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ARCHIVAL EDITION—SOME TRACKS INCLUDE SOUND EFFECTS...AND EVEN DIALOGUE! PLEASE READ CAREFULLY—THIS IS A LABOR OF LOVE
One of the biggest stars on M-G-M’s roster in the 1940s and early ’50s was a precocious collie named Lassie. After the great success of Lassie Come Home (1943), the canine went on to star in six more films for the studio before transferring to television in 1954. Film Score Monthly’s Lassie Come Home: The Canine Cinema Collection presents music from all seven of these family films, written by a veritable “Who’s Who” of Golden Age composers. These talented and skilled practitioners of the film music art took advantage of the heartwarming stories, beautiful scenery and long stretches without dialogue to write extensive symphonic scores in the finest tradition of the studio.
Disc One leads off with the much-loved classic that started the franchise: Lassie Come Home (1943). FSM presents Daniele Amfitheatrof’s charming, classic score in an archival presentation: Roughly half the score's music masters have been lost, so the balance of the tracks are taken from a music-and-effects track (be prepared for dog barks!).
For the sequel, the studio turned to its leading musical man of the ’40s—Herbert Stothart. Disc Two is dedicated to the score for Son of Lassie (1945) which Stothart co-composed with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Because part of the wartime story is set in Norway, Stothart demonstrated his usual skill in adapting music by other composers—in this case, Edvard Grieg. This wonderful score, by turns dramatic and sentimental, has survived almost entirely in music-only form; only a couple of cues include sound effects.
Pure music masters are used throughout the principal program on Disc Three—the score for Courage of Lassie (1946), credited to Bronislau Kaper and Scott Bradley. The film also contains several cues by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Nathaniel Shilkret, plus contributions from Conrad Salinger, David Snell and Robert Franklyn. Since the opening of the film was heavily edited before release, FSM has been able to include over 20 minutes of previously unheard alternate cues from the first version.
Not one music-only cue survives from Stothart’s score for the fourth entry in the series, Hills of Home (1948), but disc three concludes with the “Opening Title and Narration” from the film’s music-and-effects track.
Disc Four is historically significant because it encompasses two very early scores by André Previn. The Sun Comes Up (1949) was, in fact, Previn’s first screen credit as a composer, written when he was only 18 years old. He quickly added the next Lassie film to his résumé: Challenge to Lassie (also 1949). The music masters of these sparkling symphonic scores are, sadly, completely lost, but FSM has included reasonably complete presentations of both scores from music and effects tracks—a compromise deemed worthy to preserve these early efforts by one of Hollywood’s most admired, respected and legendary composers.
For the final film in the series, M-G-M returned full circle to Amfitheatrof, whose complete score for The Painted Hills (1951) can be heard, sourced from music masters and acetate discs, on Disc Five. Amfitheatrof’s heartfelt and sincere music was worthy of its predecessors.
The collection ends with a special bonus: Elmer Bernstein’s delightful score for It’s a Dog’s Life (1955)—complete and in stereo. Written around the same time as The Man With the Golden Arm and a year before The Ten Commandments, it captures the nostalgic flavor of New York’s Lower East Side at the dawn of the 20th century in the composer’s trademark Americana style. It also anticipates Bernstein’s comedy renaissance of the 1980s by effortlessly underlining the film’s whimsical humor.
The five CDs are packaged in a single clamshell case along with a 28-page booklet (designed, as always, by Joe Sikoryak). The booklet features an essay by Jim Lochner on the Lassie phenomenon that provides the context for each film and score. An introduction by Lukas Kendall explains the challenges inherent in preserving and presenting this archival material. Detailed track lists and film stills are included, but even more information can be found online
, with additional background on each title and FSM’s customary track-by-track analyses.