Home > Reviews > THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN – Max Steiner


October 17, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Warner Brothers had long been attracted to the idea of filming a tale of the legendary lover Don Juan. After six years and countless revisions, screenwriter George Oppenheimer finally completed a script that satisfied Warner Brothers executives. Director Vincent Sherman was able to secure a fine cast that included the mercurial Errol Flynn (Don Juan de Maraña), Viveca Lindfors (Queen Margaret), Alan Hale (Leporello) and Robert Douglas (Duke de Lorca). The story concerns Don Juan de Maraña, Spain’s ambassador to the English court, who has damaged the prestige of the Spanish King with his blatant and insatiable womanizing. Discredited in diplomatic circles, Don Juan attempts to restore his standing after he meets the beautiful Queen Margaret, with whom he falls in love for the first time of his life. Although Margaret is trapped in a loveless marriage with King Philip III, she strives to resist Don Juan’s alluring and seductive advances. In a bold move to restore his honor Don Juan uncovers a plot by the King’s ruthless minister Duke de Lorca, to usurp the King’s authority. Regretfully he is outmaneuvered after De Lorca intimidates the cowardly king into compliance and threatens to execute the Margaret. Yet all is not lost as Don Juan with the assistance of his servant Leporello, fencing master Don Serafino, and court jester Sebastian have the last word. In a series of fierce battles he saves the day with an epic final sword duel with Duke de Lorca. The film was a critical success earning two Oscars, but only a modest commercial success.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was originally hired to score the film. However, due to long production delays his services were lost when he abandoned film scoring in 1948, as such contracted composer Max Steiner was assigned to the film by Warner executives. Steiner who was well known for his talent of understanding a film’s emotional narrative expertly provided the comedy, intrigue, romance and adventure required by the story. The score features a multiplicity of fine themes including the primary Don Juan Theme. Its opening six-note phrase is rendered in an amazing number of variations, which animate the film. It’s bright, bold and bravado major modal melody perfectly emotes the free spirited swashbuckling charm that was Don Juan. The Serenade Theme is a light-hearted, carefree and romantic statement carried with a dance-like elegance by harp, flute, violin and kindred strings, and was used to underscore Don Juan’s romantic escapades. Queen Margaret’s Theme carries a regal air and is emoted with dignity by strings nobile embellished with Spanish guitar. De Lorca’s Theme, which animates our villain, uses a sinister descending six-note line carried by dark woodwinds, horns and bass. The Love Theme is angelic in its beauty, which is born by lush violins, celeste, chimes and harp. Steiner again imparts a distinctly Castilian flavor with Count de Polan’s Theme, a rich, ethnic and rhythmic eight-note line carried by strings, woodwinds, horns and tambourine with string counters. Diana’s Theme is a delightful courtly minuet carried by woodwinds, chimes, sparkling tubular bells and baroque strings. Sebastian’s Theme is a playful and plodding sounding theme carried by bassoon, strings and woodwinds, befitting his diminutive size. Lastly, we have four motifs; the Regal Motif, which sounds as heraldic fanfare, the Spanish Motif, which imparts a distinctly Castilian air with its rhythmic use of Spanish guitar and tambourine, the Action Motif with its sharp intonations, horn play and percussive drive, and lastly, the Menace Motif, a descending figure similar to and often intertwined with de Lorca’s Theme.

“Main Title” is a score highlight, which opens with the heraldic fanfare of the Regal Motif as the Warner Brothers logo runs. From out this burst forth the Don Juan Theme in all its bold, brash and heroic splendor. We progress into a brief interlude of Queen Margaret’s Theme before concluding with a bravado restatement of Don Juan’s Theme, which ends in a magnificent flourish! At 1:16 we change tone and progress upon formal and stately court music into the film’s forward, which speaks to the rise of the 17th century Age of Enlightenment. At 1:51 we segue upon harp into “Balcony Rendezvous” where Steiner introduces his Serenade Theme as we see Don Juan scaling a trellis en route to his latest seduction, the Lady Catherine. The cue perfectly supports the seduction but ends abruptly with a horn pop as Catherine admits she is married. “Cecil Returns” is a short cue that features a more refined Serenade Theme with comic accents as Catherine’s husband Cecil returns and exposes her imbroglio.

“Adopting a Royal Escort” is an amazingly complex and fun cue! We hear Don Juan’s Theme on piccolo and descending harp as he flees an outraged Cecil. With his guards in hot pursuit Steiner provides an exciting interplay of staccato horn driven action music and Don Juan’s Theme. Fortunes smiles and a comic rendering of Don Juan’s Theme unfolds as they encounter an armed bridal wedding party, which they join when he claims that he is the groom! The Action Motif and his theme contest until the cue ends in a flourish, which segues seamlessly into “London Processional”, a magnificent score highlight and my favorite cue! Steiner let’s loose with a glorious celebratory parade replete with side drums, chimes, sweeping strings and horns grandioso as crowds cheer Don Juan’s entry into the city. Soon we begin interplay with Diana’s Theme, which speaks to an anxious Lady Diana who is awaiting her fiancée, whom she has never seen. We conclude with a reprise of the parade music and Don Juan’s arrival at the palace, which culminates atop a glorious horn flourish.

As he enters the palace in “Minuet/Diana Recognizes Don Juan”, Diana’s Minuet establishes the ambiance as Don Juan continues his charade. A comic trombone reveals her father’s embrace of him. We conclude with her minuet. “The Impostor is Arrested” reveals Diana, whom he fails to recognize as a previous conquest, taking him to her bedchamber where she insists with fury that he remember her this time! We open with discordant swirling strings irato, which emote her hidden fury, yet this dissipates upon the sweet strings of the Serenade Theme as they make up. At 1:16 a driving statement by strings agitato signal the arrival of the true husband. Trilling woodwinds, Don Juan’s Theme and harsh strings signal his arrest, while a descending string line plays as he is taken to the dungeon. Woodwinds lacrimoso emote his theme as he ponders his dire fate. Yet with news that he has been released to the care of the King’s ambassador his despair lifts to a bravado rendering of his theme, which bursts forth with ethnic Castilian accents.

“Sent Home to Madrid” is a wonderfully lyrical cue. It opens with a plaintive rendering of Queen Margaret’s Theme as Don Juan’s friend Count de Polan entreats him to join the Queen’s service to counter a sinister plot by evil Duke de Lorca. As they travel back along the desolate streets of Madrid we hear a sprightly Don Juan’s Theme interplay with a sad madrigal like rendering of the traditional Spanish song “La Boca de Pepita” on strummed guitar and an amazing shifting sequence of woodwinds. This is nicely done! In “Battle with the Press Gang” we open to a fanfare laden militaristic march with snare drum percussion as a press gang attempts to force the in-keeper’s son to join the navy. Don Juan who is eating takes exception and comes to the boy’s defense. In the ensuing sword fight his theme soars and propels the swordplay as he easily dispatches the four guards.

“His Majesty the King” features interplay between the Regal Motif and the Sebastian’s Theme. The scene reveals the King sitting for a portrait as his dwarf court jester amuses him. The feeble rendering of the Regal Motif emotes his feckless nature. A brief statement of the Sebastian’s Theme on woodwinds, muted horns and a bassoon follows. “Queen Margaret of Spain” reveals her entry to join the King in audience. Her theme is introduced by celeste piccolo and flute, which usher in its noble and regal string laden melodic line with guitar accents. The theme contrast between the monarchs is well conceived. “Juan Presents Himself to the Queen” offers a nice interplay of themes as the Queen leaves the King’s presence to await Don Juan’s arrival. Steiner imparts a distinctly Castilian flavor with his Spanish Motif, which opens with solo oboe, kindred woodwinds, strings and tambourine, which are later joined by Spanish guitar. At 0:43 we hear a bright and effervescent Don Juan’s Theme as he confidently enters the palace. As he enters the Queen’s chamber, his theme gives way to the Spanish Motif of guitar, pizzicato strings and tambourine, which ends in a regal flourish.

“A New Enemy for the Duke de Lorca” also features a very nice interplay of themes. The Queen chastises Don Juan for his behavior as the King and de Lorca enter to a drum supported Regal Motif. Steiner introduces his sinister de Lorca’s Theme as de Lorca and Don Juan exchange unfriendly charges. Sensing de Lorca’s treachery, Queen Margaret’s Theme, now carried by oboe and guitar with castanet and tambourine accents comes to the forefront. To keep him at court, she commands that Don Juan assume the post of fencing instructor at the royal academy. His bright theme, which ends in a harp glissando, emotes his gratitude and return to favor. Later the sinister de Lorca’s Theme returns to close the cue as we see him plotting with his henchman to kidnap Polan who is returning to Madrid. “Kidnapping the Count de Polan” is a score highlight, which features an astounding interplay of themes. It reveals the pursuit of Polan’s coach, his capture and imprisonment by de Lorca’s troops. We open with ominous fanfare, which ushers in a very dark low register rending of de Lorca’s Theme. As we see Polan’s coach his wonderful theme plays with nobility. When de Lorca’s troops close in Steiner initiates a classic accelerando that weaves his Action Motif, de Lorca’s Theme with the Count de Polan Theme for some incredible action writing! A repeating sinister de Lorca Theme closes the cue and marks Polan’s uncertain fate.

In “Remanded to the Dungeon” Polan is threatened with torture and the Queen’s signet ring is taken the Captain of the guards. The cue features a very grim rendering of de Lorca’s Theme and the Menace Motif, which interplays with a somber Queen Margaret’s Theme. “A Close Shave/Leporello is Unsettled” is a fun cue. We see Don Juan being shaved by Leporello as a playful, piccolo infused and comic rendering of his theme interplays with Queen Margaret’s Theme as Leporello teases of a possible romance. “The Hall of Flags” is a romantic cue, which features solo cello, flute and oboe work in a beautiful interplay of Queen Margaret’s Theme and the Serenade Theme as Don Juan escorts and begins his seduction. We segue at 2:54 atop the Regal Motif on celeste to “Meeting With de Lorca” where a confident Don Juan’s Theme interplays with an ominous de Lorca’s Theme. We see Don Juan accuse de Lorca of treachery, which angers him as he lashes out with his rapier to cut Don Juan’s tunic. Don Juan does not take the bait and leaves as de Lorca secretly orders Polan to be tortured.

“Paragon Among Queens” is another score highlight with a fine interplay of themes. We open with Sebastian’s Theme on bassoon as he escorts a handmaiden in the garden. When Don Juan joins the Queen in audience her theme sounds, first on solo oboe and then later on lush strings. We flow on violin into the Serenade Theme as Don Juan speaks of his love for the ideal woman he has met. A brief statement of his theme ushers in the sweet idealized Love Theme, which unfolds in all its sumptuous beauty. At 4:43 when Margaret realizes he speaks of her, she leaves with displeasure, believing that she is but another seduction. A sad rendering of the Serenade Theme, which emotes Don Juan’s disappointment, concludes this magnificent cue! “Donna Elena’s Advances” features Don Juan in Donna Elena’s garden as a rapturous Serenade Theme plays with virtuoso flute. Her admission of marriage the next day at 1:31 sours the mood and a solo trombone emotes a dispirited Serenade Theme. Making matters worse, as Don Juan prepares to leave her fiancée arrives and a fight ensues. In “Sebastian Pleads for Don Juan” Sebastian pleads for Don Juan before the Queen and we hear grave references of her theme that gradually soften as her fury relents. The music’s melodic flow is interrupted by the King and de Lorca’s entry atop the Regal Motif. Rolling timpani and dark horns signal Don Juan’s doom as he is banished from court.

“De Polan’s Capture is Discovered” reveals the drunken Captain divulging Polan’s imprisonment to Don Juan who takes the signet ring. A grave Don Juan’s Theme, which sharpens with the Captain’s admission interplays with a somber variant of Count de Polan’s Theme. “Imprisoned”, reveals Don Juan reentering the palace to prove to the monarchs Polan’s imprisonment with the signet ring. Mean while, De Lorca is advised by spies of Don Juan’s presence and dispatches troops. After a brief fight, the king orders Don Juan to stand down only to have de Lorca declare that he is now in control. Don Juan is sent to the dungeon where he awaits execution. Steiner scores the scenes with a rich and complex interplay of themes, including both a bravado Don Juan’s Theme in contest with the Action Motif, and later a grave rendering by bassoon and guitar. We also have a solemn Count de Polan’s Theme, De Lorca’s Theme with fierce horns and thundering timpani, which entwines with the Menace Motif, as well as a marcia bravura accented with castanets! Ole!

“Juan’s Rescue” is another theme rich cue. It reveals Leporello and Lopez as monks who are granted access to provide the last rights to Don Juan. The three subdue the guards and set off to liberate Polan. We are treated to a religioso variant of the Don Juan Theme alight with chimes, that later becomes bold as it contests with energetic action writing and Count Polan’s Theme. We conclude with de Lorca’s Theme and a horrific rendering of the Menace Motif by solo cello. In “Battle in the Dungeon” Don Juan slays Alvarez in a duel as Leporello and Lopez free Polan. Steiner provides us with a bravado expression of Don Juan’s Theme that is inspiring! “The Royal Chapel” features Palestrina’s “Adoremus Te” on pipe organ as an imprisoned Margaret prays in the chapel. We segue atop the Spanish Motif to the Academy when Don Juan organizes the loyalists. In “Palace Guards on Patrol”, guards patrol the halls to a militarized snare drum variant of the Regal Motif, after which we have a reprise of Palestrina’s “Adoremus Te” as Margaret refuses de Lorca’s offer to support his treason.

“Pint-sized Decoy” reveals Sebastian tricking the chapel’s guards to confirm the Queen is inside and then working with Don Juan to one by one over come the guards. This cue confirms Steiner’s genius as we hear Sebastian’s Theme on harp and woodwinds as he walks up to the guards, and then his theme played retrograde as he walks backwards to rejoin a hidden Don Juan. Don Juan’s Theme sounds briefly and then interplays with comic accents and Spanish Motif as one by one the guards are dispatched. In “The Patriots Vie for Freedom” all hell breaks loose as loyalist and de Lorca’s troops battle. A bravado Don Juan’s Theme resounds and interplays with the Spanish and Action Motifs in a dazzling display of action writing. We continue the fight in “Flaming Tapestry” as piano and trilling woodwinds simulate the flames of a burning tapestry, which Don Juan pulls off the wall to block the guards. Again his theme resounds and is joined by de Lorca’s Theme as he pulls Queen Margaret to the fortress. As Don Juan boldly intercepts them, de Lorca orders Rodrigo to defend him. Without much effort Don Juan slays Rodrigo as his theme soars heroically!

A gong crash signals the beginning of the epic duel between Don Juan and de Lorca in “Duel With de Lorca”. Steiner unleashes his orchestra in a bravado performance, which features a ferocious contest between the Don Juan and de Lorca Themes. As de Lorca falls and loses his sword, Don Juan leaps down atop him and thrusts his knife into his chest atop an orchestral chord, which opens “Juan’s Victory”. In a scene change led by the Regal Motif the Queen comes to Don Juan upon her theme and dispenses with all pretenses as she begs him to take her with him. As they join in a most passionate kiss a stirring and sumptuous rendering of the Love Theme returns in all its splendor. Realizing that she cannot abandon the King, she gives up her crown for a single night of love as a violin emotes the Serenade Theme. At 2:58 we segue into “Finale” as Don Juan departs with Laporello. His theme plays wistfully on violin and woodwinds with chime accents and interplays with the tambourine infused Spanish Motif. A trombone glissando at 4:58 reveals a young woman in a coach who asks for directions to Barcelona, which Don Juan dutifully provides. Yet after she has left, Don Juan cannot resist as we hear the Serenade Theme stir his heart. Thus true to himself, he rides off on yet another adventure to a final glorious reprise of his theme that ends with a Spanish Motif flourish.

Lastly, we have the bonus cue “Adventures Of Don Juan Trailer”. It served as a theatrical trailer created by Steiner, which features a parade of his primary themes. What is so remarkable about this piece, which affirms Steiner’s mastery of his art, is how effortlessly and seamlessly the themes flow into each other.

Please allow me to express my thanks to Anna Bonn, John Morgan and William Stromberg for this stunning and exceptional rerecording of a Steiner classic. Performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, the sound quality is again superb as is conductor Stromberg’s mastery of Steiner’s style. This is one of Steiner’s greatest creations. It features eight themes and four motifs, which he frequently joins in masterful interplay. His music has it all, from rousing action pieces, to romance, comedy, intrigue and treachery. This score attests to Steiner’s genius and earns him immortality. I highly recommend it for inclusion in your collection!

Rating: *****

Buy the Adventures of Don Juan soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title/Balcony Rendezvous (3:46)
  • Cecil Returns (0:53)
  • Adopting a Royal Escort (2:33)
  • London Processional (2:54)
  • Minuet/Diana Recognizes Don Juan (1:14)
  • The Impostor is Arrested (3:28)
  • Sent Home to Madrid (2:27)
  • Don Juan’s Reputation (0:33)
  • Battle with the Press Gang (2:25)
  • His Majesty the King (1:09)
  • Queen Margaret of Spain (0:32)
  • Juan Presents Himself to the Queen (1:29)
  • A New Enemy for the Duke de Lorca (1:57)
  • Kidnapping the Count de Polan (1:38)
  • Remanded to the Dungeon (1:13)
  • A Close Shave/Leporello is Unsettled (1:54)
  • Fencing Master (0:34)
  • The Hall of Flags/Meeting With de Lorca (4:41)
  • Paragon Among Queens (5:51)
  • Donna Elena’s Advances (2:48)
  • Sebastian Pleads for Don Juan (2:18)
  • De Polan’s Capture is Discovered (1:22)
  • Juan Eludes Rodrigo and His Men (0:43)
  • Imprisoned (7:05)
  • Juan’s Rescue (2:54)
  • The Royal Chapel (2:12)
  • Palace Guards on Patrol (1:02)
  • Pint-sized Decoy (3:28)
  • The Patriots Vie for Freedom (1:58)
  • Flaming Tapestry (1:40)
  • Duel With de Lorca (2:15)
  • Juan’s Victory/Finale (5:52)
  • Adventures of Don Juan Trailer (2:37)

Running Time: 81 minutes 21 seconds

Tribute Film Classics TFC-1009 (1948/2012)

Music composed by Max Steiner. Conducted by William Stromberg. Performed by The Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Recorded and mixed by Alexander Volkov. Album produced by William Stromberg, John Morgan and Anna Bonn.

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