Home > Reviews > IS PARIS BURNING? [PARIS BRÛLE-T-IL?] – Maurice Jarre



Original Review by Craig Lysy

Is Paris Burning? is based on the bestselling novel Paris brûle-t-il? by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. Producer Paul Graetz liked the novel and secured film rights as he felt the story had to be brought to the big screen. For his passion project he hired a remarkable team to write the screenplay, which included Gore Vidal, Francis Ford Coppola, Claude Brulé, Jean Aurenche, and Pierre Bost. Graetz then brought in respected director René Clément to manage the project, and they assembled a stellar cast for the ages, which included Alain Delon as Jacques Chaba-Delmas, Jean-Paul Belmondo as Morandat/Pierrelot, Charles Boyer as Monod, Gert Fröbe as Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, Leslie Caron as Francoise Labe, Orson Wells as Consul Raoul Nording, Kirk Douglas as General Patton, Anthony Perkins as Sergeant Warren, Simone Signoret as Café Owner, Glenn Ford as General Omar Bradley, Robert Stack as General Edwin Sibert, Billy Fick as Adolph Hitler and Yves Montand as Marcel Versini.

The WWII 1944 story line is drawn from actual historical events and takes place in Paris amidst the aftermath of the failed assassination attempt of Adolph Hitler. The allied armies have landed in northern France, have broken German lines, and an increasingly paranoid Hitler fearful of conspiracy reshuffles his general staff and military Governors. He assigns trusted General Dietrich von Cholitz to Paris with strict orders to burn the city if he cannot control it or if allied forces threaten its capture. Against this tense backdrop we see a determined Swedish ambassador (Orson Wells) seeking to persuade von Cholitz to spare Paris as competing French Gaullist and Communist resistance factions struggle to assert control. The film featured what may be the most extensive cameo cast ever, and was shot in documentary style. Most interesting was the reason that the movie was filmed in black and white – French authorities refused to allow red and black Nazi flags to fly in Paris, even for a movie! They however permitted black and gray renderings of the flag. It would seem the French after 20 years had still not recovered from the sight of the hated Nazi emblem flying over their land. The benefit of a black and white film was that it allowed Clément to weave in actual live footage from the period. Also, for authenticity the film was tri-lingual with French, German and English being spoken by the ensemble cast. Lastly, the film was very popular in France but worldwide it was a box office failure. It earned two Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.

Despite his two Oscar wins, Maurice Jarre was not originally chosen by director René Clément to score the film, he was selected instead by Paramount Studio producers. Jarre relates that there was initially strain, hurdles, and distrust in the relationship. He explained in an interview that Clément watched him with clinical detachment, but eventually was won over to his scoring methods; “It was like a long game of chess with psychology mattering more than musical ideas.” Jarre understood that the film’s narrative was a matter of national pride. As such he sought to infuse his score with an authentic French identity, and relates that he prominently featured the accordion in his signature waltz because “the instrument speaks with the voice of Paris.”

For the score, Jarre composed five thematic identities; first and foremost he created a waltz for the ages, the Valse Paris, a remarkable free flowing accordion rich French melody, which perfectly captured the beating heart of Paris. Lyricist Maurice Vidalin transformed it into a wonderful song popularized by singer Mireille Mathieu, under the title Paris en colère. For the German identities Jarre composed a march, the Mars Allemand, as well as two motifs, the Menace Motif and von Cholitz’s motif. The Mars Allemand is purposely plodding, grim, strident and oppressive. Twelve pianos were employed to simulate marching footsteps, and were supported by snare drums, timpani and clash cymbals. The attending Menace Motif is simply a shrill, grotesque and dissonant cluster chord, which sows danger and menace, while von Cholitz’s motif offers a stark, dire, and foreboding descending horn line, which never resolves. Throughout the film Mars Allemand and the Menace Motif often join in an unholy synergy, perfectly emoting the danger and ruthlessness of the Germans.

Juxtaposed to the Mars Allemand is an array of three inspired French marches, which embody the resilience and indomitable spirit of the French people. The first of these marches is the Mars de la Résistance, which serves as the film’s primary French identity. It is forthright, optimistic and hopeful in its determination. Its cadence is infectious and I found myself wanting to stand up and join in! The secondary march is the Mars Parisienne, which emotes the irrepressible pride of the people of Paris. It too is a classic forthright march propelled by horn, drums and tambourine. It’s inspiring cadence propels scenes where Parisians rebel and mobilize to take back their city. The third march is the glorious Mars Francais, perhaps my favorite, a classic patriotic, celebratory, and triumphant piece, abounding with French pride. Lastly, to imbue his soundscape with contemporary authenticity, Jarre also interpolated nationalist anthems including the American “Yankee Doddle Dandy”, “Over There”, the Vichy anthem Maréchal, nous voilà! and of course, the quintessential La Marseille.

“Overture” is a resplendent score highlight, which features Jarre’s three of his primary themes. It offers classic Golden Age style, playing as a set piece against a black background before the film begins. It opens with a pulsing percussive prelude, slowly building to a powerful and deafening dissonant crescendo, which ushers in the martial Mars Allemand. At 1:15 snare drums launch and propel the up-tempo and vibrant Mars de la Résistance. At 2:24 we segue into the delightful rendering of the Paris Valse, which carries us to a magnificent conclusion! Display of the studio logo in “Paramount Seal” opens the film grimly with blaring dissonance. At 0:10 we segue into “Rastenburg / Hitler” where we see General Dietrich von Cholitz driven to Hitler’s lair, his command headquarters in East Prussia. He is promoted to Governor of Paris and ordered to burn it if he cannot hold the city. The cue was excised from the film, with Clément preferring no score, a decision with which I disagree. Jarre provided a dire descending line of dark forlorn horns, which serve as a motif for von Cholitz. Dissonant free-form piano helps to inform us of von Cholitz’s angst and Hitler’s implacable evil.

In “Prelude & Main Title” the main titles roll as we see German troops march through the streets of Paris. Jarre supports the imagery with the Mars Allemand and a Menace Motif stinger to support their progress. Close observation reveals that the score’s percussive rhythm is synchronous with the German soldiers drumbeats. It is a grim and oppressive scourge, yet within the faces of Parisians we see indomitability. Jarre speaks to their spirit with his Valse Paris, which struggles against the march’s relentless rhythm. “Rol, Chaban, Gallois” offers fine interplay of the Mars de la Résistance and Mars Allemand as we see French conspirators and German officers in an art museum. After the Germans pass the Mars de la Résistance moves to the forefront and supports their planning to liberate Paris by force of arms. At 1:39 we segue into “The Convent” where we see a courier entering a convent where he delivers an encrypted message. Jarre offers religioso woodwind auras with martial snare drum accents, crowned with a final reprise of the Mars de la Résistance and Mars Allemand. “Warsaw Newsreel” is a short but surprisingly powerful cue. We see Yvon and Franscois discussing the resistance efforts in a theater as a film reel reviews German’s annihilating Warsaw in reprisal to rebellion. Resounding horn fare supports the grim scenes.

In “Seven Minutes Late” von Cholitz meets his adjutant, and dictates to him the details of his ruthless response plans for any insurrection, as well as the fiery destruction of Paris should they need to withdraw. The adjutant is appalled and Jarre supports the scene, unsettling us with stark piano strikes, snare drum percussion, and fragments of the Mars Allemand, which join in evil synergy, speaking to the savagery of what von Cholitz plans. We scene change at 2:06 with “Café Des Vosges” where Yvon and Francoise meet to initiate a plan to solicit assistance of the Swedish ambassador, in hope to constrain von Cholitz’s response should resistance fighters strike. The music enters darkly as Yvon leaves and then closes with fragmentary references of first a comic rendering of the Mars Allemand and then the Valse Paris as Francoise travels to see Ambassador Nording. In “Plans For The Destruction Of Paris” von Cholitz meets with demolition expert Captain Ebernach, who offers his plan to destroy Paris. Jarre supports this diabolical meeting with a repeating three note descending piano line, which creates a sinister ambiance. The Mars Allemand enters as the men join in evil purpose, satisfied with the plan.

In “Young Trouble” Colonel Tanguy tells Jacques that the resistance must be patient and wait for arms to be procured from reliable sources. Jacques in turn meets with Paul informing him of the delay. Jarre supports the encounter with a tense rendering of the Mars de la Résistance. We scene change at 0:37 to “The Massacre Of The Boys” where we see Paul disregarding Jacques’ directive and proceeding with an arms transfer from Capitaine Serge, who turns out to be working for the Gestapo. He takes them to a garage where they are surprised by German troops and taken prisoner. They are then driven to a remote location and gunned down in cold blood. Jarre emotes from the duped perspective of the French boys with an optimistic rendering of the Mars de la Résistance. At 2:30 the Germans take them prisoner and the march ceases, with the cue closing with dark finality as they are savagely murdered.

“Paris To Arms“ features inspired interplay of the Mars de la Résistance and Mars Allemand as we see French boys posting signs calling for resistance, followed by German patrols tearing down the signs. At 0:38 we segue to “A Dangerous Mission” where the courier’s bicycle gets a flat, and she is offered a ride home by a German officer. Jarre plays to the irony with interplay of the Mars de la Résistance and a comic rendering of the Mars Allemand. In “Seize The Prefecture” we are treated to a score highlight. We see hundreds of Frenchmen walking proudly with patriotic resolve to the Prefecture of Police. They seize their weapons in preparation to rebellion and organize their forces strategically, hoisting the French flag atop the Prefecture in defiance. Jarre provides the energy with a rousing and patriotic infused rendering of his Mars de la Résistance, which slowly yet inexorably builds to crescendo. This full and expressive rendering of the march with both it A and B Phrases is glorious, and is in my opinion, the album’s best presentation. At 4:37 we segue into “Molotov Cocktails” where Jarre’s skill at building tension and driving the film’s narrative is on full display. We see the professor taken to the wine cellar of the church where he begins an assembly line for making Molotov cocktails. Jarre once again underpins the film with the Mars de la Résistance and soft snare drum percussion, slowly builds with growing determination, optimism and resolve. The Menace Motif sows danger and the Valse Paris joins twice for brief respites, yielding each time to the patriotic Mars de la Résistance.

In “The Wedding”, the rebels briefly interrupt a weeding on route to the wine cellar. Jarre offers interplay of Wagner’s The Wedding March from Lohengrin, the Valse Paris and the Mars de la Résistance to carry the scene. We come now to a complex multi-scenic cue, which begins with “Street Fighting Begins” where von Cholitz orders a full assault on the prefecture to crush the rebellion. A dour and purposeful Mars Allemand supports the advance of the German troops. Fierce fighting erupts, which is not scored by Jarre. At 0:28 we segue into “Cease-Fire” where we see that Nording has convinced von Cholitz to agree to a cease-fire. Jarre supports the withdrawal of the German tanks with a rendering of the Valse Paris. A scene change at 1:09 brings us to “Paris Sewers” where we see the rebellion leaders covertly meeting to hear radio news from the front. The Mars de la Résistance with its fine B Phrase supports their progress. We conclude at 2:09 with “Good And Bad News” where news is received that the Americans are closing in on Paris. To support the celebratory news Jarre offers interplay of Mars de la Résistance and phrasing from the American Star Spangled Banner. I must say that Jarre perfectly supported the narrative flow of the film in these scenes.

“Through The German Lines” is a tension cue, which supports the resistance’s attempt to sneak Major Gallois through the German lines. Snare drum percussion ushers in the Mars de la Résistance as a resistance team drives to the front. As the courier passes through the German lines we hear interplay between the Mars de la Résistance, against stark piano, the Menace Motif and the Mars Allemand. Celebratory strings crowned with a Star Spangled Banner phrase inform us of Gallois’ arrival to the American lines. This scene was nicely done. We now come to another multi-scenic cue, which begins with “Aux Barricades”. Jarre graces us with an inspiring rendering of his Mars Parisienne, which propels the French building barricades throughout Paris. At 1:09 we segue into “A Plea For Paris”, where Gallois makes an impassioned plea to the American general staff to divert troops and come to the aid of Paris, lest the German’s counterattack and destroy the city. Jarre supports the aftermath of Gallois soliloquy with the Valse Paris, and the Mars de la Résistance, which perfectly captures the Parisian spirit. At 2:02 segue into “Fighting In The Streets” where we see a montage of scenes of French resistance members fighting the Germans. Jarre supports their efforts with synergistic interplay of a rousing Mars Parisienne and the Mars de la Résistance!

In “Hotel Matignon” and Yvon and Francoise are travelling to the Hotel Matignon, the traditional residence of the French Prime Minister, to assert civilian control over police residing there. As they travel amidst street fighting Jarre supports their progress with the Mars Allemand, with interplay of the Mars de la Résistance, as well as the Maréchal, nous voilà! Jarre adds some comic moments when Yvon audaciously assumes command from the ranking officer. As he assumes command of the troops the march becomes celebratory. At 2:40 we segue into “Success – Intermission” where Gallois pleads with General Leclerc to march on Paris before all is lost. Reverential horns emoting the Mars de la Résistance open the meeting and the tone sustains their conversation. A scene change to the airport follows where they await the arrival of General Bradley. A caveat of dark percussion and stark piano brings us to intermission. “Entr’acte” offers an astounding score highlight! We are treated to another fine rendering of an Overture, which features patriotic interplay of a triumphant snare drum propelled Mars Francais, and the Mars de la Résistance, embellished with rousing horn fare. The Mars Allemand attempts to gain voice, but the attempt is quashed as we end triumphantly atop Mars Francais! I love this cue! Vive la France!

We open the second half of the film with a complex multi-scenic cue. We begin with “General Leclerc”, where General Bradley gives the order for the liberation of Paris. Jarre supports this with the Mars Francais. At 0:30 we segue into “Orders To Paris”, a wondrous score highlight where all three French marches join in communion! We see a jubilant French column of tanks and military vehicles advancing on Paris. Jarre elicits patriotic fervor with interplay of the a rousing snare drum propelled rendering of the Mars Francais, the Mars de la Résistance, and the Mars Parisienne! At 2:33 we segue into “Alerted Americans” atop horn phrases of “Over There”, the American war song by George M. Cohen. In this scene change we see Sargent Warren discussing with his buddy of finally getting to see Paris, which Jarre supports with a wistful rendering of the Valse Paris. A scene change to an advancing column of troops is carried by celebratory horns of the Mars de la Résistance. At 4:03 in “Telephones To Paris” a young French soldier asks a woman on a balcony to call his girl in Paris and tell her he will soon be joining her. Jarre supports the tender moment with a free-flowing statement of his Valse Paris. Once again, Jarre superbly enhances the film’s narrative flow and imagery.

In “Preparing For Destruction” we see the Germans systematically mining the great buildings of Paris. Jarre supports their diabolical efforts with a brutal rendering of Mars Allemand, which resounds and gains horrific dissonance atop the grotesque Menace Motif, before slowly fading to nothingness. “Entrance To Paris” is a wonderful and satisfying score highlight. Following a prelude of heraldic fanfare, Jarre offers us a rousing and celebratory rendering of the Mars de la Résistance with interplay of the Valse Paris as triumphant French troops enter Paris to the jubilation of Parisians. We end with great satisfaction upon ta music box rendering of the Valse Paris. “Lonely Conqueror” reveals celebratory church bells ringing as von Cholitz, who is resigned to his fate, dines with his staff. Melancholy horns sound his motif and portend his doom. A plaintive Valse Paris dances with the Mars Allemand as they await their fate. At 0:52 we segue into “A Dangerous Quiet” where we see the Germans plant their final charges. A dark rendering of the Mars Allemand supports their efforts. The cue concludes darkly with harsh dissonance as von Cholitz hangs up on a raving General Jodl relaying Hitler’s order to burn down Paris. “The Latin Quarter Again” offers a wondrous score highlight! Jubilant Parisians welcome French troops as the roll into the French Quarter. We are filled with joy as snare drums propel a celebratory and embellished rendering of the Mars de la Résistance and Mars Parisienne as troops kiss and embrace Paris’ joyous citizens. At 2:33 the Americans arrive in “Lafayette We Are Here Again” and Jarre supports their progress with “Yankee Doodle Dandy” rendered as a march, with interplay of the Valse Paris! What a marvelous cue!

In “Two Forgotten Heroes” warm horns usher in the Valse Paris as two American GIs advance. At 0:37 in “A Brave Moment” rousing patriotic horns support a French tank saving the day by ramming a German Panzer. At 1:10 dark we enter a final scene change with “Surrender” where we see a grim von Cholitz preparing for the ignominy of surrender. Portentous horns of doom usher in a last statement of his motif with a final, and now spent rendering of the Mars Allemand, which ends in expiation. The film ends with the ringing of the bells of Notre Dame for the first time in four years and jubilant crowds celebrating. We conclude gloriously with “Finale – Paris Liberated”, a wondrous score highlight, which supports the roll of the end credits against an aerial panorama of the city of light! Jarre supports the end of our journey with a jubilant full rendering of his Valse Paris in all its exquisite glory! There are two additional song renderings of the Valse Paris, with each titled “Paris En Colère”. Maurice Vidalin, who gained renown after the song hit the airwaves, provided the lyrics. The first version offers a splendid solo vocal by Mélinda Millio, which flows effortlessly with a delightful lightness of being. It is followed by a choral version, a wondrous and vibrant rendering of the waltz, which is immensely satisfying. Lastly, the album provides us a restoration of the original LP release of “Is Paris Burning?”, which includes an exquisite concert version of the Valse Paris. Also included are four wonderful suites from Jarre’s canon, which I advise you to explore; Night of the Generals (1967), The Train (1964), Week-end at Dunkirk (1964), and The Damned (1969).

Please allow me to offer my heartfelt gratitude to James Fitzpatrick and Tadlow Music for yet another exemplary restoration, and rerecording of a treasured and classic film score. This remarkable 50th anniversary album of “Is Paris Burning?” has been long desired, and at last restores to fans one of the finest scores in Jarre’s canon. The sound quality of this 24-bit 96.4 kHz recording is pristine, as is the presentation by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under the masterful baton of Nic Raine. René Clément’s film was regretfully flawed, yet Jarre succeeded on all counts with an inspired effort, which served to elevate the film and enhance its narrative. Five themes and two motifs are provided, including his exquisite Valse Paris, a waltz for the ages abounding with Parisian spirit. Equally resplendent are the three rousing patriotic French marches Jarre created, which contest valiantly against the purposely plodding and oppressive German march. This exquisite two CD album offers one of the finest scores in Jarre’s canon, and I highly recommend it purchase for your collection. A final appreciative thank you to James Fitzpatrick for his tireless efforts to restore and rerecord treasured film score gems of the past for the enjoyment of new generations of film score fans.

I have embedded a YouTube link for the wonderful Overture from the actual recording session, which captures the film’s emotional core: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UtOmY28BQc

Buy the Is Paris Burning? soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (3:57)
  • Paramount Seal/Rastenburg/Hitler (1:26)
  • Prelude & Main Title (1:47)
  • Rol, Chaban, Gallois/The Convent (3:11)
  • Warsaw Newsreel (1:08)
  • Seven Minutes Late/Café Des Vosges (2:55)
  • Plans for the Destruction of Paris (1:59)
  • Young Trouble/The Massacre of the Boys (3:02)
  • Paris to Arms/A Dangerous Mission (1:33)
  • Seize the Prefecture/Molotov Cocktails (7:37)
  • The Wedding (1:33)
  • Street Fighting Begins/Cease-Fire/Paris Sewers/Good and Bad News (4:16)
  • Through the German Lines (4:19)
  • Aux Barricades/A Plea for Paris/Fighting in the Streets (2:53)
  • Hotel Matignon/Success – Intermission (4:14)
  • Entr’acte (3:01)
  • General Leclerc/Orders to Paris/Alerted Americans/Telephones to Paris (4:35)
  • Preparing for Destruction (1:16)
  • Entrance to Paris (2:28)
  • Lonely Conqueror/A Dangerous Quiet (1:40)
  • The Latin Quarter Again/Lafayette We Are Here Again (4:19)
  • Two Forgotten Heroes/A Brave Moment/Surrender (2:00)
  • Finale – Paris Liberated (3:33)
  • Main Titles (3:00) – from Night of the Generals [BONUS]
  • Love Theme (2:23) – from Night of the Generals [BONUS]
  • Lieutenant General Tanz/On the Terrace at Versailles (4:00) – from Night of the Generals [BONUS]
  • March (2:29) – from Night of the Generals [BONUS]
  • The Intrepid Mr. Labiche (Main Titles) (2:20) – from The Train [BONUS]
  • The Train (2:15) – from The Train [BONUS]
  • Papa Boule On The Move (2:03) – from The Train [BONUS]
  • The Hub (1:23) – from The Train [BONUS]
  • Dénouement (1:06) – from The Train [BONUS]
  • Main Titles/Sergeant Maillat/March – Finale (5:35) – from Weekend at Dunkirk [BONUS]
  • Opening Titles (2:15) – from The Damned [BONUS]
  • Overture (3:57) – from Is Paris Burning? Concert Suite [BONUS]
  • The Resistance (13:56) – from Is Paris Burning? Concert Suite [BONUS]
  • The Paris Waltz (Paris Smiles) (2:36) – from Is Paris Burning? Concert Suite [BONUS]
  • The Liberation (16:55) – from Is Paris Burning? Concert Suite [BONUS]
  • Paris En Colère (written by Maurice Jarre and Maurice Vidalin, performed by Mélinda Million) (3:30) [BONUS]
  • Paris En Colère – Choral Version (written by Maurice Jarre and Maurice Vidalin) (3:32) [BONUS]

Running Time: 142 minutes 06 seconds

Tadlow Music TADLOW-023 (1966/2016)

Music composed by Maurice Jarre. Conducted by Nic Raine. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Original orchestrations by Leo Arnaud. Recorded and mixed by Jan Holzner. Score produced by Maurice Jarre. Album produced by James Fitzpatrick.

  1. Steven Lehti
    September 3, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Wonderfully detailed review. Just a quibble, and a common one when it comes to this man’s name, but Orson’s last name is spelled Welles.

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