack was originally released on LP back in 1975 and later on CD l in a less than ideal production .

Is this new CD release worth buying if you already have the previous one? I would say yes, mainly for the improved sound and re-ordering of tracks according to Herrmann's wishes.

THE NIGHT DIGGER isn't among the best of Herrmann's long career yet it's still worth owning.

 

Roger Hall
15 September 2008

Note: This CD is distributed by Hot Records in the UK and Didgeridoo in Australia.

For more information, see

Hot Records UK

Or write to:

info@hotrecords.uk.com

 

Return to:

FMR Fall Issue 2008

 


 

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