ALEX NORTH: I'LL CRY TOMORROW (1955)
MGM studio orchestra and chorus conducted by Johnny Green. Songs performed by Susan Hayward; arranged and conducted by Charles Henderson. 75'58". Golden Age Classics. FSM Vol. 7, #13. Film Score Monthly. www.filmscoremonthy.com
The mid Fifties was a busy time for North, and a source of anguish too, which he expressed in a 1957 letter to his teacher, Aaron Copland . "Someday I will tell you why I have worked like mad out here these past five years writing scores in three weeks, sacrificing my yen to write 'absolute' music - I never knew when the axe would fall. " His schedule could be punishing, and it certainly was in 1955 when he scored 4 other pictures besides Daniel Mann's I'LL CRY TOMORROW. Film composers are still tied to impossible deadlines, and so much so that it's a wonder that anything of quality, much less depth gets written. But North's genius was such that he could accommodate himself to the demands of the project at hand, and still come up with something special, even personal, and I'LL CRY TOMORROW is certainly that. Perhaps he identified with the show biz pressures its central character, singer Lillian Roth (1910-1980), had to deal with, or her frequently troubled relationships. Whatever the case, North's music seems to come from the depths of her being, just as his for Monroe's Roslyn Taber in THE MISFITS (1961), and Taylor's in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) would. The Italian poet Eungenio Montale once remarked that poetry is that which contrives to elude the poet, and this is an apt description of North's music, which always seems to come from another, and far more sensitive world.
He could write worldly music too, and his Main Tile is big, brassy, and appropriately theatrical. Most composers would have started and stopped there, but not North, who always went way below the surface, and he goes there by eschewing the usual 1 tune fits all Hollywood approach. He was a musical psychologist par excellence, and like any good psychologist gave basic, yet rarely simple answers. His deep and ultra acute listening to the characters, who, in effect, came to him with their problems, shows in his typically layered approach to melodic lines, harmony, and orchestration. Different things are always happening simultaneously, and this is especially true in tracks 6 - 9 - "Trance / Mama's Plea" - "Stood Up/ Shattered / Tortured ", which function as a kind of suite of character / mood portraits depicting Roth's despair over her childhood friend / love David's death - played by David Kasday and Ray Danton - her marriage to Wallie (Don Taylor), involvement with Tony Bardeman (Richard Conte), and descent into alcoholism. The effect, as in much of the score is slow, processive, incantatory, and North's careful and highly transparent scoring lets all the instrumental colors with their attendant emotions shine through. The harmonic writing, with I think tritones and perhaps suggestions of bi-tonality, is hardly what you'd expect in a film score, and North's ear for wind - especially flute, bass clarinet, sax - brass, frequently muted trumpets - and string combinations, there's even a spot where the vibes play with motor on - is telling, and fully dramatic, and every note does something. Although some of the writing resembles North's pioneering jazz-drenched score in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951), it isn't a jazz one through and through, though the sound and voicings are certainly there. You also get North's indelible, and indeed ineffable lyric touch, and "String Chord / Real Heel " has the same witty, and ultra dramatic fugal writing that would appear in his score for THE BAD SEED (1956). (PAR) The CD also features Hayward's surprisingly effective singing, and a single version of the main tune - lyric by Johnny Mercer - with the legendary Johnny Green doing supremely sensitive work at the piano, and his quintette. And though there are several alternate versions which didn't end up in the film, these are, by and large, not as different from those that did, which is not the case with North's unused alternates in THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN (1968). North always wrote the best music that he could, no matter what the circumstances. And though it's true that he worked in a factory environment, he almost always came up with gold, and there's lots of that here. Sure, he may have been conflicted - and what for hire artist isn't - about not being able to write "absolute" music for the concert hall, but you could say that he exacted a kind of revenge by writing music for films which has the shape, depth, and staying power we expect from that form. And, truth be known, not every concert hall staple can be listened to again and again and yield riches each and every time. North's music can. It stands proudly on its own two feet, even without the pictures it was made to fit. And how many Richard Strauss tone poems divorced from their programs do? I rest my case.