Cross of Iron (1978)

Composed by Ernest Gold

Cross of Iron is a dark World War II film directed by Sam Peckinpah. Cross of Iron has received attention as one of the few Hollywood films to follow a group of German soldiers, and also one of the few to take place on the Russian front. The plot sees Sergeant Rolf Steiner (Lee Marvin) butt heads with the arrogant and aristocratic Prussian Captain Stransky (Maximillian Schell). Stransky is out for an Iron Cross and is willing to risk his men’s lives to get it. A major Soviet offensive sees Steiner and his platoon stranded in enemy territory and they have to take a journey to make it back to their unit. Cross of Iron is a decent flick. Despite what was at the time an original WWII setting, it doesn’t have much meat to offer in terms of characterization and messages. The ending, however, has some wonderful dark humor that displays the madness of war. Composer Ernest Gold offered a bittersweet war score.

Gold introduces the main melody in “Steiner’s Theme.” Steiner’s theme does not aim for heroism, nor does it suggest the military aggression of the German Wehrmacht. It is rather a morose piece which underscores the plight of the German rank-and-file in the most horrid front of their war.  “Main Title” stars a children’s choir. They sing a classic German folk song, “Hanschen Klein.” These innocent passages are used for irony, playing over Nazi imagery and war footage. Gold further inserts portions of heroic martial music (perhaps an actual snippet of a Wehrmacht tune?) to further underscore the high hopes Germany had when embarking on its conquest of the East. Continue reading

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Composed by John Addison

A Bridge Too Far is a three hour war epic in the vein of Longest Day and Battle of Britain. Instead of focusing on a major Allied victory, however, it covers the failed Operation Market Garden. Eager to finish the war before 1945, the Western Allies conceived of a plan in which paratroopers would seize vital bridges in the Netherlands and hold then until the rest of the army, spearheaded by the British XXX corps and its tanks, could fight through and secure their gains. Through the Netherlands the Allies could get into Germany and take the fight to the heart of the enemy. However, poor intelligence and resulting unexpected mishaps led to one of the last major Axis victories of the war. This is an amazing film which would have gained more attention and box office revenue if not for its proximity to Star Wars. I really believe it deserves more attention from film and history buffs. It has an all-star cast and lots of great action. It does a wonderful job explaining the ins and outs of the battle, though some points are disputed in the realm of historical debate.

The movie’s music is no slouch either. As with Longest Day large portions of the film are unscored, but composer John Addison has a little more to work with and makes the most of his spots. Before anybody criticizes the score for being a dated rah-rah affair, too heroic for a military tragedy, they should know something about Addison. He was actually a veteran of the battle, having served as a tank officer in the XXX Corps, and asked for a chance serve as composer. Naturally the idea of an actual veteran scoring one of his own major life events was too good to pass up. The result is a heartfelt and sincere score, steeped in heroic fanfares without losing sight of what a tragic event Market Garden was for the paratroopers stuck in Arnhem and the unfortunate Dutch civilians caught in the crossfire. This is the type of war score that is sadly missing from today’s genre offerings, which refuse to engage in such catchy heroic scores for fears of being labeled jingoistic. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Gettysburg

Gettysburg: Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Composed and Conducted by Randy Edelman

Civil War buff Ted Turner took advantage of his considerable resources to produce an epic mini-series based off Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, a historical novel on the Battle of Gettysburg which attempts to delve into the minds of a few of the key participants. It was decided that the film was good enough to have a theatrical run prior to its more successful stint on TNT. As a Civil War buff I have to say this is one of my favorite films thanks to its general accuracy. It’s long length allows various aspects of the war, political and military, to be covered. It does have its flaws, two of which are understandably due to the budgetary limits of television. One is the use of reenactors, which ensured accurate behavior and equipment, but also meant seeing a lot of soldiers who were too old or well-fed. Another is Randy Edelman’s reliance on synthesizers for his score. Continue reading