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Score: None But the Brave (John Williams)
Incanus posted a topic in JWFan ReviewsNone But the Brave Music Composed by John Williams A Review of the Soundtrack Album by Mikko Ojala None But the Brave is a 1965 film and one of Williams' first real dramas and a war story no less, directed by Frank Sinatra, who himself played a supporting role in the picture. It tells the story of American and Japanese soldiers, stranded on a tiny Pacific island during World War II, who have to form a temporary truce and cooperate to survive various tribulations and is told through the eyes of the American and Japanese unit commanders, who must deal with an atmosphere of growing distrust and tension between their men. Film Score Monthly released the score in 2009 for the first time, the album featuring the complete score and even some bonus material and once again credit has to be given to the FSM for their continued interest in releasing and preserving the music from earliest eras of John Williams career. It is fascinating to chart the evolution of Williams' sound and style through his early scores as what you hear is a lot of talent ready to burst into full bloom as it later does but also a sort of learning curve of a composer slowly picking up certain skills of the craft and fine tuning them. However in the case on None But the Brave there is also a good dose of maturity found here. This score exhibits many of Williams' clear stylistic tendencies and gift for melody but perhaps in a slightly reduced or muted format than in many of his later scores. On album the score forms quite a strong listening experience though perhaps requires a bit more patience than your average JW soundtrack. John Williams has always been a writer of memorable melodies and his main theme for the score certainly is a good example of this, a heroic, resolute but pensive melody often heard on solo brass but he weaves it through many orchestrational variations and uses fragments here and there to tie the score together. The film is not out to glorify war and Williams' somber theme and its rather sparse usage reflect that in an admirable way, the theme being a form of musical solace between the tragic and suspenceful elements in the music. Main Title and Kuroki's Introduction presents the main idea in an almost formal heraldic fashion, but we hear also another important idea in passing here, namely Kuroki's Japanese styled motif, very faux oriental progression on flute almost archetypical you could say, which is later explored in a more thorough fashion, the idea revealing more emotional depth later on in cues like Kuroki's Reflection and The Dream of Hope Is Ashes / Hirano's Problem. These two form the opposing musical sides of the story but in the end the composer uses the main theme for both the Americans and the Japanese, their tragedy of war itself becoming one and the same. That said the score might not feel straightforwardly and winningly melodic at first as much of the opening half of the album is focused on suspence and action writing, both reminding of the concurrently written music for Lost In Space in their certain sparseness and terseness, even though small motific ideas spin throughout to tie the pieces together. Especially the wandering fluttering woodwind motifs remind me of the aforementioned TV-series as does some more suspenceful writing for forcefully rhythmic brass and lower strings. E.g. Busy Hands / Kuroki Prepares for War / Fishing Spear, Night Adventure, Brothers in Command / The Water Hole and Waiting for Battle all feature this tense militaristic suspence and action, snare drums and muted snarling brass and rumbling woodwinds. It is interesting to note how many of these techniques, e.g. furious kinetic string and woodwind runs and tense muted brass are carried to Williams' classic scores and appear still 20 or 30 years hence. The composer also has a few chances for light comedic scoring in places and he incorporates a few traditional Japanese tunes into the underscore, often to provide lightness and humor but this also brings some variety and colour to the tone of what is otherwise mostly suspenceful and tense music. But the composer's definite dramatic sense is strong here, the emotional writing for some dire situations in the film gradually rising to truly satisfying heights but only in the latter half of the score (from Uneasy Peace / Okuda and Craddock onward) the music warms up and we hear the themes more often and in a more emotionally resonant guise culminating in the powerful and tragic The Final Fight / The Spirit Lives / End Cast, which rounds up the score on a resounding if somewhat sombre note. This progression and build-up through the album is very effective and reflects the narrative of initial hostilities turning to friendship and back to war again and slowly but surely the music reaches this final confrontation and dramatic peak and the composer makes it seem very natural from musical story telling perspective, a show of his dramatic instincts and skill in crafting a strong architecture through the score. In this score you can hear that Williams is undeniably already developing his own vocabulary and musical voice and showing great promise and he also has here a rare chance to show his dramatic talent amidst all the comedies he ended up scoring in 1960's. I would say this is a surprisingly mature and well conceived score although it might lack the immediate appeal of the Maestro's classic accessibly melodic scores with catchy main themes. But after a few listens you start to hear the intricacy of Williams' music and the more subtle thematic progression he is building. In addition to the complete score the FSM album also contains extensive and highly informative liner notes and track-by-track analysis by Jeff Eldridge and a few bonus tracks, a terrific piano rendition of the main theme by the Maestro himself, which is a worthy addition and was planned to be released as a single but got cancelled, a luau styled Hawajian radio source cue and a couple of alternate orchestrations of Kuroki's Introduction and a robust trailer version of the main theme. At the end of the album to round out the listening experience FSM included as a curiosity the only music previously released from the film, an LP single titled None But the Brave sung by Jack Halloran Singers, a rather schmaltzy affair with an equally saccharine version of Sylvia, the B-side of the single, a song version of David Raksin's theme for a movie of the same name both from 1965. A solid early dramatic score from John Williams, certainly worth the spin to his devoted fans but casual listeners might not be entirely won over by it. 3½-4 stars.