Jeff Alexander / Daniele Amfitreatof / Bronsalaw Kasper

The Naked Spur: Classic Western Film Scores from MGM

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In one respect, this is a very enticing triple-CD set -- a limited-edition collection, it assembles the scores to half a dozen MGM-produced Westerns (now owned by Warner Bros.) of the early to mid-'50s that have otherwise never been represented on soundtrack albums before. So on that basis, it is difficult to resist -- but there is a rub. First, as it turns out, little of the music here is all that distinguished -- there is a huge gap between the quality of the movie The Naked Spur, rightfully regarded as a superb psychological Western (with plenty of action as well, to keep the more conventionally minded genre audience happy), and the music for The Naked Spur composed by Bronislaw Kaper. The latter did do some fine Western scores, even late into his career with The Way West, but this is simply not one of them, and it does not hold up as freestanding music, for all of its Copland-esque pretensions and dark, noir-ish protrusions. And one major problem, which is extremely annoying in trying to approach this score as freestanding music, is Kaper's reliance on variations of the Stephen Foster tune "Beautful Dreamer" as a recurring theme in the soundtrack. It is paired with Kaper's music for The Wild North, which is not much of an improvement -- Kaper could write a big tune well enough, but there's not enough substance behind his work to allow it to stand on its own.

Disc two, devoted to the music of Daniele Amfitheatrof, contains some interesting work, his music -- following the lead of the movies involved -- being a sympathetic depiction of Native American points of view and psychology. But as before, it does not stand the test of standing on its own merits, at least for those who are not thoroughly sold on the appeal of all soundtrack music. And again, in fairness, the two movies involved, The Last Hunt -- which is easily the best-preserved body of music on this collection, heard in stereo from 35mm three-track magnetic film -- and Devil's Doorway, are well worth seeing and their scores heard in context. Disc three is devoted to the music of Jeff Alexander, for Escape from Fort Bravo. One heartily wishes that it were possible to report that this is an unheralded classic, but it is not -- it's a good, solid dramatic score for a Western that probably would have a better reputation today, if only the film itself were in a better state of preservation. Again, this is a perfectly fine but hardly earthshakingly important body of music, even in the context of Western film scoring, and is notable mainly as Alexander's first solo dramatic score. This release also marks the debut of a new Film Score Monthly cost-saving device: Internet liner notes in lieu of a printed booklet. It does work, and if it does keep costs down, there's no reason they shouldn't do more of it in the future.