Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE FLAME AND THE ARROW– Max Steiner


December 13, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1949 Warner Brothers Studios had renewed interest in revisiting the swashbuckler genre, hoping to recapture the success of two of its greatest triumphs; 1935’s Captain Blood and 1940’s The Sea Hawk. Development and production of the film was given to producers Harold Hecht and Frank Ross who were provided with a budget of $1.61 million. Waldo Salt was hired to write the screenplay, and Jacques Tourneur was tasked with directing. Errol Flynn, Warner Brothers previous swashbuckler star was at age 41 beyond his prime and unable to handle the physicality demanded by the script. As such the popular Burt Lancaster who was a prior circus acrobatic performer was cast in the lead role of Dardo Bartoli. Joining him would be Virginia Mayo as Anne de Hesse, Robert Douglas as the Marchese Alessandro de Granazia, Gordon Gebert as Rudi Bartoli, Frank Allenby as Count Ulrich, and Nick Cravat as Dardo’s sidekick Piccolo.

The story takes place circa 1155 C.E. in the state of Lombardy in Italy. Dardo Bartoli a skilled archer is angry that his wife Francesca is the mistress of the German overlord Count Ulrich. He purposely offends the Count when he shows off his archery skill shooting down his prized hunting hawk. In retribution the Count orders the arrest of Dardo’s son Rudi. They flee, but when Dardo is wounded, and Rudi allows himself to be captured to save Dardo. Dardo becomes an outlaw and with the help of his friend Piccolo they resolve to free Rudi. After much intrigue, betrayal, a love affair, and swashbuckling fighting, Dardo slays the Count, rescues Rudi, sees his unfaithful wife Francesa die, and wins the hand of his new love, Lady Anne. The film was a huge commercial success, earning a profit of $4 million. Critical reception was mixed, and the film earned two Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Score.

Max Steiner had just completed the serious drama “The Glass Menagerie” and was excited to take on the rollicking swashbuckling score for “The Flame and the Arrow”. As evidenced by his notations to his orchestrator Murray Cutter, he was greatly enjoying the assignment and having the time of his life. The film was set in late 12th century Italy, so Steiner realized that he would have to infuse his soundscape with the requisite cultural sensibilities to ground the narrative. As such he incorporated the traditional Italian dance the Tarantella, and utilized a mandolin to infuse local auras. He also understood that foremost that this film was at its core a swashbuckling adventure championed by the bravado athletic performance of its hero Dardo Bartelli, played by Burt Lancaster. As such Steiner provides the athletic and balletic energy to support Dardo’s amazing acrobatic feats. As for emotional dynamics, love, treachery, filial devotion, comedy, and avenging justice were central to the film’s narrative, which provided Steiner with a massive tapestry and wealth of opportunities to provide a memorable score that was exciting, amorous, adventurous and fun.

As was his traditional practice, Steiner created several themes and motifs to underpin his soundscape including; Dardo’s Theme, which offers a rollicking Marcia Bravura, exudes the dynamism, optimism and bravado confidence of our hero. The Princess’ Theme serves as Anne’s identity, but also shifts later to a Love Theme between her and Dardo. The Love Theme offers quintessential Steiner, who uses sumptuous strings romantico to emote its ardent yearning and longing. He also incorporated the traditional Italian dance, the spirited Tarantella to ground the film culturally. Yet he also sued it to support the festive acrobatics and performances of the carnival troupe as well as a battle anthem. For our villain Count Ulrich, AKA The Hawk, a anthem was created, A four-note declaratory statement by horns malevole, which speak to his menace and cruelty. Lastly, scenes marked (*) contain music not included on the album.

We open with a score highlight, where once again Steiner brilliantly captures the film’s heart and reels the audience into the tale. We open with Steiner’s trademark anthem for Warner Brothers Studios and then flow into a drumroll dramatico, buttressed with cymbals and heraldic trumpets, which launch the “Main Title”. The opening credits roll against a backdrop of a flame lite castle wall draped with a red tapestry. A solo mandolin introduces and carries an ornamental and light-hearted rendering of Tarantella, which evolves into a festive articulation. At 1:06 we segue into “Forward”, atop solemn, yet aggrieved horns which supports on-screen script that informs us of the cruel subjugation of northern Italy by the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, while lauding the freedom fighters who oppose his rule from their many hidden alpine strongholds. A pall of futility drapes the secret fireplace lit meeting where the gatherers commit to opposing the Germanic invader. A drumroll at 1:36 ushers in tremolo strings and horn fare of the resistance, which struggle to rise with optimism. At 2:08 we segue into “Dardo Returns” and the music brightens with a mandolin propelled Tarantella in a change of scene as we see a smiling and confident Dardo riding into town with his son Rudy seated behind him. As he enters the town his theme becomes exuberant as young boys and townsfolk come out to greet him. A low string sustain supports his dismount followed by bubbling woodwinds of fun as the boys run off, and toss their hats in the air so Dardo can shoot one down with his bow.

In “Piccolo Hates The Hawk” Dardo seeks out his deaf-mute friend Piccolo to join him and the town’s men in some wine. Horn fare malevole declarations of the Hawk’s menacing four-note anthem support his arrival, and continue to dominate the meeting as we see Piccolo simmering with anger towards the villain. The music softens as Dardo explains to Piccolo that he is over his wife who left him for another man. We close playfully as Piccolo jumps down from the loft into Dardo’s arms and then flips in a summersault! “Ulrich The Hawk Enters” reveals the imperious Count riding into the square with his troops and his mistress Francesca, Dardo’s estranged wife. Steiner supports the villain’s arrival with declarations of his malevolent fanfare. His arrival spooks the pigeons in the town square who take wing supported at 0:24 by soaring strings of flight, which are countered by his anthem as he lets loose his falcon. At 0:32 the Count’s Anthem dies grimly as Dardo shoots down his hawk with an arrow. Dire horns and grim chords inform us of the Count’s outrage at Dardo’s provocation.

In “Rudy Captured” the Count punishes Dardo by ordering his son Rudy to be remanded to him to live at court with his mother. Dardo will have none of it in an audacious move swoops up Rudy, and climbs aloft for a rooftop escape as a hail of arrows fly past. Steiner propels the escape with the score’s first action cue, which is empowered by Dardo’s Theme with interplay of the Count’s martial fanfare. At 1:07 a dire drum descent supports an arrow strike to the back, which mortally wounds Dardo. His theme loses its vitality and is now rendered molto tragico as he struggles to move on. He lifts Rudy to safety and orders him to flee without him but it is for naught as he leaps to the ground carried by a descent motif and is captured. We close with a grim rendering of Dardo’s Theme as the town’s men lift the wounded Dardo to a table to remove the arrow and cauterize his wound. We close with Dardo’s Theme interspersed with comedy as he tries to go save Rudy, only to be knocked out by Piccolo with a horseshoe.

“The Princess in the Forest” offers a delightful score highlight. We open with an idyllic rendering of the Princess Theme by sumptuous strings, woodwinds pastorale and harp adornment as we see her riding alone through the forest. Comedy borne by farcical horns enter at 0:23 as two hapless guards walk by bound back-to-back to each other in their underwear and barefoot. They declare Dardo and his men did this and ask for her help. The princess unbinds them and comedic strings and woodwinds carry their silly barefoot flight away. Her idyllic theme returns briefly, but is severed at 0:57 as she is captured by Dardo and Piccolo. A tension tremolo by violins supports Dardo’s playful toying with her. A distant sound of the Count’s Fanfare enters as they sit secure in their safety, joined at 1:33 by the Tarantella as he declares the extent of his control of the forest. The music resumes its playfulness as Dardo and her banter. Eventually Dardo is magnanimous, frees her and sends her on her way carried by interplay of comedy and his theme. She rides back safely to the palace where she joins her uncle and the pompous Marchesse Alessandro de Granazia.

In “Ambush Of The Caravan” Dardo and his men ambush a caravan, where we see the Marchese bound and his castle assets forfeit to the crown for refusing to pay his taxes. Steiner supports the caravan’s approach into a narrow cliff gorge with a plodding marcia esotica. Dardo and his men lay in ambush on the cliff’s above and at 0:29 all hell breaks loose and Steiner whips up his orchestra into a maelstrom propelled by Dardo’s Theme as they rain down boulders, rocks and hundreds of stones, which pummel the mounted soldiers below. They eventually flee and Dardo’s Theme resounds in victory as they commandeer the wagon loaded with the Marchese and his estate’s bounty. “Alessandro Challenges Dardo” reveals the pompous Marchese demanding his release with his estate goods. Dardo grants his release, but commandeers his estate treasures. The Marchese is aggrieved and challenges him to a hand fighting duel, which is accepted. Steiner supports the fight literally, blow by blow with Marchese easily flipping Dardo to the ground in round 1. In round 2 Dardo returns the favor. Dardo defers round 3. In “Off To The Hideaway”, with the fight ending in a draw, Dardo and the Marchese agree to join forces against a common foe. As they prepare to depart, Piccolo tweaks the Marchese’s pride, which Steiner supports with comedy. They ride off to Dardo’s hidden mountain camp supported by Dardo’s Theme, emoted as a determined marcia bravado. After arriving, a festive Tarantella unfolds at 0:38 as the men celebrate. “Rudy’s Debut” (*) reveals him performing a scripted dance with his instructor in front of the Count, his mother and the court, which Steiner supports with a harp gentile.

“The Princess Captured” offers a wonderful score highlight where Steiner unleashes his swashbuckling action writing! Dardo’s resolves to infiltrate the palace and rescue Rudy. The first 18 seconds of the cue were evidentially attached to a scene edit cut. The film version begins with a building suspense at 0:19 as Dardo interrupts the feast and demands Rudy’s return, only to be rebuked by his wife as a peasant and loser. We hear a confident expression of Dardo’s Theme as he dispatches Piccolo to retrieve Rudy. At 1:51 all Hell breaks loose as Steiner supports Dardo’s amazing acrobatics moves with rising and falling motifs joined with a bravado rendering of his trumpet propelled theme that is countered by the Count’s relentless fanfares. Dardo and Piccolo make sport of the clumsy palace guards. At 3:43 they escape without Rudy, but a Plan B presents itself – kidnap and ransom the Princess in exchange for Rudy. Steiner supports the stalking stealth of Dardo at 4:02 with his harp played theme as a misterioso until he overwhelms the escort at 4:16 in the hallway and takes her into the bedroom. His theme joins with comedy as they decide to bag and kidnap her. They arrive at camp at 4:53 carried by the exuberance of the Tarantella, quite satisfied with their hostage. At 5:10 a romantic, yet subdued Princess Theme emerges as she is unbagged and revealed with amazement to the men. We close dynamically at 5:57 as she steals a horse and rides off, only to have Piccolo whistle, which cause the horse to rear up and throw her into the bushes, landing ingloriously with an orchestral thud.

In “Making Due In The Forest” the chained Anne is washing up by a lake and grabs a boulder to knock Dardo out, only to be outsmarted by him. The cue opens with this plotting, comic interlude. At 0:09 as he embraces her from behind, the Love Theme joins; the first indication that she is beginning to like him. At 0:15 we return to the bustle of the camp, supported by the festive Tarantella. At 1:11 Anne attempts to use her charms to bond with Piccolo in hope that he will free her of her chains. Steiner supports the interaction with tenderness, flowing harp textures, and the allure of her theme. He sees through her efforts and walks away, much to her frustration with the music souring at 2:29 as her neck chain tether again holds her fast. “Piccolo Delivers a Message” reveals Piccolo delivering a letter with the hostage exchange terms to the Count at the palace. An energetic Dardo’s Theme propels his energetic ride to the palace. A diminuendo of unease takes him into the palace and at 0:46 playful textures support the Count’s gracious offer of wine to Piccolo as he savors the wine and luscious fruit. At 1:31 ominous horns sound as the Count reads the message and laughs disdainfully, ridiculing that he would agree to an exchange for a mere woman. To drive home his rejection of the offer, he arrests Piccolo and orders that he be send back with a graphic display of his response.

“Back At Camp” (*) reveals Apollo the troubadour singing a folk song at night to the men as they await the return of piccolo. “Love Scene” offers a wonderful romantic score highlight. Dardo walks up to Anne, and a violin tremolo supports his gentle freeing of her neck chain restraint, and then walking away without saying a word. Anne’s curiosity is aroused, and she follows him carried by a tender rendering of the Tarantella by a small ensemble of mandolin, viola, violin and flute, with harp adornment. She asks him why he released her, and he informs her that Piccolo will soon be back. A tremolo bridge ushers in the Love Theme at 1:03 as Anne extends sympathy expressing hope that his boy will soon be returned. The small ensemble sustains the music, and we are graced by a beautiful and intimate rendering of the Love Theme as we see recognition of affection in her eyes. Yet at 1:57 the music darkens as he is distrustful of her motives and turns from her as she asks with concern of Piccolo’s fate. At 2:07 a crescendo appassianto builds as she comes to him, faces him, looks into his eyes, and voices genuine affection. At last, all pretenses are dropped as she surrenders to his embrace and kiss, which Steiner crowns with a molto romantico rendering of the Tarantella. At 2:28 a dark tension enters and escalates as the moment is lost when he recoils from her, stating that he felt in her kiss that it was all a lie. He rebukes her deception and chastises her for her aristocratic ways. She admits that she did lie, but we see in her eyes, that this is a lie, and that she does love him. At 2:44 horns of doom sound to support Piccolo’s return. An aggrieved Dardo’s Theme joins as we see that he has been brutally whipped. Piccolo signs for Dardo to go to the Town square at once, which elicits his departure.

“Ride To Town” (*) reveals Dardo’s intense ride to town through the countryside, which Steiner propels with a dramatic rendering of Dardo’s Theme. “Father Pietro Rescued” offers a dynamic action cue where Steiner unleashes a kinetic maelstrom. The film opens with the Count’s Fanfare resounding on horns of doom as we see Father Petro on a cart, standing before a noose with his arms tied upright. Dozens of soldiers stand guard and sit around fires in the square. The album cue opens with a tension descent as Dardo jumps a guard by the gate. Under choking duress, the guard admits that the Father hangs at dawn as punishment for the outlaw (Dardo). Dardo rides back to camp propelled by a furious horn rich rendering of his theme. French horns resound at 0:27 as he raises the alarm in camp and orders the men to ride with him to the city. They ride back carrying tree branch staves propelled by a heroic furioso rendering of his theme. At 1:10 trumpets resound and declare the alarm as the Count’s soldiers mobilize for the onslaught they hear approaching from the western gate. A crescendo dramatico builds and explodes as Dardo’s men plow headlong into the enemy ranks and a ferocious battle erupts, driven powerfully with Steiner’s orchestral torrent, where the trumpet declared Count Anthem contests with a martial Dardo’s Theme. At 2:18 Dardo’s Theme resounds as he frees Father Pietro and drives off with him in a wagon. A diminuendo at 2:33 supports the return to camp supported by a gentle rendering of the Tarantella as he comforts the priest. We close with tension at 2:55 as they see a crowd of people approaching the camp. A woman spokesman demands that Dardo and his men return and surrender as the Count is now hanging five people and will thereafter hang ten until such time as they surrender. Father Pietro intervenes and rouses the people to join Dardo in fighting their true enemy – the Count. His words inspire and persuade, and everyone joins in common cause. Steiner did not score the father’s speech.

“Dardo’s Hanging” reveals he, his men and Anne arriving in town. He surrenders himself and Ulrich releases the five hostages and orders Dardo to be hanged. Piccolo and some men have infiltrated behind the gallows preparing an ambush rescue. We open darkly with a drum roll and horns of doom as the noose is placed around Dardo’s neck. Piccolo in disguise attaches a device to prevent strangulation. Anne pleads to the Count for mercy and is rebuffed. At 0:27 the cart is withdrawn with finality and Dardo feigns to hang with a plaintive statement of the Tarantella. The Count revels in his triumph and departs supported by his malevolent anthem. At 0:53 horns of malice resound with the Count’s anthem as Dardo’s men are led to the dungeon. Later, the Marchese betrays Dardo to gain the Count’s release and blessing for his marriage to Anne. At 1:03 a crescendo by tremolo strings rises and crests with funereal horns as Dardo is cut down by town’s folk and laid on a liter. A grim dirge unfolds as his body is taken away. We close at 2:23 with a hopeful rendering of his theme enters as he is taken to a Nonna’s house, wakes and declares he is hungry as they remove the saving device from his neck and take out the empty casket for burial.

“The Princess’ Plan” opens with tremolo violins as we see the cloaked princess moving stealthily through the castle. A determined statement of her theme carries her past guards in the circus troupe quarters, to the stables where she procures a horse. At 0:44 strings of suspicion greet her and Steiner sow distrust as she visits Nonna and advises her that the Marchese has betrayed their plan and that the Count is prepared for their attack. When Nonna challenges her why at 1:39, she confesses her love for Dardo supported by an exquisite rendering of the Love Theme by solo violin romantico. At 2:08 suspicion returns in the strings after Anne departs and Dardo emerges from the back room. He is distrustful, yet Nonna persists, pressing him that she believes Anne does indeed love him. As he sits down at 2:23 and absorbs what he knows to be true, The Love Theme joins on celli romantico. We close at 2:48 tension reenters as Dardo declares that they must instead attack tonight, but is not sure of how. Piccolo grabs a broom balances it on his forehead as Dardo declares – a carnival, which Steiner supports with festive carnivalesque music.

“The Acrobats” offers a fun cue where we experience a wonderful cinematic synergy! Dardo and his men are in clown disguises and join the carnival troupe in performing for the Count and his court. It is great fun as we are dazzled by astounding gymnastic and acrobatic displays! Steiner propels the entertainment with Italian energy using a festive rendering of the Tarantella. At 1:13 the music shifts to playful woodwinds animato as three teeter totters propel clowns upwards with astounding aerial flights. At 2:40 a man disguised as a bear orders the troupe leader to announce the Caramelli Brothers, the greatest acrobats in all of Europe. Faux horns reale introduce Dardo and Piccolo who are supported by a new, ever shifting, spirited carnival melody. Dardo climbs a pole that Piccolo supports on his head and performs amazing strength displays. We end in a dramatic drum roll as Dardo is hoisted to a high window where he tears off his clown nose and declares himself Dardo, evoking the Count’s outrage.

“Battle In The Castle” offers a tour de force as we experience the score’s finest action set piece where Dardo and his men, joined by the aggrieved carnival troupe and the Marchese engage in an astounding acrobatic fight with the Count’s guards! Steiner just brings the house down with one of his most spirited compositions of his career, which creates the perfect cinematic confluence. At 2:01 we have a misterioso diminuendo as Dardo and Piccolo lay a pole over the kitchen below and then walk across to the other side supported by a tension string tremolo and a prancing statement of Dardo’s Theme. They reach the prison, knock out the guards and free their comrades. At 3:28 all Hell breaks loose as Steiner propels the final fight with a grand, martial rendering of Dardo’s Theme contested by the Count’s malevolent horn declared anthem. When the towns people break down the castle door, a last gasp of the Count’s Theme resounds at 5:36 as his men are overwhelmed at by superior numbers and the carnival troupe’s amazing acrobatic combat skills. The Count flees to get his insurance card – Rudy as hostage and Dardo pursues at 5:45 propelled by a heroic rendering of the Tarantella. We close with tension as the Marchese bars the Count’s way and demands that the two join forces to escape as he has betrayed Dardo.

“The Hawk Dies/Finale” reveals the Count keeping the town’s people at bay by holding Rudy a knife point and threatening to kill him if he is denied escape. Dardo arrives aloft unseen on the battlements, grabs a bow and after steadying his aim shoots a lethal shot to the Count’s heart. The cue opens with a dark chord that marks the Count’s passing. Dardo and the people are elated, and the Tarantella erupts with celebratory joy as Dardo makes a series of astounding acrobatic leaps culminating in a pole slide down, where he swoops his beloved Rudy up into his arms. At 1:07 Dardo turns and sees a smiling Anne. Steiner supports with the Love Theme, which blossoms as he takes her into his arms and they kiss, bringing our story to a happily ever after conclusion. We close with a joyous Tarantella, which ends in a flourish as “The End” displays. Bravo!

I would like to commend James d’Arc and Brigham Young University Film Music Archives for restoring, remastering and reissuing one of the Holy Grails of Max Steiner’s canon, his masterpiece “The Flame And The Arrow”. Ray Faiola’s Heraclean efforts to transfer, mix, and master the archival audio of the original 48-year-old acetate masters is to be applauded, and I believe was largely successful. While 21st Century audio standards were not achieved and some distortion remains, I believe the brilliance of Steiner’s composition still shines through undiminished. Steiner relished this assignment and by all accounts he had great fun and enjoyment writing this rollicking swashbuckler score. This film was an exciting period piece adventure, with robust action, acrobatics, humor and romance, however it was not by any stretch of the imagination of Academy Award quality. Nevertheless, Steiner took the hand that was delt him and wrote an astounding film score, which in every way elevated the film, helping it achieve enormous commercial success and popularity with the public. In scene after scene, it is Steiner’s music, which propels our Dardo whose heroism, filial devotion and acrobatic talent allows him to triumph over the evil Count, save his son, and win the love of the beautiful Anne. Steiner once again demonstrated his peerless mastery of his craft, offering a testament to the transformative power of music in film. Folks, I consider this effort one of Steiner’s finest scores, I would also argue the most enjoyable score in his canon, and a treasured gem of the Golden Age. I highly recommend that you both purchase the score for you collection and view the film to truly appreciate Steiner’s genius.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to a magnificent ten-minute suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1bck2p8HXM

Buy the Flame and the Arrow soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title – Forward – Dardo Returns (3:24)
  • Piccolo Hates The Hawk (1:11)
  • Ulrich The Hawk Enters (1:02)
  • Rudy Captured (2:58)
  • The Princess In The Forest (2:54)
  • Ambush Of The Caravan (1:54)
  • Alessandro Challenges Dardo (0:36)
  • Off To The Hideaway (1:13)
  • The Princess Captured (6:06)
  • Making Due In The Forest (3:37)
  • Piccolo Delivers A Message (1:39)
  • Love Scene (2:55)
  • Father Pietro Rescued (3:16)
  • Dardo’s Hanging (2:50)
  • The Princess’ Plan (3:15)
  • The Acrobats (4:17)
  • Battle In The Castle (6:36)
  • The Hawk Dies/Finale (1:40)
  • Maxworks (11:55)
  • Unmixed Finale (1:43)

Running Time: 51 minutes 09 seconds

Brigham Young University Film Music Archives Production FMA–MS102 (1950/1998)

Music composed and conducted by Max Steiner. Orchestrations by Murray Cutter. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Score produced by Max Steiner. Album produced by Ray Faiola and James d’Arc.

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