Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for The Long Night has been issued for the first time on compact disc. This is the fourth in a series of Tiomkin scores produced by Ray Faiola of Chelsea Rialto Studios and Craig Spaulding, and released by Screen Archives Entertainment in association with Volta Music Corp. As with the previous releases for D.O.A., High Noon, and Angel on My Shoulder, the source material for Long Night was obtained from acetate disc recordings in the Dimitri Tiomkin Collection at the Cinematic Arts Library, University of Southern California.
The score has been given a second life thanks to the efforts of Olivia Tiomkin Douglas, Patrick Russ, Steve Hanson, and Ned Comstock, for the fragile acetates are more than sixty years old and nearing the end of their life expectancy. RKO had recorded these direct cut records for reference purposes. Like most acetates, they suffer from inherent surface noise, and the highs are flat and the lows muddy. For this release, audio specialist Chris Lembesis worked his magic on the discs, allowing the digital transfer to capture as much of the sonic quality as possible. Each time a disc is played, the stylus wears down the grooves and further degrades the sound quality. Doing a digital transfer helps preserve the discs by reducing the need to play them in the future.
The Long Night is based on La Jour Se Lève (Daybreak), a 1939 French film in the style of poetic realism, a movement that emerged in the 1930s in France and served as a precursor to film noir. Anatole Litvak directed this postwar crime drama released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1947. The cast includes Henry Fonda in his first postwar film, Barbara Bel Geddes in her screen debut, Vincent Price as a sinister magician, and Ann Dvorak as his assistant. Newsweek magazine described Fonda and Bel Geddes as portraying “a couple of lost souls in a small town, who fall in love and plan nice things.” Film Music Notes observed that Tiomkin’s music lent “dramatic support to the darkly emotional social drama of factory town life.” The composite town seen in the film was the work of Russian-born production designer Eugene Lourié, who covered the RKO Forty Acres backlot with structures straight from Anywhere, U.S.A. In addition, the town square, steel mill, nightclub, movie theater, row houses, and boardinghouse were constructed in miniature on stage 15 at the RKO-Pathé Culver City Studios.
Tiomkin, who fine-tuned the art of adapting and incorporating classical music in dramatic underscore during his stint as a music director and composer for World War II orientation and documentary films, uses musical paraphrases from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony to form the backbone of the score. Litvak, born in Russia, also made documentaries for the U.S. War Department, and he worked with Tiomkin on The Battle of Russia. For The Long Night, Tiomkin, in adapting Beethoven’s music, did not simply have the orchestra play the master’s work. Instead, he went to great lengths to add drama to the film by selecting, placing, arranging, and balancing Beethoven’s music within the context of the film. At the same time, he supplemented the music with additive and interpolated original scoring.
A compelling example can be found in the cue “What Happened, Joe?” (track 4). This cue accompanies an early scene in which Henry Fonda is seen pacing in his apartment. On a casual listen, one might determine that the entire cue makes use of the Beethoven theme. A closer analysis reveals that the three occurrences of the theme account for only about half of the two-minute cue. Opening the cue with a twelve-second introduction that sets the scene and leads into the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh, Tiomkin purposefully times the theme’s entry for dramatic impact and selects an appropriate tempo. For the theme’s first statement—lasting some thirty seconds—the timpani is given more prominence (marking time musically and psychologically), with a tam-tam added for dramatic flair. Tiomkin then holds the last note of the theme as a pedal tone in the orchestra and overlays chimes and timpani as time passes. The theme’s second statement parallels the first. This time the last note is accompanied by a single chime as the music swiftly but subtly shifts from Beethoven to Tiomkin in the space of that one shared note. A rising and falling string line provided by Tiomkin is interrupted by a distant, soulful military-like trumpet and horn call (coinciding with a shot of Joe’s army uniform). Following a short transition, a brief statement of the theme elides with a three-note descending motif that serves as a coda, taking us out of the scene.
The score incorporates several examples of Tiomkin’s jazz-influenced writing for solo piano. There is a sequence of two cues, beginning with “First Blues Piano” (as written on the cue sheet). Contrary to the title, Tiomkin supplies a minute-long boogie woogie for this scene, which takes place in the apartment of the magician’s assistant (track 19). The following track, a bit more bluesy, has a recurring section with stride bass in which the left-hand part jumps back and forth between low bass notes and the midrange chords. Tiomkin did not write many solo piano pieces for film, so these two isolated tracks are worth the price of the whole CD. For such a serious film there are some whimsical numbers, such as a source cue (track 22) that recasts the magician’s theme as a rhumba for dance band. The minute-long tango that follows, “Levitation,” leaves one wanting more. In that cue, the saxophone melody flirts with a violin obbligato, all accompanied by a rhythm section. Due to the diversity of musical styles on this film, Tiomkin worked with several arrangers, including Joseph Dubin, D. Kahn, P. A. Marquardt, Charles Maxwell, and Herb Taylor.
The CD features a number of source cues and dance-band numbers, most of which are for the nightclub scenes at Al King’s Jungle Club. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Manny Harmon and his orchestra were hired during production of the film. (A decade later, Harmon’s orchestra and the Roger Wagner Chorale would perform a Tiomkin composition, “America’s Prayer for Peace,” at the first annual Christmas Eve candlelight luncheon, held at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.) Although it is unclear whether Harmon and the orchestra actually appeared onscreen, the dance-band numbers may have been performed by the group.
One month before the film’s August 1947 release, Tiomkin and lyricist Ned Washington collaborated on a title song based on the Beethoven theme heard throughout the film. Washington’s lyric plays up the love angle:
If I could change things,
Here’s how I would arrange things.
There’d be no Long Nights,
I’d be always with you.
The Long Night was released to mixed reviews. Life magazine selected it as a Movie of the Week but felt the film’s powerful plot had been weakened by U.S. censorship. In the original French version, Fonda’s character takes his own life, whereas in the American version he surrenders to authorities after Bel Geddes’s character helps save him. Further, as a Los Angeles Times reviewer noted, the original film’s strong sexual themes had been reduced to vague innuendo for American audiences. Critics were impressed with the music, however. The Los Angeles Times called Tiomkin’s score “powerful,” and Variety exclaimed, “Dimitri Tiomkin’s magnificent scoring and conducting job deserves special mention, as it adds greatly to [the] film’s impact.
The hourlong limited-edition CD has forty tracks, including at least two cues not heard in the film. Film music enthusiast Faiola wrote the helpful film and music notes for the 24-page color booklet. The CD can be ordered directly at Screen Archives Entertainment where five sample tracks can be heard. In addition to the four CDs that make up the Volta series, Screen Archives offers more than a dozen other Tiomkin soundtracks and compilations, and is now selling the Dimitri Tiomkin Anthology songbook, providing one-stop shopping for Tiomkin aficionados.
- The Dimitri Tiomkin Collection at the Cinematic Arts Library, University of Southern California
- Billboard, April 15, 1944
- Hollywood Reporter, September 24, 1946
- [Los Angeles] Daily News, November 18, 1946
- Hollywood Reporter, July 25, 1947
- Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1947
- Film Music Notes, vol. 7, no. 1 (September-October 1947)
- Life, October 6, 1947
- Short of the Glory: The Fall and Redemption of Edward F. Prichard Jr. by Tracy Campbell (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998)