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Special Merit

PROJECT MOON BASE and OPEN SECRET

 

PROJECT MOON BASE (1953)
Tracks 1-21 = 32:07

OPEN SECRET (1948)
Tracks 22-40 = 32:19

Bonus Tracks
Tracks 41-47 = 7:30

Total Playing Time = 71:58


Music composed by Hershel Burke Gilbert.

Album produced by David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne.
Digital editing and mastering: Graham Newton.
Cover art and CD design by Robert Aragon.
Layout: Pete Hogenson, Teresa Hogenson.
Liner notes: David Schecter.

PROJECT MOON BASE copyright by Wade Williams

OPEN SECRET copyright by John Paul Music.

 

Monstrous Movie Music MMM-1960

Rating: ****

Limited edition of 1000 units

 

PROJECT MOON BASE -- one of the silliest science-fiction films of the 1950s, yet also a guilty pleasure for many fans of the genre.

It is a badly acted and cheaply made 63 minute movie, originally intended as a TV show. Yet, it has a plausible scenario co-written by well known science-fiction author, Robert Heinlein, and a very unusual and effective score by Hershel Burke Gilbert. For OPEN SECRET, a little known 1948 film , Gilbert again composed a very good score.

Are these scores superior to the films? Let's consider the facts.

Hershel Burke Gilbert (1918-2003) may not be thought of as among the top drawer of film composers and yet he was a very busy man, especially on TV in the 1950s. Schecter describes Gilbert as a real workhorse type "composing, conducting or supervising the music for almost 2,000 TV episodes." Schecter also mentions that Gilbert composed about 36 feature films, including BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY, THE MOON IS BLUE, and RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11. Also, Gilbert was involved with many other activities and founded Laurel Records in 1974, a classical label focusing on 20th century American classical music.

Much of the visual appeal of PROJECT MOON BASE is not the special effects but the clothes worn in the film. As David Schecter writes in his humorous liner notes:

The most memorable visual effect in POJECT MOON BASE is the Jack Miller-designed outfit worn by the space voyagers, which appears to be some kind of high school gym attire with matching shower caps, whose purpose is hard to fathom except to possibly reduce weight and therefore save fuel.

Foremost among these actors in skimpy outfits is the beautiful and shapely Donna Martell, who I can imagine had lots of boys watching more closely. Many years ago, I met Ms. Martell at a Hopalong Cassidy Western Collector's Show and found her to be a very nice lady. I asked her about PROJECT MOON BASE and all she said was that it had become a "cult film." I asked her to sign a picture from this film shown here --

 

I doubt she would consider POJECT MOON BASE a great film, at least it would be unwise to do so. A recent picture of Ms. Martell, showing she still has her beauty, is included in the CD foldout flyer.

Here is anothert picture from the film...

Ross Ford and Donna Martell
(without their caps)

Unfortunately, her acting in PROJECT MOON BASE is not very good, as she plays the leader of a trio of space travelers that heads off to the Moon in a rocket that on the exterior looks not unlike the first ones that actually went to the Moon and the Lunar Module that first landed on the Moon in 1969. This is around the same time period covered in the film, but what is different is a woman U.S. President - which hasn't happened yet.

Donna Martell isn't alone in her inferior acting. The other leads, Ross Ford, Larry Johns and Hayden Rourke (later Dr. Bellows on the popular TV series, "I Dream of Jeannie"), are not any better. Perhaps more of the blame should be aimed at the sometimes silly dialogue and the stale direction by Richard Talmadge plus the extremely low budget which makes other early '50s sci-fi films, like the far superior THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, look like epics in comparison.

But the music in PROJECT MOON BASE is something else.

Gilbert makes the most of his slim music budget. As Schecter mentions in the notes, there were only 19 instruments used in the film score: 1 violin, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 bass, 3 flutes, 2 clarinets, 3 French horns, 2 harps, piano, organ, 2 drums, and Theremin. The score features ample use of the Theremin, played by the virtuoso player and podiatrist (!), Dr. Samuel Hoffman. The organ is played by another well known musician of his day, Chauncey Haines, and the pianist was Walter Sheets, also an orchestrator. To provide a fuller sound, Gilbert had the string instruments electrified to give the proper eerie mood and provide a fuller sound. Though the recording is vintage early '50s , it is well mastered by Graham Newton with an up front sound that actually helps the eerie, otherworldly sounds of the instruments.

 

I must admit, as silly as it is, PROJECT MOON BASE remains a guilty pleasure of mine.

When I first watched it on TV many years ago, other than enjoying the shapely charms of Ms. Martell, I remember thinking that the music was very effective in creating the proper mood.

What makes this CD so exceptional is the high quality of its production - the beautiful CD cover art by Robert Aragon, the very informative and witty notes by David Schecter, and an ample number of illustrations, including several nice score page samples.

The OPEN SECRET score is from a forgotten film about anti-Semitism that was overshadowed by a better known film from that same time, GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT. OPEN SECRET is a very fine film noirish score written for a small orchestra of 25 musicians. Portions of this score were later used on several TV series. Schecter has done good detective work and identified the cues later used in the popular '50s TV series, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, starring George Reeves. One of the most often used tracks from OPEN SECRET used in the SUPERMAN series is titled, "The Slap" (track 31), a very rhythmic and intensely driven cue which any fan of the SUPERMAMN series will immediately recognize. Listening to this Gilbert score for the 1948 film makes you aware of what a little gem this is and it's well worth hearing.

The Bonus Tracks feature seven cues composed by Gilbert for OPEN SECRET or other similar films and used in the MUTEL (Music for Television) library operated by David Chudnow.

This MMM CD release is another example of their insistence on producing a high quality product and doing much detective work to highlight lesser known film composers and scores, even for such lesser quality films as these. This applies to the other two recent MMM releases: IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD.

If you were a moviegoer in the 1950s, you might have seen this movie ad for PROJECT MOON BASE which declares: "Up, Up Up! to a New World of Adventure."

Well, maybe not.

To answer the question I asked at the beginning of this review -
Yes indeed, these Gilbert scores are much better than the two films.

So I recommend you get this CD and blast off to the Moon and also listen to the OPEN SECRET score that Hershel Burke Gilbert has so effectively composed.

This CD release is another example in the ongoing Monstrous Movie Music releases of little known or neglected film scores. One example is the Herman Stein's excellent score for THE INTRUDER (1961) which received a Sammy Award in 2009.

I highly recommended this PROJECT MOON BASE/ OPEN SECRET CD and have selected it for "Special Merit" designation due to the outstanding overall production, including the mastering, liner notes and artwork.

Don't pass this one up if you enjoy something different from the past.

And when you listen to PROJECT MOON BASE, you can forget about wearing your gym shorts and shower cap, unless you look like Donna Martell!

-- Review by Roger Hall, 24 May 2011

For more information about this CD go to:

Monstrous Movie Music

 

Comments regarding this review can be sent to:

Film Music Review


Also available is the remastered DVD:

PROJECT MOON BASE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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