Elmer Bernstein's score for this little-seen post-Civil War reconstruction drama was originally released in 1958 by Liberty Records, a label at the time associated with the film's star/producer, Jeff Chandler, who had a brief singing career before an untimely death at the age of 42.
Chandler's prominent headshot on the album cover is a bit amusing in that it looks almost contemporary his navy blue cavalry uniform is barely discernible in the colour publicity shot and it was perhaps designed to associate the score album with Chandler's own vocal LPs (plus grab the attention of adoring fans), but the album, released as a limited edition (1500) CD by England's Sepia Records, does indeed contain Bernstein's orchestral score.
Drango was composed during a period when Bernstein had just achieved major success a year earlier with The Ten Commandments, and was still busily writing for television, and small, intimate feature-length dramas. The grand scope of Commandments did peg the composer for epic productions mostly historical, if not big budget war dramas but for the most part Bernstein continued to gravitate towards character pieces and social dramas; projects that undoubtedly enabled him to expand his gift for crafting strong scores that supported and enhanced a film's emotional subtext and controversial themes.
Chandler's film fused a love story with the drama of sharply divided communities forced to find common ground for the good of the country's future, and while the score maintains a strong military style plenty of brass fanfares pepper a number of cues Bernstein recognized the film was neither a war nor western drama, which is why the musical conventions of each genre are downplayed.
The opening Prelude, for example, marries flaring brass with a slow bass gallop, nicely evoking a troupe on the move, passing through the remnants of bloody conflict; the cue's midsection basically emphasizes brass and snare drum, and Bernstein's addition of strings add a direness to the cue's tone, although their reappearance at the cue's closing offers a glimpse of the soothing humanistic melody that will function as the love theme and the score's melodic anchor.
The march theme propels the score, but it's Bernstein's interplay between hard rhythms including subtle, minimal bits miked at low volumes and plaintive renditions of the main theme that ensure the score never gels into something standardized; like the film's lead character, himself thrust into the role of taming and reconciling a community's rage, Bernstein shifts musical tones and instrumental colours, and while it's all meant to follow the film's onscreen actions, even when separated from the film, the score mimics a staid, disciplined character who's regularly tormented by personal and communal conflicts he must either police, or in terms of personal issues, subjugate.
Woven into the score are Bernstein's own bits of Americana woodwind solos mimicking folk melodies and some short formal classical writing in cues like The Search.
Originally recorded in mono, Sepia's application of the CEDAR system minimizes some of the album's rough peaks, and while the original source material lacks strong bass response, it's a clean CD master that brings a long deleted catalogue title back in print. Compared to the era's soundtrack LPs, it's also a somewhat longer album uncluttered by vocals or source cues, and this early Bernstein score showcases some of the character-driven writing that would become the composer's strongest and most recognizable scoring style in subsequent works.
This release is part of a two-part soundtrack wave from Sepia Records that also includes the double-bill CD Trapeze / The Greatest Show on Earth.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan