February 25th, 2007

Conan the King (Conan the Barbarian)

Previously on "Monsters From the Id"

I went with jailnurse and Dave to the New York Comic Con today. While I didn't much care for it much, there was one moment that came up that was fairly chuckle-worthy. There was a booth with a sort of trivia challenge. You pick any topic and they ask you a question. If you answer correctly, you spin the wheel to determine what your prize was.

When asked what my topic was, I of course responded "film music." The guy thought a moment and came up with his big stumper. "Who composed the orchestral score for Conan the Barbarian." It kind of came across to Tim or Dave as being analagous to either of them getting, "Bruce Wayne is also known to the world as what famous Caped Crusader?"

Of course, when I spun the wheel, all I won was pocket lint, so I guess the last laugh was on me.

I am currently listening to Miklós Rózsa's beautiful score for the 1982 comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. This music hearkens back to classic noir films, scenes from which appear as part of the film. Dr. Rózsa could have written this music in the forties, and, in fact, many of the films included in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid were, in fact, scored by Rózsa. The score is played straight; in fact, when Carl Reiner first approached Dr. Rózsa for the project, his immediate response was, "I don't do comedy." The result is that Rózsa's final score before retiring was another film noir gem.

One of these was, of course, the yardstick by which all noir is measured, Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. Rózsa's score for this film is a bold, powerful work, with very interesting thematic connections (check out Royal S. Brown's book Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music for some very interesting readings). There has been no score release of this music as yet, only a cue recorded by Charles Gerhardt and an extended suite recorded by James Sedares. However, if it is making the music work in service of the film that is ultimately what Rózsa was best at.

This is one of the opening scenes from the film, and the music is not only reflecting the sense of emergency that Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is clearly experiencing, but is also telling us something about the character that will not be revealed until the conclusion of the film itself.

Of course, the fancy music is only part of the appeal of this film. This scene also occurs towards the beginning of the film; Neff has shown up to the Dietrichson household to sell insurance to the Man of the House (Tom Powers), but loses interest in him once he meets his wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck). In many ways, the restrictions of the period forced the screenwriters to be more inventive with their dialogue, and Wilder and Raymond Chandler's dialogue crackles with detail, nuance and innuendo.