Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Guided Tour to the Works of John Williams (Part 1: 1956-1967)

Today, we will take a break from the wide world of Stephen King and indulge in a not-so-cursory overview of the works of composer John Williams.  Why would we do such a thing?  For no better reason than that I am a massive Williams fan and I felt like writing about his work.  Simple!  For those of you who feel this blog's attentions should remain focused on Stephen King, I apologize and offer you the ability to ignore the next few days.

The overview is in five parts, and the entire thing is already written, so I'll be publishing one part every day or so for the next week.

I listen to all of my Williams music every couple of years, and when I started that process late last summer, I thought it might be fun to write a bit about it.  "A bit" swelled into quite a lot, but when you're dealing with a career and a body of work the size of Williams', it's hard to prevent that.  Given that I'd decided to write about the process, it made no sense to me not to make it available to read on one of my blogs; and this one was the natural choice.  Again, apologies for violating the purity of the mission statement here; I think we'll all be better for it in the end, though.

And now, maestro, if you would...!



  
For those of you who may not be aware of who Williams is, here is a tidbit clue you in: he is a multiple Oscar-winner whose filmography includes the scores to films like Star Wars (all seven movies to date in the main series), Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone (as well as its first two sequels), Schindler's List, and so forth.  He's kind of a big deal, and while I don't have quite comprehensive enough a knowledge of Hollywood history to state this with certainty, I feel fairly sure that of all the people to work in the film industry -- in any capacity -- he has had one of the most impressive careers.
  
Indeed, his greatest similarity to Stephen King is that both could be described by the following statement: he has been working for decades, has been very prolific during that time, and has maintained a very high level of quality during that run.  There are other film composers who worked for just as long, and there are other film composers who have been just as good.  There are NO other film composers who have been that good for that long.  A few come close (and fans of both Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone will insist that I am flat-out wrong); but none quite get there, in my opinion.
  
You could apply a similar standard of measurement to King among novelists, of course.  That sentence may read like a vain attempt on my part to connect this post to the subject of the blog overall, and that's a fair assessment.  But I'm intrigued by the fact that I seem to be drawn in my fandom to artists whose careers span half a decade or more and whose canon is voluminous enough that working one's way through it is a dauntingly lengthy task.  One cannot simply read one's way through all of Stephen King; that is a commitment one does not take lightly.
  
Listening one's way through John Williams is more manageable, but by no means is it a quick journey.  And why would you want it to be?  There is much treasure to find along the way, and it seems to me like it would be worth this blog's time to try to describe the path one would take on such a journey.  So settle in; even at a full sprint, this is going to take a while.
  
A note before the starting gun: I will by no means be covering every single work that Williams has written.  I'll cover most of them, and all of the major ones; but finding a comprehensive list is virtually impossible (especially given how much television work Williams did during the fifties and sixties), and a great deal of the music is unavailable to me.  My collection is fairly good, though, so what we'll do is mostly restrict ourselves to my understanding of and experience of Williams' career.
  
Sound good?  Let's go!



Born in 1932, Williams began his musical career after a period of service in the Air Force.  He was drafted into the service in 1952 and departed in 1955, and during those years his assignments included conducting and arranging music for the U.S. Air Force Band.  It would be fascinating to know more about those years, but there don't seem to be many records (and NO recordings), unsurprisingly.


1954 -- You Are Welcome




In 1954, in the midst of his Air Force years, he landed his first film-scoring assignment: You Are Welcome, a one-reel travel documentary commissioned by the travel bureau of Newfoundland.

This obscure piece of work was forgotten for years, but was recently uncovered by some snoop or another and put online.  The film can be seen here, and while it's fairly dreadful, the truly hardcore Williams fan might enjoy it simply to hear how primitive his musical voice was at the outset.  A minor origin indeed, but one that helps to frame the phenomenal successes that would come later.


1956-1958 -- the John T. Williams Quartet


After his Air Force service ended in 1955, Williams studied piano at Juilliard for a year or two (I'm not sure of the exact duration).  At around the same time, Williams found his first success as a band-leader, and founded the John T. Williams Quartet, which recorded several albums both solo and as accompanists beginning in 1956.


Includes tracks like "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" and "Tenderly"

Arlen, no slouch, wrote songs like "Come Rain or Come Shine," "That Old Black Magic," "Get Happy," and -- one of my personal favorites -- "Over the Rainbow."  This is a pretty fantastic album, less because of Williams than because of Arlen.  And that's no insult to Williams.




Williams with Johnny Desmond

A great deal of this material was reissued in 2006 by Fresh Sound Records (as part of their Jazz City series) under the title John T. Williams: Jazz Beginnings.




This reissue is WELL worth your time if you are a massive Williams fan or if you enjoy this sort of plays-the-standards music.

Williams' success as an arranger led him to Hollywood, where he began picking up smallish assignments as a performer on movies like Some Like It Hot, South Pacific, The Apartment (for which he played piano solos), and Hatari!, and the occasional assignment as an arranger, such as on The Guns of Navarone.

This in turn led to Williams landing his first job as film composer:


1958 -- Daddy-O




Daddy-O is perhaps best known today as fodder for an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, although the fact that it was the first feature-film score from Williams is much more important.  The score can't be found on any sort of official release, and if you want to hear it you'll have to suffer through the movie.

This YouTube video consists of a scene from which the audio has been ripped.  You can hear the main theme by Williams fairly well.  It's jazzy, and dramatic, and guess what?  It's not half bad.  There is certainly a world of difference between it and the Mickey-Mousing of You Are Welcome, which was a mere four years earlier.

Daddy-O is a bafflingly awful movie, starring singer and accordionist (and convicted draft-dodger) Dick Contino as a truck driver who gets roped into a world of fast dames, homicide, drug deals, and rock-n-roll.  James Ellroy wrote a novella about Contino, albeit heavily fictionalized.

Stephen King connection the first: Daddy-O was released by American International Pictures, the same company that released Roger Corman's series of films based on Edgar Allan Poe stories.  Just three years later, AIP would put The Pit and the Pendulum into theatres, and that movie had such an impact on Stephen King that (as he mentions in On Writing) he wrote a "novelization" and sold it to classmates for a quarter!  So in a sense, AIP is responsible for both Williams and King to some very mild degree.

Stephen King connection the second: female lead Sandra Giles is the mother-in-law of producer Michael Piller, who would later create the television adaptation of The Dead Zone.  Giles is also (obviously) the grandmother of Shawn Piller, Michael's son, who was an executive producer on both The Dead Zone and Haven.


1958-1959 -- M Squad




M Squad was a cop show that starred Lee Marvin and ran for three seasons (1957-1960) on NBC.  It was later cited as being a direct inspiration for the spoofs Police Squad! and The Naked Gun.  Williams landed a job composing the scores for several second-season episodes, and when a soundtrack album was released during the summer break, three Williams compositions were on it:

  • "The Chase," a terrific upbeat jazz number;
  • "The Discovery," a slow, big-band-style ballad;
  • and "The End," the album closer, another upbeat jazz piece.
  
In the grand scheme of things, this is minor Williams; but it's good minor Williams.  One suspects that there is a lot more music from these eight (or so) episodes that would be worth hearing.  Maybe someday!
  
  
1959 -- Wagon Train
  
  
  
  
As was common practice at the time (and remains so today), Williams worked on multiple television series at once, and so intermingled with his M Squad assignments were jobs on the second season of another NBC series, Wagon Train.  
  
Again, there was a soundtrack album between seasons; and, again, Williams managed to land three tracks on it:
  • "Jumpin' Jack Rabbit," which is a bit of a comedic trifle, but in a way Williams fans will recognize;
  • "Golden West," perhaps the first of many Williams marches that would follow over the years;
  • and "Tomorrow," a lush ballad for orchestra.

Taken as a whole, you probably wouldn't listen to these and expect something like Star Wars to happen in a couple of decades.  But the three tracks sound nothing like the three tracks from M Squad, despite palpably hailing from the same musical voice.  What's more, the three tracks sound nothing like each other; taken together, they showcase a composer who clearly, even this early in his career, was capable of doing a wide array of things as a composer.
  
1959 -- The Music from Peter Gunn
  
  
  
  
Yet another NBC series, Peter Gunn, made a big splash musically in 1959, and this one was by far the biggest of the three we've just discussed.  The alsum won the first-ever Grammy award for Album of the Year (beating out Frank Sinatra's Come Fly With Me, among others).
  
It was composed by Henry Mancini, which begs the question: why are we talking about it here?  I'm glad you asked.  The answer is simple: Williams played piano on each track.  The main theme may not be a Williams composition, but there's no denying that his playing is a part of its enormous success.  Not a bad thing to be able to put on your resume, and one suspects that it may have helped him get his foot in the door a time or two down the line.
  
  
1960 -- I Passed For White
  
  
  
  
Wow.
  
Okay, well, that happened.  I've never seen the movie, but if you want to hear the main title, here it is.  It's very melodramatic, which one suspects was a prerequisite for a movie titled I Passed For White.
  
A fella's got to climb the ladder regardless of what might be on the rungs, I guess.
  
  
1960 -- Because They're Young
  
  
  
  
This teenager-centric movie wasn't a big step up in quality from the likes of Daddy-O and I Passed For White, but it did have one leg up on them: it was from Columbia, one of the "real" studios.
  
The movie contained the Duane Eddy song "Because They're Young," which turned into a big hit, but Williams had no association with it.  He provided only the underscore, which has never been released.




1960-1961 -- Checkmate 


By far the most important television work Williams (now billed as "Johnny Williams") did during these early years was for Checkmate, a CBS series about a private-detective agency that specializes in preventing crimes before they occur.  The show ran for two seasons, and was only a mild success, but it arguably launched Williams into another level as a television composer.  Not only did he write the jazzy theme music, but he also scored all 38 -- 38!! -- first-season episodes.  More importantly, there was an album.




The main theme is a terrific little piece of music, arguably the first notable thing the composer wrote.


This album came from an era in which jazz-based scores for television shows were a popular sub-genre thanks to the aforementioned Peter Gunn and M Squad.  Today, in 2016, Checkmate is an obscurity, but let's not overlook a simple fact: for CBS to pick Williams to serve as the house composer on a series like this, one which was obviously designed from the outset to spawn a soundtrack album, was a tremendous vote of confidence.

Checkmate even spawned an album of jazz covers by Shelley Manne & His Men:


It's pretty good.


1961 -- The Secret Ways




The Secret Ways starred Richard Widmark, was distributed by Universal, and was based on a novel by Allister MacLean (who'd also written the novel on which the same year's film The Guns on Navarone was based).  The end result doesn't seem to have been a classic, but the fact that Williams was assigned to it means that his star was continuing to ascend in Hollywood.

Some enterprising soul put a suite of music on YouTube; it's not the best thing you've ever heard, but it's good enough for me to hope for an actual album release one of these days.

Stephen King connection: tenuous, but worth mentioning -- in Big Driver, Richard Widmark's film Kiss Me Deadly plays a prominent supporting role of sorts.


1961 -- Rhythm in Motion


Williams made a return to his band-leader days with the album Rhythm in Motion, which was perhaps intended to use Checkmate as a means of making a breakthrough in the non-film world.




It's a charming enough listen, but one that somehow sounds even more old-fashioned than the John T. Williams Quartet releases.  It does not seem to have been a success, and that's probably no surprise.  The album was reissued in 2006 as part of a two-fer release (alongside Checkmate) from the Film Score Monthly label.  We'll be hearing from them numerous times in this post.


1961-1963 -- Alcoa Premiere




Alcoa Premiere was an anthology series that ran for two seasons on ABC.  It had pedigree behind it: it was hosted by Fred Astaire, had Alfred Hitchcock as an executive producer (perhaps only for a single episode -- my research on this is inconclusive), and attracted guest stars such as John Wayne, Charlton Heston, and Jimmy Stewart.  John Ford directed an episode; Ray Bradbury wrote an episode.

It seems to possibly be the case that Williams composed the scores for all 58 episodes of the series.  Info on things like this aren't that easy to find, given the scarcity of many of the episodes.  At minimum, he seems to have scored several dozen.  One suspects that that music must be a treasure-trove for hardcore Williams enthusiasts.


1962 -- Bachelor Flat



The soundtrack album was issued by Intrada -- another specialty label which puts out lots of great film music -- in 2008; it was on disc two of the How to Steal a Million soundtrack, which we will discuss later.



Bachelor Flat, a 1962 sex-farce flick that starred Tuesday Weld and had nothing whatsoever to do with Bachelor Father, was a b-list comedy.  Today, it retains virtually no reputation except perhaps among fans of Weld (or Williams).

However, it's worth noting that while this might not exactly have been a huge step up in quality from something like Because They're Young (which also starred Weld), it was at least another job at a major studio: namely, Twentieth Century Fox.

The music is decent; anyone listening to it and expecting to hear something on the level of, say, Jaws would be doomed to crushing disappointment, but one suspects that it is rather better than the average b-list sex farce score of the day.

Williams followed this with a return to low-budget films, scoring Stark Fear, a 1962 suspense film that star Beverly Garland later called the worst of all her movies.  It doesn't seem to be consequential enough to merit more mention than that; no recordings from it are available.


1962 -- To Kill a Mockingbird




In the back of my mind, I knew that Williams had played as a session pianist on a number of film scores.  I think I even knew Elmer Bernstein's classic To Kill a Mockingbird was one of them.  However, knowing that is one thing, and understanding it is another.  I didn't understand until I recently heard -- probably for the first time outside the movie -- the main title sequence from the movie.

At that point, it clicked: To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the great American movies, and its score is a large part of that greatness, and the guy playing the piano is John Williams.

Big difference, for sure.

This guy put the whole album up.  Worth a listen, Williams fans.  It's a very fine score; Bernstein was one of the greats, so the music is top-notch regardless of the Williams element.  The fact that Williams is there only enhances it.


1963 -- Diamond Head



This one was paired with Lalo Schifrin's Gone with the Wave on a 2006 Film Score Monthly release.


If Stark Fear seemed to be a career regression for Williams, it was a short-lived one.  Diamond Head was another plum studio assignment, this time for Columbia.  It starred Charlton Heston, and was a hit; the liner notes to the FSM release state that Heston said in his autobiography that he continued to receive checks from the movie decades later.

I suspect people today have never heard of the movie, but I think it's important to note that even as early as 1963, Williams was working on hit films.  The tendency to think that his career didn't truly begin until he started winning Oscars is an understandable one, but a careful examination of his early years reveals that he worked on numerous projects that, even if they are mostly forgotten today, were considered important at the time.  Sure, Checkmate and Diamond Head might be small potatoes alongside Jurassic Park and Harry Potter; but then again, aren't most things?  Leave out all the small potatoes from discussion of an artist's work, and you end up with a very incomplete picture.

Much of Williams' score for this movie was based on a theme song written by Hugo Winterhalter and Mack David and sung by co-star James Darren.  His experience as an arranger undoubtedly served him well on this particular assignment, and the FSM album is well worth a listen if you can find it.

Williams scored a second film for Columbia in 1963: Gidget Goes to Rome, a sequel to the popular Gidget films.  This was the final one, but I doubt Williams should get the blame for that.  James Darren, making his second appearance in a 1963 John Williams movie (Because They're Young being the first), co-starred.


1963-1964 -- Kraft Suspense Theatre





Another important assignment for Williams in 1963 was Kraft Suspense Theatre, which began its first season with a good (Bernard Herrmann-esque) theme written by Williams.

The composer also scored seventeen first-season episodes, none of which has ever been released on soundtrack albums, but all of which are (as of this writing) easily findable on YouTube.  Have I downloaded all of them so that I can someday watch them?  You bet I have.  And that seems like a good plan even minus the John Williams connection, as the episodes are notable for their stars (Lee Marvin, Lloyd Bridges, Gena Rowlands, Mickey Rooney, Telly Savalas, and Jack Klugman) and directors (Irvin Kershner, Ralph Senensky, Robert Altman, Sydney Pollack, and Ida Lupino).

The Altman-helmed episode "Once Upon a Savage Night" was apparently especially notable, and was released theatrically as Nightmare in Chicago; another episode, a two-parter called "The Case Against Paul Ryker," was released theatrically as Sergeant Ryker.

During the 1963-1964 broadcast season, Williams also scored episodes of Wagon Train and Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre.  While none of that material is available on disc, making it a bit of a dead zone for Williams collectors, there is one release which gives the JW enthusiast a taste of what his television work this year was like:


As far as I know, there is no Vol. 2, which is a shame.


This five-disc Film Score Monthly release includes scores by composers like Harry Sukman (later the composer of the Salem's Lot miniseries), Leonard Rosenman, Dave Grusin, Jerry Fielding, and Lalo Schifrin.  The scores hailed from series such as Earth II, Assignment: Vienna, and Dr. Kildare.

For our purposes, though, we are concerned with the 17 minutes of music Williams wrote for "The Bronze Locust," an episode of the second season of The Eleventh Hour.  It's a nice little score, with an effective piano piece called "Polly's Theme," and what it mainly makes me think is that there must be dozens of hours of unreleased Williams music from television shows of the late fifties and early sixties that would be enjoyable to listen to for a JW fan like myself.  Labels like Film Score Monthly (and Intrada, and La-La Land, and Kritzerland, among others) are doing the Lord's work every time they put stuff like this out; I'd buy it all if I could afford it.


1964 -- The Killers






One of the most notable Williams scores to not be available on disc, The Killers was a 1964 film for Universal that came with significant pedigree: director Don Siegel (who had directed Invasion of the Body Snatchers a few years previously and would later direct Dirty Harry); a screenplay by Gene L. Coon (who in a few years would be one of the primary architects of Star Trek) from source material by Ernest Hemingway; and a cast including Lee Marvin (who won a BAFTA for the role), Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, and (in his final acting role before entering politics) Ronald Reagan.  At least one DVD release featured an audio track that isolated the Williams score, which is somewhat in the vein of Checkmate.

There was more television work during the 1964-1965 season, including numerous episodes of -- though not the famous theme song of -- Gilligan's Island.  That show was rerun nonstop until at least the late eighties (and may still be so far as I know), which means that the Williams music has been heard by many an ear.


1965 -- The Ghostbreaker


Remember a little while ago, when I mentioned Film Score Monthly doing the Lord's work?  Case in point:




If you've never heard of The Ghostbreaker, you're pardoned.  It was a television-series pilot that the network did not buy, and the episode only aired once (in 1967, two years after it was filmed) as part of a pilot-dumping-ground broadcast.  Williams wrote the music, and I can well imagine a scenario in which the series was a big hit and his theme music would still be well-known today.

Film Score Monthly put this out in 2005 as the lower half of a double-bill with Jerry Goldsmith's music for the war series Jericho.

1965 also found Williams scoring another supernatural-themed pilot nobody wanted, this one called Who Goes There?  It's not on disc, alas.


1965 -- None But the Brave





Another treasure from FSM.  The score is not exactly what I'd call one of Williams' best, but it's not bad, and you can hear flashes of the style he was then evolving which is so well known to us today.  There's one moment which sounds similar to his theme for The Witches of Eastwick, composed over twenty years later.

Directed by and starring Frank Sinatra, None But the Brave was not a notable success, but it got decent reviews and was still getting them several decades later (its similarities to the dual Clint Eastwood films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima caused at least one national critic to mention it at the time of those films' release).  Frank Sinatra was not a nobody, and given how much pull he had in the musical world, it's a good mark for the career of Johnny Williams to have included scoring Sinatra's one and only film as a director.


1965 -- John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!






If None But the Brave was a semi-failure, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! was a full-on dud.  The story of this comedy involves a former college footbal player who crash-lands his U2 plane in a fictional Arab country, where he becomes embroiled in a plot involving a reporter who has infiltrated the sheik's harem for a story.  This is the sort of thing William Peter Blatty was writing in the years prior to The Exorcist.  The film was a box-office flop, and is probably best remembered today for the studio being sued by Notre Dame over its depiction.

I'm not going to link to any of the score; you should thank me for that.


1965 -- Lost In Space





The most enduring of Williams' 1965 scores is almost certainly the theme music he wrote for the first season of Lost In Space.  Amazingly -- given my age and my love of sci-fi television -- I have never seen a single episode of this show, four of which were scored by Williams; all are available on that two-disc anniversary CD pictured above.



1965 -- "Prelude and Fugue" and "Essay for Strings"


Perhaps more dignified, if less well-heard, among 1965 Williams compositions are two concert pieces, among his earliest: "Prelude and Fugue" and "Essay for Strings."




"Prelude and Fugue" is a jazzy piece that was released that year on the above-pictured Stan Kenton album.  I would not describe this as a major Williams piece, personally, but it's pretty good; his entry into the concert hall with this piece prefigures what would, a decade or so later, become a major concert-hall presence.




"Essay for Strings" was premiered by the Houston Symphony Orchestra under Andre Previn in December 1965, and while it's a bit too esoteric and formless to stick in my memory, I can hear hints of strings-heavy Williams scores to come years in the future.  There is a 2002 album -- titled John Williams and Kevin Kaska (conveniently pictured above) -- from Denoument Records which includes a performance of "Essay for Strings," as well as a later concerto Williams and several Kaska pieces.


1966 -- Nightwatch





Williams' 1966 got off to a start with his score for "The Suitcase," the pilot episode for a cop show called Nightwatch.  Never heard of it?  Probably that's because the pilot did not go to series; "The Suitcase" was its only episode.  It's most notable for its having been directed by Robert Altman (with whom Williams had already worked on several episodes of anthology series such as Alcoa Premiere and Kraft Suspense Theatre, and with whom he would work on a couple of notable films during the 1970s, The Long Goodbye and Images).

The score by Williams is solid, and was released on disc in 2011 by our friends Film Score Monthly.  It was paired with Quincy Jones' score to Killer By Night, another unsold pilot which was eventually aired as a movie-of-the-week.



1966 -- The Rare Breed and The Plainsman







Williams scored two Westerns for Universal Studios in 1966: The Rare Breed and The Plainsman.

Of the two, The Rare Breed was the first and the more distinguished, starring James Stewart and Maureen O'Hara.  The film was not especially well-received, and is probably only remembered today -- if it is remembered at all -- for the presence of its stars.  Williams' score is a bit of a mystery to me, as I've never seen the film and have only heard bits of it via several tracks included on a 1999 compilation of Williams tracks performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.  It's a good album, but I'm skeptical of judging a score based purely on a rerecording.  That said, the tracks from The Rare Breed are quite good, and if they accurately represent the score than it seems likely that this film was a bit of a turning point for Williams, who had never created a film score of this breadth and quality.

The Rare Breed is also notable as the final producing credit for William Alland, who during the fifties had specialized in westerns and in creature features such as It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon, This Island Earth, Tarantula, and The Deadly Mantis.  Stephen King writes about several of those in Danse Macabre, so we've found another very loose King connection!

As for The Plainsman, it's got yet another mild King connection by virtue of co-starring Leslie "Creepshow" Nielsen.  The film does not seem to be well-regarded at all, and the score has never been issued in any format.  A bootleg -- which mostly consists of audio (complete with distracting dialogue and sound effects) ripped from the movie -- is floating around out there on the Internet, findable by people who know where to look.  So I'm told, at least.  I'm also told that if one listens to this bootleg, one finds a rather excellent main theme, as well as a sporadically involving underscore.

You've got to figure that at some point in time, one of the specialty soundtrack labels is going to get their hands on The Rare Breed or The Plainsman, or maybe both; they'd make for an excellent two-disc double-feature.  Get on it, y'all!



1966 -- How to Steal a Million



Intrada issued this release in 2008, a two-discer that also included Williams's score to Bachelor Flat.  Both movies had been made for Fox.


If The Rare Breed was Williams' highest-profile film assignment up to that point, it wouldn't hold the crown for long: that same year, he landed How to Steal a Million, an art-heist movie which was directed by William Wyler (of Ben-Hur fame) and starred Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, both of whom were huge stars at the time.  The film ended up being only a moderate success, but its vibrant and versatile score certainly did nothing to quash the sense that Johnny Williams was an asset to any film that obtained his services.

For the film, Williams collaborated with lyricist Leslie Bricusse on a lovely song called "Two Lovers," which is a romantic interpretation of the main-title melody.  This collaboration with Bricusse would be a very important one for Williams, and they would team up off and on for the next few decades.


1966 -- The Time Tunnel


The 1966-1967 television season saw Williams take on two projects.  The first was The Tammy Grimes Show, a sitcom which occasionally pops up on lists of the biggest flops in television history.  The second was The Time Tunnel, a science fiction time-travel series for producer Irwin Allen (for whom Williams had previously worked on Lost In Space).


GNP Cresendo put this soundtrack out in 1996

Williams scored only the pilot episode of The Time Tunnel, "Rendezvous with Yesterday."  As is the case with much of his music for Lost In Space, I find this work to be a bit on the uninvolving side.

Better than that: his two remaining scores to 1966 films.


1966 -- Not With My Wife, You Don't! and Penelope



FSM put this out in 2006, paired with George Duning's score to Any Wednesday.  FSM was apparently enamored of Not With My Wife, You Don't!, as they would go on to issue a Vol. 2 of the score in 2011; this one consisted of the film recordings, whereas the first included the rerecordings Williams made for the 1966 soundtrack album.  Recording one version for the movie and another version for the soundtrack was a common practice for many composers, and was/is VERY common for Williams.  This can and does pose complications for film-score enthusiasts, as the film and album versions of pieces are often very different.  What's worse is that soundtrack albums almost always omit huge chunks of the score; it's very common for a film-score fan to go buy a soundtrack only to find out that three of their five favorites cues from the movie are nowhere to be found.  With that in mind, it must again be emphasized what incredibly good work labels like Film Score Monthly do.  Thanks to them, I own both the album and the film versions of the score to this particular movie (among others); that might seem like a small thing, but for a John Williams fan it's certainly gratifying.

FSM put this one out in 2004; it included both the film recordings and the album recordings.  A second disc was devoted to Henry Mancini's Bachelor in Paradise score, which is pretty good, too.


Not With My Wife, You Don't! was a typical-for-the-era sex farce, in this instance starring Tony Curtis, Virna Lisi, and future Firestarter co-star George C. Scott.  The film was a mild success, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy).

The score is quite good, jazzy and lush and romantic and weird in turn.  Williams collaborated with Johnny Mercer on three songs: "Big Beautiful Ball" (a jazzy waltz), "My Inamorata" (a lovely ballad later covered by Tony Bennett), and a fairly lame title song that seems like it was trying to fit in with pop rock of the period.

Penelope starred Natalie Wood as a woman who robs her own husband's bank.  It was not a success, and is probably forgotten by all but die-hard Wood fans these days.  There is some good music in the score, though.  Williams co-wrote the title song with Leslie Bricusse, and it's not much in its pop arrangement; but Williams reworked the melody into different tempos, including a lush arrangement called "Poolside" which is easily one of my favorites Williams pieces of the 1960s.  In this particular case, the album version is by far superior to the film version; it's not even a contest.



1967 -- A Guide for the Married Man






A Guide for the Married Man was yet another sex comedy, this one starring Walter Matthau as a guy who's trying to work up his nerves to cheat on his wife.  Having never seen it, I cannot speak to its quality; I assume it is negligible.  Then again, Walter Matthau is in it, so how bad can it be?

Williams' score is quite good, so who knows?  Maybe the movie is, too.  There's a title song, which you can hear as performed by The Turtles; it's kitschy, sixties-era fun.  Williams repurposes his melody throughout the score, including at one point near the climax as a sort of heroic fanfare.  It works really well in that guise, and portends many better heroic fanfares to come during Williams' career.

My favorite track might be one called "The Globetrotters," which starts off in thoroughly cheesy manner but eventually becomes rather exciting.

Later on that year, Williams contributed a new main-title theme for the third season of Lost In Space.  It's pretty good, and I bet if I cared about the show I'd like it even more.



1967 -- Valley of the Dolls





Here's an odd one: Valley of the Dolls, which found Williams adapting songs by Andre and Dory Previn for the movie adaptation of the blockbuster Jacqueline Susann novel about ladies who take a great many barbituates.  ("Dolls" in this case is slang for downers.  Thanks, Wikipedia!)

This might seem like a relatively undistinguished assignment for Williams, but guess what?  It earned him his first Oscar nomination, the first of what has turned out to be several dozen.  This was during the era when the Academy Awards honored not merely the best original score of the year, but also the best musical adaptation/treatment.  The Oscars eliminated that category in the late seventies, but when Williams picked up this nomination for Valley of the Dolls, it was a long-standing tradition going back decades.  In other words, if you haven't heard of this particular Oscar, don't feel as if it somehow means less; it doesn't.

In any case, due to the fact that it launched Williams into the realm of Oscar-nomineedom, the film and score cannot and should not be ignored in an overview like this one.  In addition to adapting the Previns' songs, Williams also contributed an underscore, some of which is represented on the soundtrack album.  It doesn't exactly cry out for examination, but here's one track.

Since we mentioned Oscar, let it be stated that since 1967, only fifteen years have passed in which Williams did not receive a nomination (many of those recent years in which Williams did not score a film).  That's a heck of a run.

It's also worth mentioning that this was the first of three films Williams scored for director Mark Robson: the next two would be Daddy's Gone A-Hunting and Earthquake.


1967 -- Fitzwilly



This Varese Sarabande release came out in 2004, and the disc was filled out with selections from Williams' The Long Goodbye.  There is also a release from Music Box which contains the film recordings, but sound on that disc is hampered severely by the limitations of the master tapes.  In this case, you're better off with the album recordings.


As we've established, Williams spent a good amount of the 1960s toiling away on not-very-successful comedies, of which Fitzwilly is the final example.  Released the same month as Valley of the Dolls, Fitzwilly is the final comedic assignment of this nature for quite some time (and arguably ever, though I'd consider putting a few later films into the same category -- 1941, maybe, or Heartbeeps).

It's a solid piece of work, though, including a beautiful song ("Make Me Rainbows"), as well as a lively and classy overture.

*****
  
And with that, we pause.  Williams has scored his final couple of b-grade comedies in the same year he scored a movie that would earn him his first Oscar nomination.  He's arguably on the cusp of something, and if you are a fan of movies made during my lifetime, the odds are good that you know a bit about what comes next.

But let's not be so hasty in moving on to that next phase.  Let's consider what came before it.  As 1967 turned into 1968, John Williams had been an industry professional for a bit more than a decade.  He'd been a bandleader (and a studio musician) for a few years before turning his attention to composing for film and television.  He began in low-rent exploitation films, but quickly and decisively moved up the ladder to plum television assignments; as a player, he appeared on a Grammy-winning album that had tremendous success.  In only a couple of years, he was landing jobs as the house composer on major network shows, and that success was translated into strong film assignments for people like Charlton Heston and Frank Sinatra.

All of that adds up to a simple fact: if John Williams had stopped writing music and become an electrician or something on New Year's Eve of 1967, he would still have had a notable career in music.  He made a few good albums; he scored a few good movies; he scored several noteworthy television shows.  Would anybody remember him in 2016?  Probably not.  But don't dismiss the possibility out of hand.  These years are overshadowed by the ones which came next, and that's as it should be; but while it's natural for them to be overshadowed, they shouldn't be forgotten, and there is much there for fans to enjoy.

I'll be back in a day or two with the next post in this series, which will cover a smaller span of time.  Thanks for indulging me!

7 comments:

  1. That “Kraft Suspense Theater” intro is great all around. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

    I’m listening to the Shelly Manne covers “Checkmate” album as I type this – very cool. Definitely the right accompaniment for my Wednesday morning.

    I guess I’m one of the folks who didn’t realize John Williams had this long pedigree prior to “The Long Goodbye” or “Valley of the Dolls” which I believe were the earliest things of his I ever identified as “John Williams soundtracks.” (Excluding “The Time Tunnel,” which I knew and then forgot until rediscovering it here, so I’m going to count that as not-knowing, since it fell so completely into the memory abyss) To learn he played piano on “Peter Gunn”, for example, or did the music for “M Squad,” wow – those things are very much on my radar but I had no idea. Not that the info is hidden from public view, more just I never thought to dig in much. I wish You Tube had some of these early jazzy quartet numbers available.

    It’s too bad there’s no flat-out Williams soundtrack for any King adaptation, but I applaud your efforts to keep this tethered to his works.

    Both of those posters for “Not with My Wife You Don’t” and “Penelope” are so anachronistic that they might as well be surrealist parody. I love it. “Fitzwilly,” too, wow.

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    1. Yeah, it's weird when you run across proof that at times, the sixties were just as sixtiesish as any parody of the sixties could ever make them look. I sometimes amuse myself by wondering what elements of the current decade will be looked at that way in fifty years' time. I kinda don't even want to know.

      With the occasional mentions of King in the post, my theory was that if I wasn't writing a post about King (or somebody/thing immediately adjacent to him), I'd better at least write it from a King-fan's perspective.

      As I was researching this, I found myself REALLY wanting to spend a lot of time watching episodes of these old shows. I'd happily do so, if only they were more widely available. And if I had more time, of course. But as big a Williams fan as I am, I suspect I'll eventually get around to it. "Kraft Suspense Theatre" seemed like maybe the most interesting of the group, too. That and maybe "Checkmate."

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    2. "M Squad" is lots of fun. I can watch Lee Marvin in just about anything, though.

      "Checkmate" does look pretty interesting, I agree.

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    3. The sheer fact that "M Squad" is where "The Naked Gun" came from would be an inducement for me to watch it. Lee Marvin doesn't hurt.

      This is why if the day ever comes where I'm given the ability to move my brain into a robot body, I'm going to take it with virtually no hesitation. I'd like to think that I'd still be able to eat chili dogs somehow, but even if I couldn't, you're telling me I get to live several thousand years, which means I actually COULD eventually make time for all the shows I'd love to watch.

      Where the fuck do I sign?!?

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  2. I updated this post with a brief section devoted to the 1962 film "To Kill a Mockingbird." Say, kids, didja know that John Williams played the piano on that Elmer Bernstein score? Well, he did, and the piano is very prominent.

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  3. Listening to "The Killers" this morning.

    I've still never seen that movie. I like this soundtrack, though.

    I really have to track down a lot of the movies in this post.

    Count me in for chili-dog-eating-eternal-life-robot world.

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    1. I've seen the movie; it's not an all-time classic or anything, but it's good.

      There are still a ton of these movies which I've never seen. I suspect tracking them down would be worth my time. Maybe next year!

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