Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > THE LOST PATROL – Max Steiner


February 14, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer-Director John Ford saw opportunity with the birth of the new movie sound era, to remake the British silent film “Lost Patrol (1929). He decided that he would also draw upon the novel “Patrol” (1927) by Philip MacDonald, believing he could make a better adaptation of the suspenseful story for the big screen. Ford would join with Merian C. Cooper and Cliff Reid to oversee production with a $262,000 budget. Garrett Fort and Dudley Nichols were hired to write the screenplay, and Ford took on additional duties of director. Casting brought in Victor McLanglen as the Sergeant, Boris Karloff as Sanders, Wallace Ford as Morelli, and Reginald Denny as George Brown.

The story is set during WWI in the Mesopotamian desert and offers a commentary on the futility of heroism and the tragic waste of war. A mounted British patrol has its commander killed by an Arab sniper, which forces the Sergeant to take command. He was not briefed on the mission and so decides to take the men north in hope of rejoining the regimen. During the night at an oasis two sentries are killed and all their horses stolen. They resume the trek north on foot only to be hunted down relentlessly by Arab snipers who kill them one by one. The mounting tension causes stress, infighting and desperation, with each man confronting the inevitable in their own way. Eventually every man is killed except the sergeant, who tricks the Arabs to approach him as he feigns death. Once exposed and in range he rises with a machine gun and kills all six of his tormentors. The Sergeant is saved when British troops notice the smoke from the gunfire and come his rescue. The film was a commercial success, earning a profit of $321,000. Critical reception was on balance negative, with Karloff bearing the brunt of it for overacting. The film earned one Academy Award nomination for Best Film Score.

Max Steiner was RKO Studios resident composer and at this time the scoring of films was still evolving. His initial instructions were the usual practice – to score only the opening credits and end titles. The finished film revealed inadequacies and the creative team correctly surmised that what was missing was music. Studio executive Merian Cooper for who Steiner had scored “King Kong” a year earlier, called Steiner back in and told him to now score the first reel. He did so and the film was transformed, his music deepening and darkening and intensifying the drama, so much so that the movie debut was pushed back so he could finish scoring the entire film. Steiner’s budget was inadequate to achieve what was asked of him in only eight days, so he made creative money-saving choices such as using a 30-member choir singing into cupped hands to imitate desert night winds, and using droning woodwinds to mimic bagpipes. Steiner shared some insights regarding his role for the film;

“The work of the music director is in many ways a thankless one. There is always a release date staring you in the face and no other department has to work under such pressure. It is night and day work, and I have had to learn, through years of experience, to keep at it continuously for as long as 60 hours. The score for the lost patrol, for instance, was composed and recorded in eight days”.

For the construct of his soundscape, Steiner provides three primary themes, including; two Arab Themes. Theme 1 offers a more energetic and festive construct emoting as an exotic danza Arabro. While Arab theme 2 offers a lurking, occult menace borne by low register horn triplet ostinato, forlorn serpentine woodwinds, and triplet drum cadence. The Patrol Theme serves as the emblem of the British patrol. It supports shots of the patrol riding and later walking across the desert dunes. Yet it also serves as a personal motif for the Sergeant. It offers a confident rhythm full of optimism and British pride. Instructive is how the theme slowly loses its confidence and vitality as one by one the men are picked off by snipers.

There are eight secondary character themes, including; Sanders’ Theme, which serves as the religious zealot’s theme. It is supported by an overtly solemn, reverential and hymn-like religious theme, which speaks to his fervent faith. Yet we discern sanctimony in the notes. Most ingenious is who Steiner slowly mutates its articulation as Sanders descends into madness. Pearson’s Theme supports the young idealist track and carried by strings nobile, which emote as a pleasant string promenade. Quincannon’s Theme support the gregarious Irishman and offers a soft Irish gig to support his heritage. For Scotsman MacKay’s Theme, Steiner channels a confident Scottish Highlander march full of pride, replete with bagpipes (simulated by droning woodwinds) and a wee bit of swagger. Brown, who is a gentleman soldier, is supported by a spritely, carefree and buoyant musical narrative, while Hale’s Theme interpolates the festive harmonica carried WWI song “Pack up your troubles in your own kit bag and smile, smile, smile” melody. Abelson’s Theme offer both pride and cockiness for this former heavyweight prize fighter, while Morelli, a former circus performer, is supported by a trapeze-like valzer gentile.

As was his usual career practice, Steiner interpolated a number of anthems, marches and folk songs within the fabric of his scores including; “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” by Jack Judge and Harry Williams, “Rule Britannia” by James Thomson and Thomas Arne, the “British Grenadiers March”, Elizabethan traditional, “God Save The Queen”, traditional and “Auld Lang Syn” by Robert Burns. Lastly, cues coded (*) contain music not included on the album.

In “Main Title” Steiner masterfully establishes the story’s setting, sowing an exotic misterioso. We open with a solitary trumpet militare, which ushers in the festive danza Arabro of Arab Theme 1 as the roll of the opening credits proceeds against a desert backdrop. Steiner establishes the film setting as we see British soldiers trekking across the massive sand dunes. At 0:51 the sunny confidence of the Patrol Theme is offered in the finest traditions of the British Empire, which supports camera shots of each of the main characters with their names. The music evolves into a bright, confident, almost playful articulation as we see a British mounted patrol trekking across the dunes. At 1:23 the music darkens ominously as we enter the film proper. At 1:32 we flow atop woodwinds Arabro into Arab Theme 1 as script reveals that numerous dutiful British patrols saw duty defending British colonial interests in the searing desert of Mesopotamia against an elusive Arab enemy. The theme entwines with British fanfare militare and at 1:53 we segue into “The Sniper”. Woodwinds Arabro voice Arab Theme 1 as we see the patrol captain riding atop a dune. At 2:02 orchestral doom supports a solitary rifle shot, which kills the captain. At 2:16 the Sergeant and corporal discover the dead captain as they curse their Arab foes as the Abrab Theme 1 and British fanfare entwine. We close at 2:52 with a portentous Arabic Theme 2, which ushers in a lament as the Sergeant orders the men to dismount and prepare for burial.

“Bury the Dead” opens with horns lamentoso as the men try to absorb what has happened and grab their shovels. British trumpets tristi join at 0:23 as we see the men shoveling sand over the captain’s corpse. The Sergeant orders the men to pull out, but Sander’s protests, reminding him that the captain deserves a Christian burial. At 0:40 we segue into “Sanders’ Prayer” as he pulls out his bible and reads verses of “The Order for The Burial of the Dead” from the Book of Common Prayer (1928), supported by his solemn and reverential theme. At 1:13 the narrative flow is severed by the Sergeant who orders the patrol to depart for safety over the protests of Sanders who insists on completing the service. At 1:27 we segue int “Patrol Resumes” atop British trumpets militare, which support their preparations to depart. As they ride across the desert dunes a confident Patrol Theme empowers their passage. The Sergeant complains to his corporal that he has no knowledge of their mission orders as the captain refused to share them. He is frustrated, believes they are lost, and decides to head north to the river. At 2:57 the corporal warns of hidden dangers awaiting them and we shift to the lurking menace of Arab Theme 2. We close with the British fanfare as the Sergeant orders the men to dismount, which sounds over a grave Arab Theme 2.

“Patrol Rest” reveals Sanders reading his bible with verses displayed on the screen, supported by a soothing religioso rendering of his theme. At 0:26 we flow into the softhearted Irish gig of Quincannon’s Theme as he tends to his horse. At 0:54 we segue into the soft string nobile promenade of Pearson’s Theme as the Sergeant confiscates his water canteen so he better rations it. At 1:31 we segue into “Resume on Foot” atop trumpets, which usher in the Patrol Theme as the men break camp and proceed walking their horses so as to rest them. At 2:23 the theme loses vitality and begins to struggle, as we see Pearson weakening in the oppressive heat. At 2:42 grim trumpets resound as a horse collapses and Quincannon, supported by an aggrieved rendering of his theme, is forced to put it down with a revolver.

“Pushing Onward” (*) reveals the men breaking camp and resuming their arduous trek on foot leading their horses carried by a heavier and plodding rendering of the Patrol Theme. Ominous music enters as they stop after seeing something in the distance. Yet when Morelli says that it is palm trees of an oasis, optimism returns as trumpets sound and a crescendo on a spirited Patrol Theme propels them to the oasis. Celebratory horns resound when the reach the water’s edge as we see the men, followed by their horses drink their fill. “Pack Up Your Troubles” reveals the men telling stories as they prepare to bed down for the night. Supported by a festive rendering of Hale’s Theme. At 0:14 we segue atop sentimental strings into Pearson’s Theme as the Sergeant checks up on him during first watch. The Arab Theme 2 lurks in the background, joined by Arab Theme 1 and an extended confident rendering of the Patrol Theme as Pearson relates that he ran away from home to join the army. At 2:20 we segue into “Pearson’s Lament” as the Patrol Theme loses vitality and becomes sad when he relates how much his mother disapproved of his enlistment. As the Sergeant prepares to depart, he orders him to stay alert as the lurking Arab Theme 2 moves to the forefront.

“Bedding Down” offers a portentous elegiac quote of the Patrol Theme as the Sergeant departs. At 0:09 we segue into “The Wind” as the desert winds are heard outside the enclosure where the men are sleeping. Steiner created an ingenious wind sound effect using a 30-member choir singing into cupped hands to imitate desert night winds. In the morning we segue at 1:00 atop the Arab Theme 2 borne by forlorn woodwinds into “Ambush” as the Sergeant finds Pearson’s dead body and sounds the alarm. Trumpets militare resound as the men rush out with their rifles, joined by Arab Theme 1 as they see Pearson was stabbed in the back. When they discover the horses have been taken, a furious storm erupts as the Sergeant splits the squad and orders them deployed as they search for, and find Corporal Bell wounded. As they tend to him the menace of Arab Theme 2 permeates. At 2:14 the Patrol Theme sounds as the men observe horse hoof trails leading away from the oasis. An elegiac rendering of Person’s Theme joins as the men bury his body. At 3:45 we conclude with “Sanders’ Nurse’s Bell” as we see him tending to Bell’s wounds supported by his religioso theme.

In “Memories of Malaysia” offers a delightful score highlight where Brown relates to the men his life in Malaysia, which Steiner supports with an exotic flute orientale. At 0:12 we flow into a spritely rendering of the Brown’s Theme as he relates some of his amorous adventures. We demur and flow into a romance for strings as Brown reminisces about the joys of his experiences with the beautiful brown skinned Malaysian women, and the men listen with great interest. We close with a coda of Quincannon’s Irish Theme as he says Brown has the soul of a poet. In “Sander’s Fervent Plea” (*) Sanders exits the shelter, over hears Brown telling his story supported by the exotic romance for strings. Strings of tension surge as he rebukes Brown for his immorality of lust, pleading with him to return to the righteous path. Sanders’ Theme has lost its piety and mutated into a more fanatical expression. When Brown admits he has no faith, Sanders is taken aback, more so as Brown relates all the earthly treasures that he instead values, supported by a buoyant Patrol Theme. In “Fight” (*) Abelson has had enough and tosses a mudball at Sanders, which elicits a rebuke by Brown. Tempers flare and he and Brown come to blows, which is stopped by the Sergeant. Music enters on a contrite rendering of Sander’s Theme as the Sergeant orders him to return and tend to Bell. As the Sergeant tries to rally his men the Patrol Theme supports with a growing optimism as they resolve to hang tuff at the oasis, yet Steiner juxtaposes the Arab Theme 2, informing us that the danger remains lethal and real. The Patrol Theme swells with pride, joined by an ascent motif as Hale uses a rope to climb a palm tree to scan the desert around them. When he reaches the top a celebratory Patrol Theme resounds. He sees movement, and a moment later a gunshot pierces his head and he falls dead. As the men come to him the menace of the Arab Theme 2 sounds.

“Lottery” (*) reveals the Sergeant holding a lottery of paper strips to select a team of two to sneak out at night and try to reach the brigade by the river. A somber rendering of the Patrol Theme supports as the men draw and the team of Cook and MacKay is selected. The theme gains confidence as the two prepare to depart at nightfall. “Cook and MacKay’s Expedition” reveals nightfall with billowy clouds aloft over the shifting sea of dunes, supported by the lurking Arabic Theme 2. At 0:14 a tentative Patrol Theme joins as the team takes letters penned by the others to their loved ones. At 0:55 a confident MacKay’s Highlander Theme replete with bagpipes (simulated by droning woodwinds) carries their march of destiny as the hopeful men watch. A coda by Arab Theme 2 carries them out of view. At 1:44 we segue into “Abelson’s Sunstroke” atop Arab Theme 1 joins as the Sergeant coaches Abelson, who is showing signs of heat prostration, to stay alert. A dramatic statement of the Patrol Theme carries his forced ascent to his perch atop a dune. At 2:42 the camera begins wavering as we see him becoming dizzy. He stupidly marches out into the open, fires his rifle, and is mortally wounded.

“Sunstroke Part 2” opens darkly and is joined by an aggrieved Patrol Theme as Sergeant and the men setup on a ridge. Trumpets militare resound as the Sergeant orders the men begin firing at movement in a far dune. At Morelli 0:34 notices that Abelson is moving, bolts, and makes a mad dash to rescue him carried by desperate strings of flight. Morelli picks him up, and carries him back empowered by a dramatic, forceful statement of the Patrol Theme as the Sergeant orders suppressing fire. Meanwhile, Bell grabs his gun to joins the fight, but collapses with the effort. Steiner sow sadness joined by an aggrieved Sander’s Theme as Morelli arrives back and Sanders alerts the Sergeant of Bell’s collapse. We close flute orientale and drums of Arab Theme 2. At 2:01 we segue into “Cook and MacKay Sent Back” atop trumpets militare as they see two horses racing towards them. A galloping rhythm, horns of alarm entwined with Arab Theme 1 carries them ever closer. Tension rises, and the men open fire. At 2:30 they take down the riders only to realize Arabs were not riding them. A somber, elegiac Patrol Theme supports their horror that they may have killed Cook and MacKay. We close at 2:50 with a dramatic statement of the Patrol Theme carrying their desperate run to the bodies, who they painfully discover are the corpses of their fallen comrades, who the Arab’s tortured and then strapped their bodies to the Horses.

“Quincannon’s Revenge” reveals the Irishman losing his temper after the death of his two friends and madly charging forward cursing the Arabs as he fires his rifle. We open with a simmering Quincannon’s Theme, which erupts with fury, propelling his foolhardy charge. His demise with a gunshot at 0:29 ushers in the lurking menace of the Arab Theme 1. At 0:42 we segue into “Sanders’ Dementia”, a dramatic score highlight. We see Sanders descending into madness as he portends doom to a grief-stricken Morelli, reciting one by one the names of their fallen comrades. Steiner supports with a grim rendering of Sanders’ Theme with interplay of a beleaguered Patrol Theme. At 2:46 we commence a crescendo of anger, which explodes at 3:06 in rage after Sanders informs the Sergeant that Brown has abandoned them. A beleaguered Patrol Theme supports the Sergeant’s rant regarding Brown’s disloyalty and cowardice. At 3:27 he orders Sanders to take the watch and he departs carried by his theme. At 3:52 a resurgent Patrol Theme swells when he reads the note Brown left and we learn that he did not desert, but instead is circling around the Arabs to bushwhack them from behind. The scene seems to have been edited shorter, as music from 4:28 is not in the film. The non-included 42 seconds offers elegiac trumpets, joined by an ethereal ascent by violins and harp, which usher in a heart-warming rendering of the Patrol Theme. We close with a last call of the elegiac trumpets.

“Morelli and the Sergeant” offers a score highlight with exceptional thematic interplay. We see the two men engaging in small talk and sharing cigarettes. We open with the occult menace of Arab Theme 1. At 0:12 a crescendo dramatico follows, which crests and then slowly withers as Steiner sow sadness with Arab Theme 2 accents. At 0:44 muted elegiac trumpets sound and are joined by the Patrol Theme Fanfare as the men talk. As the conversation flows, so too do the themes; at 1:33 a wistful rendering of the Patrol Theme enters joined at 1:57 by the lurking menace of Arab Theme 2, followed at 2:09 by rendering of the Patrol Theme with accents of “Rule Britannia”. At 2:59 as Morelli reminisces about a gal he loved we segue into his theme offered as a valzer gentile, which is short-lived, dissipating into a wistful reprise of the Patrol Theme. At 3:52 a harp arpeggio ushers in a heartfelt statement of the Patrol Theme with celeste and music box accents, which slowly swells with its former confidence as the Sergeant reminisces about his wife who died in childbirth and left him a son. At 4:56 the Sergeant rages against the ever-elusive Arabs that plague theme, and we close with a lurking danger emoted by the flute orientale of the Arab Theme 2, which returns, countered by the Patrol Theme, which struggles to assert itself, but fails, expiring with elegiac trumpets.

“The Scout Plane” (*) reveals a British scout plane sighting the men. Steiner sow jubilation atop a celebratory Patrol Theme as the three men are overjoyed that they will soon be rescued. All is for naught as he lands, exits the plane and begins walking to the men. They frantically shout go back! Go Back! But it is too late as he is shot dead by a sniper. Steiner sustains the buoyant musical narrative, reflecting the perspective of the pilot. We end with an angry rage as Sanders rushes out, and accuses the Sergeant of killing the salvation for which he prayed. They subdue Sanders and tie him up in the enclosure. “Morelli Second Guessing” (*) reveals a frustrated Morelli saying things would have been different if they had attacked early on. This angers the Sergeant who becomes defensive, supported by a raging Patrol Theme. Yet the storm subsides, and the theme returns to a warmer articulation as the Sergeant apologizes for flying off the handle and the two men reconcile. The Arab Theme 2 enters as the Sergeant rages against the elusive Arabs. The Sergeant decides to go out to the plane and retrieve its machine gun supported by the Patrol Theme, but the theme shifts to desperation as Morelli begs him not to leave him alone. The Patrol Theme propels their run to the plane where the Sergeant unbolts the machine gun, and then Morelli’s run back to camp. A crescendo dramatico swells as the Sergeant punctures the plane’s gas tank, ignites it to ensure the plane does not fall into Arab hands, and runs back to join Morelli as it explodes in flames. (*) “Rescue Patrol” reveals a British mounted patrol approaching carried by the WW1 British marching tune “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”. They notice the plane fire in the distance and estimate 5-6 hours to reach it. Trumpets militare declarations launch their trek to the site.

“Sanders Escapes” opens darkly with grim horns and ominous drums as we see Sanders struggling to break his bonds. He laughs maniacally as he reaches a shovel, whose blade he will use to cut the rope. At 0:23 we return to the Sergeant and Morelli atop muted horns declaring the Patrol Theme. At 0:43 a racing string surge of alarm supports the Sergeant’s discovery of Sander’s escape. The Arab Theme 2 joins as Morelli, gripped by fear, begins to crack under the strain. At 1:01 a crescendo of desperation surges as they see Sanders walking up a dune carrying a stick cross, joined at 1:22 by organ solenne. At 1:49 an impassioned crescendo dramatico carries Morelli foolishly running to his aid. We crest at 2:04 as Sanders is killed, with a rolling descent motif carrying his body’s roll down the dune. An aggrieved Patrol Theme sounds as desperate strings of flight carry Morelli’s run back until he too his shot dead. “Burying His Men” (*) reveals the Sergeant burying Morelli and Sanders. Steiner supports the Sergeant’s despair with the Patrol Theme rendered as a lament with quotes of the British National anthem “God Save The Queen”. He dons his finest white uniform, grabs his rifle and the machine gun, and sits in a dune impression waiting for the inevitable final battle.

“The Final Battle” (*) reveals five Arabs appearing on the crest of a dune carried by the drum cadence of Arab Theme 2. They spot him, and fire, but they miss and an orchestral furioso erupts as the Sergeant mows them down with his machine gun while he laughs with gleeful delight. He shouts to the heavens, as well as his buried mates as a celebratory rendering of the Patrol Theme supports. We flow darkly, and seamlessly into “The Last Man Standing/End Title” as a sixth Arab shoots and grazes the Sergeant. A lurking Patrol Theme emotes as he feigns, he is dead, and then leaps up and kills the Arab with his rifle. An orchestral descent of death supports the Arab falling dead. As he approaches the dead man the Arab Theme 2 slows and finally dissipates into nothingness. At 0:57 muted horns sound and usher in a galloping rendering of “Rule Britannnia” as the relief patrol rides in to the oasis. The sergeant is stunned, yet thankful and a diminuendo supports their arrival and dismount of the commanding officer who asks where his men were. The Sergeant is speechless, turns his head and elegiac trumpets sound as they see six glistening sword grave markers. 1:51 there is an album/film variance. On album we conclude with the sentimental ending used for American theaters, which offers flow into a heartfelt rendering of Old Lang Syne. The film I watched offers the patriotic British theater ending, which emotes a rousing rendering of the “British Grenadiers March” as we see the mounted patrol ride off into the sunset.

I would like to commend James D’Arc and Brigham Young University Film Music Archives Production for producing this invaluable album, “Max Steiner: The RKO Studio Years 1929-1936,” which includes the score for The Lost Patrol. The early Golden Age scores offered by this album have long been sought by lovers of the art form, and their presentation here is a Godsend. The original sources for the scores were truly archival and it is a miracle that the engineering team was able to produce the album. While the audio quality contains imperfections and does not achieve current 21st century standards, I believe that in the final analysis, we can still experience the brilliance of Steiner’s handiwork, and I am thankful.

Steiner initial instructions were to score only the opening credits and end titles. The finished film revealed inadequacies and Ford called him back in and told him to now score the first reel. He did so and the film was transformed, his music deepening and darkening and intensifying the drama, so much so that the movie debut was pushed back so he could finish scoring the entire film. Steiner understood that this was a suspense and human drama film more than a war film, and his music masterfully penetrated the psyches, and captured the persona of the seven men, and in so doing, enhanced their acting performances. The juxtaposition of the two Arab identities with the main Patrol Theme and kindred British anthems, fanfares and marches empowered the film’s overarching narrative, which allowed Ford to realize his vision. Folk’s Steiner’s music brought this film to life and clearly demonstrates, as did his monumental success with King Kong the previous year, that music, unlike any other film element, has tremendous power and utility in enhancing the cinematic experience. While I recommend this score as an essential part of your collection, regretfully the 3 CD box set is no longer available except on the secondary market where its price is prohibitively expensive. I advocate and respectfully solicit Brigham Young University Film Music Archives Production for a re-release so new generations of film score lovers can appreciate the genius of Max Steiner.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to fourteen-minute suite; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hr1znrjptzg

Buy the Lost Patrol soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title/The Sniper (3:16)
  • Bury the Dead/Sanders’ Prayer/Patrol Resumes (3:33)
  • Patrol Rest/Resume on Foot (3:15)
  • Pack Up Your Troubles/Pearson’s Lament (3:08)
  • Bedding Down/The Wind/Ambush/Sanders’ Nurse’s Bell (3:59)
  • Memories of Malaysia (1:46)
  • Cook and MacKay’s Expedition/Abelson’s Sunstroke (3:11)
  • Sunstroke Part 2/Cook and MacKay Sent Back (3:02)
  • Quincannon’s Revenge/Sanders’ Dementia (5:19)
  • Morelli and the Sergeant (5:37)
  • Sanders Escapes (2:27)
  • The Last Man Standing/End Title (2:54)

Running Time: 41 minutes 27 seconds

Brigham Young University Film Music Archives Production FMA-MS110 (1934/2002)

Music composed and conducted by Max Steiner. Orchestrations by Bernhaud Kaun. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Score produced by Max Steiner. Album produced by James d’Arc.

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