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FILM IN FOCUS

Discussing one classic film and its composer

 


 

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No. 6:

Dimitri Tiomkin

and

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

 



The Film

Even though it slipped a bit on the American Film Institute's Top 100 List (No. 11 in 1998 down to No. 20 in 2007), Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE remains one of the most beloved film classics.

It stars the ideal couple of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and also a wonderful cast of supporting actors, including Lionel Barrymore, Ward Bond, Frank Faylen, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Gloria Graham, Henry Travers, H.B. Warner, and those adorable Bailey youngsters: Bobbie Anderson (young George), Larry Simms (Peter), Carol Coombs (Janie), Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu), and Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy). Many of them can be seen in this photo:

Every Christmas season many people watch this film. Actually it can be enjoyed any time of the year. It has become a classic and deservedly so.

Here is a rare autographed copy of the film script:

Many people don't realize what an important contribution the music was to this beloved film.

The Score

 

In his honestly written autobiography, Please Don't Hate Me (1959),
Dimitri Tiomkin wrote about this film:

The picture was in the best Capra style. Frank thinks it the finest he ever made. I never saw it after it was completed. After the music was on the sound track, Frank cut it, switched sections around, and patched it up, an all-around scissors job. After that I didn't want to hear it.

Yet much of Tiomkin's music remains in the film and it's a terrific score. Stephen Cox in his fine book, It's a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book, wrote that:

The film that eventually became one of Tiomkin's most famous works actually became a disappointment for the composer, both personally and professionally, when Capra replaced much of his original orchestration with existing music from other sources.

One of these was using Alfred Newman's "Hallelujah" music from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939) instead of Tiomkin's original quoting of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." in George Bailey's jubilant running through town in the snow near the end of the film, as Cox quotes from music producer, Willard Carroll.

Cox also mentions that Carroll found Tiomkin's entire original score in the 1980s in the archives of the University of Southern California:

Carroll, along with composer and conductor David Newman, set out to release the unaltered Tiomkin score," Cox wrote. He goes on to write: "In 1988, their CD (which also includes suites from MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET and A CHRISTMAS CAROL) was released by Telarc, with music richly recreated and recorded by London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Cox quotes Carroll as saying:

The score as it stands in the movie is a hodgepodge. Most of it is Tiomkin, but because of the accelerated release date, a great deal of it was chopped up, switched around, and in many cases, replaced by cues from other movies...We recorded the complete score as Tiomkin originally intended it, unheard since 1946.

Tiomkin had a special fondness for using familiar tunes in his film scores and he uses "Buffalo Gals" (for George and Mary/ Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed) as his main theme, as well as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" (for Clarence Odbody AS2/ Henry Travers).

Fortunately this great Tiomkin was discovered, recorded, and released on Telarc, though it is now hard to find and has become a collector's item [see Recommended CDs below]

Next time you watch the film, listen closely to the music, for example the very spooky music Tiomkin wrote for the cemetery scene with George Bailey and Clarence Odbody, AS2 (or "Angel Second Class").

Tiomkin composed one of his most "wonderful" scores for this "wonderful" film about " a wonderful life."

Both the film and the score deserve to be remembered and cherished for years to come.

 

-- Roger L. Hall, Film Music Review

 

Are you a fan of Jimmy Stewart?
Did you know he sang in a few films, including IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE? Click on this link to read about his singing at the page celebrating the

James Stewart Centennial

 

 

 




Recommended CDs

 

Dimitri Tiomkin's music has continued to grow in popularity along with the film.

Here are two recommended CDs with Tiomkin's film score:

Total playing time = 64:34 (16 tracks)

This Telarc CD contains the complete Tiomkin score for IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE including music cut from the film. Also included are wonderful suites from Richard Addinsell's A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) and Cyril Mockridge's MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947). The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by David Newman. This is a superb release in the short-lived Sundance series and the CD is now a collector's item. Highly recommended!

Click on this link for the CD: Sundance Film Music Series, Vol. 1

Total playing time = 41:04 (19 tracks)

Though not for soundtrack collectors who only want the music, this enjoyable CD features "the most memorable moments from the movie -- in music and in dialogue." Along with the film's soundtrack dialogue there are portions of Tiomkin's original score included on this Nick at Nite CD titled,

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - The Record

 

 

 




DVDs and Books

 

This is the most highly recommended DVD edition...

 

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (60th Anniversary Edition)

 

There is also the Blu-Ray 2 disc set with two versions of the film:
the original in Black & White and also a Colorized version. If you're a purist, you will prefer the Black & White version from 1946, or if you'd prefer to see how good it looks in color, then you can watch that version.

 

 

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
(2 disc Blu-Ray)

 

The Tiomkin score plus "Buffalo Gals" and other songs are discussed
in this highly recommended book:

It's a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book

by Stephen Cox
Foreword by Bob Anderson
(who played young George Bailey)

Another recommended book:

The Essential It's A Wonderful Life:
A Scene-By-Scene Guide to the Classic Film

by Michael Willian

 

 

 

 

 

A GUIDE TO FILM MUSIC

 

 

100 Essential Film Scores

 

For many film fans IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
is one of their fondest films from the past.

Dimitri Tiomkin's wonderful score, though altered and abridged in the film,
is one of his best from the 1940s.

It is listed on the list of...

100 Essential Film Scores of the 20th Century

 

 

 

Read about Dimitri Tiomkin's HIGH NOON
and his other memorable film scores at

Film Composers and Soundtracks

 

 

 

 

 


 

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