Lesser-known soundtracks to 1950s films tonight. Both these films are from 1956 and are poles apart in story and direction. Foreign Intrigue is a 1956 American Eastmancolor film noir crime film starring Robert Mitchum. The film was written, produced and directed by Sheldon Reynolds, who had produced a television series called Foreign Intrigue in 1951.
Foreign Intrigue was one of the first major Hollywood films to be based on a popular TV series.
Trapeze is a 1956 circus film directed by Sir Carol Reed and starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida, making her debut in American films. The film is based on Max Catto’s novel The Killing Frost, with the adapted screenplay written by Liam O’Brien.
The film did well at the box office placing in the top three among the year’s top earners.
The soundtrack to Foreign Intrigue was composed by Paul Durand, who was responsible for well over 34 films and several TV series during his career. He was born in 1907 in France and died in 1977.
Muir Mathieson was born in Stirling, Scotland in 1911. After attending Stirling High School, he went to the Royal College of Music in London. In the 1930s he became head of the music department for Alexander Korda at Denham Film Studios; Mathieson being one of only three heads of Departments at London Films who were British. His first work was as an uncredited Musical Assistant on the 1933 film, The Private Life of Henry VIII.
Mathieson told Korda that he did not wish to be a composer but wished to choose first rate composers and arrange and conduct their scores. Composer James Bernard called him the “Tsar of music for British films. If you wanted to write music for films at that time you had to be ‘in’ with Muir”. Mathieson wanted to show the world Great Britain had composers of renown and “wanted to see British musical genius exploited throughout the world and recognized by other countries”.
During his wartime service with the Ministry of Information, Mathieson is credited with commissioning film scores from Arthur Bliss, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Malcolm Arnold. Jointly with the composer of the score for the 1953 film Genevieve – the harmonica player Larry Adler – Mathieson was nominated for an Academy Award, in his capacity as Musical Director. Under fierce pressure from the House Un-American Activities Committee, the composer’s name was reluctantly omitted from the list of nominees. Mathieson’s name as Musical Director (not as composer) went forward. Many years later, Adler’s name as composer was restored to the list by the Academy.
Mathieson was also musical director on films with scores composed by others, most notably on Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in 1958, where he conducted Bernard Herrmann’s score, later releasing an album of the music with the Sinfonia of London. In the year of Vertigo alone he is credited with musical directorship of 28 films. Overall he is said to have conducted the music for over a thousand British films. Due to the requirements of what constituted a British film for the Eady Levy, Mathieson’s name was credited alongside non-English composers.
He married the ballet dancer Hermione Darnborough (1915–2010), whom he met in 1935 while conducting Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall in London. They had four children, including the actress Fiona Mathieson (1951–87), also a student of composition.
He conducted the Nottinghamshire County Youth Orchestra in the 1960s, and from the late 1960s until his death, he conducted the Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1957. Mathieson was also a mentor to the film composer Edward Williams, well known for composing the score for Life on Earth.
Although hardly an obscure film, Trapeze was very successful when it was first released. But like much of the current interest in film soundtracks – the larger scale ones tend to get the attention. Both Muir Mathieson and Paul Durand were well established – it’s just that you don’t hear about them all that much lately – and they did some wonderful work.
The four cuts are as follows: a. Foreign Intrigue (main title) b. Foreign Intrigue Concerto – c. Lola’s Theme from Trapeze d. Mike and Lola’s Love Theme.
Here’s a sample to pique your curiosity.