Had Victor Young lived into the late 1950s, it’s fair to presume he’d have remained busy, given his sense of melody was ideal for a film in need of a strong score as well as studios wanting a hit song. Young could deliver the two seamlessly, and while Shane has no vocal song, it represents the inseparable qualities of a film and a potent main theme which reinforces the mythic status of an iconic hero.
Young was adept at scoring for any genre, and he was a natural for the western, applying his theme-heavy writing to shots of vistas, open skies, and moments of frenetic action or homespun melodrama. Perhaps the mythic qualities of Shane’s eponymous hero mandated a theme routed in nobility, but the inclusion of the classic “Varsovienne” (also adopted by Alex North in A Streetcar Named Desire) adds contrast, and grounds the score with something more melodically endearing without being too iconic. It also gives the score some melodic variety, given Young tended to write with a greater emphasis on melody than abstract theme variations.
His style was also more directly responsive to screen action, which differentiates his scoring approach from younger colleagues like North. Shane wasn’t a rare western for Young – he’d already scored several for John Ford, matching music to screen icon John Wayne + the unique landscapes favoured by Ford – but there’s less musical melodrama in Shane which makes it much more striking.
The film’s gunslinging villain, his thugs, and acts of cruelty ensure the score has a darker edge, and Young often repeats a triplet motif (“Tender Moments / Wilson / Ride and Memories”) for darker shading. (It’s probably pure coincidence, but the same ‘fear theme’ was also used by Monty Norman in Dr. No when James Bond was under grievous threat.)
La-La Land’s CD presents the full score plus bonus source and alternate versions of select cues, including the film version of “Ride to Town” where a chunk from Franz Waxman’s Rope of Sand (1949) was incorporated – perhaps an early example of a temp track that affected the final rewriting of a specific cue.
LLL's album is sourced from 35mm mono mag tracks and a few bits from a music & effects track. The M&E cues are a bit coarse, but Chris Malone’s album restoration and the work of the transfer and mastering crew are superb: they group created a nearly flawless balance between source materials, making it often tough to spot the switches. Unlike Alfred Newman’s more inventive use of microphone placement – resulting in a ‘fat mono’ sound – many of Young’s mono recordings have limited dynamic range, either due to the original masters, or the masters used by main label Decca, even when Young re-recorded material for LP release.
LLL’s CD features a slight aural depth enhancement that adds just a hair of extra bass, but the high range is still a bit limited. This is nevertheless a beautifully produced disc, with superb liner notes that detail the film, the score, and the composer (with some archival quotations from Young and Shane director George Stevens).
With LLL now delving into the Paramount archives, hopefully they’ll get to Young’s older scores, especially Samson and Delilah (1949), and the gorgeous For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan