Released in 1944, LAURA is among the most memorable examples of Film Noir, dark in overall tone but witty in dialogue in its complex story of a New York police detective who falls in love with the aura of a woman whose murder he investigates. It is an exceptional film--and one of its most exceptional aspects is the title theme "Laura" by composer David Raksin.
The "Laura Theme," at once sophisticated and haunting, forms the entire basis for the Raskin's score, and it is presented here as a suite, with Raskin's incidental music for the film providing very smooth transitions between interpretations of the theme. This may sound repetitive, but it proves remarkably effective, repeating the "Laura Theme" in a series of elegant variations that range from symphonic to club, big band to jazz. This is 1940s Hollywood music at its most lavish and most effective, awash in strings and harps, and this CD release would be more than worth the cost if it contained only this twenty-seven and a half minute piece.
LAURA, however, is but one of the film scores offered here, the other being Bernard Herrmann's score for the 1944 film version of JANE EYRE. Although he had previously scored such notable films as CITIZEN KANE, liner notes indicate that Herrmann considered this his first "operatic" score--a type of work in which the composer creates individual themes for each major character. With JANE EYRE, Herrmann would create three very memorable themes: a plaintive, delicate theme for the title character, leaning heavily upon oboe; a dashing, brooding, and emotionally charged theme for the mysterious Mr. Rochester; and a passionate love theme that combines aspects of both.
Unlike the score for LAURA on this CD, the score for JANE EYRE is presented in full, each piece of music presented as a separate track. Again according to liner notes, the music for both is original to the era. The LAURA suite offered here was apparently recorded in 1943, before the film went into general distribution--and the fact that 20th Century Fox troubled to create and record a suite version of the overall score indicates the studio's faith in the music's future popularity. It was a faith that would be fully justified: although it is somewhat neglected a present, "Laura" (later given lyrics by Johnny Mercer) would become one of the most recorded, most performed songs of the 20th Century.
Although impressive, Herrmann's work for JANE EYRE, recorded in 1944, did not lend itself to popular music interpretation. It has not, therefore, lingered in the public mind, and it tends to be overshadowed by Herrmann's later work for such films as VERTIGO. Even so, it seems safe to say that the only film score able to overshadow a Herrmann score is an even better Herrmann score, and while JANE EYRE does not really compare to the best of Herrmann's work it easily outstrips virtually every other film composer of the era.
The recordings are original and have not been remastered. In some respects this is a pity, for they would benefit from this; at the same time, however--and particularly where LAURA is concerned--the color of age actually lends a certain musical patina to these recordings that might be lost in a remaster. Whatever the case, these are "must have" for any fan of film music at its best.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
with thanks to Michael Wilk, who kindly lent me his CD