Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > RAINTREE COUNTY – Johnny Green



Original Review by Craig Lysy

As part of its new talent development program, MGM Studios awarded its distinguished Novel Award to author Ross Lockridge Jr. for his 1947 novel Raintree County. So impressed were they with the book, that they soon purchased the film rights for $150,000. Production was delayed by unforeseen issues, including the suicide of Lockridge and his very costly film rights demands, which delayed the project for eight years. Finally in 1955, David Lewis was tasked with producing the film with a budget of $5.5 million. Edward Dmytryk was selected to direct, and Millard Kaufman was hired to adapt Lockridge’s novel and write the screenplay. A stellar cast was hired with Montgomery Clift as John Witckliff Shawnessey, Elizabeth Taylor as Susanna Drake, Eva Marie Saint and Nell Gaither, Lee Marvin as Orville ‘Flash’ Perkins, Nigel Patrick as Professor Jerusalem Webster Stiles, Rod Taylor as Garwood B. Jones, and Agnes Moorehead as Ellen Shawnessey.

The film is set in pre-Civil War Indiana 1859 and deals with the tragic, and ill-fated romance between John Shawnessey and Susanna Drake. John and his girl Nell Gaither are high school sweethearts who intend to one day marry. By chance Susanna, who hails from a wealthy family in New Orleans comes for a visit. John and her have a passionate affair, which seems to end when she returns to New Orleans. However, shortly thereafter she returns and advises John that she is pregnant. John, who is an honorable man agrees to marry her, which breaks Nell’s heart. His move to her family home founders for a number of reasons; he discovers that mental illness runs in Susanna’s family with Susanna plagued by the memory of a negro servant named Henrietta who became her father’s mistress after her mother took ill, Susanna’s admission that she faked pregnancy to get him to marry her, and lastly, as an abolitionist he is repelled by the South’s antebellum slave culture.

They soon move back to Indiana, have a son Jemmie, and then Johnny begins to see Susanna slowly descend into delusional paranoia. She flees with Jeemie as war breaks out, with a misguided John joining the Union army in hope of retrieving his family. After much suffering he first finds Jeemie, and then Susanna in an insane asylum. He brings them both back and is eventually reunited with Nell after Susanna commits suicide in a swamp, searching for the mythic golden Raintree. The film was a commercial failure, losing nearly $500,000. Critical reception was mixed, with its production value and acting deemed first rate, while its poorly written and verbose screenplay was criticized. Never the less the film earned four Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Actress, and Best Film Score. Lastly, cues coded (*) offer music not found on the album.

Johnny Green was the Director of Music at MGM with responsibility for assigning composers to film projects. During his long career he never undertook a scoring assignment, but in this case, he was taken in by the film’s story and chose to personally score the film. This would turn out to be the only time in his career that he scored a film. For conceiving his score, he chose to create a title folk song that would capture the essence of the film’s narrative. He teamed with lyricist Paul Francis Webster to create the now iconic “The Song For Raintree County”. It was sung by the legendary Nat King Cole and became an instant popular culture sensation. The song serves as the score’s primary theme, which grounds the film’s narrative. It offers a classical ABA construct with a concluding coda. Noteworthy is that it introduces what at the time was a novel resplendent shimmering effect, that has over time become a standard tool in a composer’s toolchest. In conceiving his approach Green related;

“Almost immediately I ruled out source music in favor of a completely theatrical approach. Next, I vowed that there would be no ‘Battle Hymn/Dixie’ goings-on and that the thematic material would be original (to the degree that this is possible with me). I then determined that the score should be romantic in feeling, that it would be melodic and that it should have what we know as ‘that modern western sound,’ not ‘Wagon Wheels’ of course, but rather the pentatonic and, to some degree, polytriadic sound that, under the able aegis of certain composers too well-known to require mention, has become the trade mark of the open spaces in recent serious American music”.

For his soundscape Green chose to employ tradition leitmotifs for major characters, emotions and settings. What is unique to Green’s approach is that instead of providing a single love theme for John and Susanna that evolves as their relationship changes, he provides two versions, with both emoted in 4/4 time. The initial love theme offers a Valzer Felice based on the song melody of “Never Till Now”, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. The song was a popular hit; however, it was never sung in the film. It represents the couple in the relationship’s early phase when they are head over heels in love and Susanna’s mental illness is not yet manifest. Over time as her schizophrenia surfaces the second Love Theme emerges, a melancholia for strings. The Madness Theme for Susanna represents the emergence of the unresolved psychic trauma regarding Henrietta. Her descent into paranoic madness is masterfully expressed by dissonance borne by solo flute doloroso or a ghostly saxophone, metallic twinkling finger cymbals, and eerie tremolo violins expressed as a slithering swirl. Green also creates a Madness Syndrome comprised of three motifs, using harmonies of “bitonal thirds and triads”, which unsettles as they never resolve, a yearning stepped descent, which is harmonized with lush seventh chords, and lastly, a “terse, two-measure descending motif”. For his long-suffering childhood sweetheart Nell, their Love Theme offers sumptuous, youthful yearning, which emotes wistfully from her perspective as she endures the painful loss of him to Susanna. Flash’s Theme offers a festive banjo driven folk melody, which speaks to his rakish and cocky personality. Jeemie’s Theme speaks to him being a child of woe, loved by Johnny, but a constant reminder of the tragedy of his marriage to Susanna. It offers a gentile, wistful child-like lullaby melody in ¾ time. The Swamp Theme offers a misterioso borne by ethereal wordless woman’s chorus, which speaks to the hidden realm of the mythic Raintree. The warm and soulful Raintree Theme speaks to the allure of the legendary tree’s mystical presence in the swamp. The War Theme, which offers a relentless, and repeating grim martial construct empowered by dire mid register strings and field drums bellicoso percussion, which support Sherman’s devastating march to the sea, whose brutal scorch earth, pillage and destroy tactics breaks the back of the Confederacy. Lastly, Green used a standard orchestra that ranged from 25 – 65 players, which he augmented with celeste, alto flute, alto saxophone and two harps. As a man ahead of his time, Green also utilized reverberation and over-dubbing to enrich the orchestra’s sound.

“Overture” offers a wonderful score highlight. We open boldly with rousing fanfare dramatico, which resounds over a sea of anticipatory tremolo strings. At 0:17 we burst into a brief yet energetic orchestral statement of the Raintree Song, which at 0:38 segues into the spirited, yet folksy Flash’s Theme. We flow with happiness at 1:31 into an extended rendering of the sumptuous Johnny and Susanna Love Theme and conclude at 3:11 with a sparkling flourish atop a coda of the Raintree Song. “Lion” supports the MGM studio logo of Leo the Lion in grand fashion with warm and inviting southern fanfare, which ushers in at 0:14 “The Song of Raintree County (Main Title)”, a score highlight, sung with the sterling baritone voice of Nat King Cole. The opening credits roll against stenciled scenes of the film’s setting. At 1:59 we flow into the film proper with a montage of idyllic countryside scenes of Raintree County. We close with a class photo with a banner, which reads “Pedee Academy Class of 1859”. The song sets the perfect tone for the film, with the music, lyrics and idyllic scenes achieving a perfect cinematic confluence.

“Nell and Johnny” offers another score highlight where we are graced by Johnny and Nell’s Love Theme. We see her depart her classmates and enter the idyllic forest with pristine streams in search of her love, Johnny. She finds him and they exchange presents, which they have hidden under the same log. Their lyrical Love Theme bathes us with a tender romanticism as they gift each other books. The Raintree Theme joins in counterpoint on harmonica at 1:50 as he opens her gift, an almanac of Raintree County. She then opens her gift, the collected works of the poet Lord Byron, which includes a photo with a hand written message from him. She is overwhelmed, and we see in her eyes that she is truly in love with him. A crescendo romantico of their Love Theme crests at 3:18 as they embrace and kiss, gracing us with one of the score’s finest moments. In “There’s Another Tree” we behold another splendid score highlight. Professor Stiles offers a class lecture along the rocky banks of a lake concerning the lore of the mystic Raintree, which was planted long ago by Johnny Appleseed. Green supports his storytelling with an orchestral rendering of the Raintree Theme. We open with a mystic tremolo by violins, which ushers in the theme’s melody on alto flute, joined by kindred woodwinds for a moving performance. Adornment by oriental auras join as we see the students full of wonderment from the tale. The theme blossoms carried warmly by strings for perhaps its most evocative expression in the score, concluding softly, full of nostalgia.

“The Swamp” also provides another score highlight, which offers excellent thematic interplay. Johnny, who is clearly inspired by the Raintree myth becomes a seeker, commencing a journey to the hidden depths of the Raintree swamp where the professor believes the legendary trees resides. As he rows into the swamp a harp glissando ushers in an ethereal wordless woman’s chorus rendering of the Swamp Theme, a misterioso, which joins with the Raintree Theme borne by strings and a warm solo trombone voicing the Love Theme. We bear witness to a wondrous confluence of music, storytelling, and cinematography. Eventually Johnny leaves the lake’s open waters and penetrates deeper and deeper into the canopy covered swamp carried by the alluring voices of the Swamp Theme choir. At 2:00 strings and the solo trombone support the grounding his rowboat and the start of his walk through the waters of the swamp. At 2:24 the choir cries out, joined by horns of distress and the tense strings of the Raintree Theme as he steps into a deep pool and struggles to regain solid footing. A sense of calm enters at 2:44 joined by the ethereal woman’s choir as Johnny regains the land. The music shifts to a pastorale as he exits the dense swamp trees and steps onto the road, where he is greeted in “Nell and Gar” by their arrival in a carriage. He accepts her invite to ride into town with them where he purposely wipes his muddy hands on Gar’s vest. Green had intended for the Love Theme (0:00-0:25) to support the scene, but his music was dialed out of the film.

At 0:26 we segue into “Freehaven” supported by a robust introduction of a spirited Flash’s Theme as they arrive in town. At 1:11 we segue into “Prelude Segue” as Johnny joins the guys who are mocking his swamp adventure. Flash is in the forefront and Green propels the scene with his rakish and cocky banjo caried theme. Johnny’s pride is wounded and he gets baited by Flash to compete with him in a foot race. At 1:59 we segue into “Meet Flash and Susanna” bursting with enthusiasm carried by bubbling woodwinds and the horns animato of Flash’s Theme as he accepts the challenge and demands it settled now. Fanfare resounds at 2:31 as the men take off their shoes and socks and the townsfolk gather to watch the spectacle. Yet the energy dissipates at 2:37, replaced by Johnny and Susanna’s Love Theme as he sees her for the first time and becomes transfixed by her beauty. Still, the race must go on and energy rebuilds only to quickly dissipate as the Professor initiates a wager of $50 that Flash will lose. Flash agrees and the race is deferred until the 4th of July celebrations so he can obtain the money to cover the bet.

In “Johnny’s Crown” the Professor assures Johnny that he will win and that a beautiful woman will mark his victory with a “crown of oak leaves”. Green supports the interaction with a comic rendering of Flash’s Theme. At 0:10 we segue into “Look at the Birdie” atop a bubbling bridge by woodwinds animato as Johnny walks to the photography studio where he sees Susanna posing for a photo. The Love Theme enters softly for a beautiful flowing and gentile presentation as we see she too is smitten. She rushes out to change as he takes his turn to obtain a photo. She hurries to dress intent on meeting him, and he stalls after the shot hoping to meet her. At 1:11 we segue into “First Meeting” a wondrous romantic score highlight as bubbling woodwinds support Susanna’s call for him to wait. She joins him, and we see that it is love at first sight. He takes her arm in arm and they stroll as he escorts her to her residence. She provides some insight into her family, her name, and tells him he is cute as he stares, mesmerized by her southern charm and beauty. Green supports the extended scene by gracing us with a sumptuous molto romantico rendering of their Love Theme, which closes with ethereal, radiant hope of the Raintree Theme as she departs and he watches consumed by her. At 3:01 we segue into “Nell’s Huff” as sher and Garwood come upon the visibly smitten Johnny. She slaps Garwood after his sarcastic comment, saying it was intended for Johnny, and storms off in a huff. Green supports her displeasure with Johnny and Nell’s Love Theme emoted as a comic agitato.

In the film we flow into “Pursuit of Happiness”, which is unscored as we see Johnny prepare for the 4th of July race only to be rebuffed by a clearly aggrieved Nell. Flash goads him into some bourbon shots, which he tolerates well, but inebriate Johnny, who performs an acrobatic stunt and is knocked out. As they prepare to race, Green interpolates patriotic Americana source music. Johnny barely wins the race and celebratory Americana rings out as Susanna crowns him with an oak leave wreath. We close with the comic “Pop Goes The Weasel” tune as an unhappy Nell looks on. At 0:23 we segue atop a harp glissando into “July Swim” where Susanna runs off trailed by Johnny after the Professor suggests they go for a swim. Youthful happiness abounds as they play in the water, and Green supports with their Love Theme emoted with playful exuberance, which climaxes romantically as they collapse and lay together on the shore. Yet sadness enters the notes as she relates to him that she is leaving in the morning to return to New Orleans. At 2:10 we segue into “Tell Me About the Raintree” atop the Raintree Theme emoted by harmonica and the Ethereal Voices as Susanna asks about the mythic Raintree. As they realize they may never see each other again, their Love Theme enters at 2:56 and swells as she initiates a passionate kissing embrace. At 3:01 a change of scene takes us to an open field where Johnny sees Nell walking alone. Susanna departed weeks ago and he runs to her hoping to end their estrangement. She runs from him yet a solo trumpet joined by hopeful strings usher in a wondrous exposition of their Love Theme, which propels his run to her. At 3:37 a diminuendo of unease takes us into “Nell Insert” where she lets him know that she was unhappy with his abandonment of her for Susanna. Green speaks to this tension with an entwining of their Love Theme and Raintree Theme. Yet she sees he is sorry, the Love Theme warms at 4:49, and once again blossoms at 5:48 as they embrace and kiss, closing tenderly as they reconcile. The moment is shattered as we close without music in “Your Exact Location” when Mr. Gray and a posse question them about Mrs. Gray, who has apparently run off with the Professor. Nell departs and Johnny feigns ignorance to protect his friend.

In “Going Home” a solo trumpet and dark, portentous horn chords buttress the Raintree Theme as Johnny returns home to his family’s barn. He is surprisingly greeted by the Professor who details his failed attempt to whisk Mrs. Gray away from her ancient. scowling husband. Johnny opts to has pity on his friend who claims nothing happened, and so helps him to escape from Raintree County. At 0:27 the dark horn chords return in “Train From the South” as he holds off Mr. Gray with a bull whip and the Professor escapes aboard a train. At 0:46 we segue into “I Had to Come Back” where Johnny is surprised when Susanna calls to him from the train platform. He is happy to see her, but Green informs us that all is not right as their Love Theme is emoted by a solo English horn triste. The discordant and disquieting Second Madness Motif, the first indication of her mental illness joins as she discloses that she is pregnant. The music carries a change of scene to home where Johnny receives a letter from his father, who expresses his concern for the precipitous announcement that he intends to marry Susanna. As he departs, Johnny reads a letter from Nell supported by their love theme, now full of heartbreak. At 1:39 we segue into “Fare Thee Well”, a sublime score highlight, where Green provides a molto tragico rendering of the Johnny and Nell Love Theme. Johnny and Nell meet at their special forest spot. Green supports the sad meeting with the heartbreak of their Love Theme as she wishes him well and declares that she still loves him. He apologizes and takes ownership, but we see he too is deeply hurt. The confluence of acting and music for this scene is masterful, with Green empowering the scene this sad and tragic parting. At 4:40 we segue into “River Wedding Night” atop an a Capella quartet of black male singers as we see Johnny and Susanna in their honeymoon suite aboard a Mississippi paddle boat. Tension surfaces as she discovers that he is an abolitionist. At 5:35 the first Madness Motif enters and unnerves as Susanna lays out her collection of dolls on the bed. The Madness Theme itself joins with the black voices, worsening the dissonance and specter of madness as she states that having one drop of black blood in you would be worse. We close tenderly at 6:33 with their Love Theme caried by solo violin tenero as she goes to his arms, they embrace, and she tells him how much she loves him. Yet the theme’s happiness has vanished, and we discern within the notes dissonance and a palpable sadness. (*) “Bobby’s Revelations” reveals him disclosing to Johnny that Susanna’s mother went mad, that she is six years older than she claims, and that it appears her father and Henrietta who died in the fire were both shot.

The following three cues reveal Green’s mastery of his craft as his music joins with Taylor’s acting to brilliantly express Susanna’s paranoic madness. “Burned Mansion” reveals Susanna’s mansion where they are celebrating her marriage. We open with trepidation with a reprise of the black quartet singers, now joined by a banjo. A festive polka joins (CD 2 cue 15) as we see the guests dancing in the great room. In “No One To Love” (CD 2 Cue 16) Susanna’s cousin Barbara borrows Johnny for dance and proceeds to seduce him and plant seeds of distrust regarding Susanna. The next day we segue at 0:33 into “Susanna’s Obsession” as she takes him to her family’s old mansion, now a burnt-out ruin. Forlorn woodwinds and plaintive strings create anxiety as they look upon the ruins. At 0:45 the black quartet of singers join with banjo as she reminisces about her life here. At 1:12 the eerie dissonance of the Madness Theme enters on tremolo violins and harp as she tries to recount exactly what happened the night of the fire. The music takes flight at 1:27 as she runs down the stairs and points to where her parents are buried. She runs again and finds the grave of Henrietta, where Green introduces an extended, and disquieting rendering of his Lament Theme of Henrietta, a foreboding misterioso emoted by a forlorn solo flute that dances over a dark sea of tremolo strings. At 2:47 we segue atop the Mad Motif into “Lament for Henrietta” where Susanna expresses her love for Henrietta, a negro her father brought back with him from Cuba. Green supports with a sumptuous rendering of the Lament Theme by divided strings, which is shattered at 3:32 by the dissonant paranoia of the Madness Theme as Susanna starts looking around sensing that people are watching them. She then recants her love of Henrietta, now stating that it was her mother whom she loved and always accompanied. Johnny is clearly unsettled by her bizarre behavior and asks for them to go home. He comforts her and the Love Theme joins, but it has lost its happiness, instead emoting melancholia.

“Cousin Bob’s Plantation” reveals Johnny and Susanna’s carriage arriving at her cousin’s plantation. Spritely travel music that is carefree and full of happiness supports their travels. This scene was edited out of the film. In “I Lied” Johnny advises Susanna that they will be returning to Indiana to prepare for the birth of their child, only to be blindsided by her revelation that she lied about her pregnancy. He is not angry and he reaffirms his love with a warm embrace. Green supports the scene with the happiness of their Love Theme, one of the score’s finest expositions. They move back to the Freehaven House in Raintree where Johnny teaches in the local county school. At 1:29 we segue into “Country Road” atop playful woodwinds, which support Susanna’s awkward greeting of Nell as she walks by their house. There is tension and sardonic woodwinds carry Susanna’s departure after a backhanded compliment. At 1:51 we segue into “Johnny’s Book” as Niles, the town journalist encourages Johnny to resume his writing. A gentle rendering of the Raintree Theme supports the conversation. This scene was edited out of the film. At 2:16 in “Best Friend”, Nell sees Johnny sitting on a fence reading and then engages him in conversation, informing him that Garwood had proposed to her. He replies he is a good politician – the subtext being, not good husband material. She is bitter and responds saying that Susanna tricked him into marrying and we see that strong feelings remain between them. Green supports the scene with a pastorale of the Raintree Theme into which fragments of their Love Theme are woven, yet they never coalesce, forbidden by their circumstances.

“You Hate Me” reveals a bedroom confrontation as Johnny reads a newspaper column criticizing his hypocrisy as an abolitionist given that he maintains two slaves in his house. He orders Susanna that they must be let go, which she takes personally, calling him an abolitionist who hates the South. Things worsen when he departs saying he will not return home unless the slaves are let go or paid as she screams that he hates her and South. Green masterfully allows the paranoia of the Madness Theme to surface, entwining it with a sad rendering of their Love Theme. (*) “Lincoln Is Elected” reveals the town celebrating at night with fireworks as the Civil War anthem “Battle Hymn of the Republic” resounds. Nell and Johnny meet and she informs him that she has called it off with Garwood as he would make a terrible husband. She then advises that she is moving to Indianapolis to live with her sister, and departs with an air of regret.

The following three cues offer a testament to Green’s brilliance as a composer as we bear witness to exquisite interplay of the Madness and Love Themes. In “What Did I Do Wrong?” Susanna’s secret party for Johnny goes awry as tension rises from her Southern, anti-abolitionist guests and Johnny. She flees upstairs and has a nervous breakdown as Johnny hugs and comforts her. She is plagued by the past and Johnny’s solution is to purge all her dolls as an exorcism of the demons that plague her. We open with an eerie rendering of the Swamp Theme by ethereal voices. Disturbed triplets usher in at 1:48 a Valzer Macabre as they laugh while throwing the many dolls against the bedroom door. A tension diminuendo enters at 2:15 as he grabs the burnt, disfigured doll and she visibly tightens. An orchestral shriek supports it crashing against the bedroom door. We close with them embracing, supported by a dissonant statement of their Love Theme. Years later we segue at 2:40 atop a forlorn English horn into “Where Is Susanna?”, where Johnny leaves his desk to investigate an odd sound in the house. As he searches room to room, Green weaves a tapestry of disquiet with extensive development of the Madness Theme. He finds her at 3:34 staring out the 3rd floor window supported by the disturbing saxophone and twinkling of finger cymbals of the Madness Theme. He comes to her and we segue at 3:52 into “Where Is That Doll?” as she asks him with a look of madness “Where is that doll”? The Madness Theme writhes and slowly dissipates when he relates that they got rid of the dolls long ago. He escorts her back to the bedroom where she cries about her awful dreams. Exquisitely conceived and executed entwining of the melancholy Love Theme and disturbing Madness Theme expertly support the scene. At 5:54 a tension surge takes us into “It’s Happened” as Susanna cries out in labor pain buffeted by the Madness Theme and melancholia as Johnny departs to retrieve help. His ride is carried by forthright horns and martial rhythms of Flash’s Theme as he rides into town and receives news from his parents of the attack of Fort Sumter. His mother agrees to go back with him and midwife.

“Be a Pig’s Eye” reveals the patriotic bravado of Flash and many young men who pass by Johnny on their way to enlist. Green supports the scene with a cocky banjo driven rendering of Flash’s Theme, replete with faux patriotic horns. At 1:33 we segue into “It’s a Boy” as a happy Johnny joins Susanna and their son in the bedroom. Solo oboe delicato introduces his tender lullaby theme, which flows with ¾ rhythm. Yet she is distraught and at 1:53 the chimes of the Madness Theme emerge as she asks him where is the second child, a negro child? Jeemie’s Theme returns after he kisses and assures her that there was no second baby, yet anxiety remains as she begs him to stay and not go off to war. At 3:27 a harp glissando ushers in “Back in Freehaven” empowered by martial drums as a newspaper headline displays “Grant Besieges Vicksburg”. At 3:35 the oboe delicato of Jeemie’s Theme supports his run and hopping onto Johnny’s back. The music darkens as he discusses news of the war with Niles. Nell comes out of the office and she asks him if he still believes in the Raintree. Harp glissandi usher in the misterioso joining of the Raintree and Swamp Themes as he relates that it was a long time ago, and she counters that he is just afraid that he may find it. At 4:49 a change of scene takes us to Jeemie’s room where we are graced by an extended rendering of his tender childlike theme, which supports Johnny at bedside and Susanna’s happy entry. All seems well as she wishes him good night and she and Johnny depart.

“Dearest Thing” reveals Johnny upset that Susanna spent the day in Indianapolis without informing him. She pulls a note she left him from her dresser as proof, but the page is blank and she in flummoxed in disbelief. She erupts in paranoic anger supported by the bitonal thirds and triads of the Madness Syndrome of motifs replete with twinkling finger cymbals, which, intensifies her onscreen slippage from reality. The music is tortured and forlorn, yet happiness enters at 1:26 as Jeemie runs into the room calling for daddy. He resists her grasp, insisting on daddy and she flings him to Johnny, which elicits his anger and cry out asking if she is crazy, words that he instantly regrets. A pause of silence supports her shock and the Madness Theme rears its ugly head, swirling in a tortured sea as she collapses on the bed and cries. He takes Jeemie to his room, returns, and apologizes. A melancholy fragment of the Love Theme struggles to rise, but it is full of sadness, with fleeting interplay of Jeemie’s Theme as she weeps that he does not truly love her. At 2:49 a flute triste and the strings doloroso of the Lament Theme support a segue into “It’s the House/What About the Fire?” as Johnny asks that she tell him what happen the night of the fire. She tells the story of that night, of her father’s affair with Henrietta, her mother’s revenge against them, and house fire. The sad story is unscored until its end at 4:20 when we segue into “I Don’t Know” with Henrietta’s Lament Theme closing her confession as a coda. At 4:53 we upsurge boldly into a scene change to a town news report headline of the “Battle of Gettysburg”. We close with the comforting strains of the Raintree Theme as Johnny converses with his mom on the house front porch. At 6:09 dire chords launch tense music of distress as she informs Johnny that Susanna and Jeemie are not in the house, which causes him to frantically search it. At 6:18 we segue into “They Can’t Follow Me” atop a grotesque and exquisitely painful extended rendering of the Madness Theme as he finds a note that says she has crossed into Rebel territory with Jeemie to escape those coming to get her, her paranoia now fully exposed, self-destructive, and out of control.

Most of the “Judby/She Was Going Home” scenes were edited out of the film. A frantic Johnny is referred by Garwood to a local photographer Judby who confirms Garwood’s understanding that Susanna was fleeing to the South with Jeemie. Green supports the grim reality with an extended, plaintive, and disturbed rendering of the Madness Theme and syndrome of motifs. We close at 1:57 with a retained scene where Johnny resolves to join the Union army so he can search for them, rejecting his father’s wise counsel to wait for the war to end. Green supports with a confident rendering of the Raintree Theme – an allusion that Johnny will be successful. “First Act Finale (Film Version CD 2 cue 21)” reveals Johnny in uniform saying goodbye to his parents and Nell at the train station as his father says a prayer for his safe return. Music enters as Nell bids him farewell with a heartfelt rendering of the Raintree Song by harmonica and orchestra as she expresses her love and hope for his safe return. The theme blossoms as he embraces her, closing with hope cloaked in a wistful tenderness. “Entr’ Acte” offers a score highlight, a wondrous orchestral suite intended to support intermission, which only took place with the roadshow release. We open with the melodic romanticism of the “Never Till Now” song, which flows seamless at 0:25 into the Raintree song.

In “Brand New Pants” the music was dialed out of the film. The scene revels Johnny marching into camp where he is greeted by Flash and welcomed into his tent. Flash then takes him off to meet someone, which to his surprise, is the professor, now working as a war correspondent. Green had intended to support the scene with a warm and folksy rendering of Flash’s Theme. “Battle Montage/War Commentary” offers a montage of battle scenes as Johnny meets up with his buddies Flash and the professor, and joins the battle. Green supports the onslaught by propelling the narrative with militaristic aggression utilizing the grim, relentless drive of the War Theme fortified with martial bugles, interspersed with quiet interludes during which the Professor offers commentary. A horrific cinematic confluence is achieved as we bear witness to a march of destruction across northern Georgia, Sherman’s devastating march to the sea, whose brutal scorch earth, pillage and destroy tactics breaks the back of the Confederacy.

In “Fairweather” Johnny and Flash enter the grounds of a plantation when Johnny comes across a sign “Fairweather, Susanna’s ancestral home. Horns dramatico declare the opening phrase of the Love Theme as he calls out to Flash. They come under fire as a Captain on horseback charges with four men. Johnny and Flash shoot the captain off his horse, kill two of his men, with the other two fleeing. Green offers intense fight music propelled by horns bellicoso and the War Theme to support the fight. A diminuendo at 0:31 supports the aftermath as the wounded captain struggles to his feet and defiantly unsheathes his sword. Tension swells on the War Theme and string tremolo as Flash takes aim with the captain tossing down his sword and surrendering at 1:12. Martial drums and horns militare support his inglorious march at gunpoint to the manor house. At 1:04 foreboding horns sound the Love Theme as Johnny reaches the front porch and proceeds to enter. He enters at 2:15 to find the interior in ruin. Green creates an eerie soundscape with the Madness Theme joined by a forlorn bassoon as he explores upstairs. He finds a sick black man and asks for his wife Susanna and his son as we see a rifle pointing at him from a ceiling hatch. Green sow a rising tension with fragments of Jeemie’s Theme subtly woven into the music’s fabric. We segue at 4:49 with joy in “I Don’t Believe It” as Johnny calls out Jeemie, and he responds, daddy, falling into Johnny’s welcoming arms. Jeemie’s Theme, so full of joy crowns the moment. The grim War Theme returns as they go downstairs to rejoin Flash and their prisoner. Music exits as the maid informs him that Susanna is housed in an insane asylum and that he should not seek to free her as she is beyond help or love. At 5:14 we segue into “Night Ambush” they depart at night supported by a foreboding War Theme with a lurking tension. Music ceases as they are ambushed and during the fight the rebel captain seizes a rifle and shoots Flash, who returns fire and kills him. The tense music returns as Flash is mortally wounded and orders Johnny to leave with his boy. Shifting waves of tension, defiance and the smell of death linger as Flash and the rebels soldiers banter. We segue at 7:33 into “Flash Dies”, a poignant score highlight, when Flash declares he is from Raintree County. As the life ebbs from him, Green supports his passing with the heartache of the Raintree Theme, which closes on a last tender reprise of Flash’s Theme on banjo.

“Johnny’s Escape” opens darkly as the rebels come upon Flash’s corpse. Tension built on the War Theme resumes and supports Johnny’s his desperate flight with Jeemie on his back with the rebel soldiers in hot pursuit. At 0:39 Johnny is shot in the leg, falls and proceeds to crawl to a hill edge. He sees Union soldiers camped below and at 0:51 the music surges on a crescendo of desperation as he struggles to reach the edge. A kinetic descent motif at 0:59 carries his and Jeemie’s tumble to the bottom. Aggressive martial horns propel the War Theme as the Union soldiers come to the rescue and a fierce battle ensues as they fend off the rebels who retreat. At 2:17 we segue into “War’s End”, a poignant score highlight on a crescendo dramatico as a printing press displays “Peace! Lee Surrenders to Grant”. At 2:29 we change scene to Johnny arriving in a carriage at the Insane Asylum carried by the aching sadness of their Love Theme. In a painful journey, Mrs. Rowland escorts Johnny through the horror of the asylum patient wards. At 3:05 he joins her in her room and reaches out to her with love, only to have her recoil. Their sad Love Theme supports the moment as she is unsure, saying that getting back together just would not work. We segue into “I’d Like to Try” when he declares that he is here to take her home and hope returns to her eyes, supported by their sad Love Theme, which is transmuted at 3:34 into their original Happy Love Theme. She is thankful, and overcome as she comes to him and kisses his hand. We close with perhaps the score’s most heartfelt and moving statement of their Love Theme. At 4:57 we segue into “Lincoln’s Funeral Train” atop a prelude of wordless lament by a black male singer quartet. The quartet is then joined by a choir of sopranos of an ethereal, highly reverberated rendering of the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, which supports the passage of President Lincoln’s funeral train by Freehaven Station as Johnny, and all his family and friends watch with reverence.

“I Still Love Him” offers a score highlight with sterling thematic interplay. An argument arises over reconstruction with a fervent Nell arguing for Johnny to take up the cause as a sad Susanna looks on. Powerful emotions, both overt and unspoken intersect as we hear interplay of both Susanna’s and Nell’s Love Theme as well as the Raintree Theme on harmonica. As Nell leaves, Susanna realizes that Nell still loves Johnny and her Love Theme, now again filled with sadness carries her to him in the parlor. We segue at 1:47 into “You’re Not Sick” atop the Madness Theme as Susanna tells him that the reason he is not running is because of her illness, which he denies. She wonders if things would have been different if he found the Raintree, to which he responds that to see the Raintree is not as important as what you find looking for it, and I like what I found – you. The happy version of their Love Theme blossoms as she falls to her knees and thanks him for his love. They kiss and we have a sublime cinematic confluence. Yet as she departs and ascends the stairs, the disturbing dissonance of the Madness Theme returns joined by the ghostly saxophone and finger cymbals of the eerie syndrome of Madness Motifs informs us that all is not well. We segue at 5:24 into “Surprise for Daddy” atop Jeemie’s Theme as she informs him that she intends to locate the Raintree. When he asks why, at 5:38 in “Ask Daddy” the happy version of her Love Theme brings a warm and comforting statement as she hugs him and tells him to one day ask daddy. We segue at 7:49 into “Search” where tension surges and the Madness Theme rendered as flight music propels Susanna’s run to the swamp, yet she is not alone as Jeemie decides to follow her. Green stokes tension with some of the most dissonant and dramatic music of the film as the maid sounds the alarm and the town is alerted.

In “Susanna’s Death” Johnny, Nell, the professor and townsfolk have searched the swamp all night and it is morning. The professor asks Johnny to come with him and horns of doom resound as he follows. The Madness Theme rises up to carry their progress with a plaintive oboe ushering at 0:19 a molto tragico horn declaration of their sad Love Theme as her dead body is revealed. As Johnny comes to her a fleeting Happy Love Theme rises up on solo violin as he weeps and hugs her one last time. The sad Love Theme resumes as he is told Jeemie has yet to be found as Nell holds and comforts him. At 1:27 we segue into “Jeemie’s Raintree”, a magical score highlight. The alluring other-worldly voices of the Swamp Theme bathe us in the ethereal splendor as we see Jeemie asleep under the mythic Raintree. As Johnny and Nell call out and approach, their Love Theme and Jeemie’s Theme entwine. Jeemie runs to them, and as Johnny swoops him up in a loving hug at 2:11, joy is ascendent and the film concludes with “The Song of Raintree County (End Title)” supported by Nat King Cole’s warm vocals, which culminates in a grand choral flourish as the camera pans out and we behold the refulgent golden splendor of the massive Raintree.

I would like to thank Lukas Kendall and Film Score Monthly for the issue of the definitive score to Johnny Green’s masterpiece, “Raintree County”. The remixing and mastering of the original 35mm three-track scoring sessions is excellent and the album provides a wonderful listening experience. Green was presented with an epic three-hour film narrative, where he needed to speak to myth, small town America, a humble and heroic man in love with two women, one of which suffered from paranoic madness, and the American Civil War. He responded masterfully with one of the finest conceived and executed scores ever written. Green provided a multiplicity of fine themes, including the now iconic song “The Song For Raintree County”, sung by the legendary Nat King Cole, which became an instant popular culture sensation. It served as a leitmotif of the county in which the story was set, and it grounded the film’s narrative. Integral to the Raintree myth was the domain in which it resided. The Swamp Theme offers a misterioso borne by ethereal wordless woman’s chorus and ascending bass arpeggio, which speaks to the hidden realm of the mythic Raintree. What is unique and brilliant to Green’s approach for the film’s tragic romance is that he provides two versions, one for the charming ‘normal’ Susanna who captured Johnny’s heart, and one juxtaposed to reflect her paranoic madness, with both emoting in 4/4 time. For his long-suffering childhood sweetheart Nell, the Love Theme offers sumptuous, youthful yearning, which emotes wistfully from her perspective as she endures the painful loss of him to Susanna. Where Green’s score excels and reveals mastery of his craft is in speaking to the madness of Susanna, which emerges as unresolved psychic trauma regarding her insane mother, and father’s black mistress Henrietta. Her descent into paranoic madness is masterfully expressed by dissonance borne by solo flute doloroso or a ghostly alto saxophone, metallic twinkling finger cymbals, and eerie tremolo violins. Green supplements the primary Madness Theme with a Madness Syndrome comprised of three disquieting motifs, and Henrietta’s Lament, which offers a ghostly melancholia borne by solo flute doloroso or strings tristi for the memories of her that plague Susanna. The festive banjo driven folk melody for Flash’s Theme, which speaks to his rakish and cocky personality, and gentile, playful, child-like lullaby melody in ¾ time of Jeemie’s Theme brought these characters to life. For the Civil War, the War Theme offers a relentless, and repeating grim martial construct empowered by dire mid register strings and field drums bellicoso percussion, which support Sherman’s devastating march to the sea. Folks, this was the only time in his career that Green scored a film, and one has to ask the obvious question, why? In scene after scene, he masterfully enriched, and expressed both the overt and covert emotional dynamics unfolding on the screen. As good as Elizabeth Taylor’s acting performance was, I believe we must also credit much of her success to Green’s music, which created a powerful synergy of madness. Lastly, there is a treasure trove of bonus tracks, worthy of your exploration. I believe this score to be one of the finest of the Golden Age, and one which merited the Academy Award for that year. This album is a Holy Grail to collectors and I highly recommend you purchase this essential score for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to a splendid fourteen-minute suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io11cNeRruU

Buy the Raintree County soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (3:30)
  • Lion/The Song of Raintree County (Main Title) (written by Johnny Green and Paul Francis Webster, performed by Nat King Cole) (2:44)
  • Nell and Johnny (3:42)
  • There’s Another Tree (2:29)
  • The Swamp (3:41)
  • Nell and Gar/Freehaven/Prelude Segue/Meet Flash and Susanna (2:59)
  • Johnny’s Crown/Look at the Birdie/First Meeting (5:28)
  • First Meeting/Nell’s Huff/Pursuit of Happiness/July Swim/Tell Me About the Raintree/Nell Insert/Your Exact Location (6:11)
  • Going Home/Train From the South/I Had to Come Back/Fare Thee Well/River Wedding Night (7:37)
  • Burned Mansion/Susanna’s Obsession/Lament for Henrietta (5:02)
  • Cousin Bob’s Plantation (0:47)
  • I Lied/Country Road/Johnny’s Book/Best Friend (5:00)
  • You Hate Me/What Did I Do Wrong?/Where Is Susanna?/Where Is That Doll?/It’s Happened (6:56)
  • Be a Pig’s Eye/It’s a Boy/Back in Freehaven (5:57)
  • Dearest Thing/It’s the House/What About the Fire?/I Don’t Know/They Can’t Follow Me (7:33)
  • Judby/She Was Going Home (2:26)
  • First Act Finale (Roadshow) (1:13)
  • Entr’Acte (2:51)
  • Brand New Pants (1:14)
  • Battle Montage/War Commentary (3:31)
  • Fairweather/I Don’t Believe It/Night Ambush/Flash Dies (8:40)
  • Johnny’s Escape/War’s End/I’d Like to Try/Lincoln’s Funeral Train (6:10)
  • I Still Love Him/You’re Not Sick/Surprise for Daddy/Ask Daddy/Search (9:42)
  • Susanna’s Death/Jeemie’s Raintree/The Song of Raintree County (End Title) (written by Johnny Green and Paul Francis Webster, performed by Nat King Cole) (4:09)
  • The Song of Raintree County (Main Title – Chorus Version) (2:40) BONUS
  • Freehaven (Film Version) (0:32) BONUS
  • Freehaven (Alternate) (0:32) BONUS
  • First Meeting Part 1 (Alternate) (1:23) BONUS
  • First Meeting (Song Version) (written by Johnny Green and Paul Francis Webster, performed by Carlos Noble) (2:39) BONUS
  • Pursuit of Happiness/July Swim/Tell Me About the Raintree (Alt. Ending) (3:39) BONUS
  • Going Home (Alternate) (0:27) BONUS
  • Polka at the Party (written by Bronislau Kaper) (0:47) BONUS
  • Why No One to Love – Party (written by Stephen Foster) (2:34) BONUS
  • Why No One to Love (written by Stephen Foster) (0:42) BONUS
  • Cousin’s Bob Plantation (Alternate) (0:46) BONUS
  • Best Friend (Alternate) (1:46) BONUS
  • Best Friend (Film Version) (2:50) BONUS
  • First Act Finale (Day Date) (1:07) BONUS
  • Jeemie’s Raintree/The Song of Raintree County (End Title) (Chorus Version) (2:41) BONUS
  • The Song of Raintree County (Instrumental) (2:20) BONUS
  • The Song of Raintree County (written by Johnny Green and Paul Francis Webster, performed by Bill Lee) (4:20) BONUS
  • Jeemie’s Raintree/The Song of Raintree County (End Title) (Film Version With Chorus) (1:18) BONUS

Running Time: 142 minutes 35 seconds

Film Score Monthly FSMCD Vol.9 No.19 (1957/2017)

Music composed and conducted by Johnny Green. Orchestrations by Alexander Courage, Sidney Cutner, Robert Franklyn, Conrad Salinger, Albert Sendrey and Albert Woodbury. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Score produced by Johnny Green. Album produced by Lukas Kendall.

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  1. June 21, 2021 at 11:03 am

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