Review: On The Beach / The Secret of Santa Vittoria
2.5 / 5 Stars
This CD contains the soundtracks of two separate films, On the Beach and The Secret of Santa Vittoria, both scores by composer Ernest Gold for films directed by Stanley Kramer. Though very different, both soundtracks are reflective of Gold's talent and range. Kramer always knew how to deliver a truly effective "message" picture, and 1959's On the Beach is a quintessential example of that. Surprisingly yet appropriately, Ernest Gold's score is neither lugubrious nor cold, given the subject of nuclear holocaust, but warm and humane.
On the Beach tells the story of a US submarine that learns that the Northern Hemisphere has been destroyed by nuclear war while the sub is out on patrol. They land in Melbourne, Australia where they live with the rest of the city which has less than 12 months to live. They travel back to the US and witness the holocaust. Given the intensely dark subject matter, one is pleasantly surprised to find Kramer approaches the subject matter with warmth and humanity. Everyone understands the horror of the underlying story, and Kramer does not dwell on it unnecessarily. Similarly, the score is surprisingly warm. It is very much a standard-issue film score, with very generic orchestral arrangements, but it works perfectly for keeping us in touch with the humanity of the characters and the inner trauma they are obviously going through.
We get to see a much broader side of Gold in the soundtrack for The Secret of Santa Vittoria. A rich story that, like the first film, is centered around a serious topic, but manages to maintain a sense of whimsy and humor. This Stanley Kramer film tells the story of Bombolini, a drunk in the small Italian town of Santa Vittoria, during the final days of World War II. When word comes that the Fascist government has surrendered, he climbs a water tower to tear down the flag but ultimately can't get down. The Fascist town council mistakes him for the town's new leader. They surrender to him and make him the new mayor. He rises to the occasion and when he learns that the Germans plan to occupy his town and take their wine (over a million bottles) he works out a plan to hide it. It is a fun story that still gives us a sense of the fear and despair of the time.
Gold's score here, especially relative to his work in On the Beach, is broader and more diverse, giving us a sense of the setting, Italy, as well as a much more palpable sense of tension and fear. Again, it is broad orchestral work indicative of the time. Just listening to it, you can get a sense of Italian street festivals and large town gatherings. The vocal theme, "Stay," is a little on the cheesy side, but it works for the romanticized nature of the piece. Basically, this soundtrack is more successful because of its specificity; we get a sense of the time and place almost instantly upon hearing it.
In terms of buying this CD, it is pretty much strictly for film classics buffs. It is very much indicative of the film music of the '50's and '60's, without too much that is bold or different. Having said that, if you a classic film score collector, it might not be a bad addition to your collection.
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