Original Soundrack

Night and the City [1949]

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AllMusic Review by

This is a truly unprecedented release and arguably one of the greatest sets ever put together in the history of commercial soundtrack albums -- Screen Archives Entertainment has assembled a two-CD box containing not only Franz Waxman's score for Jules Dassin's 1949 film noir Night and the City (the music heard in the film in the U.S.A. and everywhere besides England), but also Benjamin Frankel's score for the British release of the movie. (In a complicated series of events, 20th Century-Fox, the studio making the movie, decided to recut the British-shot film and have it re-scored for its U.S. and international releases by Waxman, because the copyright laws in America worked to the studio's advantage financially.) Night and the City was to have been the first major international film scored by Frankel, who went on to become an important composer, with credits that include The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) and Battle of the Bulge (1965). Instead, his music for this movie was never heard outside of England, and was replaced by the Waxman music in all prints after 1962 -- and it was forgotten until 2002, when archivists found the original British edition of the movie in the Fox vaults in the U.K. There have been CD releases before that incorporated portions of unused scores for films (most notably The Battle of Britain), or that were built on unused scores (Bernard Herrmann's music for Hitchcock's Torn Curtain), but this appears to be the first time that full, finished rival scores to the same movie in different territories have been assembled together in one release.

Between the two, the Frankel score is more playful than the Waxman music, with some ominous elements but also a much smoother body of light jazz for the club sequences, which is no surprise since Frankel spent years playing piano and arranging for English big-band ensembles during the 1930s before he began writing orchestral music -- his work is surprisingly dissonant at times, but always easily accessible. Waxman's music is bolder and makes far greater use of the full orchestra, with the strings and brass in the title music especially striking. Waxman's music is more daring in its use of abrupt changes in tempo and rhythm, juxtaposing violent outbursts on the percussion and brass against a sentimental love theme that, in its way, anticipates the mood if not the content of Leonard Bernstein's music for On the Waterfront -- most of the cues here are rooted in the profound moods of romance and doom surrounding Richard Widmark's Harry Fabian, or the brashness of Fabian's schemes. "Oh Harry," although ostensibly a love theme, is also filled with an ominous, slowly building tension that makes it a good representation of the score and potentially a marvelous freestanding track. The 107 minutes of music on two discs are beautifully mastered, seemingly having been perfectly preserved for more than half a century in the Fox vaults, and come off as clean and sharp, with no apologies or excuses needed for their age. The annotation is practically a book in itself, giving a detailed pre- and post-production history of Night and the City.