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Film In Focus No. 6:
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
Dimitri Tiomkin's Film Score
Even though it slipped a bit on the American Film Institutes 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.
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 film score was discovered, recorded, and released on Telarc [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
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 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!
The original final portion from this recording was played by guest Roger Hall in a Christmas Eve radio special. To read about it-- click here
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
There was a soundtrack release of the original tracks
from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
but unfortunately this CD is now Sold Out.
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
is one of his best from the 1940s.
It is listed on the list of...
100 Essential Film Scores of the 20th Century
Dimitri Tiomkin is one of the featured composers
on this multi-media computer DVD:
Fifteen Film Composers
Read more -- click here
This is a 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
Read about the annual festival for IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
held in the "real" Bedford Falls
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