Home > Reviews > SHE – Max Steiner

SHE – Max Steiner

MOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

RKO studio executives were fascinated by the film prospects presented by of Henry Rider Haggard’s 1887 novel She. The tale offered a broad canvass, which featured adventure, mystery, love, magic and immortality. They purchased the screen rights in 1932 and in 1933 assigned the project to Merian Cooper, who had just assumed his new position as Vice President of Production for RKO. He brought in Dudley Nichols and Ruth Rose to write the screenplay, and they ended up creating a story, which drew upon plot elements from all four novels of the series. Cooper had a grand vision and with a $1 million budget purchased lavish costumes and fashioned magnificent architecture sets for the city of Kor in the Art Deco design, and assigned Lansing C. Holden and Irving Pichel as directors to bring it all to life. Yet they were undone when the budget was slashed and they were forced to abandon technicolor and instead shoot in black and white. For the cast Cooper recruited opera singer Helen Gahagan for the titular role. Joining her would be Randolph Scott as John Vincey and Leo Vincey, Nigel Bruce as Professor Horace Holly, Helen Mack as Tanya Dugmore, and Gustav von Seyffertitz as Governor Billali.

The story is set in England in the late 19th century and follows the journey of Professor Horace Holly and his ward Leo Vincey in search of the lost city of Kor. Vincey’s departed father had provided him a map that would guide them to the lost city of Kor where resides the legendary fountain of youth. Led by guide Dugmore and his daughter Tanya they journey far north through the Siberian tundra and arrive in a secluded valley that leads to the lost city of Kor. They are however attacked by savages and only survive due to the intervention of High Priest Billali, servant of Queen Hashamotep – “She who must be obeyed” who is over 2,000 years old. The Queen is stunned with the sight of Leo Vincey who she sees as the reincarnation (descendant) of her dead lover John Vincey. “She” seeks Leo’s affections and offers him the gift of youthful immortality and joint rule of Kor if he would bathe in the “Flame of Life”. He hesitates, so Hashamotep steps in to prove that there is no danger. Yet entering the Flame of Life a second time undoes its gift of immortality, and in a matter of minutes Hashamotep ages rapidly, withers and falls dead. Leo, Tanya and Horace depart, and safely return to unwilling to test the powers of the Flame of Life, leaving a grieving Billali who is unable to process the death his immortal Queen. The film was not a commercial success, losing $180,000, however it eventually became profitable after a re-release in 1949 as a theater double-bill with Cooper’s Last Days of Pompeii (1935). The film received modest critical acclaim, securing one Academy Award nomination for Best Dance Direction.

Cooper was an admirer of Max Steiner’s style and influence on the development and application of music in film. His soundscapes for Bird of Paradise (1932), The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and King Kong (1933) demonstrated the power of music to move audiences, and Cooper believed Steiner was essential to realizing his vision for She. Steiner understood the magnitude of the challenge the story presented. His music would have to speak to an ancient civilization and exotic setting, a Queen immortal obsessed with regaining a lover lost centuries ago, and the mystery and miraculous power of the Flame of Life. To that end he created five primary themes to support his soundscape with two associated with “She”; She’s Theme serves as her identity as Queen Hashamotep – She Who Must Be Obeyed. Over the centuries She has become cynical, and her heart has hardened to stone, plagued by guilt and regret for her murder of lover John Vincey. She has supreme power, eternal beauty and immortality, yet it is a life alone, empty and without love. Steiner speaks to this with resounding horns dramatico declarations of an epic three-note statement, which speaks to She’s grandeur as Supreme Ruler. A grim six-note serpentine descent, by strings doloroso flow into the well of her tormented heart. The music is authoritarian, grim and resolute, and yet, tormented and sad, a perfect musical personification of She Who Must Be Obeyed. The Love Theme emotes from the perspective of Queen Hashamotep and speaks of her undying love for John Vincey. It offers classic Steiner romanticism by tremulous violins doloroso with contrapuntal mid-register strings and woodwinds adorned with harp tenero. The music is not ardent, but is instead tender and filled with sadness as his return for which she had longed for through the centuries also reminds her of her guilt, as he was slain by her hand.

The Flame of Life Theme is not fiery in its articulation, rather it emotes as mysterioso, intangible, alluring, ever shifting, carried by solo oboe, flute, kindred woodwinds with harp adornment. The melody weaves to and fro, never resolves, instead dissipating on harp glissandi into nothingness. Tanya’s Theme offers the score’s most beautiful theme. Steiner channeled her Russian heritage with a Tchaikovskian valzer romantico. It is carried by a gorgeous cello so full of yearning with harp adornment. Tanya lives an isolated life with her harsh adopted father, and Steiner speaks to this loneliness with this wondrous theme, yearning, and full of longing. The Journey Theme supports scenes where the team is travelling. It is spirited, carried by a string ostinato, over which play a clarinet carrying the main line adorned with contrapuntal flute. Lastly, Steiner on more than one occasion related that he believed this score to be his finest, and that She, not The Informer should have brought home the Oscar that year. Steiner was the father and standard bearer of European romanticism which brought forth the film score idiom in the 1930s, and yet his soundscape also offered in some scenes a richly accented non-melodic textural milieu one would expect from a 20th century modernist composer. I was actually more impressed by his writing in this modernist style than his usual lyrical romanticism.

After the display of the RKO Studio logo we flow into “Main Title” a score highlight where Steiner captures the film’s emotional core with an extended molto tragico iteration of the She Theme. A swirling string ascent rises forth like the legendary Flames of Life to usher in on resounding horns dramatico declarations She’s Theme. The roll of the opening credits unfolds on a stone wall illuminated by two fire urns. Waves of vapors rise forth supported by dazzling harp glissandi as strings doloroso speak to the sadness, torment and regret, which swirl within “She”. At 1:05 we segue into “Time Passes” atop a tolling clock motif as we see a grandfather clock marking the passage of time as John Vincey waits on his death bed for the arrival of his American nephew Leo. A lamentation joins the motif as John asks Horace if Leo will arrive in time. In “Uncle John’s Vision” John is dying of Radium poisoning and reveals to Leo a portrait of John Vincey, an ancestor of the 15th century who looks just like him/ He then discloses the family legend of the “Flame of Life”, hidden somewhere in the remote Artic. Woodwinds misterioso emote She’s Theme, an allusion of what awaits, which intensifies on strings as John relates that he truly believes that the flame exists, remote, mysterious, and offering eternal life. He exhorts Leo to take up challenge, and with Horace’s assistance find the Flame of Life. An almost intangible Flame Theme enters on woodwinds misterioso and harp as John utters his last words and dies.

“To the Northern Rim” reveals Leo and Horace taking up the challenge and dog sledding in Siberia to the Northern Rim where they hope to recruit local guides. Steiner introduces his spirited Journey Theme underpinned by a steady string ostinato, over which play a clarinet animato carrying the main line countered with a contrapuntal flute. A local guide Dugmore takes them in and introduces his daughter Tanya. He resists guiding them to the Sugul Barrier as no one who has crossed it has ever returned. Yet when Leo pulls out the golden statuette given him by John, Dugmore changes his mind, now filled with a lust for gold. In “The Barrier” the sprightly Journey Theme carries the team across the frozen wilderness. At 0:15 we see the enormity of the barrier in the distance and the theme dissipates, replaced by bleak violins, contrapuntal celli and a forlorn English horn. They are not deterred, and at 0:52 the Journey Theme resumes, propelling the sleds through a canyon, which shelters them from the harsh artic winds. “At the Campfire” reveals the teams settled down with Tanya preparing dinner. Leo joins her at the campfire and she discloses how she came to be with Dugmore. Leo confides that she deserves a better life with someone who would love her. Steiner supports the intimate moment together with Tanya’s Theme, which unfolds on a gorgeous cello romantico so full of yearning with harp adornment. I wanted this cue to go on forever, but it is severed by the arrival of native guides who alert them that they have discovered a dead white man above.

In “The Saber-Tooth Tiger” a drum strike supports Dugmore punching a native for refusing to show him, and an intensifying string agitato carries the team’s climb upwards to a cliff above. A diminuendo at 0:25 supports their arrival at the cliff shelve and the discovery of a man and saber-tooth Tiger encased in clear ice. Forlorn tremolo strings joined by repeating woodwind descents sow a misterioso as they contemplate their discovery. At 1:09 a portentous bassoon and strings supports Dugmore’s assertion that the man had gold in his bag and his desire to chop it out. At 1:30 a descent motif supports the fall of an ice block, which persuades the team to leave. The string agitato returns as a descent motif, which supports Horace, Leo and Tanya’s return to the canyon floor, but Dugmore remains intent on getting his gold. At 2:00 chirping woodwinds sound increasing alarm as Dugmore begins chopping the ice with an axe. We flow into “Avalanche”, which offers the score’s most kinetic cue. Dugmore lust for gold has precipitated a massive avalanche, which crashes down, carrying him to his doom. The three take shelter under an outcrop and survive, but their camp, supplies and the natives are buried under tons of ice. Fierce oscillating strings sound the alarm as the mountain gives way and Steiner unleashes a downwards cascading orchestral torrent empowered by trilling woodwinds and resounding horns barbaro. Elegiac horns support the aftermath as the stunned survivors contemplate their future.

In “The Cave” serpentine woodwinds sow a misterioso as they explore a cave exposed by the landslide. Horace scouts ahead while Leo and Tanya take a respite. Seductive strings inform us of Leo’s growing attraction to Tanya. At 0:33 Horace discovers a cavern filled with bubbling lava pits, which Steiner supports with a richly accented textural milieu one would expect from a 20th century modernist composer, not the standard bearer of European romanticism. At 1:05 a fragment of She’s Theme makes a fleeting appearance – an allusion to what awaits. Slowly music gains forward momentum, which carries them through the cavern. At 1:32 a comic bassoon and saxophone supports the appearance of natives who are stalking the party. A crescendo at 2:02 and pause supports Tanya’s scream as natives surround them. Steiner sow’s unease with nativist woodwinds as they try to communicate with the natives. A shift to strings doloroso and forlorn flute portends a grim fate awaits as they are escorted to the tribe’s living cavern. We close with a growing swell of textural activity by woodwinds and drums as the natives prepare for a feast. “Fight With the Natives” reveals Horace restrained as the natives lower a white hot head pot. Leo come to the rescue and after some rifle shots, frees him. As they try to escape the natives swarm and Steiner unleashes a ferocious orchestral torrent propelled by horns bellicoso and storming timpani. A percussive crash at 0:33 supports a mallet strike against Leo’s head, which disables him. All seems lost, yet at 0:38 muted trumpets reale resound and herald the arrival of Billali, High Priest of Kor who raises his hand, which causes all the natives to fall to their knees and cower in fear.

In “Trek to Kor” The first 1:24 is dialed out of the film, which is a shame as the music is wonderful. Billali orders the arrest of the chief and a dozen men and begins to depart. Strings appassionato offer a fervent rendering of Tanya’s Theme as Tanya pleads for Billali to save Leo, yet the music descends into despair as he prepares to depart. After Leo falls unconscious at 0:52 they are stunned when Billali responds in English to not be afraid, and that he will not die. He closes with you will learn your fate from Hashamotep. Strummed harp and a subtle woodwind statement of She’s Theme supports the conversation. A flute and ascending strings speak of hope as Billali orders Leo to be carried by liter and they depart for Kor. At 1:25 music enters and a processione esotico replete with tambourine supports their journey to Kor. At 2:18 they reach the cave’s exit and behold the city of Kor supported by heraldic horns and woodwinds. The film must have been edited showing the approach to the massive city gate as the remaining music is dialed out of the film. The music slowly swells with pride and grandeur as the approach the massive gate, yet as they arrive, it transforms into a grim, dissonant marcia del destino. “At the Gate” reveals their arrival at a massive towering gate. At Billali’s command the gate is opened supported by dissonant fanfare reale I would normally associate with Alex North, not Max Steiner. The dissonance informs us that what lies ahead is unnatural, something to be feared. It carries their ascent up a long flight of stairs to another massive door – the entry to the Queen’s throne room. As the doors open dissonant fanfare reale resounds and supports a dramatic ascent motif as they enter. The fanfare sours and becomes grotesques as Billali ascends the staircase. Music for the entry into the Queen’s throne room is not found on the album.

In “The Queen” we are offered a wonderful score highlight. We observe a grand red carpeted three-tiered stone staircase that leads to a majestic portal. Volcanic steam vapors ascend like a gaseous veil, which obscures the other side. Billali announces his arrival and kneels in submission. The shrouded image of the Queen appears, her features obscured by the rising vapors. Her arrival is supported by a sad, not of this world rendering of She’s Theme by wordless choir. When Horace asks who she is, “She” answers “I am Yesterday, and Today and Tomorrow. I am Sorrow and Longing and Hope unfulfilled. I am Hashamotep, – She, She who must be obeyed.” At 1:41 tremolo strings irato rise supported by dire blaring horns when “She” discovers that another man has come. “She” demands to see him to determine if her long wait is over and that John Vincey has returned to her. A gong strike and drum roll support Leo’s arrival on a liter. At 2:00 a dire rendering of She’s Theme supports guards carrying Leo’s liter and setting it down on the second-tier landing. Her theme swells powerfully on a crescendo cresting at 2:26 when her screams reveal recognition as she crosses through the vapors into plain sight. At 2:31 “She” descends to Leo carried by the Love Theme rendered by lush strings romantico. She has dropped her guard, and we feel tenderness, yet also sadness and vulnerability. As she reaches him and calls out John Vincey her music warms and we discern a kernel of hope as she caresses him tenderly. “She” orders John (Leo) be taken to her personal chamber and the music sours, becoming tense and Tanya struggles to go to him. As “She” returns to the portal at 3:59 discordant fanfare and strings doloroso carry her departure and Tanya’s worries. At 4:15 we segue into “Tanya in Bed” where we see her restless and worried about Leo. Only a few frames of the film show this, which means the scene was edited, as was the cue’s remaining music. Above a dark bass sustain, a grim She’s Theme descends, with a contrapuntal Tanya’s Theme, which informs us that both compete for Leo’s affections.

The scene for “Tanya’s Unrest” was edited out of the film. It revealed her travel to the throne room and covert forbidden entry into the Queen’s chambers. Bubbling almost prancing woodwinds would seem to carry her stealth travel to the throne room. At 0:29 her theme on oboe with xylophone accents enters joined by harp and celeste adornment. A gong strike at 1:05 suggests entry into the throne room, and an ascent motif her run up the stairs to the Queen’s chambers. A 1:16 strings so full of longing carry her as she comes to Leo who lies unconscious. At 1:37 we are graced by a gorgeous rendering of Tanya’s Theme by solo violin romantico with harp adornment, which no doubt was to support her bedside affection for Leo. The moment is lost at 2:14 as She’s Theme enters to support her discovery of a rival. The Queen’s theme abounds with sadness and descends into pain as she orders Tanya removed from her sight. “Leo Asleep” offers a score highlight, which features a gorgeous extended rendering of She’s Theme. Leo wakes to the adoring eyes of Hashamotep, who comes to him as a woman, not queen. “She” kneels and places sandals on his feet and we see yearning love in her eyes, which Steiner supports with an exquisite rendering of her theme by solo violin romantico. Yet the music saddens when he asks who she is, as she had hoped that he would remember. Her theme drifts through the fog of centuries as she tries to awaken memories of the love, he had for her. When he again asks who she is we see sadness in her eyes and her theme dissipates into nothingness. At 2:07 the music darkens on a dire rendering of her theme as Hashamotep resumes her mantle as queen and declares that he will soon see her judgment on those who dared to attack him. As “She” departs, at 2:50, Leo asks how she speaks English, to which she replies “And still you do not understand”. A solo violin, so full of sadness carries her supreme disappointment as she departs to a vibraphone resonance.

“Fanfares” reveals the assembly of people in the throne room for the trial of the natives who attacked Leo. Fanfare reale supports the arrival of the Queen with subsequent declarations carrying Leo’s entry. “The Trial” opens powerfully with dire declarations of She’s Theme as we see her seated on her throne as judge. When she summons the natives discordant mocking horns resound and support their forced entry. As they cower, She’s Theme returns with malice, and supports her command that Leo identify the men who attacked him. He picks four of the ten with her theme swelling for an angry climax at 1:16 with his last choice being the chief. A diminuendo ends with a drum roll as she sentences them to death. At 1:46 Leo asks that she spare them and as she contemplates Christ’s message of mercy and forgiveness supported by strings religioso as she recalls Judea centuries ago. The moment is lost with a gong strike at 2:12 followed by horrific fanfare and a steady drum beat of death as “She” orders them to die. The music swells on a crescendo of horror, climaxing at 2:54 with the first man thrown into a volcanic pit. As Leo begs her not to do this at 3:12, she softens and the anger dissipates from her theme, which transforms into the Love Theme as she accommodates his request. Leo asks if he can visit Tanya to tell her everything is all right to which the Queen consents. We see she is pained at this request and Steiner supports his departure at 3:43 with a sad rendering of Tanya’s Theme. An ethereal rendering of She’s Theme, which descends into sadness speaks to her grief. We close darkly at 4:43 with a gong strike and dire rendering of her theme, which descends with finality when “She” orders Billali to kill all the remaining prisoners. In “Forgotten Place” Leo returns to Hashamotep’s chambers in hope of discovering the truth of the Flame of Life. As he enters her theme carries him to her and transforms into a wonderous stylized romantic rendering by solo violin. He shows her the gold statuette, which she recognizes came from John Vincey’s wife 500 years ago. He asks how she could know of this and her theme transforms into an exotic form as “She” asks him to think back to another life and far off forgotten place. When he declares he has no memories of her, her theme emerges, filled with longing as she creates an image of the two of them together 500 years ago on the waters of the memory pool.

The following two cues are score highlights, which offer a testament to Steiner’s mastery of his craft. As the image dissipates in “The Memory Pool” we see Leo perplexed and unable to process what he has seen. As Hashamotep relates that was the one time in her life she felt beloved, her theme unfolds with a passionate ascent, her heart’s desire now fully revealed. Yet when he again asks who is that man, she takes his hand and asks that he come with her so he may believe. At 0:27 we segue into “Cremation” an ethereal rendering of her theme descends to its very depths as they descend into a vaulted shrine. At 1:26 her theme rises like a phoenix as he beholds her secret, the perfectly preserved body of John Vincey, which he recognizes as himself. “She” declares that with his return, she no longer needs to preserve him and at 1:43 pours a potion over the corpse. As vapors arise and consume the corpse, Steiner evokes a swirling string ascent motif as John Vincey dissipates into nothingness. A stirring string descent brings them together where she at last reveals all. As she tells the tale of their love an aching stepped string ascent support her tale, culminating at 2:47 with a soaring rendering of the Love Theme. Yet strings full of pain descend into tragedy as she also reveals that her jealousy led her to kill him. A resolute and impassioned rendering of her theme renews at 3:15 as Hashamotep states that she knew his passion for life was a great as her own and that he would return to her, and it was this truth, which sustained her love through centuries of loneliness. We close with her theme transformed into a misterioso when she promises him the gift of immortality following the Hall of Kings ceremony so they can be together once again forever.

“The Terrace” reveals Leo and Tanya together on a terrace that overlooks the city of Kor. Her theme rendered romantically caries her to him. There is a seductiveness in the notes as she tries to convince her of a simpler, more serene type of love where two people grow old together. The music offers classic Steiner romanticism and some of the score’s finest moments. Yet the moment is severed at 2:16 when Billali informs Leo that he, but not Tanya, is to attend the Hall of Kings ceremony. A grim rendering of She’s Theme supports the invitation. At 2:42 a forlorn oboe emotes Tanya’s Theme, which carries her to the Queen’s chambers. As we see Hashamotep attended to by her handmaidens, Tanya arrives and demands an audience, to which the Queen consents. An ethereal She’s Theme supports the arrival and discussion, which goes south quickly when Tanya asks that Leo depart with them. “She” is is taken aback and disparages Tanya as a mere mortal. She’s Theme remains ascendant as she has all the power, but Steiner shifts its expression to and fro among the instruments. A heartfelt rendering of Tanya’s Theme supports her as she crosses the line and calls Hashamotep old and no longer capable of love. “She” is outraged and orders her out. At 6:00 Billali arrives and hatches a diabolical plot to kill Tanya as a sacrifice at tonight’s ceremony where she will be gagged and veiled so Leo cannot see her. A serpentine rendering of She’s Theme gives way to a repeating menacing horn figure to support the scene and Billali’s eventual departure. We conclude darkly at 7:02 with a marcia della morte as guards arrest Tanya and take her to special chambers where she will be prepared for sacrifice.

The next three cues comprise the annual ceremony, which celebrates the eternal youth of She. It features an extended superbly choreographed dance sequence, which earned Benjamin Zemach an Academy Award nomination for Best Dance Direction. In “Hall of Kings Part 1” the dance troupe surrounds the sacrificial firepit, which is the focus of the ceremony. Steiner’s conception is brilliant and he opens the scene with a dire rendering of She’s Theme as the camera pans the mammoth statues of the hall, testaments to “She’s” omnipotence. A grim and barbaric danza macabra supports the masked performers dance around the fire pit. At 2:02 a gong strike supports obtaining fire from the fire pit and its transfer to several men who perform a ritualistic lighting of fire pits under each of the massive statues. A new percussive cadence emerges to support their efforts. At 3:01 a grotesque rendering of She’s Theme supports her transfer of fire to a priest. At 3:18 a gong strike initiates a grim processione della morte as dozens of masked figures join the ceremony. A gong strike ushers in “Hall of Kings Part 2” as the halls grand doors open to dramatic fanfare. A new instrument playing troupe enter supported by a processione esotica. Maidens follow with Tanya bound, gagged and hidden behind a veil. The troupe then commences a ritualistic dance, which Steiner supports with a festive danza esotica. At 2:02 the dance’s energy dissipates and a softer rhythm emerges as the veiled Tanya approaches. When Leo asks about the veiled girl, the Queen explains that she carries her thankfulness to the gods for her eternal beauty. At 2:42 the danza macabre returns as masked men hoist Tanya up atop their shoulders and circle the fire pit. A horrific climax is achieved that culminates with a gong strike, which ushers in “Hall of Kings Part 3” where Tanya is stood up on the edge of the fire pit. As the dancers withdraw from the fire pit wordless female chorus sing an eerie rendering of She’s Theme as a ritualistic dagger is presented to “She” for her blessing. The priest then takes the dagger and displays it as he circles the fire pit supported by a joint chorus singing a dire form of She’s Theme. The priest now stands behind Tanya and is poised to strike.

In “The Escape” Leo at last realizes that it is Tanya, rushes to her aid carried by racing strings. He tosses the priest into the fire pit and then flees with Horace and Tanya to the great doors. Steiner unleashes ferocious escape music as Leo’s takes down guards with his revolver. At 0:33 Leo topples a fire cauldron supported by trilling woodwinds, which falls and lands at 0:42 with an orchestral crash. The fire blocks the guards, allowing them to escape and bar the doors. Orchestral frenzy propels their desperate escape until a pause at 1:20 where they are forced to jump across a chasm to a massive teetering rock. Dizzying strings, trilling woodwinds and horns dramatico support their desperate leaps. The music intensifies as guards also leap across and Leo fights for his life. A descent motif at 2:08 supports the massive rock’s fall with the guards as Leo escapes to join the others. At 2:17 ethereal harp glissandi support their arrival at a hidden temple and join in a misterioso with She’s Theme as she arrives with Billali.

“The Flame of Life” offers a remarkable score highlight. It reveals the Queen coercing Leo to bathe in the Flame of Life or she will kill Tanya. An impassioned Tanya’s Theme supports her willingness to die to save Leo from a life with the Queen. But he will not see her die and agrees to the Queen’s terms. Tanya’s Theme resurges as she begs him not to give in. Leo hesitates, and the Queen offers to go first to show the flame is not harmful, to which he agrees. She’s Theme carries her to the vent and emotes with malice as she tells Tanya that her body will decay and wither while her’s defies the years. At 1:14 “She” summons the Flame of Life, which Steiner supports with a refulgent swirling orchestral ascent that joins with her theme declared by dire horns, and then subsides. “She” visibly ages, a plaintive statement of her theme sounds, as she berates Tanya whose body will age. “She” again summons the flame at 1:41 with a more dramatic musical upsurge. “She” has aged more and an eerie rendering of her theme joins with harp glissandi as we see the three recoil at her transformation. “She” is unaware of her aging, and so at 2:03 summons the flame a third time with the music now swelling with dissonance. A beleaguered rendering of her theme joins with harp and xylophone accents. Still unaware of her aging, “She” summons the flame one last time at 2:33 and the orchestral upsurge is now monstrously dissonant and horrific. It subsides to reveal Hashamotep enfeebled and withered, a walking corpse carried by a pathetic, agonal rendering of her theme as she realizes what has happened and falls dead to the ground.

In “Finale” Horace reads the closing lines of the tale he wrote for the tragedy that was “She”. Her sad theme returns for a grieving reprise, which culminates with the Flame of Life Theme, which slowly ebbs and dissipates into nothingness as Horace relates that human beings were not meant to be immortal. At 1:25 when Leo states that he doubts that there really was a Flame of Life, She’s Theme reprises on solo oboe doloroso, and then solo violin with xylophone adornment, for a final tragic iteration. Yet Tanya counters at 1:55 that the flame exists, found in the hearth of every home where people live and love each other. Her warm theme supports her words as she and Leo lovingly grasp hands. We conclude with a magnificent flourish to conclude the film

I wish to once again thank the creative team of John Morgan, Anna Bonn and William Stromberg for another Tribute Film Classics triumph. The score restoration and recording of Max Steiner’s masterpiece “She” has been a Holy Grail for collectors for decades, and this outstanding album delivers all for which we had hoped. John Morgan’s meticulous reconstruction and orchestration, joined with William Stromberg’s inspired conducting with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra would elicit praise from Maestro Steiner himself had he been able to listen to this new rendering of his handiwork. Steiner was drawn to the film’s story and had 30 days to write 75 minutes of music. In a masterstroke he captured the film’s emotional core with his score’s main theme for Queen Hashamotep – She Who Must Be Obeyed. “She” was a beautiful Queen immortal, changeless, ageless and deathless, obsessed with regaining a lover she killed five centuries ago. Over the intervening centuries “She” had become cynical, and her heart had hardened to stone, plagued by guilt and regret for her murder of lover John Vincey. “She” has supreme power, eternal beauty and immortality, yet it is a life alone, unfulfilled, empty and without love. Steiner speaks to this with resounding horns dramatico declarations of an epic three-note opening statement, which speaks to “She’s” grandeur as Supreme Ruler. A grim six-note serpentine descent by strings doloroso follow, and flow into the well of her tormented heart. The music is authoritarian, grim and resolute, and yet, tormented and sad, a perfect musical personification of She Who Must Be Obeyed. Juxtaposed is the other woman who competes for Leo’s affections. Tanya’s Theme offers the score’s most beautiful theme, one where Steiner channeled her Russian heritage with a Tchaikovskian valzer romantico. Tanya lives an isolated life with her harsh adopted father, and Steiner speaks to her loneliness with this wondrous yearning theme, so full of longing. What is most intriguing to me however is how Steiner, the father and standard bearer of Hollywood’s European romanticism composed for the cave scenes a richly accented non-melodic textural milieu one would expect from a 20th century modernist composer. I was very impressed by his writing in this modernist style an unexpected departure from his usual lyrical romanticism. Lastly, the danza macabre Steiner composed for the Hall of Kings scenes was spectacular, achieving a cinematic confluence, which lead to an Academy Award nomination for Best Dance Direction. Folks, this film was truly flawed, yet in scene after scene Steiner’s music enhanced Cooper’s story-telling, a testament to the capacity of music to rescue a film from itself. As one of Steiner’s earliest scores it serves as a testament to his genius and mastery of his craft. I believe it to be a masterpiece of conception and execution, and a gem of the early Golden Age. I highly recommend the purchase of this quality album for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the Main Title: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsBGQzmITu8

Buy the She soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title/Time Passes (2:07)
  • Uncle John’s Vision (1:06)
  • To the Northern Rim (:35)
  • The Barrier (1:07)
  • At the Campfire (1:21)
  • The Saber-Tooth Tiger (2:19)
  • Avalanche (1:21)
  • The Cave (3:14)
  • Fight With the Natives (:49)
  • Trek to Kor (3:39)
  • At the Gate (:29)
  • The Queen/Tanya in Bed (5:07)
  • Tanya’s Unrest (3:21)
  • Leo Asleep (3:06)
  • Fanfares (:40)
  • The Trial (5:10)
  • Forgotten Place (1:51)
  • The Memory Pool/Cremation (4:29)
  • The Terrace (7:46)
  • Hall of Kings Part 1 (3:55)
  • Hall of Kings Part 2 (3:35)
  • Hall of Kings Part 3 (1:19)
  • The Escape (3:22)
  • The Flame of Life (5:01)
  • Finale (2:39)
  • Bonus Track (1:27)

Running Time: 71 minutes 07 seconds

Tribute Film Classics TFC-1003 (1935/2008)

Music composed by Max Steiner. Conducted by William Stromberg. Performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Original orchestrations by Bernhard Kaun, Maurice de Packh and Edward B. Powell. Recorded and mixed by Alexander Volkov. Score produced by Max Steiner. Album produced by John Morgan, Anna Bonn and William Stromberg.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.