Film Music Review
The Sammy awards









Music composed by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter.

26 Tracks (Playing Time = 36:19)

Album produced by David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne.

Digitally edited and mastered by Graham Newton. Liner notes by David Schecter. Layout by Pete and Teresa Hogenson.

Monstrous Movie Music 1959

Rating: ****

Limited edition of 1000 units


For Science Fiction film fans, Monstrous Movie Music’s limited edition release of MGM’s IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) will be a welcome addition to their music library. The score, by the team of Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter, is a fine example of 1950s science fiction scoring. The tense film, directed by Edward L. Cahn from a story by Jerome Bixby (“It’s a Good Life”) finds a manned mission to Mars jeopardized by a terrifying creature.

Sawtell and Shefter’s score is filled with the gestures that one associates with classic science fiction of the 1950s. Electronically-created themes (sounding like a theremin but in fact created by a specially-designed keyboard), coupled with touching lyric melodies (on perfect display in “Ann and the Colonel”) abound. Musical gestures to indicate American government (“The Capitol”) provide the suggestion of patriotism scored in lower brass without overtly quoting any familiar tune.

There are also plenty of stingers to emphasize danger along the way. At times, one recalls the work the two would do on Irwin Allen series in the following decade. The “Main Title” in particular has much of that particular “sound” in its orchestration. The closeness of some of the music in its sound no doubt lends to the tension and claustrophobic feel of the film’s narrative.

What does make the score fascinating to listen to though is the way the music shifts between massive dissonant blocks of sound and more linear thematic ideas. The orchestration moves often quickly between low brass, with higher brass offering angular melodic ideas, and trilling woodwind ideas with a few solo melodic outlines to confuse harmony. (The work is scored essentially for a wind band with an appropriately creepy electric violin.) At times though, the music opens up into colorfully scored ideas. Several aspects of the score are worth pointing out.

The “film noir” mystery and eeriness is borrowed from that genre heard in many of the sections of the music employing the electric violin. The intriguing low brass and unusual sounds have gestures that parallel those Herrmann used in his fantasy scores. And both sounds are brought together in a sort of orchestral style that recalls Salter and Skinner Universal horror scores. It is utilitarian and drawn from both composer’s background providing stock music for series television. That it is all quite engaging and works here on its own is of course the wonderful surprise that awaits listeners.

There are a couple of “bonus tracks” to show off the use of the electric violin at the end of the album. This makes for an important historical companion to the discussion in the booklet essay.

About the only minor complaint one can make is that the accordion foldout booklet gets a little unwieldy as one follows the music, but it is still an important essay that makes this whole production the sort of top notch production one has come to expect from the label.

While perhaps a bit esoteric for younger film music fans, one can understand why fans of the score will welcome this release.

 -- Steven A. Kennedy, 24 May 2011

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