Roy Webb

The Curse of the Cat People: The Film Music of Roy Webb

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The 73 minutes of music on this disc, dating between 1942 and 1949 and all written by Roy Webb (1888-1982), is derived from original acetate masters that were part of the composer's personal collection, made from the film recording sessions themselves. The quality is amazingly good given the half-century-old source material, none of which was ever intended to be heard as free-standing music. As to the music itself, it's all of an accessible, melodic nature, focused principally (though not entirely) on suspense as a mood -- beginning with the dark strains of the main title music from Out of the Past, we move to the elegant, late 18th century strains of the score to Bedlam, and then an ominous, pounding theme material from Crossfire, followed by the faux-romanticism of Sinbad the Sailor. With the exception of the Bedlam score, the music from The Locket, and the material derived from The Curse of the Cat People, none of the soundtracks is represented by much more than three or four minutes of music, but little of it demands too much more than that. Interestingly, one gets to hear, through the scoring of several of the films represented here, precisely where the films themselves went "wrong" -- Bedlam was never as successful for its producer, Val Lewton, as his earlier horror movies, and the score reflects the fact that it was treated more as a period movie than a chiller; similarly, one can't listen to Webb's rather straightforward music for Journey Into Fear without wondering how Bernard Herrmann (who, if not for the whole imbroglio over the completion of The Magnificent Ambersons, would have been scoring it, much as Orson Welles would have been directing it) would have handled the music; and Webb's music for Hitchcock's Notorious, suspenseful though it is, simply lacks the subtleties and inventiveness that Herrmann (or, for that matter, Miklos Rozsa), brought to the director's films. It's not that anything here is "bad" music (though the alternately Latin-flavored and big band style "Dance Suite" from Notorious doesn't do much more than fill up space on the disc), but most of it isn't very essential as music, either. His compositions can be very engaging in short doses, such as the three-and-a-half minute suite from The Ghost Ship, and the similar short suite from Cornered -- in larger selections, it's a hit-or-miss prospect, the string-laden suite from The Locket being pretty enough but not terribly memorable, while the 17 minutes of music (including an extended, haunting lullaby) from The Curse of the Cat People stays with the listener in its totality.

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