Home > Reviews > MYSTERIOUS ISLAND – Bernard Herrmann

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND – Bernard Herrmann


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Following the commercial success of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Columbia Pictures signed producer Charles Schneer to a contract, in which they would distribute nine of his films. He and Ray Harryhausen were eager to launch their third collaboration and chose to adapt another Jules Verne novel, The Mysterious Island (1874). John Preeble, Daniel Uhlman and Crane Wilbur teamed up to write the screenplay, adding fantastic beasts to create drama for the story, which would allow Harryhausen to once again awe audiences with his stop-motion Dynamation photography. Veteran director Cy Endfield was tasked with directing and a fine cast was assembled including Michael Craig as Captain Cyrus Harding, Joan Greenwood as Lady Mary Fairchild, Michael Callan as Herbert Brown, Gary Merrill as Gideon Spilitt, Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo, Beth Rogan as Elena Fairchild, Percy Herbert as Sergeant Pencroft, and Dan Jackson as Corporal Neb Nugent.

The story is set in the United States in 1865 during the American Civil War. Union soldiers Captain Cyrus Harding, Herbert Brown, Neb Nugent, and war correspondent Gideon Spillet are imprisoned in a Confederate prisoner of war camp. They use the arrival of a massive storm for an audacious escape attempt using an observation balloon. They succeed and take hostage a Confederate guard Pencroft who knows how to pilot the airship. They are blown clear across the continent and into the Pacific Ocean where they crash land on a lush tropical island. They soon discover two English ladies, Lady Mary Fairchild and her niece Elena, who were also shipwrecked by the storm. Together they create a secure home in a high granite cave and explore the island. To their amazement they encounter a number of fantastic gigantic beasts that defy explanation until they meet the man who created them – the legendary Captain Nemo. To end world hunger, he has found a way to grow crops and animals to massive sizes. He intends to share his knowledge with the world in hope of ending humanity’s constant state of war. Nemo uses the powerful engines of the Nautilus to refloat a sunken pirate ship, which they will use to escape the island. His plans go asunder as the island’s massive volcano erupts and kills him before he can escape with his scientific papers. The survivors are thankful of his sacrifice and resolve to henceforth commit their lives to the cause of world peace. The film was a massive commercial success for Columbia and propelled Schneer and Harryhausen to their fourth collaboration – Jason and the Argonauts. Once again critics praised the storytelling, special effects and film score, but still the film was overlooked during Academy Award nominations.

There was never any doubt from Schneer and Harryhausen that Bernard Herrmann would reprise his role as composer. Notable was that he was afforded a larger budget, which allowed him to dramatically expand the size of the orchestra, so as to meet his compositional conception. Beginning with the traditional string section Herrmann added 3 flute/piccolos, 3 oboes/English horns, 3 B-flat clarinets, 3 bassoons, 2 contrabassoons, 8 horns in F, 3 B-flat trumpets, 3 trombones, 4 tubas, 4 suspended cymbals of various sizes, 2 piatti (large and medium), 2 large bass drums, 2 large tam-tams, chimes, 2 snare drums, 2 tenor drums, 2 triangles (large and small), 2 glockenspiels, 2 vibraphones, 2 xylophones, tambourine, wood block, whip, and 4 harps. He understood that he would have to speak to the story’s adventure, the setting of a beautiful island, the awesome power of a volcano, the mystery of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus, and most of all to the fantastic beasts, which the survivors would encounter. To that end he again provided each beast with a unique instrumental signature, which aligned with its nature.

For themes, there are three; the Main Theme offers the first theme heard in the score, which for me captures the emotional core of the film. It offers a multi-modal tertiary ABC construct with the minor modal A Phrase declarative and empowered by horns bellicoso that resound with awesome power, countered by crashing cymbals, in a series of monstrous descending chords. The major modal B Phrase is kinetic offering a rumbling prelude of horns and woodwinds, which usher in a massive repeating three-note repeating declarative statement by eight unison French horns, again countered by crashing cymbals, harp glissandi and crushing chords. This gives way to a churning, repeating ten-note statement by eruptive horns. The concluding C Phrase is kindred to the B Phrase, born by ascending high register woodwinds buttressed by horns. For me, this theme is the most powerful of Herrmann’s canon. Love Theme #1 is only heard once and never again finds voice, it speaks to the romantic attraction between Lady Mary and Captain Harding. It is gossamer like and carried by violins tenero, rising and falling like a feather on a soft breeze. Love Theme #2 speaks to the romantic attraction between Herbert and Elena. Its tender repeating phrasing by violins romantico is full of yearning, with the transfer of the melody to solo oboe delicato and kindred woodwinds, achingly beautiful. The score abounds with several beautiful set pieces as well as several of Herrmann’s customary, succinct repeating rhythmic motifs, which drive the action but also to create intrigue and mystery.

The powerful Main Theme A Phrase opens in “Prelude” and supports the display of the Columbia Studios logo. At 0:10 the eruptive prelude of the B Phrase carries us into the film proper as we see the roll of the opening credits display over violent, churning windswept seas. At 0:23 eight unison French horns resound as the film title displays followed at 1:05 by high woodwinds emoting the C Phrase, which supports Herrmann’s composer credit. We conclude with a dramatic reprise of the A Phrase, which closes the opening credits. I believe the music of this dramatic, thunderous and awe-inspiring film opening to be the most powerful in cinematic history. “The Battle” reveals skirmishes by Union and Confederate troops as the fall of Richmond is imminent. Herrmann dynamically propels the action rhythmically with ever shifting motifs of horns and woodwinds. The music continues seamlessly to the prison stockade where we see guards trying to secure the anchoring ropes to a large observation balloon, which is wobbling in the fierce winds. In “The Gates” a wagon arrives at the prison, where war correspondent Gideon Spilitt is removed and taken to the prison. Dire antiphonal fanfare with growling tuba counters support Spilitt’s arrival and harassment.

“The Stairs” reveals Captain Harding, Neb and Herbert in their basement prison cell. They have whittled down the support struts of two stairs, and when the guards bring down Spilitt they collapse, fall and are overcome. Herrmann supports the fight with a reprise of the ever-shifting kinetic motifs of “The Battle” cue. In “The Tower” the men escape the prison and then ambush the tower sentry, which clears the path to the balloon. Herrmann takes the kinetic motif of the previous two cues and splits it into a primary statement by tension horns, churning woodwinds and grim strings that is answered by a counter statement. Structurally the music is simple, yet it drives the action in the scene while stoking suspense. “The Escape” reveals the men shooting their way to the balloon. As he did with the previous cue, Herrmann sow’s tension and propels the escape by splitting the kinetic motif heard in “The Stairs” cue into repeating primary and counter statements. Again, creating dynamic synergy with film narrative. “The Balloon 1” demonstrates Herrmann’s mastery of his craft. The men cut the ropes and ascend into the fierce winds as guards shoot from below. Herrmann drives the escape with a swirling low register string ostinato and woodwinds punctuated by timpani strikes. Notable is how the ostinato begins drawing additional instruments into itself, and by doing so swells to a ferocious construct. Trilling woodwinds join carrying the balloon ever upwards with the cue concluding with a desperate burst of horns as they narrowly miss a church steeple.

“Introductions” reveals the men introducing themselves to each other, including Sargent Pencroft of the confederacy. A reprise with variations of the Main Theme A Phrase support the scene. In “The Clouds A” the balloon is shown in shifting cloudscapes being blown due west by strong winds. A swaying variant of the Main Theme A Phrase by soft strings and woodwinds creates an airborne sensation, achieving a perfect synergy with the visuals. “The Clouds B” offers a swaying variant of the Main Theme C Phrase by strings and woodwinds, which again creates an airborne sensation. Resounding declarations of the B Phrase fanfare support shots of the balloon drifting high above the clouds below. We close with repeating phrases of the A Phrase as Captain Harding relates that they have been aloft for four days with no end in sight. In “The Clouds C” Captain Harding notices water below, which appears to be an ocean. He orders Pencroft to take the balloon down for a closer look. Herrmann creates a wondrous aerial ambiance using a descent motif with sparkling strings and ethereal harp. As they continue descending a descent in register occurs with woodwinds slowly supplanting the strings. In “The Clouds D” the men become alarmed at how fast the balloon is dropping Pencroft’s fails to slow the descent as the valve is jammed. Herrmann sow’s tension with repeating statements of the Main Theme A Phrase by strings and woodwinds as Harding climbs aloft to do it manually. At 0:21 chattering horns agitato support Harding accidentally breaking the valve and nearly falling to his death. We close at 0:32 atop grim horns, which support Pencroft who states that they no longer have a way to bring the balloon down.

“The Clouds E” reveals the balloon drifting ever westward supported by a grim low register rendering of the Main Theme C Phrase, replete with harp. At 0:27 dire horns sound the B Phrase fanfare with harp glissandi as they are engulfed by a thunderstorm. We close with the C Phrase born on tremolo violins that play over bass and low register woodwinds. “The Balloon 2” offers a dynamic score highlight. The balloon tears and begins descending rapidly. The men throw everything overboard and then climb aloft to the support ring where they then cut off the basket in desperate effort to stay aloft until they can reach the island in the distance. Herrmann dynamically reprises the music from the “Balloon 1” cue, which slowly swells with power and urgency. Repeating horn blasts sync with waves crashing into them and sometimes knocking a man into the sea. We close darkly with repeating declarations of the Main Theme B Phrase as the balloon makes landfall. “The Island” reveals Neb on the beach searching and calling out for Captain Harding. A repeating fanfare by horns bravura with a muted horn echo support Neb’s effort. In “The Rocks” we see Spilitt is eating enormous oysters. He and Pencroft have given up on finding the Captain alive, but not Neb who continues to search. On a rock perch he notices smoke on the far-off beach and sounds the alarm. The echoing horn motif of the previous cue is reprised with both statements born by muted horns.

“Exploration” offers a score highlight and perhaps its most beautiful cue. The men set-off on a trek to the volcanic rim in hopes of seeing an escape route. As they walk against beautiful vistas filled with flowers and exotic birds, Herrmann achieves a sublime confluence. Languorous violins aggraziati meander and coalesce into a four-note figure that slowly ascends, and then descends as four harps delicato arpeggiate in blissful communion. At 1:20 a new kindred eight-note motif arises in celli and basses as the men cross a tree bridge with a backdrop of a massive waterfall. We close with the transfer of the melodic line back to violins, which slowly dissipate into nothingness as they reach the beach on the other side of the island. “The Giant Crab” offers another score highlight, which showcases Herrmann’s creativity. The men are exploring the beach near a geyser when Harding and Neb unknowingly walk atop and wake up a gigantic crab. Herrmann provides no melody, and instead uses his orchestra with ever shifting short motifs to evoke the nature of the beast and mimic its movement. Primal sounding woodwinds, growling horns and strings agitato sound as the beast awakens. It then shifts to a four-note woodwind motif, countered by a motif empowered by horns bellicoso as it attacks and the men battle to save Neb. At 1:31 a stepped crescendo propelled with howling horns intensifies the struggle, bringing victory at 2:09 when the men successful upend the beast on its back. The ferocity of the music is sustained as the men rescue Neb. We crest powerfully at 2:36 with a descent motif replete with chimes as the men push the crab into a searing geyser pool. The dynamism Herrmann’s music provided for this battle created a powerful synergy with Harryhausen’s beast that enhanced the cinematic experience.

In “The Volcano” the men resume their arduous journey to the volcano rim. Herrmann supports their trek and the imposing vistas by repeating a variant of the A Phrase of the Main Theme. The theme has been shorn of its bombastic power, replaced by a more contemplative expression by high woodwinds, strings and horns with harp adornment. “The Crater” reveals Spilitt looking into the fiery magma filled crater. Herrmann supports the visuals with a dire variant of the Main Theme A Phrase, whose expression descends grimly into the orchestra’s lowest register, empowered by rolling timpani, horns, bass, tam-tams and cymbals. After lassoing some goats, Spilitt alerts the men to a small boat drifting towards the beach. At “The Beach”, they discover two women alive, and a man dead. A shimmering string born rendering of the Main Theme A Phrase supports the discovery. The melody descends, darkens and transfers to woodwinds as Spilitt discovers the dead man. Lady Mary Fairchild and her niece Elena are confused as to their whereabouts and circumstances. At 1:11 a nascent gossamer like Love Theme for Cyrus and Mary emerges on violins tenero, rising and falling like a feather on a soft breeze as we see Mary gain trust in Captain Harding. “The Stream” reveals the men exploring the island interior in search of trees, which they can cut down and use to build a boat. Herrmann creates peaceful serenity using the Main Theme A Phrase, which is carried by shimmering strings tranquillo with harp adornment. Having found trees and a flowing fresh water stream, they consider relocating their camp.

In “The Cliff” the shimmering tranquility of the former cue is sustained as the men reach the beach. At 0:08 horns resound and reprise the fanfare of “The Island” cue as two caves are seen in the cliff rockface. The fanfare carries Harding’s vine climb, slowly darkening on foreboding strings and woodwinds as he reaches the bifurcated entrance. “The Cave” reveals Harding exploring the cave. Herrmann sow’s a grim ambiance of death and decay with a repeating three-note motif with a vibraphone resonance, which emotes from the deepest and darkest recesses of the orchestra. At 1:08 horns shatter the ambiance as Harding is startled by an iguana hiding under a box. The foreboding motif returns as Harding walks deeper into the cave. At 1:44 shattering horns support the discovery a skeleton hanging from the ceiling, which falls upon Harding. We close darkly on the motif as Harding finds a diary on the floor and begins to read it. In “Narration” the other men have joined Harding in the cave, and listen to him as he reads aloud passages from the diary of Tom Ayrton, who committed suicide in despair of his unbearable loneliness. Music enters as narration continues and a montage displays the men and women teaming to make “Granite House” a home. Violins gentile introduce a soothing, almost idyllic free flowing melody one would envision of the English countryside. The transfer of the melodic line to warm French horns feels like a comforting blanket. We transfer back to the violins, yet at 1:10 the Main Theme A Phrase sounds as they discover a chest of bounty on the beach, filled with a telescope, sextant, rifles and books, including “Robinson Crusoe”.

“R. C. [Robinson Crusoe]” reveals Harding sharing the book with the women, and Herrmann sustains the music of the previous cue with a transfer of the melody to woodwinds malinconici. “Elena” reveals her milking goats with the wistful melody of the previous two cues transferred to clarinets and bass clarinets. In “The Shadow” Spilitt is relaxing by a pond fishing and we are bathed is shimmering strings creating an idyllic ambiance using the Main Theme A Phrase. At 0:22 the ambiance is shattered when a large shadow engulfs him. He looks up, scrambles to his feet, and runs in terror propelled by a monstrous swell of the Main Theme B Phrase. We flow seamlessly into a marvelous score highlight “The Bird” where we see a giant Phorohacos attack the women, pin Elena to the ground and then try to peck her to death. Herrmann propels the action by interpolating a fugue for organ by Johan Ludwig Krebs. Its transformation is astounding, first rising forth with bassoons and then shifted to and fro around the orchestra with amazing dexterity, creativity, with stunning effect. The frightful bird and music become one, offering a testament to Herrmann’s compositional genius. Herbert leaps on the bird’s back and begins thrusting his knife into its neck. The fugue builds monstrously as Pencroft is unable to find a clean shot. We climax at 2:14 as the bird crashes through a fence, goes limp and falls dead. The orchestra descends to its darkest, murkiest depths during the aftermath as they all contemplate what just happened.

“Duo” offers a rapturous score highlight where Herrmann graces us with a full rendering of his Love Theme for Elena and Herbert. Lady Mary has just made Elena a very short and revealing dress out of goat skin and Elena relates her intention to marry Herbert. Herrmann introduces his second love theme whose tender repeating phrasing by violins romantico is full of yearning. The transfer of the melody to solo oboe delicato and kindred woodwinds is achingly beautiful. At 1:02 shimmering violins take up the theme anew as we see out two lovers laying together on the beach. We close at 1:44 with a dark diminuendo of uncertainty as they discover honey flowing from a cave and decide to visit a bee hive. In “Honeycomb” they follow the honey to a massive honeycomb. They decide to get some shells from the beach and take back the honey to camp. Herrmann sustains their Love Theme; however, it assumes foreboding auras as clarinets and bass clarinets take up the melody. “The Giant Bee 1” offers another score highlight where Herrmann’s music and the giant bee become one. As they prepare to depart the cave, they recoil as a giant bee returns, forcing them to flee back into the cave. Herrmann draws inspiration from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”, albeit at a slower tempo to better align with the massive size of the bee. Flutter-tongue horns countered by English horns and strings create the bee sounds with stunning effect. When additional horns and woodwinds join the bee sound, it becomes ferocious and frightening. They decide to take refuge in a honeycomb and fight off the bee with Herbert’s spear, only to be sealed by a bee in a wax tomb.

In “The Sail” a ship is spotted and the Island Fanfare resounds ominously on trumpets with trombone counters. A stepped horn ascent supports Harding ordering the men to granite house to first establish its identity before revealing themselves. “The Giant Bee 2” reprises the Bee Motif as an agitato as two other bees join in the hive. At 0:27 a counter line by low woodwinds supports Herbert placing kindling against the back wall and lighting a fire. In “The Flag” resounding declarations by trumpets and trombones dramatico supports Harding identifying a heavily armed vessel bearing the dreaded pirate skull and crossbones flag. “The Fire” reveals the wax melting, which Herrmann supports with an ascending grotesque dissonance. A cutaway to the hive reprises the Bee Motif. Horrific trilling woodwinds at 0:11 support their escape as Herbert lifts Elena down. It is dark, and at 0:27 a rapidly falling descent motif carries Elena’s tumbling fall, and reprises for Herbert as he tumbles down also. “The Nautilus” offers another score highlight as Herrmann transmutes his bombastic Main Theme A Phrase into a misterioso. Herbert and Elena discover a metal submarine and slowly make their way to it, boarding with trepidation. Herrmann supports their progress with shimmering strings and vibraphone emoting the Main Theme A Phrase countered by muted trumpets and trombones, which create ethereal wonderment.

“The Bridge” is brilliantly conceived where Herrmann again achieves a remarkable confluence of his music and the Nautilus’ advanced technology. As they enter and behold this technological marvel, Herrmann reprises the resounding ascent declarations by trumpets and trombones dramatico from “The Flag” cue. As they explore the ship, he sow’s a misterioso with grim low register horns with harp adornment. Later the harps move to the forefront with the horns answering. When they enter the Captain’s lounge with its “N” crest, they realize it is the Nautilus and flee. As the Captain sights a small boat leaving the pirate ship through his telescope, the resounding ascent declarations by trumpets and trombones dramatico again reprise. As Herbert and Elena depart the Nautilus the ethereal misterioso of “The Nautilus” cue is reprised. They swim to freedom through a cave to the open sea. The fanfare and misterioso reprise are not included on the album. In “The Pirates” a small boat departs the ship and its progress is supported with horns bellicose and a churning string ostinato variant from “The Battle” cue. The music becomes grimmer when bass join as they discover the unfinished boat, which raises the alarm. “Gunsmoke” reveals Lady Mary falling as she brings loaded rifles to the men causing one to misfire, which alerts the pirates. The Battle Motif’s aggressive ostinato and horn fare intensifies as a fierce gunfight ensues. They kill all three pirates, but the ship is now aware of their presence and prepares to attack.

“Attack” offers a percussion lover’s dream come true as Herrmann supports the pirate ship’s canon fire with thunderous timpani, bass drums, cymbals and tam-tams. Granite house is being pummeled and all seems lost until a massive explosion befalls the pirate ship. “The Sinking Ship” reveals the pirate ship rapidly sinking, killing all aboard. The Main Theme A Phrase resounds with awesome power to support the sinking, concluding with elegiac strings and a grim descent motif as the ship disappears into the depths. In “Captain Nemo” Herbert and Elena witness the ship sinking and are astounded as a man emerges from the waters in a scuba suit with a breathing apparatus. Herrmann supports Nemo’s introduction with mystery and trepidation using an ominous variant of the Main Theme A Phrase that features vibraphone, dark woodwinds, grim low register horns and strings. Elena flees, and Herbert pulls out his knife yet at 0:15 the music softens and becomes less threatening as Nemo removes his helmet to reveal himself. In “The Revelation” Harding and the rest of the people join Herbert and Nemo reveals his identity. They are astonished, more so when he informs him that it was, he who sank the pirate ship to save their lives. He informs them that the volcano will soon erupt and destroy the island, that their small boat will not be completed in time, but that he has a solution – refloating the pirate ship. This conversation is not scored, however as they accompany Nemo to the Nautilus, the Main Theme A Phrase rendered as a misterioso by low woodwinds and horns carries their progress. This music is not found on the album.

“The Bottle” reveals Nemo sharing a drink of Cherry with the group and relating to them how he changed from attacking the weapons of war, to removing the causes of war – famine and economic competition. He relates that by using Horticultural physics he can grow wheat 40 feet tall, and sheep the size of cattle thus ending world hunger. Herrmann supports the scene with clarinets and bassoons emoting refrains of the Main Theme C Phrase. “The Pipeline” offers another wondrously conceived cue. We see the men chopping down bamboo to fashion a pipe as well as building a patch for the ship’s hull. The goal is to seal the ship, and use the pumps on the Nautilus to force air into the hold and refloat the ship. Herrmann creates a wondrous construct born by refulgent strings emoting a rising four-note phrase, followed by a descending four-note phrase adorned with ethereal harp. It is ingenious how Herrmann transfers the melody from the violins, to the celli and finally to bass as we move from the terrestrial to the aquatic realm where Nemo takes the men underwater, slowly descending to the ocean floor. In “Underwater” Nemo trains them to fire the electric gun to protect them from denizens of the deep. Soon they come across the sunken ruins of an ancient city. Herrmann supports the scenes with a reprise of the three-note motif from “The Cave” which emotes darkly from the deepest and darkest recesses of the orchestra, this version with harp adornment for the aquatic environment.

“The Smoke” reveals the volcano erupting and spewing black smoke high into the air as boulders rain down causing destruction. Nemo believes they have lost the race, but invites them to join him in the Nautilus in hope that the eruption may subside. Herrmann supports the eruption with a powerful declaration of the A and B Phrases of the Main Theme, which resounds with all the fury and might of the volcano. We experience a perfect confluence of music and film visuals. In “Danger A” they have taken refuge in the nautilus and we see rocks falling down in the bee hive and in the cavern around the Nautilus. A grim rendering of the Main Theme B Phrase by low woodwinds, strings sinistre and tubas sow a rising anxiety. “Danger B” reveals a very calm and resigned Nemo playing Johan Sebastian Bach’s famous Tocata and Fugue in D Minor with a compelling gothic rendering. Rising anxiety among the others is palpable as we cut away to the ceiling collapsing on the bee hive and rocks pummeling the Nautilus’ hull. Herrmann again supports the scene with a very ominous rendering of the Main Theme B Phrase with low woodwinds, strings sinistre and tubas, which crest with the clash of suspended cymbals, tam-tams and horns.

In “Lava Flow” the eruption enters a new deadly phase as red molten lava flows descend with irresistible destructive force, incinerating everything in their path. A grim rendering of the Main Theme A Phrase with a contrapuntal horn ostinato support the fiery lava flows. At 0:23 a repeating six-not motif by staccato horns moves to the forefront with the Main Theme A Phrase receding into a contrapuntal role as the team lays bamboo pipe to a raft on the beach. At 0:51 rolling timpani and kindred drums erupt with low register strings and trumpets to support an earthquake. “The Octopus” reveals the men walking on the sea floor towards the ship to place the balloon. Herrmann creates a feeling of serenity, yet we discern a subtle as yet imperceptible danger lurking in the notes. At 0:18 a dark, and ominous descent by contrabassoons and tuba join and support visuals of a gigantic octopus, whose red eye opens menacingly, lurking in the distance. At 0:54 the reach the ship and harps of hope lighten the mood and usher in the previous serenity. In “The Raft” Herbert, Elena and Lady Mary reach the protruding masts of the sunken ship. A horn ostinato with a contrapuntal Main Theme A Phrase carries their progress. As they pass the balloon off to the divers the volcano’s eruptions worsen causing waves to buffet them.

“The Rock” reveals the balloon being pulled down into the ship’s hull by a large heavy rock. Herrmann supports the descent simply with a two-note phrase by low register horns and bassoons, answered by clarinets and bass clarinets. In “The Sub Deck” rocks are raining down on the Nautilus and we see Nemo secure the air line and close the hatch as he reenters the Nautilus. There is a growing anxiety as timpani, kindred drums, tam-tam and cymbals erupt and join in a monstrous synergy with a dire rendering of a contrapuntal Main Theme B Phrase. “The Tentacles” reveals the beast’s stealth approach and grasp of Pencroft in one of its tentacles. Herrmann does not channel overt aggression, but rather dire menace, which descends into the abysmal depths of the orchestra using a grim array of woodwinds and strings joined by tuba. “The Fight” offers an outstanding score highlight, which showcases Herrmann compositional genius. Regretfully much of the cue was edited out of the film as the original 2:50 minute cue was cut to 1:37 minutes. Herrmann sustains the aquatic auras of his underwater soundscape using an array of low woodwinds, trombones sinistre that growl over pedal timpani. Neb tries to fight the beast off with his spear to no avail as Harding, who was in the ship’s hull finally sees the attack and moves forward with the electric gun. The fight and Harding’s approach are supported at 1:04 with a malevolent crescendo of death propelled by English horns as we see Pencroft succumbing the beast’s crushing grip. A dissonant storm erupts with the music losing cohesion and deconstructing into a cacophonous mayhem as Harding fires off three volleys from the electric gun. Most creative is how Herrmann creates a slithering effect, which sync with the beast’s writhing tentacles after each shot. A drum storm and grim descent, which dissipate into nothingness supports the beast dropping Pencroft and retreating, obscured by a defensive ink storm.

In “The Divers” the men ascend and join the others on the raft. Herrmann sustains tension as the volcano erupts in the background with the seven-note string ostinato with a contrapuntal Main Theme B Phrase. “The Air Hose” reveals Nemo engaging the air pump that begins filling the balloon. Repeating grim statements of the Main Theme B Phrase empower the balloon filling. As we shift to the Nautilus a foreboding orchestral descent unfolds as we see Nemo preparing to depart. “The Ship Rising” offers an exceptional cue, regretfully the first 1:09 minutes were edited out of the film as the scene was significantly shortened. Herrmann’s original conception offers one of the most complex and amazing ascent motifs I have ever heard in film. The swirling, timpani propelled ascent is breath-taking and one struggles to take in what Herrmann conceived. At 1:09 horns brilliante declarations resound with the Main Theme A Phrase as the ships reaches the surface.

“The Earthquake” offers another exceptional score highlight where Schneer’s cinematography and Herrmann’s music achieve a perfect confluence. The volcano’s final eruption explodes with a monstrous all-consuming fury as we see the island being torn assunder. The seven-note ostinato propelled by horns joins with a contrapuntal Main Theme B Phrase to support the cataclysm. The entry of a solo plaintive piccolo descent at 0:24 with wailing trombones supports massive rock slides and the collapse of granite house in a fiery maelstrom. “Finale” offers a stirring score highlight where Scheer and Herrmann create a stunning cinematic synergy. The Main Theme A Phrase resounds powerfully as Nemo attempts to exit the Nautilus, but is driven back by a raining cascade of boulders. Repeating opening phrases of the Main Theme B Phrase support Nemo being crushed to death and the island lurching into its final death throes. Thundering declarations of the Main Theme B Phrase fanfare resound and are synced to one massive explosion after another as the survivors look on in horror. At 0:37 the theme softens becoming first elegiac and then, contemplative born by violins of hope with ethereal harp as each of the survivor’s pledge to honor Nemo’s sacrifice and vision by working for a peaceful and bountiful world.

I wish to commend the creative team of Anna Bonn, John Morgan and William Stromberg for this magnificent re-recording of Bernard Herrmann’s masterpiece, “Mysterious Island”. This inaugural effort, which launched the Tribute Film Classics label is an astounding achievement, which offers a long-sought Holy Grail for film score fans. The score reconstruction by the creative team has produced an audio recording that is exceptional, and the performance of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra William’s Stromberg’s baton peerless. The informative liner notes by Kevin Scott, album art and historical accounts result in an exception album of unsurpassed quality. “Mysterious Island” offered the third collaboration for Herrmann with Charles Schneer and Ray Harryhausen, and it is clear that he understood their vision and composed music, which enhanced their film in everyway imaginable. The tertiary main theme not only offers one of Herrmann’s most powerful compositions, but also one of the most astounding film openings in cinematic history. His creativity in utilizing instruments to emote the unique physicality and actions of the various animals in the film were brilliantly conceived, and masterfully executed with the end result being the music and animal becoming one. How Herrmann joined with and evoked the idyllic beauty and wonder of the island was wondrous. His two love themes helped to humanize the characters and speak to their humanity as they are threatened by nature, ruthless pirates and the island’s volcanic wrath. Yet it is in the film’s final scenes where the volcano erupts and unleashes a cataclysm where we have one of the most astounding and memorable confluences of music and cinematography ever realized. In every way imaginable Herrmann enhanced the cinematic experience, fully allowing Schneer and Harryhausen to realize their vision. I consider this one of the finest scores in Herrmann’s canon, a masterpiece of the Silver Age, and highly recommend it as an essential album purchase for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the astounding Prelude: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHqk1yQOWRs

Buy the Mysterious Island soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude (1:34)
  • The Battle (1:21)
  • The Gates (0:38)
  • The Stairs (0:24)
  • The Tower (0:31)
  • The Escape (0:38)
  • The Balloon 1 (1:18)
  • Introductions (0:29)
  • The Clouds A (1:06)
  • The Clouds B (0:55)
  • The Clouds C (0:47)
  • The Clouds D (0:41)
  • The Clouds E (1:03)
  • The Balloon 2 (2:09)
  • The Island (0:39)
  • The Rocks (0:36)
  • Exploration (2:27)
  • The Giant Crab (3:02)
  • The Volcano (1:18)
  • The Crater (0:31)
  • The Beach (1:46)
  • The Stream (0:46)
  • The Cliff (1:34)
  • The Cave (2:30)
  • Narration (1:38)
  • R. C. [Robinson Crusoe] (0:15)
  • Elena (0:34)
  • The Shadow (0:40)
  • The Bird (2:43)
  • Duo (1:52)
  • Honeycomb (1:02)
  • The Giant Bee 1 (1:59)
  • The Sail (0:29)
  • The Giant Bee 2 (0:51)
  • The Flag (0:52)
  • The Fire (0:38)
  • The Nautilus (1:38)
  • The Bridge (1:14)
  • The Pirates (1:32)
  • Gunsmoke (0:42)
  • Attack (0:53)
  • The Sinking Ship (1:05)
  • Captain Nemo (0:41)
  • The Bottle (0:31)
  • The Pipeline (1:18)
  • Underwater (1:28)
  • The Smoke (1:39)
  • Danger A (0:20)
  • Danger B (0:23)
  • Lava Flow (1:16)
  • The Octopus (1:31)
  • The Raft (0:26)
  • The Rock (0:39)
  • The Sub Deck (0:35)
  • The Tentacles (0:31)
  • The Fight (2:50)
  • The Divers (1:17)
  • The Air Hose (0:51)
  • The Ship Rising (1:19)
  • The Earthquake (1:04)
  • Finale (1:26)
  • Surprise Bonus Track: King of the Kyber Rifles, Prelude (2:10)

Running Time: 71 minutes 27 seconds

Tribute Film Classics TFC-1001 (1961/2007)

Music composed by Bernard Herrmann. Conducted by William Stromberg. Performed by The Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Original orchestrations by Bernard Herrmann. Recorded and mixed by Alexander Volkov. Score produced by Bernard Herrmann. Album produced by William Stromberg, John Morgan and Anna Bonn.

  1. August 15, 2020 at 3:23 am

    mystery movies have always been what I love most about movies. I get so thrilled when characters are trying to solve a murder case or trying to get to the root of an issue and they keep going in circles, unwrapping mystery till the nut finally cracks. what thrills me most is that I try to guess what will happen till the end. please use this link to visit my site for interesting articles like this one and I will really appreciate it. thank you.

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