Monstrous Movie Music’s second Ernest Gold CD – after The McCullochs [M] (1975) – features his elegant source-based score for Stanley Kramer’s gloomy pre-WWII drama about disparate and desperate characters on a ship en route to Europe.
Gold’s score is a blend of underscore and source cues, most of which were written by Gold and are featured on MMM's CD (excepting a rare handful that no longer survive). Whereas a prior album was released by RCA (and later reissued by Artemis) with re-recorded and sometimes radically different cue arrangements under the baton of Arthur Fiedler, this marks the first time Ship of Fools’ original mono film tracks have been released.
The Main Title is almost perfunctory in establishing the film’s opening Veracruz location as well as a brief love theme quote, yet it really glows with Gold’s detailing, especially the brassy finale before the cue winds down and fades out. Gold has the brass play in a discretely mockingly tone that presages the more menacing, satirical style Jerry Goldsmith adopted for his 1978 masterwork of Nazi delusion, The Boys from Brazil [M] (1978). *******
Gold later revisits the love theme in a short cue (“Bedside Manner”), and interpolates short bits of moody score between “Charleston for Fools.” The theme also materializes in the album’s final set of cues, which mark a deliberate shift from atmospheric source cues to underscore with direct character statements (especially full orchestral stabs in the super-brief “The Visit”).
After the first track, the CD immediately gets into the original source cues which demonstrate Gold’s amazing skill in capturing an era's musical style. Be it the looped gentility of “Captain’s Table” or archaic elegance of “The Gorplander Waltz,” the immersion into the world of the film’s aging and increasingly conflicted characters is total. As David Schecter writes in his liner notes, Gold’s cues were designed to flow with a scene’s mood as well as punctuate dramatic points, if not exaggerate the stilted conventions and faux personas of certain characters.
Also worked into the score is the short vocal cue “Heute abend geh’n Wir bummeln auf der Reeperbahn,” a ridiculously catchy tune sung by Jose Ferrer and Christiane Schmidtmer in which Gold and lyricist Jack Lloyd express a couple’s glee in their intention to go strolling down Hamburg’s prostitute district.
The source cues are performed by a small chamber orchestra (mostly strings and piano) and there is a similarity in each tune’s idyllic mood which gives the score a continuity. The lilting style may also lend a slight sameness at times, but Gold’s tunes feature small solos, and specific parts that allow the string players to express a special type of preciousness that's well-suited to certain characters.
MMM’s CD features all surviving Gold originals in clean mono, and while the cues could’ve been re-arranged to alternate between source and score cues, the chronological order works as a musical journey where for a short, concentrated time we’re forced to join the pretentions and experience the closeted fears of the film’s central characters.
Shecter’s liner notes are massively detailed in production and composer bio details, as well as comparative details between the score and re-recorded RCA versions, and the inclusion of stills provides a rich overview of this small gem.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan