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Pharaoh Decrees: You Must Hear Land of the Pharaohs!
One of the greatest epic scores of the 1950s comes to CD in complete form: Dimitri Tiomkin's Land of the Pharaohs (1955), for Howard Hawks's mammoth spectacle set in ancient Egypt.
The composer, in a press interview at the time (transcribed to illustrate his Russian accent), explained the film's story:
"Pharaoh gung build pyramid. Needs harchitect. Harchitect say OK, I gung build pyramid... if you sat my pippel free. Lots pippel dyink, all over the picture... Pharaoh say OK, I sat your pippel free, you build nice cozy pyramid. Harchitect say OK... Pharaoh don't understand why big chariots all over the place. Pippel dyink. Harchitect a fine man. All this hoppen long time ago."
In addition, there is a delightfully campy romantic plot in which a sexpot princess (played by a young Joan Collins) acheives her quest to become Queen of Egypt—but with a deliciously dark twist.
The film remains a curious blend of jaw-dropping spectacle and drawing-room scheming, with the international cast also including Jack Hawkins, Alexis Minotis, James Robertson Justice and Sydney Chaplin. Perhaps Hawks himself best summed up his creative dilemma in making the picture: "I don't know how a pharaoh talks."
But the music! Tiomkin:
"Why you think top producer spend more moneys on music for picture than for A picture? Music can help picture. I should know. I work mostly in medium mediocre pictures... I have spashil script. Not regular script. Spashil script. Script don't sayink 'Close-up on Tootsie' only, scripts I got sayink 'Close-up on Tootsie, she very sad.' That way, I can write the good music... Work to within third of second. Third of second important. Third of second enough time to go boom-de-boom. Boom-de-boom important sometimes."
Boom-de-boom only begins to describe the greatness of the Land of the Pharaohs soundtrack. Huge choral setpieces dominate the first half of the film, as the Egyptians perform songs to honor their dead and to accompany their decades-long endeavor to construct the great Pyramid; in the second, Tiomkin accompanies the romance and treachery of Collins's villainous princess including several action scenes.
But it is emblematic of Tiomkin that at the most unexpected moments—such as the main title—he goes "small" instead of big, with his beautiful melodies carried by solo instruments. In other scenes, Tiomkin seems to be setting a musical freight train underneath dialogue, churning with the emotional undercurrents of the drama.
The score to Land of the Pharaohs was conceived almost like that for a silent film, in that the music virtually never ceases. The complete score (presented over FSM's 2CD set, with alternate and additional selections closing disc 2) has been painstakingly assembled from the monaural mixdowns saved in the Warner Bros. vaults. (Although recorded in stereo, the score survives only in mono; however, the use of separate tracks for percussion, chorus and other solos has allowed several passages to be reconstructed in stereo—including huge set pieces like "Pharaoh's Procession.")
All this hoppon long time ago!