Hollywood Lost and Found - Recommendations
Music CDs

Guilty Film Music Pleasures

"The Lost World" (1960) and "Five Weeks in a Balloon" (1962)

Fellow boomers in particular might be interested in a recent release from Intrada Records, which is apparently now handling releases from the Fox library: a 2 CD set of the scores from Irwin Allen's "The Lost World" (1960) and "Five Weeks in a Balloon" (1962), in stereo from the original tracks. There are a couple of missing cues from both films due to damage and there is wow in some cues due to deterioration, but otherwise, like most of the original scores that have been officially released, they sound terrific.

The scores were composed by Paul Sawtell, the first with Bert Shefter, with whom he frequently partnered from the mid-Fifties to the end of his career, around 1970. His music is probably more familiar than his name as he was one of those normally second string composers who did B movies or original cues for Bs when an appropriate library track couldn't be found. He worked primarily at RKO and for producer Edward Small, but had a brief stint on staff at Fox in 1957-58, where he did "Stopover Tokyo," "The Hunters," and "The Fly"; he and Shefter had also done some of Fox's RegalScope Bs, most notably "Kronos" (1957). He became involved with Irwin Allen at RKO and did all of his features through "Five Weeks," as well as some of his tv shows. Additionally his (and Shefter's) music from the Allen Fox features, which also include "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (whose score was released on CD a few years ago), were tracked into the Allen TV shows.

Sawtell was a master of what I call, for lack of a better term and not disparagingly, "wallpaper music." That is, melodic tonalities that enhance the mood of the scene while "filling the sonic holes" between dialog and sound effects, rather than trying to fight them. Hugo Friedhofer and Roy Webb were masters at this and Leigh Harline and Cyril Mockridge were also quite good at it. Unfortunately it seems to be a lost art. Most contemporary composers churn out loud, cacophonic and instantly forgotten noise, while the thought of some of the little films Sawtell et. al scored conjure up memories of ephemeral wisps of music that are not exactly tunes, but still recognizable.

The Allen Fox films were probably the biggest films he scored and he had a larger orchestra than he usually got to work with, though I don't know if the full Fox symphony orchestra was used. Because of his approach, there is not a lot of musical color to compete with the dialog and effects tracks, but where music was guaranteed to rein supreme, it is often quite lush and lyrical. If you are fans of these films (obviously I am), these CDs are worth getting. And you should check Intrada's website, www.intrada.com for other scores they have, like Ronald Stein's very interesting one for "Dinosaurus!" (1960).

By the way, whatever happened to Vitina Marcus?

- Rick Mitchell
6 July 2006
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