As impressive as FSM’s monumental restoration of Kaper’s Mutiny on the Bounty is this equally impressive reconstruction of John (aka Johnny) Green’s classic score for MGM’s Civil War epic, Raintree County. Green’s score was the first to be issued in two commercial releases, a single LP version, and an expanded two-disc set that still did not include all the music from this very major score. RCAVictor released both versions, and since Nat Cole (who performs the title song) was under contract to Capitol Records, his haunting vocal was not included in the RCA releases either. Drawing from anumber of sources this two-CD restoration includes virtually all the music in the 182-minute version of the film, plus bonus tracks. It also reunites the Cole vocal with the rest of the score for the first time in Raintree’s considerable musical history.
Composer Johnny Green had a distinguished musical career both before and after Raintree County, his single major original film score. Green was an economics major at Harvard University but during the 1930s developed as one of the great American songwriters, creating music for such classic standards as “Body and Soul” and “Easy Come, Easy Go.” He was also an arranger/conductor at the Paramount Astoria Studios in New York, where he worked with Adolph Deutsch, all the while garnering considerable theatrical experience on Broadway. During the ’40s he was hired by MGM and became the studio’s general music director in 1949. After MGM he was musical director for such classic musicals as West Side Story and Oliver!, as aspect of his work that has somewhat overshadowed his original scoring.
Raintree County (1957), based on the innovative modern novel by Ross Lockridge Jr., was one of the last of the big-screen studio epics produced by MGM in the 1950s. Though the lengthy book was condensed for the film version this story of John Shawnessy, a young idealist who is swept up in two complex love affairs and ultimately the Civil War itself, still required considerable musical delineation. Green’s solution was to create a score built around a restrained title song and a Wagnerian assortment of leit motifs for the various characters, settings, and relationships. (There are at least four themes representing various aspects of the hero’s emotional/love life).
The score as a whole is orchestrated for a relatively standard symphony orchestra that is sometimes augmented by (wordless) chorus. (See the gorgeous “Swamp” and “Tell Me About the Raintree” cues). The modern tone of Lockridge’s book is suggested by the on-going psychological development of the various motifs and by contemporary studio recording techniques that support the score by aurally suggesting the stream-of-consciousness mode of both the original book and the film’s involved characters. This aspect of the music is especially emphasized in the haunting “BurnedMansion/Lament for Henrietta” cues in which Shawnessy visits the childhood home of his beautiful but disturbed southern bride. Susanna’s dementia is also first suggested here in a mildly dissonant “mad” theme scored for alto sax (in a none-jazz mode) and distant finger cymbals. The technical complexities of this cue are described in detail in the liner notes and, like the rest of the many motifs, the mad theme recurs and is developed throughout the score. Major sections of the score are, however, derived from the lyrical melody of the title song and the major love theme. Bonus cues include the RCA choral Main Title, vocal versions of the love theme (“Never Till Now”), Nat Cole’s never released vocal for the End Title, and the beautiful Steven Foster waltz heard at the New Orleans ball. This version also provides themagical “There’s Another Tree” cue, heard early in the film and never included in any of the other soundtracks.
As the notes point out, this 2-disc set is “a new program designed to encompass as much of the complete score as possible while retaining certain RCA versions with notable musicality.” A 28-page booklet describes the film and score’s history and offers a detailed cue-by-cue description andcomparison between the original RCA tracks and the restoration. The original out-of-print RCA LPs became two of the most sought after collector’s items of the vinyl era, and interest in the Raintree score remains high, as verified by the over 10,000 hits on just one of the four Raintree County threads on theFSM message boards when the CD set was released.
Suffice to say this Raintree County is the ultimate realization of one of the most unique, epic, and beloved Americana film scores of all time.