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A PLACE IN THE SUN – Franz Waxman


Original Review by Craig Lysy

A Place in the Sun was adapted from a 1925 novel “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser. Director George Stevens hired Michael Wilson and Harry Brown for the screenplay, and assembled a stellar cast to at last bring this tragic story to life. George Stevens (Montgomery Clift), Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) and Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters) were hired as the principles and paired with a great cast of supporting players. The film centers on George Eastman, a poor man raised by an evangelical mother, who is tragically undone by his own actions. He leaves Chicago dirt poor, determined to make a name for himself working in the company of his wealthy Uncle in California. While there he begins dating Alice, a girl he met in the plant. All seems fine until he becomes completely enamored with Angela, a drop dead gorgeous socialite whom he meets at a party. He abandons Alice without a thought and begins dating Angela. The two fall in love, yet things begin to unravel when Alice discloses to George that she is pregnant. When she threatens a public disclosure if he does not marry her, George feels cornered and so devises a plot to murder her. When the time comes to strike through a staged boat accident, his conscience prevails and he relents only to see Alice drown anyway by accident. He survives, but inexplicably fails to report her death to the authorities. As such, although innocent, circumstantial evidence and his own guilty behavior make authorities suspicious. His arrest comes just as Angela’s father grants him permission to marry his daughter. He is then tried and sentenced to death in the electric chair.

Of interest is the fact that the film was shot in 1949 with a planned release date in 1950. However, Paramount Studio delayed the release until 1951 so it wouldn’t have two blockbuster hits competing against each other in the 1950 Academy Awards (Sunset Blvd.). Stevens used the extra time afforded by the delay to edit and fine-tune his film. The result was both a stunning commercial and critical success. The film earned an astounding nine Academy Awards nominations, winning six including; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Film Score.

Franz Waxman’s music can only be described as one of the truly classic scores of the Golden Age. His music enhances, elevates and underpins the film’s tragic narrative with an exquisite lyricism seldom achieved by a composer. He provides two themes and two motifs for his score; his primary theme, Angela’s (Vicker’s) Theme serves as the first of two love themes. It animates the film, and is rendered in a multiplicity of guises. His second theme is Alice’s Theme, which is also supremely lyrical and functions as a second love theme. Both love themes are string laden and exquisite in their beauty. Of his two motifs, the first, the Fate Motif, is emoted as a solo trumpet line. There is a tinge of sadness in the notes that seem to portend George’s fate. The second is George’s Motif, which has a 1950’s American jazz vibe that is carried by the fine alto sax playing of Bill Hamilton. Lastly, when minor editing changes were made, alternative composers had to be brought in since Waxman’s schedule of seven films in 1951 did not permit him time. Daniele Amfitheatrof and Victor Young were recruited and maintained fidelity to Waxman’s vision with their edits.

“Prelude and First Scene (Film Version)” is a fine cue that introduces his Main Theme and Fate Motif. As the title credits flow we see George hitch-hiking along a busy turnpike. Waxman opens with portentous horns dramatico that usher in classic Golden Age melodrama atop lush strings. From out this rises the solo trumpet line of the Fate Motif. We have interplay with a brief statement of Angela’s Theme on strings as she drive past him in a convertible. The lush flowing string line returns and carries us as George is at last picked up and driven to his uncle’s plant. Cue 1 “Prelude and First Scene” offers a truncated version that has superior sound quality, but not the thematic interplay. “The First Mile” reveals George being given a tour of the plant by his cousin Charles who instructs him that as an Edwards, it is forbidden for a member of the family to date the hired help. This cue for me reveals great sophistication and is a score highlight. Waxman perfectly uses the orchestra to capture all the energy of the plant. Strings animato, chirping and trilling woodwinds, howling horns and structured dissonance propel the scene forward. While all this is unfolding Waxman integrates a beautiful violin solo that plays as Alice and George lock eyes for the first time – nicely done. At 1:21 we shift scenes as we see George in in his apartment where Waxman shifts gears for the striking jazz vibe of George’s Motif. Later as George passes by the gates of the Eastman estate and he again sees Angela, we hear an expression of her theme, but it remains nascent as he has not yet fallen for her.

“Love’s Meeting” is without a doubt a score highlight, which features a full rendering of Angela’s Theme in all its exquisite and sumptuous beauty. George meets Angela at a party at his Uncle’s estate and it is love at first sight. Both are smitten and in “Dance and Angela (original version)” where they dance together, her theme flows in a light, free-flowing dance-like variant that is just a joy to behold. In “Not Married” we see a distraught Alice at a doctor’s office. She confides that she is pregnant, unmarried and believes George has left her. Waxman provides a plaintive underscore of strings doloroso and woodwinds to emote her painful circumstances. “Ophelia” is a fine example of film-making at its finest. Earlier in the film we saw George in his apartment and the painting “Ophelia” could be seen mounted on the wall behind him. The famous painting by English artist Sir John Everett Millais is stunning in its imagery – a flower-laden corpse of a drowned woman floating in water. This portentous subtlety was a masterstroke. In the current scene George has picked up Alice from her doctor’s appointment where she again pressures him about marriage. He feels trapped by her and as we see him distraught in his apartment. When he hears on the radio a holiday message for families to be safe on the water to avoid drowning, tremolo string emote his tortured inner state as we see him in close-up contemplate the unthinkable. Harsh dissonance strings and woodwinds agitato pulse with a grim resolve, creating a frightful crescendo that dissipates atop Angela’s Theme when Angela comes by and picks him up.

In “Evil Plans” the opening one-minute of music was replaced in the film by the “Ophelia” cue. At 1:01 George joins Angela in her car and we hear his jazz motif on alto sax, which then takes up her theme – nicely done! When Angela invites him to meet her parents at their lakeside estate, we see conflict in his eyes and tremolo strings sow tension, informing us of the prior plans he must break with Alice. In a scene change he calls Alice to break their date and we hear a forlorn Angela’s Theme emoted on flute, which informs us of his true love interest. “Loon Lake – Part 2” features George and Angela frolicking along the lakeshore where her parents own a country estate. Waxman weaves an idyllic ambiance that is severed in discord at 0:36 as we change scenes. We see Alice getting her mail from her mailbox and then opening the newspaper to see a close-up photo of George and Angela together having fun in a speedboat. The scene change introduces Alice’s Theme in all its lush and sumptuous beauty. Just magnificent!

“To the Lake” is a tension cue. George leaves Angela to go to Alice who has called and threatened to expose him as the father of her child. When she threatens to kill herself he agrees to marry her tomorrow, but they arrive to the courthouse on Labor Day, which he knew was closed. He sets his plan in motion by convincing her to instead go on a boat ride and picnic at the lake. Sharp orchestral spike introduce a low register pulse as dissonant horns sow tension. Horns nobile inform us of the courthouse closure and Alice’s decision to go to the lake. “Buildup to Murder” is a woodwind lovers dream and a score highlight. Sparkling strings with flute counterpoint create the wondrous pastoral ambiance of their journey to the lake. His jazz motif joins the mix as we bear witness to a gorgeous woodwind laden expression of Alice’s Theme, replete with a contrapuntal line of violins, piccolo and plucked harp. A late orchestra strike informs us of Alice almost falling into the lake.

In “The Drowning – Part 1” George rows the boat across the lake carried by strings with a bass pulse emoted as a marica funebre. Waxman sows disquiet and slowly builds tension with forlorn flutes and tremolo strings playing atop a pulsatile bass line, which grows inexorably in amplitude until it crescendo’s with George realization that he cannot murder her. As he continues rowing and states that he will make all things right, tension is renewed with the pulsatile bass line now joined with anguished strings and counter flutes. “The Drowning – Part 2” Is really a masterpiece of tension building. As Alice states that they can move to another town and start a new life together we see George feel his life with Angela slipping away. The marcia funebre line returns informing us that murder may be back in play, and interplays with his Jazz Motif. A plaintive statement of Alice’s Theme soon joins in communion with dissonant strings and pulsatile bass. Together they build inexorably to climax as he recoils when Alice states that she sees now that he would prefer her dead. As she apologizes and moves towards him, she stumbles and the boat capsizes. Waxman marks this with a horrifying crescendo that dissipates in a watery grave of harp glissandi. This cue demonstrates Waxman’s mastery of his craft.

“Farewell and Frenzy (original version)” offers another spectacular score highlight. George feels the police are closing in on him and so he and Angela spend a day together in seclusion. A tension prelude introduces an extended rendering of Angela’s Theme, which is joined by George’s Jazz Motif. As they drive home they see a police car parked in the driveway. George asks her to go in first and we hear the alto sax take up a plaintive rendering of her theme. As she leaves he scales the wall and flees. Waxman expertly supports this with some stunning string ostinato driven flight music. “Farewell and Frenzy (film version)” is truncated with the flight music excised. In “Angela Collapses” Waxman provides classic Golden Age melodrama when Angela faints after hearing the prosecutor state that George will likely get the electric chair. In “Witness Montage”, during which one witness after another offers damning testimony, Waxman offers an upwelling from the lower register in an amorphous line of dissonant strings and woodwinds, which create a truly dark and macabre ambiance. The closure with a plaintive rendering of the four-note Fate Theme is exquisite. We end our story with “The Last Mile (Finale)”, which reveals the guards coming to take George to the electric chair. We hear upon strings lamentoso a repeating Fate Motif with oboe counter. Tolling bells join and portend his doom. Slowly, yet inexorably Angela’s Theme rises and joins in communion with the trumpet carried Fate Motif, which culminates in an orchestral flourish. Bravo!

Please allow me to thank Bruce Kimmel, Lukas Kendall and Kritzerland for answering the longstanding call of generations of film score lovers for a world premiere release of Franz Waxman’s A Place in the Sun. They have successfully restored the masters stored in the Paramount vaults and provided alternative rescored tracks and source music. Folks Waxman has created a stunning masterpiece, a classic Golden Age score and what I believe is an essential score for collectors. His two love themes are some of the finest ever written and his writing for the psychology of this drama offer testimony to his genius. I highly recommend this score as an essential part of your collection.

Buy the A Place in the Sun soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude and First Scene (1:49)
  • The First Mile (2:49)
  • Love’s Meeting (2:12)
  • Dance and Angela (Original Version) (3:04)
  • Evil Plans (3:20)
  • Loon Lake, Part 2 (1:59)
  • To the Lake (1:40)
  • Building Up to Murder (3:16)
  • The Drowning, Part 1 (3:06)
  • The Drowning, Part 2 (3:08)
  • Farewell and Frenzy (Original Version) (3:01)
  • Angela Collapses (1:11)
  • Witness Montage (1:35)
  • The Last Mile (Finale) (Original Version) (1:47)
  • Prelude and First Scene (Film Version) [BONUS] (2:48)
  • Rhumba (Original Version) [BONUS] (1:59)
  • Dance and Angela (Film Version) [BONUS] (3:05)
  • Out of Nowhere – Rhumba [BONUS] (2:20)
  • Not Married [BONUS] (1:28)
  • Alice’s Radio [BONUS] (1:12)
  • Ophelia [BONUS] (2:10)
  • Farewell and Frenzy (Film Version) [BONUS] (2:06)
  • Finale (Film Version) [BONUS] (0:43)

Running Time: 51 minutes 23 seconds

Kritzerland KR20026-1 (1951/2013)

Music composed and conducted by Franz Waxman. Orchestrations by Franz Waxman, Sidney Cutner, George Parrish, Leonid Raab, Leo Shuken and Nathan Van Cleave. Additional music by Victor Young and Daniele Amfitheatrof. Featured musical soloist Bill Hamilton. Album produced by Bruce Kimmel and Lukas Kendall.

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  1. March 6, 2017 at 10:01 am

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