Mr. Cellophane

In a location adjacent to a place in a city of some significance, what comes out of my head is plastered on the walls of this blog.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Favorite Scores: Yellowbeard (John Morris)

I can't say it enough, kids: I love film music. The sounds, the melodies, the emotions it arouses. I've had an interest in film music for roughly two decades and, in that time, I've come across a number of scores I have no qualms about calling my favorites.

For some reason, comedy is one of the hardest genres to get just right. What may be funny to you can be disgusting, annoying or just plain off-putting to others. Even when you do get it right (i.e. make the majority laugh), there's always that lingering pressure to get it right again and again. Sometimes, we need to face facts: even the greatest talents don't bat 1.000 every time.

Having escaped prison after twenty years, pirate Yellowbeard (Graham Chapman) is on a quest to reclaim the treasure he plundered, but he is without a ship, a crew and a clue. Half of Monty Python. Half the cast of Young Frankenstein. Cheech & Chong. One of "The Young Ones". Comic luminaries like Peter Cook and Spike Milligan. A cameo from a recently departed musical icon. Quite a cast for any movie. Sadly, the film never really reaches the heights that such a grouping of talent would merit, though there are some funny moments along the way.

By this time, thanks to his many collaborations with Mel Brooks (resulting in two Oscar nominations), composer John Morris had found great success, mainly in the realm of comedy. While this film isn't a match for anything that Brooks had made, Morris still provided a spirited musical accompaniment.

The "Overture" hearkens back to the works of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, beginning with a rich brass fanfare that sets us up for high adventure. Following this are the score's two principal themes: (0:36) a nautical sounding melody of blaring horns over an ostinato of churning strings representative of seafaring and (1:24) an upbeat, almost incongruously heroic (seriously, he does very little in this film that could be considered heroic) theme for Yellowbeard, all rising brass and chopping strings.

The initial retrieval of the treasure ("Assault on El Nebuloso") is classic Mickey-Mousing, horn work and string runs accompanying every dispatch of henchmen. With "Yellowbeard's First Appearance", he takes command of the ship, his theme blaring away. The music changes character, becoming something of a grim dirge as a scroll explains that, despite the buccaneer's dastardly deeds, tax evasion was his ultimate downfall, landing him "In Prison".

When you're as nasty and vicious as Yellowbeard, you're bound to make enemies, such as a second-in-command whose hand the pirate cut off or the Royal Navy (represented by - of course - "Rule Brittania"). Their plan is to tack on another 140 years to Yellowbeard's sentence, compelling him to "Escape from the Prison" (a frantic horn take on the Yellowbeard theme leading to a churning string melody that's almost like a read of "Swan Lake" that can't quite stick the landing) ...and lead them to the treasure.

There's also a stately motif of horns and harpsichord for British Royalty, introduced in "Court of Queen Anne", as we meet Yellowbeard's son, Dan, who was raised far away from cutthroats. The Royalty theme gets a darker treatment as "Captain Hughes" (James Mason!) introduces his captives to his crew, with rising horns for each declaration of 'discipline'.

As Dan and company look for a boat, "Portsmouth" makes for a jaunty scene-setting cue with its syncopated harpsichord and winds. Unfortunately, "Dan's Kidnapped" along with his entourage, the "Portsmouth" melody returning on halting winds accented with harpsichord. "Later That Night" provides a racing motif on staccato horns and fast-paced harpsichord as Yellowbeard races to catch up with Dan (the map to the treasure tattooed on the lad's head at birth), leading to a worried-sounding version of the Yellowbeard theme.

The Royal Navy is on the hunt for Yellowbeard, so they seek out the informing skills of the "Blind Pew", introduced with sneaky oboe. His heightened other senses make his hearing sensitive to the intentionally off-key bugle that pops up halfway through the cue. "Commander Clement's Royal Naval Frigate vs. The Lady Edith" shows the crew adjusting to their captive situation as stowaway Yellowbeard tries to remember how to best uncover his loot. The cue is a fascinating hodge-podge of material: "Rule Britannia", the nautical theme and (principally) a lightly galloping rendition of the Yellowbeard theme.

With the ship's mutiny a success, "Captain Dan" takes the helm to a buoyant harpsichord tune. This same cue sees Morris having a lot of fun with his thematic material, treating us to an awe-inspiring version of the nautical theme (1:01), then a pensive string variation of the Yellowbeard theme (1:25), before capping the track off with a resolute rendition of the latter (2:03) as he takes the wheel. Even a pirate movie as silly as this is likely to have some fighting in it and the rousing "Battle at Sea" gives us chopping strings interspersed with the Yellowbeard theme as the two ships fire on each other.

The crew makes its way to "The Island" of El Nebuloso, the Royalty theme returning on high strings and castanets. They soon traverse through "The Jungle" of creepy percussion, leading to "The Ambush" by the conquistador's men to furious horn work with tambourine accents. There's even time for some romance as Dan catches the eye of El Nebuloso's lovely daughter, Triola. "Love and Torture" gives weight to this new pairing with lush string work and harp glissandos.

A brooding motif of horns and xylophone lurks underneath the "Attack on Nebuloso's Fortress", leading to a peppy treatment of the Yellowbeard theme as El Nebuloso's men feign defeat to allow the crew easy passage to their master's death trap. El Segundo doesn't get away so easily, leading to a musical climax as drawn out as the character's death.

While El Nebuloso may be slain, there's still the double-crossing Mr. Moon (the one-handed second-in-command I mentioned earlier) to deal with. "Duel With Mr. Moon" alternates the Yellowbeard theme with martial fluttering horns as father and son take on the last obstacles to the treasure. "Treasure Hunters" is a lighter cue of wafting harpsichord and winds as the exact route to the treasure is charted out.

The spoils are found, but Dan's errant blade leads to the "Death of Captain Yellowbeard", a somber take on his theme playing as he finally acknowledges the young man as the 'prawn of his loins'. However, "Yellowbeards are never more dangerous than when we're dead!" and the treasure is retrieved, true love wins out and there's more pirating to be done, the "Overture" reprising for the "End Credits".

In addition, there are some bonus tracks, notably the faux-Gregorian chant of "El Nebuloso's Song" and the alternate "End Credits", done in the style of a hearty sailing tune. As one of the forgotten scores in John Morris's career, it is worthy of rediscovery.

Availability: This was released by Quartet Records back in 2010, but it has been out of print for many years. I would say that some label might re-release it in the future, but since it's taking half past forever for other Morris scores to get any kind of release (High Anxiety, Silent Movie, Young Frankenstein), I wouldn't hold my breath. could help you out, though.

Quartet Records QRSCE016

Track Listing:
1. Overture (2:20)
2. Assault on El Nebuloso/Yellowbeard's First Appearance/In Prison (2:52)
3. Court of Queen Anne (0:35)
4. Escape from the Prison (1:27)
5. They're All Dead, Mr. Moon (0:48)
6. Blind Pew (1:20)
7. Portsmouth (1:41)
8. Dan's Kidnapped/Later That Night (1:25)
9. Into the Sea (0:57)
10. Captain Hughes (0:37)
11. Commander Clement's Royal Naval Frigate vs. The Lady Edith (4:06)
12. The Mutiny (1:34)
13. Captain Dan (2:24)
14. Battle at Sea (2:57)
15. Happy Life Aboard (0:40)
16. The Island (2:01)
17. The Jungle/The Ambush (2:18)
18. Dan Trapped Again/Fight on the Beach (0:43)
19. Love and Torture (1:42)
20. Attack on El Nebuloso's Fortress (2:23)
21. Duel With Mr. Moon (2:53)
22. Treasure Hunters (0:57)
23. Death of Captain Yellowbeard (0:48)
24. Prisoners Again/Yellowbeard Returns/End Credits (3:06)
Bonus Tracks:
25. End Credits (alternate version, vocal) (2:33)
26. End Credits (alternate version, instrumental) (2:33)
27. The Evil Mr. Moon (outtake) (2:38)
28. El Nebuloso's Song (0:52)
29. Fanfare I (0:09)
30. Fanfare II (0:08)
31. Fanfare III (0:31)



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