Previn Irma La Douce - film score

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Previn Irma La Douce - film score

  • Irma La Douce
  • Elmer Gantry

These two vintage Previn scores were released in a prime period for the United Artists film company who, in the early 1960s, released one box office hit after another. Pictures such as Some Like it Hot and Tom Jones, the latter with its Oscar-winning score by John Addision, would be prime candidates for reissue in this Rykodisc series, all of which come in multi-media format carrying the original theatrical trailer of the picture – Irma’s half-shot as a cartoon – and a pull-out booklet designed as a movie poster with well-researched notes. Both are a reminder of how composition, scoring and melody can combine (presented in very acceptable sound which is remarkably good in comparison with the original mono issues) to lend character to two very different stories.
Though the booklet-note isn’t entirely clear why, Billy Wilder jettisoned Marguerite Monnott’s stage score for Irma la Douce (1963) in favour of one made up from its themes elaborated on by Andre Previn. He does a brilliantly successful job in allying them with original music of his own to enhance Wilder’s Feydau-like cocktail for stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Previn sets the tone for the rowdy fun that follows with a “Main title” featuring cheeky bar-room piano with horns braying in imitation of taxis. Irma’s theme, or Monnott’s if you like, set to a counterpoint tune of Previn’s own, is Parisian through and through, and in “Look again” Previn comes up with a little gem to set against the romantic ardour of “Our language of love”, given in various treatments but never sweeter sung than in that unique string sound peculiar to Hollywood.
Elmer Gantry (1960) is made of tougher stuff as you’d expect from a film about a hell-raising evangelist preacher (Burt Lancaster) with a penchant for the whisky bottle and an eye for the girls. Richard Brooks directed, securing Oscars for Lancaster and Shirley Jones, the prostitute he falls for and the cue for one of the score’s lighter moments, a dixieland number, “Lulu’s room”. In the bonus material added to the original issue Previn brings a deft touch to a couple of revivalist hymns, accompanying them with a rolling piano figure, whilst the Ken Darby singers can be heard singing a cappella in two further hymns and in a concluding rhumba, “I’m on my way”, in which the singers, the orchestra and a muted trumpet are joined by Lancaster himself – surely the only time he got to sing on screen. But it’s that “Main title” of Previn’s that dominates this score: horns and chimes suggesting a vision of hell that leads to a jagged fugato that returns each time the preacher moves on to another platform.AE

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