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THE GOOD EARTH – Herbert Stothart

December 27, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Irving Thalberg was keen on bringing the popular Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Good Earth” to the big screen. His initial attempt with MGM studio executive Louis B. Mayer was thwarted with his reply; “The public won’t buy pictures about American farmers, and you want to give them Chinese farmers?” Undeterred, he solicited support from Nicholas Schenck the CEO of Loew’s Theaters Inc, MGM’s parent company and was given the green light to proceed. A massive budget of $2.8 million was provided, and Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger and Claudine West were hired to adapt the novel and write the screenplay. In an audacious gambit, Thalberg resolved to hire only Chinese and Chinese-American actors for the film, but soon gave up on the idea conceding after much studio resistance that American audiences were not yet ready to accept a film with an all-Chinese cast. The paucity of accomplished Chinese Hollywood actors at the time was also contributory to his decision. Ultimately, the principal actors would be white, but many of the secondary supporting actors were Chinese American. Sadly, he was unable to celebrate his passion project as he died tragically in 1936 and at age 37 of pneumonia, five months before the film’s premier. Sidney Franklin was hired to direct, but casting was problematic as the Hayes Code anti-miscegenation rules forbade the casting of husbands and wives of different races. The cast included Paul Muni as Wang Lung, Luise Rainer as O-Lan, Walter Connolly as Uncle, Tily Losch as Lotus, Charles Grapewin as Old Father, Jessie Ralph as Cuckoo, Soo Young as Aunt, Keye Luke as Elder son, and Roland Lui as Younger son.

The story takes place in northern China during the early 20th century. It follows the life struggles of farmer Wang Lung and his wife O-Lan who bears him two sons and two daughters, the youngest of which she murders rather than see her starve to death during a terrible famine. Rather than sell the land for food, the family leaves to find work in the south. By a stroke of good fortune, O-Lan comes into possession of a bag of jewels dropped during a mob looting, and as the dutiful wife surrenders the jewels to Wang, keeping two pearls that she treasures for herself. The family prospers, but is ultimately brought to tragedy when Wang takes the young dancer Lotus as a second wife, and gives her O-Lan’s pearls, which breaks her heart. Yet Lotus betrays the old man by seducing his youngest son. Wang is outraged and banishes his son, only to later forgive him when he finds an ingenious way to save the family farm from a swarm of locusts. In the end, after Younger son’s marriage, Wang returns to his true love O-Lan. He gifts back her beloved pearls which she accepts, and then dies thankful and peacefully content. The film was not a commercial success and ended up losing $96,000. It did however receive near universal praise from critics. The film earned five Academy Award nominations for Outstanding Production, Best Director, Best Film Editing, winning two for Best Cinematography and Best Actress.

Irving Thalberg had previously utilized Herbert Stothart to score “Romeo and Juliet” (1936), and Camille (1936), and decided to continue the collaboration. Stothart understood early that for authenticity, he was going to have to infuse his soundscape with traditional oriental cultural traditions, which blended occidental and the oriental sensibilities. To accomplish the later, he utilized with the distinctive, and traditional Chinese pentatonic scale. He also employed instruments such as the liuqin, pipa, wood flute, gongs, wood bowl and wood block percussion and drums to assist in providing an authentic Chinese sound. Additionally, the story is set in a period of political tumult which resulted in the overthrow of the imperial Qing dynasty in 1912 with a republic headed by Sun Yat-sen. As such, he provided marches to support the battle between imperial and republican troops.

His soundscape is supported by four primary themes, several set-pieces and some motifs, including Lung’s Theme, which offers eight-note phrasing by a variety of solo woodwinds. Like him, there is gentility in the notes, and I believe Stothart perfectly captured the man’s essence. O-Lan’s Theme serves as both her identity, but also a love theme for her and Lung. Her character is gentle, tender, and long-suffering and Stothart captures her essence with this evocative string borne melody. Only near the end of the film when O-Lan passes after an arduous life does the Love Theme finally achieve its most poignant expression. The Farm Theme is animated by prancing, spritely woodwinds and strings animato bustling with vibrant energy. It speaks to the many daily chores required to run the farm. The Happiness Theme is emoted by spirited woodwinds animato and abounds with energy, vibrancy, and happiness. It is employed to support the rare times in a farmer’s life that they experience joy and happiness. The Peach Tree Motif offers a twinkling, ethereal with harp adornment, which speaks to the peach pit O-Lan planted, which grew into a bountiful peach tree, a symbol of prosperity of the Wang family lands. There is no commercial release of the score, as such I will use film scene descriptors for cue titles, and film time indices for when the music is heard.

0:00 “Main Title” opens with dissonant chords as the MGM Studio logo displays. At 0:08 the solemn fanfare oriental is declared, which ushers in memoriam for the legendary producer Irving Grant Thalberg who died tragically in 1936 and at age 37 of pneumonia, five months before the film’s premier. At 0:21 a full orchestral rendering of Lung’s Theme supports as we commence the roll of the opening credits, which display as black script on a wooden wall. At 1:06 we flow into the spritely Farm Theme, which entwines with Lung’s Theme. At 1:41 the dramatic fanfare oriental supports script, which praises the Chinese farmer, who are the humblest of people and the soul of China. At 2:06 we flow into the film proper with “Dawn” atop woodwinds pastorale as we see vistas of farmland adorned with billowy cloud swept skies. As the scene brightens with day light, the bustling activity of Farm Theme commences as we see them irrigating the fields, tending to live stock and flocks, and traveling the dirt roads.

At 2:57 we segue into “Wedding Day”, which offers a fine score highlight where Stothart masterfully supports the extended scene. We see a thatched roof cottage and script, which reads “Wang Lung’s Marriage Day”. Woodwinds tenero, and strings gentile adorned with harp glissandi carry us like a soft breeze into Lung’s house where he lays on his cot smiling in anticipation of this happy day. At 4:05 he lights the stove and sets out to retrieve water carried by the spritely Farm Theme. Stothart bathes us in happiness as Lung’s friends share in the joy the blessed day. Back home Lung prepares a special gift for his ailing father – hot tea. At 6:39 father Wang relates how his wife bore him six sons, with all of them tragically lost save Lung. He says that she was the one, the best woman a man could have. We see he misses her and Stothart supports his yearning for her with strings tenero tinged with the sadness of loss. Lung has not yet seen his bride as the marriage is arranged, but his father assures him that she is not deformed. A soft flute delicato emotes Lung’s Theme as we see him envisioning her as he works in the kitchen. He carries some hot water to take a bath, his first in months to please his bride.

At 9:00 we segue into “Lung’s Joy” as father Wang grants Lung’s request for a small feast and invites his dear friend Ching who has stopped by with a gift bottle of wine. Lung is ecstatic and Stothart supports the happy moment with a celebratory Paean of joy. The spritely melody abounding with happiness carries Lungs walk into town. At 9:52 a foreboding diminuendo of unease takes his to two massive metal doors. He is greeted but very nervous as he announces he is the bridegroom. As he enters at 10:54 in “O-Lan”, strings of unease carry his nervous walk through the garden courtyard. At 11:12 bubbling woodwinds of delight support the women kitchen staff staring at him from their windows. At 11:17 the music softens on strings tristi as the camera focuses on a cowering O-Lan who sits demurely as her kitchen boss berates her and orders her to get her belongings. At 12:20 we segue into “The Introduction” as Lung stands before the mistress of the great house. O-Lan is her slave and stands demurely behind Lung. Stothart sow both unease and anticipation as Lung awaits to gaze upon his bride. O-Lan is released to his care, ordered to obey him and bare him many sons. As they depart, he at last sees her and woodwinds animato carry their progress. Playful woodwinds with hints of comedy support his order for her to take a large box, which she lifts over her shoulders without question. The melody becomes heavy and workmanlike when he sees it is too heavy, takes it from her and the depart for home carried by the spritely woodwinds of the Happiness Theme.

At 14:43 we segue into “Lung’s Generosity” when he stops and buys food, including peaches, which he shares with O-Lan much to her surprise and delight. The spritely Happiness Theme carries their walk back to the house and we see both are very pleased with each other. At 15:08 a diminuendo of gentleness supports O-Lan retrieving the peach pit tossed by Lung, saying to him its seed will grow them a tree. The spritely Happiness Theme resumes as they make their way home. At 15:40 Father Wang sees them from the house and laughs supported by a diminuendo of happiness. In “Wedding Night” Stothart masterfully supports Lung and O-Lan’s first intimacy where he makes her feel loved and cherished, much to her delight. O-Lan cooks a wonderful dinner for Lung and his guests who rave about her cooking. He is very pleased and is teased that they are keeping him from his wedding bed. After they depart, at 18:10 soft strings tenero carry Lung outside. O-Lan’s Theme entwines with the ethereal Peach Tree Motif as he sees her lovingly planting the peach seed. He is thankful, and shares the history of his family’s land, which he says is now hers also. He bends to join her and she raises her hand as though to block a slap. At 19:36 his tender theme emerges as he assures her that he will not be cruel to her. He helps her up, takes her hand and lifts the lantern to behold her face with Stothart supporting with a gentle romance for strings. He is happy in love, she feels loved, and as they walk inside, they are blessed by rain.

At 21:05 we segue into “Farm Life”, which provides a montage of scenes of farm life. We see Lung toiling in the fields, ploughing, planting and cultivating, while O-Lan grinds flour, performs house chores, sows, and washes the clothes. Stothart supports their hard work and struggles with a cycling motif of toil and drudgery. At 21:55 we shift to a strummed harp and strings gentile motif as O-Lan joins Lung, much to his amazement, in the fields hoeing. She eventually tires and informs him she is with child, which elicits him to tell her to go rest. He then rushes off to tell his father the great news supported by strings felice and bubbling woodwinds animato. In “O-Lan’s Dream” she refuses Lung’s request that she seek a woman from the Great House to aid in her delivery. She says that she will not return until her son is born and dressed in a bright red dragon outfit. Soft strings tenero enter to support Lung’s amazement as he relates, he has not until now heard her speak so many words. At 25:11 we segue into “The Harvest” as we see the entire village out harvesting the ripe grain with scythes. Stothart drapes us with gentile Chinese auras as the stalks are cut, gathered, tied and hauled off to the mill. At 25:45 O-Lan’s Theme joins on strings tenero as Lung looks back at the house and wonders why she is not in the fields. At 25:58 tension joins as Papa asks O-Lan why she is not in the fields for such an important day. When she tells him she will not go out today he realizes childbirth is imminent.

At 26:16 we segue into “Storm” as Stothart creates an ominous swirling vortex to support the arrival of a mighty storm. O-Lan and Papa take the ox to the fields in a desperate effort to salvage as much of the crop as they can, lest they starve during winter. They work hard, but she eventually collapses as birth nears. Lung takes her home and prepares to seek a midwife, yet she tells him to go back to the fields, which he does reluctantly. At 30:42 the storm threatens to bring hail and devastation, which would bring ruin to the harvest. Stothart supports with an elegy as Lung fights a losing battle. At 31:17 we segue into “Birth” atop woodwinds, which usher in harp glissandi and strings of happiness as we hear a newborn baby’s cries. Lung, his uncle, aunt and father arrive and are overjoyed to find that O-Lan has given birth to a son. At 33:48 playful woodwinds usher in a baby motif as the happy father prepares to visit his wife and son. He is tentative and woodwinds of uncertainty support his entry. A solo violin delicato and kindred strings support the sight of his son. As he laughs with joy and prepares to announce news of his son to the village, Stothart supports with tender strings felice.

At 34:55 we segue into “Wheat Thrashing” as we see Lung pounding the wheat to separate the chaff from the seed as his son and O-Lan look on. The tedium of the workman-like Farm Theme supports their efforts. At 35:35 metallic twinkling supports the fall of coins into Lung’s purse as he sells his grain at the market. Friends and family support with a traditional folk song of joy, played and sung diegetically as Lung holds his precious son. In the kitchen out of sight his uncle steal food, which he stuffs under his clothes. His theft is discovered and he diverts by saying that the Great House is struggling and selling land to raise cash. He floats buying more land with O-Lan who listens but remains silent until 39:52 when strings tenero reveal love in her eyes atop her theme as she shows him their son with dragon shoes. At 40:09 we segue into “Celebration” where we see the village celebrating a successful New Year with firecrackers, entertainers and merriment, which Stothart supports with festive horns, woodwinds animato and strings energico. At 41:09 in “The Ancient One” Lung and O-Lan bring their immaculately dressed son to proudly show the ‘Ancient One’ as is custom. As their son is announced in the courtyard, soft strings maestoso with harp adornment carry their progress. When they enter the kitchen at 41:42 bubbling woodwinds of joy support the staff’s happy reception. Soft strings of pride carry her to the kitchen mistress, who gruffly describes the child as sickly. She then escorts O-Lan and the child to see the ‘Ancient One’. Strings felice support O-Lan’s happiness as the mistress declares her son a beautiful child. On the way home Lung discloses that he bought a second field to better ensure their survival in the future. He holds up his son with pride to show him the family’s new land.

In “Famine” Lung gives thanks to village god idols for is prosperity; five fields, two sons, and a daughter. At 47:13 the villagers call Lung up to the hill crest where they see long lines of people fleeing south, which Father says he has seen before during famine. Strings tristi full of woe support views of desiccated fields with shriveled stalks, and empty parched ponds devoid of water. Burdened strings of sadness support Lung and O-Lan hauling mud to their one surviving bean field as vulture’s feast on a dead dog. His sons call him because two men are trying to steal their ox to feed their starving families. His uncle comes and demands that he sell the land so he may eat. Lung refuses insisting that he will pass the land onto his son’s, which elicits a face slap from his lazy uncle. Dark foreboding strings descend like a pall joined by cold winter winds as Lung stands with a knife in front of his treasured ox. He drops the knife in despair and returns to the house where his youngest son cries from hunger. He says the ox is his friend and that he cannot do it. At 52:02 O-Lan goes to the barn carried by a sad rendering of her theme, which ushers in a crescendo of pain as she picks up the knife with a grim resolve and kills the ox to save her children. Her thankful theme returns in the aftermath as we see snow falling across the land. Later as villagers prays to the village god idols, the uncle accuses his nephew of selfishness for refusing to sell his land to feed them. This rouses their indignation and they all show up at Lung’s doorstep. They insist he has food and silver, overpower him and rush in to find O-Lan cook dirt soup. They depart in shame, including his friend Ching, as Lung consoles his sons.

At 56:38 we segue into “Desperation” as Lung digs up a brittle root from the ground, which crumbles in his hand. He is desperate to feed O-Lan who is pregnant and Stothart supports with a pall of despair as we see in his eyes that all hope is lost. In “O-Lan’s Decision” Lung decides to sell the land and two buyers and his uncle arrive the next day as O-Lan gives birth. They offer 11 pieces of silver for the land’s value of 1,100. Lung is outraged yet ready to concede when O-Lan comes in, declares that they are not selling, but instead heading south. This way they can return to the land in good times. The uncle and buyers leave in a huff and music enters at 1:00:46 with strings affanato as Lung asks how she can walk with a newborn, and she informs him that the child is dead, which leaves him stunned. At 1:01:18 we segue into “The Journey South” as we see Lung and his family joining thousands of people fleeing the famine stricken north. Stothart supports with a dire horns and tortured strings of dread as we see them struggling across the barren land in the heat past the corpses of those who have succumbed. The music darkens into a horrific iteration to support swelling images of the dead with grieving families as vultures lurk above. At 1:02:44 we segue into “The Train” as they wait along the tracks in hope of boarding a train going south. Stothart supports its approach with a mechanistic motif. The steam frightens them, but they climb aboard the roof safely and the train motif carries them away. At 1:03:43 we segue into “Struggling to Live” with music bustling with energy as we behold a busy city with congested streets full of travelers and merchants. Lung secures mats to build a hut and O-Lan teaches her sons how to beg. A montage of pitiful scenes follows of O-Lan and her boys begging for coins. Father manages to get a coin, only to have a merchant steal it as he sleeps. As she cooks dinner an exhausted and dispirited Lung returns home, again unable to find work.

In “Thief” an outraged Lung beats his eldest son for stealing beef to feed the family and throws the beef on the floor. O-Lan retrieves the meat and says “Meat is Meat”, which causes Lung to despair. He then rejects O-Lan’s offer to sell their daughter to fund their return to their land in the north. In “Hope” Lung leaves to investigate a woman crying. At 1:08:42 grim churning strings enter as she says her husband died in a harness pulling lumber, and a desperate Lung asks where. She says the great market, Lung exists, and we see him the next day pulling a loaded wagon in the mud like an ox supported by a grim marcia sofferenza. At 1:09:16 a marcia militare supports a platoon of soldiers marching through town. As they pass, a coworker advises that revolution is coming because of the lack of food. The toiling motif resumes as they again pull the wagon. At 1:10:34 we segue into “Revolution” a score highlight as a man declares that soon the reign of the Manchu tyrants will be over! Grim pizzicato string support as he says soldiers will soon arrive despite rain in the north. Lung rises to the good news, but tension builds and erupts at 1:11:10 as Stothart unleashes a torrent of violence to support the arrival of loyalist troops who open fire. Orchestral frenzy supports the crowd fleeing for their lives and shift to desperate flight music as Lung careens through the streets to safeguard his family. Republican troops enter the city, and as the Loyalist troops flee passed him, a man declares China is a Republic. The crowd becomes riotous and begin looting all the street side merchants. At home O-Lan hides her children in the hut as she witnesses the riot. She senses opportunity and follows the rioters into the Great House, which is ransacked by the ravenous horde. She is swept along helpless by the mass of humanity, eventually falling and suffering injury as she is trampled.

At 1:15:37 we segue into “Good Fortune” as O-Lan wakes up alone and in pain supported by a plaintive, wounded rendering of her theme. She looks and cannot believe her eyes as she finds a glistening bag of jewels. She hears a gunshot, hides the bag and sees through the window soldiers executing looters. She is arrested but at the last moment saved from search and execution when a Captain orders the troops to leave. At home dispirited Lung returns with tales of horror. He is rendered speechless when O-Lan reveals the jewels and says we can go back to the land. At 1:21:11 we segue into “The Journey Home” as we see the family riding in a covered wagon northward carried by a plodding traveling motif adorned with Chinese auras. At 1:21:28 they arrive home and the Happiness Theme supports their joy. We close with the tranquil, ethereal auras of the Peach Tree Motif as we see O-Lan’s peach tree with spring blossoms. Lung in an act of generosity provides each of his village friends sacks of grain to sustain them until the harvest. His friend Ching arrives with belongings he safeguarded, but Lung gifts them to him. When he finds that Ching sold his land to survive, he hires him out of kindness and Ching is thankful. In “O-Lan’s Request” Lung discloses his jewels to his uncle and informs everyone that he intends to buy land. O-Lan asks that she be allowed to keep two pearls for her own, and Lung consents, much to her satisfaction. When Lung declares his intention to enlarge and better the house, which will be staffed by slaves, O-Lan protests, saying what they have is enough. When uncle says that rich men can take a second wife, Lung with discomfort laughs it off and leaves as a stunned O-Lan stands in silence.

At 1:26:54 we segue into “Lung’s Prosperity” atop grand fanfare orientale as script relates his prosperity of new land, new wealth and an enlarged house. At 1:27:10 we see O-Lan’s peach tree abundant with peaches, which is supported by the ethereal Peach Tree Motif. We see Lung’s two sons, now both young highly educated men overseeing the business and formalizing contracts with local merchants. After signing a contract, the merchant’s beautiful daughter enters and catches the eyes of the younger son as the brothers depart. The merchant then presses Lung to consider marriage, to which he says he will consider. At 1:30:20 we segue into “Stage Act” where we see entertainers performing on stage. Stothart supports the ambiance with a wonderful set piece full of exotic auras, rhythms, and textures provided by a small ensemble of traditional Chinese instruments. Lung is uncomfortable, but his uncle insists he remain as a woman sings while playing a Liuqin. At 1:32:32 bold metallic percussion ushers in a new set piece borne by strings seducente and the small Chinese instrument ensemble as a woman, full of sexual allure dances. She captures Lung’s attention with her seductive hand gestures and her provocative gazes arouse him.

In “Lung’s Announcement” we see Lung dressing in fine silk, and O-Lan suspects another woman is involved. He summons her and he announces proudly that he has bought the Great House and is now the new Lord of the village. She is unhappy and he reproaches her for her homely looks and plain dress, which is unbefitting his new station. He then breaks her heart by demanding she turn over her pearls to him as he relates, that he is in love with another woman. She as a dutiful and loving wife grants her permission for him to marry a second wife. Music enters at 1:39:45 atop her grieving string borne theme as she hands him her beloved pearls. He departs and she returns to the garden to sow, her heart broken as she weeps. At 1:41:02 we segue into “Wang The Great Lord” atop the Happiness Theme as we see porters moving Lung’s possessions into the Great House. Inside Lotus, wife number two entertains Lung with her liuqin. The younger son stops in the courtyard and we sense attraction, while father rages against this evil second wife, declaring he and those before only had one wife. O-Lan ushers him out as Lotus complains that she is despised by the others and unhappy. She uses her seductive charm to have him build a personal garden, which would make her happy.

At 1:44:21 we segue into “The Slipper” atop a liuqin tranquilla as we see the younger son agitated by her playing as he dresses. As he prepares to exit Lotus enters and complains of her loneliness. She gives him her slipper to have gilded saying when a woman does so, it means the man has captured her fancy. She departs and he cradles the slipper and ponders. The liuqin resumes as O-Lan enters and asks that he read a letter to her from his brother. He becomes flustered, demands to leave this terrible house and become a soldier, as the slipper falls to the floor. O-Lan is devastated but Lung’s entry keeps her silent. The young son and Lung fight over his life in this house, Lung orders him to the fields and the son leaves full of anger. O-Lan then unleashes her discontent with Lotus and her son’s sad life without a wife. She tries to tell Lung about her suspicions and he erupts in anger, telling her that there is no longer anything between them. At 1:50:37 we segue into “O-Lan’s Sadness” as she tends to father whose dementia has worsened, scolding her for not being in the fields. O-Lan’s Theme borne by aching strings tristi full of despair support her pain of Lung’s harsh words and abandonment. In “The Betrayal”, Ching under duress informs Lung that his youngest son and Lotus are seeing each other. At 1:53:09 music enters with dark strings full of foreboding as Lung slaps Ching, angrily denies his gossip, and ends their friendship by ordering him off his land. Left alone, anger slowly swells as we see betrayal swell in Lung’s eyes. He is furious and returns home and at 1:54:05 he hears the liuqin and with grim hesitation approaches his wife’s quarters as O-Lan watches. He enters and finds them sitting together on a sofa. She screams and drops to her knees and the son says father as Lung approaches full of simmering rage. He savagely beats his son and orders him out of his sight. Lotus crawls to him, but Lung rejects her and he departs.

In “Sad Goodbyes” the younger son says his goodbyes to O-Lan and his brother, saying he intends to join the army. She counsels against this, insists he speak to his father before departing, and he consents. As he asks for forgiveness, uncle arrives with news of the arrival of a plague of locusts, which Lung see is more bad news. Yet Older son argues fervently that he learned at university that saving the land can be done. He proposes building a fire wall in the hill gap to trap and hold the locusts until the wind changes to take them away. The entire village set-off and build a fire break as women build torches. “The Swarm” offers a dramatic score highlight. Insect buzzing brings the swarm into view over the hilltop. They descend en masse in the gap and begin consuming the wheat. Lung meets his younger son, pauses, and accepts his help. They light the firewall but must keep adding fuel. The horde begins to break through and the men flood the ditch with water as a second defense. They then fight them with their shovels as a last resort, with Lung exhorting the tired men to keep fighting. At 2:08:10 strings of hope ascend to herald the wind changing direction, and we see the men watch with wonderment as the locusts are carried away from the remaining fields. At 1:29:06 Stothart ushers in a paean of joy as Lung declares aloud that they have beaten them and won the day! A diminuendo takes us to the estate where an ill O-Lan looks and tells her daughter that she is happy as Lung and his sons are back on the land again. In gratitude, Lung commends both his sons, and welcomes back Ching into his household. Afterwards Lung has an epiphany and instructs uncle to sell the great house as he realizes that he was happier when he worked the land and lived simply in the old house.

At 2:11:39 we segue into “Wedding” as they all celebrate the marriage of the younger son with the playful enjoyment of the Happiness Theme alight with Chinese auras of joy. A bedridden O-Lan looks on with contentment and at 2:12:54 younger son’s bride is introduced to her supported by a processionale orientale. Warm, embracing affectionate strings join as she welcomes her new daughter. At 2:13:33 we segue into “The Parting” offers a wistful score highlight as Lung arrives, tells O-Lan to rest, and the guests depart her room to give them privacy. The Love Theme joined by heartfelt woodwinds felice support the intimate moment as Lung gives back her beloved pearls. The Love Theme blossoms as she is happy, however she asks instead that they be given to the bride. Lung says in good time for you will be well again. He then bows his head in respect, opens his heart, and confides to her that she was indeed the one, the best wife a man could have. Yet when he looks up, he sees that her time is at hand. He begs her to stay on and ethereal wordless women’s choir supports his plead. She asks his forgiveness, and then states that she cannot stay. At 2:16:45 strings full of sorrow mark her passing with her beloved pearls falling from her hand. Elegiac memoriam of her theme replete with a solo violin delicato carries Lung to the backyard to her beloved peach tree, joined by the Peach Tree Motif as he holds its branches tenderly and declares; “O-Lan, you are the earth.” We conclude as we began with the dramatic fanfare orientale, which brings us solemnly to “The End”.

I present yet another classic film score, that after eighty-four years inexplicably lacks a commercial release. Stothart was provided a unique canvass on which to compose, a movie set in rural China that explores the life of a humble farmer who struggles against the vicissitudes of life to support his family. To provide cultural authenticity and context, Stothart augmented the traditional western orchestra with an array of classic Chinese instruments, and embraced the indigenous pentatonic scale. I believe this blending of Oriental and Occidental sensibilities was highly successful and brought the audience directly into the story’s setting. His two themes for the principal actors Lung and O-Lan captured their essence and endeared them to us, making us in the final analysis, part of their family. The transformation of O-Lan’s Theme into their Love Theme was for Lung, poetic, and epiphanic, with him finally achieving with her death the profound realization; “O-Lan, you are the earth.” It was she who nourished his heart, brought forth his beloved children, and sustained the family. The two indigenous Chinese themes that Stothart provided were well-conceived and spoke to the two realities of farm life – the ceaseless toil and struggle cultivating the earth, and those rare, precious and fleeting moments of happiness. The application of both these themes were masterful, integral to Franklin’s story-telling, and in scene after scene perfectly executed. Folks, unlike contemporaries such as Max Steiner, Miklós Rózsa and Alfred Newman, Stothart’s scores are rarely melodramatic or intrusive, instead achieving a more nuanced and subtle synergy with the film’s narrative, an approach I believe commendable, and worthy of your appreciation. I believe this score to be one of the finest in his canon, a gem of the early Golden Age, and worthy of your exploration. I entreat the labels committed to rerecording classic film score for new generations, to take on this fine score, which must find voice. Until that time, I encourage you to hear the score in film context, understanding the limitations of archival monaural sound.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the actual theatrical trailer, which provides a fine sampling of Stothart’s music:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikY9aQCAujw

Track Listing:

  • NOT AVAILABLE

Unreleased (1937)

Music composed and conducted by Herbert Stothart. Orchestrations by Wayne Allen, Leonid Raab and Clifford Vaughan. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Score produced by Herbert Stothart.

  1. December 27, 2021 at 10:16 am

    I so hope this score becomes available one day…

    I actually have an ask to you and the team: do you think you would ever be inclined to make cue compilations on Spotify or Apple Music? As much as I do love to listen to complete scores, it is always great to put them into action too, be it to prepare for the night, to score the perfect meal, the best workout montage scene… I am sure you, guys, would so nail that!!

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