By Dirk Wickenden
Originally published in Legend: Issue 37/2002
The Official Jerry Goldsmith Film Music Society Journal
Text reproduced by kind permission of the author, Dirk Wickenden
When You Wish…
Composer Leigh Harline was born on the 26th March 1907, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Harline studied at the University of Utah and was a member of the Utah Radio Orchestra. He did a five-year stint in radio in San Francisco and Los Angeles, assuming the role of head arranger from 1929 through 1930, for CALIFORNIA MELODIES. It does seem to be the rule that many of the very best composers and arrangers started in radio before graduating to cinema; other notables who graduated from the medium are Bernard Herrmann, Nathan Van Cleave, Fred Steiner, Alexander Courage and Jerry Goldsmith.
Harline then went to the Walt Disney studios from 1932-41, where he worked on over thirty short features (the SILLY SYMPHONIES) and was responsible for the scores of Disney’s initial two feature length animated films, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937), for which he wrote the Academy Award-nominated background music and the entire Oscar-winning score of PINOCCHIO three years later. On both of these he collaborated with composer Paul Smith and also Frank Churchill on the first and the talented lyricist Ned Washington on the second. Ned Washington of course provided the lyrics for PINOCCHIO’s evergreen When You Wish Upon a Star, which also won an Oscar. This is one of those melodies which has become a standard, the best thing that composers in the Golden Age could hope for. Certain composers were pre-destined to be able to provide a hit tune in practically all of their film scores, for example Max Steiner, Victor Young and David Raksin. When You Wish Upon a Star was of course later interpolated into parts of John Williams’ CE3K. Another composition of Harline’s which became popular was The World Owes Me a Living from 1932’s THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANTS.
…Upon a Star
In addition to his Disney work, Harline amassed a vast amount of credits during his three decades in the movie business. If one casts a glance over a list of his films, be it in one of the film music books available or the internet movie database, there are many titles that will at the least sound familiar, if one has not actually seen them.
Harline worked (often uncredited) on the majority of the twenty-eight BLONDIE films, which ran from 1938-1950. Based on the syndicated comic strip by Chic Young (which debuted in 1930), as the series wore on, the humour became more contrived. As well as featuring many character actors, the films provided a platform for Columbia to feature up-and-coming actors such as Rita Hayworth, Larry Parks, Glenn Ford and Lloyd Bridges. The leads of Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead were played by Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake, respectively. The BLONDIE films were not the only comedies Harline worked on. There was the well-known MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948), which was directed by H. C. Potter and featured Cary Grant and Myrna Loy; the film was updated as 1986’s THE MONEY PIT, starring Hollywood darling Tom Hanks. Perhaps the most famous out of this selected batch of comedy films was MONKEY BUSINESS (1952), directed by Howard Hawks and featuring Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Marlowe, in which a professor invents a formula which reverses the ageing process. Harline provided the requisite comedy music but also eerie music for the fantasy segments. IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING was a comedy involving a chemistry professor (Ray Milland) who accidentally discovers a chemical combination which makes baseballs avoid wood. With this in mind, he becomes a baseball pitcher. The film was released in 1949 and co-starred Jean Peters and Ed Begley and was directed by Lloyd Bacon. On the cusp of the Golden Age, Harline worked on VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET [eventually released on CD in 2013 by Kritzerland], a 1960 film directed by Norman Taurog and starring Jerry Lewis, Joan Biackman and Earl Holliman. The satire had previously been a live television production for GOODYEAR THEATRE, and then a Broadway production, both written by Gore Vidal. This cinematic adaptation featured Lewis as an alien observer who arrives on Earth. Walter Scharf is the man usually remembered as being “the Jerry Lewis composer”.
Makes No Difference…
Comedy and animated films were not all Harline scored, of course and there are many dramatic films worthy of mention. PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942) was directed by Sam Wood and starred Gary Cooper, Theresa Wright and Walter Brennan and was a biopic of baseball star Lou Gehrig. The film, which won an Oscar for Daniel Mandell’s editing and was nominated for best score, also featured real-life baseball player Babe Ruth, THEY GOT ME COVERED (1943) was a spy film helmed by David Butler and featured Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour (minus their ROAD TO… cohort, Bing Crosby) and one Otto Preminger. 1947’s TYCOON featured John Wayne as a young railroad builder, directed by Richard Wallace and co-starring Laraine Day, Cedric Hardwicke, Judith Anderson and Anthony Quinn. 1948’s THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR starred child actor Dean Stockwell (most well known today as Admiral Al Calavicci in the television series QUANTUM LEAP), Pat O’Brien, Robert Ryan and Barbara Hale, put through their paces by director Joseph Losey. The film was about a war orphan (Stockwell) who becomes an outcast when his hair changes colour. Harline utilised the song Nature Boy as a leitmotif in his score. MIRACLE OF THE BELLS, from 1948 told the story of a miracle in a small coal-mining town and the dead movie star at the centre of the happening. The film was directed by Irving Pichel and starred Fred MacMurray, Valli, Frank Sinatra and Lee J. Cobb.
…Who You Are
The composer scored his fair share of films noir, amongst them 1943’s JOHNNY COME LATELY, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award and 1946’s NOCTURNE. The first featured William K. Howard directing James Cagney and Grace George and the second was directed by Edwin L. Marin and starring George Raft and Lynn Bari.
Perhaps the most popular of Hollywood genres in the Golden Age was the western. Harline scored 1954’s BROKEN LANCE, the tale of a rancher who loses control of his cattle ranch and indeed his family, directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters and Richard Widmark. Gary Cooper played an outlaw attempting to go straight who is pressured into working with his ex boss (Lee J. Cobb) in MAN OF THE WEST, from 1958. The film also starred Julie London and Arthur O’Connell, with Anthony Mann at the helm. Another western was WARLOCK (1959), directed by BROKEN LANCE’s Edward Dmytryk and featuring that film’s Richard Widmark and also Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone and not forgetting old Bones McCoy himself, the late DeForest Kelley.
Films of a fantastical nature figure just as much as westerns in cinema and Harline did his fair share of these. He scored one horror film for producer Val Lewton, ISLE OF THE DEAD in 1945, which was directed by Mark Robson and starred the ubiquitous Boris Karloff; Lewton’s usual composer of choice was of course Roy Webb. VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET is a cross-over film which would also figure in this genre as well as that of comedy. He also worked on more than one occasion for producer/director George Pal, more of which later. Pal of course was well-known for his fantasy and science fiction productions, often family-orientated.
The above only scratches the surface of the number of productions and variety of genres Leigh Harline worked on. We will now focus on two very different films, which will give some idea of the compositional ability of the composer.
Our Kind of Composer
In the sound era, RKO was the first of the major film studios to recognise the potential of full original scores for their films. One such film Leigh Harline scored for the studio in 1951 (at this time with Constantin Bakaleinikoff as music director) was HIS KIND OF WOMAN, directed by John Farrow and an uncredited Richard Fleischer. The monochrome film starred, amongst others, Robert Mitchum as professional gambler Dan Milner, Jane Russell as Lenore Brent, a millionairess and singer, Raymond Burr as bad guy Nick Ferraro and Vincent Price as ham actor Mark Cardigan. It’s by no means a classic but it has nevertheless obtained somewhat of a cult status, which picks up pace and interest only towards the climax and it is entirely due to Vincent Price’s performance, when the film switches from overlong, awkward thriller to comedy (but not to the extent of, for example, Carl Reiner’s 1982 spoof film noir. DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID). The plot details Ferraro, a deported gangster who wants to use Milner’s identity to get back into the US from Naples, Italy, Along the way to collecting his promised fifty thousand dollars, Milner meets Brent and the two become acquainted. Cue lots of stalking around a hotel in South America until Ferraro shows up to kill our leading man, who has double crossed him.
It is easy to think that all films (and their respective scores) made during the Golden Age were of Korngoldesque proportions, with wall-to-wall music. At least in the case of films of the ilk of HIS KIND OF WOMAN, this was not in fact the case, with long silences. In fact, the late ‘Nineties and now the beginning of the Twenty First century has shown a predilection for more music than ever in a film. But back to the Fifties – Harline’s main titles music consists of an orchestral major mode composition over stills of the bay of Naples, not really giving a musical clue as to the nature of the film. Whilst Harline handled the scoring, there are numerous source pieces featured, either pre-existing or instrumental treatments of the two specially-composed songs for Jane Russell’s character, which are both light, undemanding confections. She first sings Sam Coslow’s Five Little Miles from San Berdoo at a bar in Mexico, which will be treated also as underscore, specifically a love theme for Milner and Brent. Throughout the film, it often drifts in and out of a dance band arrangement to string orchestra and back again. The first interesting use is when Milner talks to Brent for the first time at the Mexican bar and he picks out the first few notes on a piano of the song she has just sung. The orchestra then picks up the tune immediately Milner stops and it continues tentatively, underscoring his initial attraction. After a chartered plane ride (treated in the style which RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM recreated from this era so well), on which they are the only two passengers, they arrive at a hotel, Morros Lodge, near Baja California, during which numerous other mysterious ancillary characters are introduced, including actor Cardigan. Cue much ‘creeping about’ music and lots of sourced tunes, including repeated use of Five Little Miles. Brent sings another song at the hotel, this time penned by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson, You’ll Know, which is a rumba.
Prior to things heating up in the narrative, Mark Cardigan screens his latest swashbuckler for the hotel residents – the film is accompanied by Korngold-type, melodramatic sourced underscore (that’s confused you) and the actor applauds his own Errol Flynn-inspired performance. The greatest and lengthiest use of Harline’s dramatic underscore is when Milner is fighting and evading Ferraro’s men on the gangster’s ship anchored offshore, in which typically brassy cues are featured. It is when Cardigan mounts a rescue with a couple of the hotel’s residents and the police (read ‘Keystone Cops’) when comedy enters the film. The rescuers’ first attempt, with the actor throwing a cape around his shoulders and intoning Shakespeare whilst standing astride the front of a small rowing boat does not get very far – it sinks with all Cardigan’s ‘hand picked men’. But Cardigan is no pushover (or pullover, come to that) and unfazed, commandeers a larger boat and speeds off to the rescue. During this time, Harline has wisely stayed away from the scenes, not playing up the humorous aspects. Towards the end, Milner manages to shoot and kill Ferraro, whilst Cardigan has done his own fair share. The film then shows Cardigan’s injuries being treated and reporters asking him how he triumphed over Ferraro but he (unexpectedly for the viewer) tells the truth. The film closes with the requisite scene of the hero (Milner) getting the girl (Brent), to a rising grand finale-type treatment of the love theme by Harline.
The Five Staves of Leigh Harline
Harline’s last film score was for producer/director George Pal’s 7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964). He had worked two years previously on Pal’s THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, as orchestrator and composer of the incidental music. The film was directed by George Pal from a screenplay by Charles G. Finney (whose 1935 novel, The Circus of Dr. Lao was the basis of the film), Charles Beaumont and an uncredited Ben Hecht. It starred actor Tony Randall in a variety of successful disguises, courtesy of makeup artist extraordinaire William Tuttle (which earned the film a special Oscar) essaying most of the ‘faces’ of the title (Dr. Lao and his alter egos Merlin, Pan, Medusa, Apollonius of Tyana, the voice of the Giant Serpent and in fact another role, that of a member of the circus’ audience). I say ‘most’, which varies from other articles and reviews of the film because the abominable snowman, credited to Randall, was actually played by Pal’s son, Peter. Other actors included Barbara Eden as the widow Angela Benedict, Kevin Tate as her son Mike, Arthur O’Connell as chief villain Clint Stark and John Ericson as newspaperman Ed Cunningham. The visual effects team was headed by the supreme talents of Wah Chang and Jim Danforth.
DR. LAO concerns a mysterious Chinaman and his curious travelling circus which appears as if from nowhere, who arrives at a western town called Abalone at the turn of the century, whose inhabitants are being persuaded by a con man to sell their property and move on, Lao’s circus has a positive influence on a number of the citizens, which will become for some of the townsfolk a travelling twilight zone, showing them the error of their ways and pointing them in the right direction to get back on track. This differs somewhat from the source novel, which was set in a small town in Arizona during the depression, which left those who experienced Lao’s circus perplexed but not wiser.
Leigh Harline’s score utilises a number of motifs throughout and also an amount of mickey mousing, the mimicking of on-screen actions (he did work at Disney, after all); other animation composers who had the technique down to a fine art were Carl Stalling and Scott Bradley, whilst one of the best live action composers at such action-specific scoring was of course Max Steiner. The memorable and quite catchy main titles music of DR. LAO features two distinct filmic forms, Hollywood ‘Wild West’ and ‘Oriental’ and later the score proper will feature many forms, whilst often returning to the thematic ideas of the opening. This blending of genres could be compared to a painter working in mixed media. What do the opening credits tell us? Visually, Dr. Lao is shown riding his jackass, pausing to light his pipe with a flame from his thumb, whilst we see the strange sight of a fish in a bowl strapped to the saddle. Is the film a ‘western’ or an ‘eastern’? The music is only the counterpart for the production itself, with its own cross-genre ambiguities – is it a fantasy or a family film? Harline is using pastiche for these differing instrumental accompaniments, creating a gestalt.
The only characters who receive themes are some of those populating the circus of Dr. Lao, the Chinaman himself and Mike Benedict. Other than that, situations involving one or more of the townspeople with one of the mysterious circus performers are the only instances a theme might be applicable. In order of when they first appear, the circus attractions receive the following accompaniments:-
- Dr. Lao – his theme is detailed above, playing either the Western arrangement, the Oriental one or both combined. It is also used as the general theme in the production.
- Abominable Snowman – the creature does not have a theme of his own and the above is usually assigned to him.
- Merlin – the magician’s theme is rather melancholy, performed by an oboe, underpinned by strings and harp.
- Appollonius of Tyana – the seer’s theme features a sad bassoon as the primary instrument.
- Pan – the half man/half goat’s theme is the most fully-developed but not the best of the bunch; it is often sourced, with Pan playing his pipes (the actor(s) attempt to play them like a normal flute) accompanied by additional non-source instruments.
- Giant Serpent – the stop-motion and classic puppetry snake does not have a theme.
- Medusa – the serpent-haired gorgon’s theme features a baroque-sounding recorder and harp accompaniment.
- Loch Ness Monster – although in the confines of a goldfish bowl through the film, when it makes its stop-motion appearance at the end, it has a nominal accompaniment of bagpipes, with Lao’s music underneath.
We will now look at a number of scenes, not to tell the whole storyline and not strictly in linear fashion, placing an emphasis on the music and its effectiveness in the film. Space prevents a more detailed analysis of the production, which does deserve it.
On the first night of the circus, the theme first heard in the main titles is used as source music, as the abominable snowman turns the handle of a hurdy gurdy. As the show goes on, a new melody is performed, also as source. The character of the vain Mrs. Cassan enters the tent of Appolonius, the blind fortune teller cursed to tell the absolute truth and for that, worth only five cents. He tells her not what she wants to know, as a circus fake would but the truth, that she will never remarry (her husband left her), never have children and will be forgotten. Harline does not spot Appolonius’ sad bassoon theme until after he reveals these facts, joined by a cor anglais (English horn) for the woman; the music pauses as Mrs. Cassan runs outside in tears and re-enters when we see the fortune teller fumble for the five cents coin on the table and bow his head. The Oriental theme replaces Appolonius’ when Dr. Lao peeks out from between the curtains to the tent and witnesses from her boasting to Angela Benedict, that Mrs. Cassan has not learned the lesson dispensed by Appolonius – her vanity is still intact – but can she escape her future as told by the sage?
Above all, Harline’s music is notable for passing between source and score quite seamlessly; one moment, we think we are hearing the narrative music and then another character can seemingly hear it. This is most conspicuous in two related scenes. The first is when Angela Benedict enters the tent with Pan, ‘the God of Joy’ inside. The cloven-hoofed man-goat starts dancing and playing his pipes (in actual fact a flute on the soundtrack) and we hear not just this but also a harp and bass. This has often been the case when an on-screen instrument is joined by others on the soundtrack. The dance and music becomes more and more frenzied and suddenly, as the music halts, Pan’s face is transformed into that of Cunningham, who has been romantically pursuing her. The dance and music then continues, with tambourine, xylophone and French horns joining the orchestration, as Benedict becomes very flustered. The music stops again as Pan/Cunningham then leans to kiss her but stops when other people enter the tent and Pan once again resumes his ‘true’ face. Benedict flees from the tent and the music returns, this time firmly as the underscore. Another scene features Benedict waking from sleep, hearing the music of Pan and again it features other instruments in addition to the pipes. Although Pan is not seen, one has the feeling that he is just outside, waiting for her – as Benedict’s mother-in-law cannot hear it, the music is obviously in her head, whilst still functioning as score. It quietens down when the other woman asks her what is wrong – ‘It’s just that infernal music’ – and when Benedict is left alone, the music returns loudly and she covers her ears.
One of the most effective dialogue scenes in the film occurs after the first night of the circus. When everyone has gone home for the night, Mike returns to the circus. He asks Dr. Lao for a job, showing he can do simple tricks and attempts to juggle. Kindly, Dr. Lao tells him that they already have a magician (Merlin). Lao continues “Mike, the whole world’s a circus, if you know how to look at it…”. Harline uses accordion and guitar chords with Lao’s western/oriental theme underneath, then as he dances, Mike joins in and the theme becomes overtly Oriental. The film cuts to the newspaper office and the accordion plays a brief motif and tails out. Cunningham and his assistant Tim Mitchell (Noah Beery, Jr.) arrive to find the printing press and office have been wrecked by Stark’s henchmen. Harline then uses the bass sonorities of the orchestra, mainly violins, violas, cellos and basses as the camera pans over the wreckage and Cunningham then sees his typewriter smashed to pieces. It is perhaps the only truly dramatic scene and cue in the film. It sounds remarkably similar to music of the type one might hear in the original Star Trek series – if Harline had lived, he might well have scored some episodes.
The second and final night of the show. Dr. Lao performs his theme on a calliope. The grand finale, with character themes now all as source music (although an on-screen element is not shown) features Lao’s alter egos and two animals in a parade through the ring, joined by sourced versions of their respective themes or the Chinaman’s music. Lao then dramatically relates the story of a city, Woldercan, which existed ‘before history began’, projected by magic for the audience, with inhabitants who look like (and in fact are the actors) the residents of the town. It is a fable that of course has a counterpart in the characters’ lives and Stark’s attempt to buy up Abalone. We hear pre-existing organ music as the ‘score’ for the magic film show – Toccata in D Minor by Bach – one may recall this being used in 1975’s ROLLERBALL and other films. The audience bow their heads and close their eyes. When they open them, they find themselves in the town library, ready for the vote, wherein they decide not to sell up to Stark. He is actually happy about it and has had a change of character, after his visits to both the giant serpent and Appolonius and seeing the ‘film show’. Dr. Lao has saved the townspeople from their fate, which Stark and the townspeople acknowledge.
The film ends in a SHANE-like fashion for Mike Benedict; the following morning, he, his mother and Cunningham (who are now involved, thanks to her experience with Pan), Mayor Sargent (Frank Cady) and Stark find the circus has upped and left. Mike pursues Lao on his bicycle as the western-oriental theme is spotted, calling ‘Wait for me, Dr. Lao’. Mike’s mother then hears Pan’s music one more time in her head as the adults ponder aloud ‘I wonder where he came from… or where he’s going… or If he was ever here at all’. Mike finds three golden balls on the ground and to his innocent-sounding flute theme, cries as he juggles ‘I can do it! Watch me, Dr. Lao! I can do it!’. Lao’s theme re-enters as the mysterious visitor fades in and out of existence, riding his mule back into the ether and he is heard in voice over, with his dialogue to the boy from earlier in the film: ‘Mike, all the world is like a circus…’. As he waves goodbye to Mike one last time, the music comes up on the soundtrack to a climax.
When You Wish Upon a Star…
Just like the films THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969, music by Jerome Moross) and THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN (1956, music by Raul Lavista), THE 7 FACES OF DR. LAO combines the western and fantasy genres effectively. Setting the story in the turn-of-the-century time period is interesting, as by having automobiles (technology) encroaching upon the Old West, it has a synonym in the magic of Dr. Lao and his alter egos; author Arthur C. Clarke once said that to a lesser-evolved society, any technology significantly advanced would appear to be magic. One could take the SF analogy further, as one of the characters in the film wonders how Dr. Lao can fit so much into his little tent and that it appears bigger on the inside than the outside. This idea was presented by another ‘doctor’, who debuted in England the year before DR. LAO, name of Who, another mysterious traveller whose Tardis was dimensionally transcendental, just like Lao’s circus tent – one being rooted in science, the other in magic – one and the same thing, if we consider Clarke’s observation.
Dr. Lao was unable to set the box office on fire with his magic (admittedly it is a curious film but nonetheless enjoyable) and perhaps George Pal himself hit the nail on the head when he said “If… 7 FACES OF DR. LAO had been released by Disney, they would have made millions”. Well, at least Pal did have the services of one of their original composers. Around the time of DR. LAO’s production, apart from on television, westerns were not as successful as they once were, so by combining them with a fantastical element, cinema was well on its way to supplanting westerns with science fiction. Perhaps of interest, outside of DR. LAO, it is worth considering that most science fiction television series have featured at least one episode set in the Old West or an approximation thereof, for example, the original STAR TREK and the inferior THE NEXT GENERATION, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and films such as BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III. They were just the flipside of Westerns that featured elements of science fiction and fantasy, such as THE WILD WILD WEST (both television series and film). Westerns, like science fiction, have come and gone in differing forms over the years and both genres will continue to survive in one way or another.
…Your Dreams Come True
Although not confirmed, it has been said that Jerry Goldsmith cited the underrated Leigh Harline as an influence (other influences one might hear in Goldsmith’s forty-plus years of movie scores are composers such as Alex North, Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman and Hugo Friedhofer). This is a remarkable idea but when analyzing a Harline score, be it a fifties noirish film such as HIS KIND OF WOMAN or a mid sixties example such as 7 FACES OF DR. LAO, the music in the former sticks to the given traditions of melody and the development of such, whilst including the Golden Age’s predilection for melodramatic flourishes and integrated popular tunes or song-tike phrases. The latter film is none too subtle in its mickey mousing of on-screen actions but it includes another favourite in film scoring, the melding of Hollywood American Old West idioms and other cultures and countries’ musical styles, such as Chinese and Scottish. Therein lies the style Goldsmith probably recalls.
Leigh Harline passed away on the 10th December 1969 in Los Angeles, leaving behind a vast catalogue of popular songs and scores; although he will always be most well-known for his two Disney animated features, hopefully this appreciation has given the reader a new outlook on this master of movie magic.
Primary Research Sources
Author’s Afterword – Eleven Years Later
This was in essence written as an installment in Soundtrack magazine’s The Golden Age column but due to one reason or another, found a home in the pages of the Goldsmith Film Music Society’s journal Legend. In the intervening years, Leigh Harline has become better represented on CD, with the explosion of smaller limited runs by our favourite boutique labels and although His Kind Of Woman hasn’t yet been issued, 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao of course has been and it was an immediate purchase for many.