The Great (Almost) American Novel Becomes The Great American Film Score
Johnny Green’s Music for Raintree County by Ross Care © 1996
Originally published in Performing Arts, Motion Pictures
The Library of Congress, Washington, 1998, Iris Newsom, Editor
Republished online with permission from raintreecounty.com
Many hours of my child-and-young adulthood were spent in the movie theaters of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This combined with a burgeoning interest in composition and music in general and film music in particular led to my early literary efforts to write seriously about the motion picture music of the late (and declining) Hollywood studio era, the last days of which I was then experiencing. Like many young Americans of this period I had also been fascinated with the animated films of Walt Disney that, after a brief decline in the 1940s, went into a major renaissance during the formative decade of the 1950s. Indeed with the various technical innovations (and gimmicks) of the ’50s 3-D, Cinerama, CinemaScope, and Camera 65 – film music in general also peaked at this time, moving into what I consider to be its last great classic period.
Part of this Golden Twilight of the Hollywood studio system was MGM’s film version of Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s epic novel, RAINTREE COUNTY. Composer John Green’s musical score for this film was (and is) my favorite film soundtrack LP of the period. But the fact that I was practically the only writer of the period to deal seriously with the unique music for the classic animation of the Disney studio helped me first break in print with articles on the scores and (still generally little-known) composers for the Disney oeuvre from 1928 through the ’50s and early ’60s.
I wrote an extensive piece on Disney composers, “Symphonists for the Sillys,” for Mike Barrier’s legendary animation magazine, Funny World. This came to the attention of Jon Newsom, then head of the Music Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and also a force in the early documentation of classic film music during this time. Also a pioneering serious admirer of Disney and animation music in general, Jon invited me down to the Library at that time I was living in Lancaster, PA. and indicated that if there was anything of interest (!!!!) among the Music Division’s vast holdings that I’d care to write about the Library would be interested in publishing it. I was of course fascinated with the Library’s major collection of original Hollywood scores that had been sent there for copyright purposes during the last several decades.
Jon’s wife, Iris Newsom, of the Library’s Publishing Division, was launching a new series of deluxe hardback books at this time, what were originally called the Performing Arts Annuals, each to deal with the holdings of the Library’s various divisions, Music, Motion Pictures, and so on. My first article in Performing Arts Annual 1986, was autobiographical, “Memoirs of a Movie Childhood,” and deals with growing up with movies in the theaters of Harrisburg, and the American movie going experience of the period in general. It was illustrated with film stills and graphics from the Library’s Motion Picture division, these augmented with historic theater photos from the Pennsylvania State Archives (including a photo of Loew’s Regent Theater in downtown Harrisburg where, during my high school years, I first saw RAINTREE COUNTY in 1957). After this I contributed a variety of articles to the PA series, including major articles on Cole Porter and Alex North, these peaking in 1998 with two articles for Performing Arts Motion Pictures in 1998.
For this volume I contributed two articles: “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” an overview of Hollywood music from 1950 to 1965, and the essay on RAINTREE COUNTY that follows. The RAINTREE article deals with both the original novel and its film version from my personal relationship with both during the late ’50s, but it also focuses on John Green’s great score, which is by now considered one of the strongest elements of the film and one of the great Hollywood scores of all time.
It should also be noted that this essay only deals in depth with the first third of this very major score. But in late 2006, and now living in California, I was approached by Film Score Monthly in Los Angeles to write the liner notes for their forthcoming two-CD restoration of the complete Green/MGM score. This was released to much popular acclaim in early 2007, at the time three RAINTREE threads on FSM’s website message boards collectively garnering thousands of hits. For this CD release, which followed the original (and incomplete) RCA Victor albums which were in turn re-issued in several formats, I was able to discuss the entire score, plus half a disc of rare bonus material. I should also emphasize that I wrote the FSM notes “from scratch,” i.e., they are not a re-write of the following essay and anyone with an interest in the complete RAINTREE COUNTY score is strongly urged to seek out the Film Score Monthly/Turner Classic Movie Music CD restoration. (FSM two-disc set, Vol. 9, No. 19).
After graduating from college I was still listening to RAINTREE COUNTY and was inspired to write a letter to composer John Green. The following essay also includes excerpts from Green’s response, here included in the article for the first time, along with the personally autographed photograph he enclosed. These were sent from London where he was working as musical director for the film version of OLIVER! That his score and composing for films in general was, at this time (1968) still essentially unrecognized, indeed ignored, is indicated by Green’s comment: “Your references to the aesthetic reward or lack of same in connection with the writing of film music triggers so large a topic as to rule out discussion in a letter of this kind.”
I can only hope that somehow John Green and the other once-obscure composers of this era are now somehow aware of the recognition and love their then-unsung work has so avidly – even obsessively – inspired and achieved over the past few decades. And I’m so grateful I was able to express my admiration and respect for Green’s own work to him when I did.
Ross Care, Ventura, California, June, 2007
Raintree County: The Period, The Novel
In the 1950s, when Hollywood optioned seemingly everyone on the American literary scene for a movie “adaptation”, from Herman Melville, William Faulkner, and Jack Kerouac to Erskine Caldwell, John O’Hara, and Grace Metalious, it was often the era’s unsung film composers who in fact most vividly captured the American essence of these writers’ works in the often questionable film versions derived from them. Indeed certain composers, such as Alex North and Elmer Bernstein, became singularly noted for their ability to lend emotional life to such grandiose attempts at bringing the printed page “to life” onscreen.
North, of course, began an auspicious career with his haunting music for Tennessee Williams’ Broadway play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” going on to evoke such varied but quintessentially American authors as Faulkner: (The Long Hot Summer, The Sound and the Fury), Edward Albee (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and James Leo Herlihy (All Fall Down). Bernstein’s career moved into high gear with his celebrated ` score for the film of Nelson Algren’s contemporary novel about drug addiction, The Man With The Golden Arm, and continued to sympathetically enhance such diverse adaptations as Algren’s Walk On The Wild Side, Erskine Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre, James Michener’s Hawaii, and the best Tennessee Williams film after Streetcar, Summer and Smoke. Very appropriately, Martin Scorsese chose Bernstein to score his recent film of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.
Whatever its other positive and/or dubious side-effects, going to the movies in the 1950s provided a crash course introduction to both American and world literature (including Shakespeare for whose Julius Caesar MGM supplied Marlon Brando, Deborah Kerr, and a Miklos Rozsa score!) Inexpensive paperback “movie tie-ins” in Signet, Perma Book, and Bantam editions completed one’s education: along with many other works, you could purchase a play by Tennessee Williams, complete with original cast and credits and a four-page spread of movie stills, for thirty-five cents at your friendly local drugstore or news shop. (When John O’Hara’s mammoth “From The Terrace” appeared at a whopping ninety-five cents a copy it was considered an economic, as well as a literary scandal.)
In February 1957 a fifty-cent Dell paperback with a distinctive watercolor cover of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in an intense and obviously troubled embrace hit the stands: “Raintree County” by Ross Lockridge, Jr. Above the title was the simple claim “A great American novel”, a remarkably restrained avowal given the usually excessive and often lurid hype with which most paperbacks (and films) of the day were promoted. While a relatively modest addendum printed at the bottom of the cover informed the reader that “Raintree County” was “now a great Metro-Goldwyn Mayer production”, aficionados of film and literature (often one and the same in those culturally rich times) already well knew it was an MGM movie, thanks to breathless movie magazine accounts of Montgomery Clift’s well-publicized re-casting opposite Elizabeth Taylor (they had played together in the depressing but popular A Place in the Sun in 1951) and with whom, wags insisted, he shared an intense (if then puzzlingly platonic) relationship. “Raintree’s” pre-release notoriety was further enflamed by the handsome Clift’s disfiguring car crash in the middle of the expensive production. Just how “great” the film was, however, remained to be seen.
In small print under the title’s distinctive type font (only slightly varied from the original hardback edition) was a single word: “abridged”. Whoa! The paperback edition clocked in at 512 pages; for the prospective reader the inevitable question was, how long might the unexpurgated version be? After at last seeing the film (a very mixed but still strangely compelling bag) further investigation led me to my local library and the book’s original full-length 1948 version, clocking in at 1060 pages and now disappointingly sheathed in the neutral (and very uncinematic) binding of most library editions of the day, at least for those books which managed to survive beyond their initial best (or non-) selling print-runs. It was nearly a decade since “Raintree” had been published, when I first found the complete edition still available in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania public library. (The generic library binding might also have been a result of the novel’s distinctive original dust-jacket painting: an anonymous hand seen grasping what appears to be either a canvas or map of an Arcadian landscape, the contours of which form the graphic outlines of a female nude, a recurring image in Lockridge’s poetic and often highly erotic prose. An alternative “Book-of-the-Month Club” edition featured a somewhat less controversial dust-jacket illustration: Adam and Eve clad in prim 19th-century garb, and receiving a golden apple from an obliging serpent).
I first experienced Raintree County, the movie, the book, and its amazing musical score, at a formative period in my life, my first years of high school which also spanned both the last days of one of my favorite theaters, Loew’s Regent in downtown Harrisburg, its ultimate demise a precursor to the 1950s trust-busting binge which spelled “The End” for MGM’s chain of theaters, and the last gasp of the Hollywood studio system in general, of which “Raintree” was a key manifestation. I was also flexing my wings as a composer and, thanks mostly to MGM and Disney, and to having loved movies since the dawn of consciousness, soon became instinctively and avidly aware of the era’s vivid film music.
Raintree was one of the first films to really catalyze this life-long fascination with music and image. As a budding orchestrator, I was particularly struck by “Raintree’s” basically conventional yet inventive orchestration: for example, its simple but distinctive use of a tambourine in the “Footrace” and “July Picnic” sequences, and even more notably, the wordless female chorus and mysterious shimmer of bell-like sounds woven into the orchestra, which (belying the mundanely literal visualization in the film itself) actually turned “Johnny’s Search For The Raintree” (as the soundtrack album identified the cue) into the mystical experience adumbrated on the back of the paperback edition: “The legend of the Raintree is the age-old tale of man’s quest for the unattainable. In every time and every language poets have sung of it – the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden… Apollo’s tree bearing golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides….mysteriously transplanted to the heart of frontier America.” Pretty heady stuff for a 16-year old, but Johnny Green’s ecstatic, pantheistic score, a sensual and highly empathetic evocation of Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s unique, multi-faceted novel, made it all palpably real and possible, and in a manner much more haunting and visceral than the film itself.
In an era when stars like Clift and Taylor were the profusely publicized gods and goddesses of creation by a relatively restrained (by today’s standards) media, I had no idea who either composer Johnny Green, or author Ross Lockridge, Jr., were (though I was struck by the fact that I had finally found a namesake somewhere in the arts.) What I did know was that something about “Raintree” struck a chord deep within me, in no small measure because of its evocative musical score, making the film itself an unforgettable experience which I longed to recapture. So, on my first visit to the legendary Sam Goody record store in New York, I found myself agonizing over whether I should buy the two-record RCA Victor album of the “Raintree” score, an unprecedented and expensive (for a high-school student) item at the time, or settle for the single-disc “highlights” album so as to also afford the first relatively complete soundtrack of “Snow White” which had also just been released as part of the new Disneyland Records series of WDL-4000 original soundtracks. Such were the naive consumer quandaries of the popular culture addict of the late 1950s!
I never regretted settling for the “Raintree” highlights album, and “Snow White,” but when I finally acquired the double “Raintree” album some years later (at a much more expensive price as a highly sought-after out-of-print collector’s item), I was thrilled anew by a score which in the meantime had become one of my (and many people’s) most durable favorites, a thrill experienced again on listening to recent CD re-issues. (In 1972 the July issue of “High Fidelity” was devoted to film music and listed the then-current going-price for the two-record “Raintree” set at $150.00, while also imortalizing the tantelizing anecdote about the legendary “Raintree” cut-out double albums which had allegedly very briefly surfaced at Goody’s bargain outlet in NYC!)
I’ve never really stopped listening to Green’s score, and when I guested on my local PBS station’s “Desert Island Discs” radio program a few years ago, I had no qualms about including a track from “Raintree” – the beautiful and self-contained “July Picnic” cue which had so stuck me on my original viewing of the film – as a sample of one of the eight discs with which I would select to be shipwrecked. And of course Green’s score, and the film which occasioned it, led me to the original novel which the music so vividly evoked, and to the curious, quintessentially American and conflicted life of the novel’s author, Ross Lockridge, Jr.
“Raintree County,” the novel, has maintained its reputation and place in American letters strongly enough to have inspired two biographies of its author, “Ross and Tom” by John Leggett, and Larry Lockridge’s “Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr.” (though both the dust-jacket and title page of the latter book make sure to identify Lockridge as the “Author of ‘Raintree County'”, in deference to contemporary readers presumed unawareness). Larry Lockridge’s fascinating book addresses everything that anyone who has ever gotten though his father’s intimidating yet fascinating tome might wish to know, providing many of the details of family history and background which Ross wove into the book, as well as the saga of its publication and exploitation.
But the blurb on the back of the original dust-jacket sums up the “Raintree” saga in a nutshell: “In April of 1946, Ross Lockridge, Jr., carried ‘Raintree County’ to the office of the Houghton Mifflin company in a suitcase. The manuscript, weighing twenty pounds, was piled on a table in an antechamber, where the author and editor sat peering at each other over and around this Matterhorn of literature. In a few weeks the manuscript was accepted and a contract signed. Still to come were the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Novel Award and other successes for the Indiana writer’s first novel. The contract, however, was the first tangible reward of a determination made by Lockridge at the age of seven to become a writer.” The PR for the original edition, superficially a classic American literary success story, could not foresee the unhappy conclusion of the “Raintree” saga, nor could anyone reading this terse literary success story have envisioned the tragic real-life denouement of the author: in March of 1948, before any production work on the film had begun, Lockridge shut himself in his family garage in Bloomington and committed suicide.
The somewhat rocky cinematic history of “Raintree County” was fairly assured by its having won the lucrative MGM Novel Award. Larry Lockridge describes the competition as follows: “First held in 1944 in a highly publicized campaign to corral valuable literary properties, the contest would be increasing the award in 1947 to $150,00 for the author, $25,000 for the publisher, with several escalator clauses that would bring the total to $275,000 for the author. The sum $150,000, the equivalent of $1,050,000 in 1993 currency – with escalators, close to $2 million – was the world’s largest literary prize.
“My father was unimpressed. The rules guaranteed no role to the author in scripting or production, and he was an author who wished to control his novel’s fate to its extremities. He noticed that previously winning novels were ‘flashy, vulgarly constructed novels with an obvious eye on the movies,’ and no distinguished films had yet resulted. He wished to script any film adaptation himself.” 1 The eventual MGM ad campaigns for the film touted the film as being based on “the prize-winning panoramic novel” while neglecting to mention they had bestowed the prize themselves! (The grandiose double-page movie magazine ads also hyped the film, shot in the new big-screen process, “MGM Camera 65,” as being “In the great tradition of Civil War Romance,” a tacit reference to “Gone With The Wind,” which “Raintree” recalled only in its period setting. The author’s name appeared in the last line of the copy, in type considerably smaller than the “Print by Techicolor” credit).
Like its predecessor and most covert influence, James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” “Raintree County” is the story of one day, “A Great Day for Raintree County, July 4, 1892,” and like “Ulysses” that day is described through a complex filigree of flashbacks and stream-of-consciousness monologues and narratives. No less than three chronologies – one for the events of the day itself, one listing the chronological order of the incidents described in the flashbacks, and one for the actual historical events that bear on the plot – are included to “assist the reader in understanding the structure of the novel.” 2 Perhaps only Alain Resnais or some such auteur of the European New Wave (or now a television mini-series), could possibly do justice to the original Lockridge novel, a book “written by a modern for moderns,” as the dust jacket also announced. In 1950s Hollywood, with its emphasis on linear narrative and near hysterical romantic emotionalism, “Raintree County” was (next to the then utterly unfilmable “Ulysses”) a screenwriter’s worst nightmare come true.
Composing The Music of RAINTREE COUNTY
Composer Johnny Green (who, after a short period at the studio in the early 1940s, took over the position of general music director for MGM in 1949, and who originally studied economics at Harvard before gravitating to a career in music) was, besides being a consummate conductor, music director, and composer/song-writer, an articulate scholar and gentleman of the “old school” whose expertise far exceeded the realm of music. His observations on the problems involved in transcribing the original novel to the screen are astute: “The novel from which the screenplay was taken was by no means a straight line story. Though effective and moving, it was diffuse and involved. Its emotional complexities, its criss-crossing tensions and surges, its heterogeneous flashbacks demanded of the reader the greatest possible concentration. One found oneself time and again turning back to refresh memory and re-establish contact. These problems had to be faced by Millard Kaufman in constructing his screen play and by Edward Dmytryk in interpreting the development of the story and the characters on the screen.” Green discreetly but frankly concluded: “Despite their great skill, vestiges of the diffuseness and involvement of the original came through on the screen to some extent and presented serious problems to the composer.” 3
Green goes on to describe some of these musical/dramatic problems and his potential solutions:
“My first decision had to do with general approach. The time: mid nineteenth-century. The place: a fictional and prosperous county in Indiana just preceding, during, and immediately following the Civil War. The atmosphere: the fantasy of the Legend of the Raintree (symbolizing Man’s endless quest for the unattainable) superimposed, in not too clear-cut a fashion, on a most realistic and practical set of situations.
“What should be the style, what should be the context of the music? Would there be the inevitable juxtaposition of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ against ‘Dixie’? Should the score be based on indigenous music of the period? Should the music have a ‘modern sound’ and, if so, to what extent? Should block color or melody be the predominant characteristic? I even considered the possibility of a totally source music score, meaning that all the music would come from a source within the action, either seen on the screen or implied.
“Almost immediately I ruled out source music in favor of a completely theatrical approach. Next, I vowed that there would be no ‘Battle Hymn/Dixie’ goings-on and that the thematic material would be original (to the degree that this is possible with me). I then determined that the score should be romantic in feeling, that it would be melodic and that it should have what we know as ‘that modern western sound,’ not ‘Wagon Wheels’ of course, but rather the pentatonic and, to some degree, polytriadic sound that, under the able aegis of certain composers too well-known to require mention, has become the trade mark of the open spaces in recent serious American music.” 4
Probably the most striking aspect of the score as I’ve come to know and study it over the years, is its timeless simplicity and elusive style, the result of a dynamic fusion of most of the techniques described above. Green’s music does not have the immediately recognizable style of North or Elmer Bernstein in their peak period, yet neither does it sound like anyone’s else. And, despite of what Green himself notes about the influence of serious American composers, he nonetheless manages to evoke a vivid, haunting sense of Americana without resorting to the Copland-isms he himself suggests in the above quote.
As a composer Green also has the strong, concentrated melodic and harmonic sense of a great songwriter, as witness his harmonically audacious “Body and Soul” with its unprecedented modulations, and the more straightforward but equally haunting “Easy Come, Easy Go,” which Green later integrated into the score of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969), unfortunately his only other major score to equal “Raintree’s” significance (though his contribution therein is primarily as musical supervisor/arranger for period standards which supplied a bitterly ironic counterpoint to this frankly depressing account of 1930s dance marathons).
The “Raintree” score takes its essential character from “The Song of Raintree County,” and is thus basically lyrical, or “melodic” as Green also notes above (while also integrating aspects of the “block color” approach he also cited). The song is also a rare instance of a title tune satisfying both the artistic and commercial demands of the medium and industry. Green spoke frankly (and with the voice of one who, as head of the expensive MGM music department, took such considerations in his stride) about the decision to include an exploitable title song in the context of a serious historical drama: “…. a practical and perplexing problem… Should there be a song? The current vogue in so-called title songs has become a bugaboo to all of us who work in films. That it has been overworked to a fare-thee-well there is no doubt. That a smash title song ranks high among the top exploitation and promotion media that a movie can have is also an established fact. That ‘Raintree County’ represented a cost of over five and a half million dollars was already common knowledge when I approached my job. Could I, in good composer’s conscious, accede to the pressure for a title song? I decided that I could. Hence, ‘The Song of Raintree County’ with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.” 5
Green also decided to apply to the score as a whole a technique somewhat eschewed in modern film scoring, the use of leit motifs. The epic nature of the story itself, combined with its melodramatic, near-operatic characterizations and incidents – a mad heroine straight out of a Southern Gothic “Lucia”! – made such a choice both practical and appropriate. “What to do about the diffuseness, the multiple lines, the crisscrossing emotional conflicts? Decision: straightforward leit motif. A theme for every important character (or combination of characters), locales, emotional element. Result: thirteen thematic entities with specific story identifiability (there are additional transitional and independent motifs, of course). Thus I hoped to provide certain clarifying ‘islands’ or ‘audio-reminders’ that would help the audience, if only subconsciously, to orient individual events and character relationships to the whole.” 6 One might also bear in mind that “Raintree” was a product of the pre-video age when audiences were expected and indeed required to digest a film in one viewing (or at most only a few) during its relatively brief release (though, like a few classic, i.e., especially expensive MGM offerings, “Raintree” was briefly re-issued).
Both film and score fall into three major sections, following the linear plotline, which focuses primarily on the hero, John Shawnessy (Montgomery Clift) and his two conflicting loves, that screen-writer Kaufman extricated from Lockridge’s complex and cross-dissolving paean to 19th-century America. In the process (and probably of necessity!) about two-thirds of the characters and incidents in the book were discarded. The film’s opening sequences describe the hero’s late youth and coming of age in a mystical pastoral Indiana, and his naive relationship with his college sweetheart, Nell Gaither (Eva Marie Saint). In the middle section the plot thickens as he is tricked into marriage with a beautiful but disturbed Southern belle, Susanna Drake, (Elizabeth Taylor) and this section also tracks their atmospheric, indeed Gothic, interlude in New Orleans and the pre-Civil War South of the girl’s troubled childhood. The third and final section brings on the war, and the birth of John and Susanna’s son, leading to Susanna’s demented flight south during the war, her temporary restoration but eventual death prior to the happy and decidedly non-Lockridge Hollywood ending as Johnny walks off into the sunset with his own true love, Nell, under an imposing (if botanically incorrect) Raintree! Important secondary characters maintained from the book include Johnny’s mentor and companion, the arch and Byronic “Perfessor” Jerusalem Styles (Nigel Patrick); the brash but good-hearted rural rake, Flash Perkins (Lee Marvin ), initially Johnny’s opponent in the July 4th foot race but later his Civil War buddy; and Johnny’s rival, the smarmy politician Garwood B. Jones (Rod Taylor).
Impossibly managing to both tie together and ultimately galvanize a problematic screenplay, Green’s lyricism (embodied in his evocative sense of orchestral color and skillful, dramatically astute contrapuntal development) magically evokes the essence of Lockridge’s complex, overtly sensual and pantheistic novel to a far more sublime extent than anything else in the pedestrian (if maddeningly charismatic) film version. The visual iconography of Clift, Taylor, and Saint, and the near-Hardyesque ambiance of the location shooting (Nell sweeping through a lushly Arcadian landscape as Green’s motif for she and Johnny sweepingly sounds the Olympian promise that their college graduation and Lockridge’s book both celebrate and lament; the eerie visit to Susanna’s burned-out plantation, with its brilliant musical equation of psychosis and racial hysteria) sublimely capture the despairing glory to which Lockridge’s valiant book is a testament. And of course Green’s score is absolutely it, the most magical mystical element in a movie that unfortunately eventually runs out of both steam and conviction over the course of two-hour-plus running time. But despite these few (and not inconsequential) positive elements, MGM/Hollywood star quality at its best, and Green’s superb score, the film is frankly a travesty of the author’s Joycean stream-of-consciousness narrative, as how could it not be in an era when screenwriting rigidly adhered to a strictly linear mode of plotting.
The Beginning of The End: The Studio System in the Late 1950s
Raintree County was among the last “big” pictures produced in Hollywood with the considerable and heretofore durable resources of the studio system, resources which were already beginning to crumble during the 1950s. An 1954 article on the MGM music department (where money once flowed like water) commented: “Whether Johnny Green’s financial training influenced Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to name him administrative head of their music department, with its $2,000,000 annual budget, I do not know, but the fact remains that a dollars-and-cents outlook carefully governs his actions as head of this complex activity. With a contract composing staff which includes Miklos Rozsa, Bronislau Kaper, Andre Previn, Adolph Deutsch, George Stoll, Jeff Alexander, Charles Wolcott, and Green himself, MGM seldom goes outside its own walls for free-lance compositional talent. The current policy of restriction to staff composers is influenced by the considerations of economy, a major factor in all Hollywood operations today in view of the uncertainties created by TV competition and the unsettled problems of 3-D and stereophonic sound, etc.” 7
As general music director it was Green’s responsibility not only to assign the various composers their films, but also to oversee the placement of music therein. In the mid-1950s MGM still maintained more than one hundred persons in the music department as a whole, including (besides composers) arrangers, conductors, copyists, librarians, orchestra players, music coaches, and administrative personnel. Green also cited the “decidedly controlled editorial supervision” of the studio’s music, noting that a kind of musical “script” was prepared for all of the studio’s dramatic pictures. Running as long as ten to twelve single-spaced typewritten pages, these scripts completely outlined the use of music in each picture: its general character, whether it dominates or is “under” the action, etc. (The music “script” might be compared to a “story treatment” which sets out similar parameters for a film’s dramatic requirements). During the period of Green’s administrative duties at MGM, it was he and his associates, including the producer and director, who fashioned these musical outlines, usually watching the unscored picture countless times, re-running sequences that were under particular musical consideration. Ideas and comments were taken down verbatim and roughed into the music script which was then presented to the composer who, along with Green and his staff, prepared a cue-sheet with exact timings for the musical episodes. Once finalized, this cue-sheet, with its split-second timings, was the final guide for composer and conductor. 8
Green’s final score for “Raintree County” is notated in five bound volumes, the first of which represents a version of the musical script described above. Besides detailed timing charts for each musical cue, often with references to the actual spoken dialogue in each sequence, volume I also includes Green’s personal notes and comments to the various arrangers (most taken from his actual pencil score) who assisted on the film, and detailed cue-by-cue lists of the instrumental and vocal ensembles required for recording, as well as instructions as to when and how these orchestral/vocal tracks were to be linked and superimposed on one another, special effects (such as “reverb”), and lyrics for both the Main Title and “Never Till Now,” the song developed from the euphoric Johnny/Susanna love theme.
Concerning his use of a staff of arrangers Green wrote: “An orchestrator by profession, I compose my motion picture dramatic music in detailed, seven line orchestral sketches. Why not, then, go the rest of the way and work in full score? Because, even before the panic sets in, there just isn’t enough time under the scheduling system that prevails. The small time spread between even the most detailed sketches and the full score provides the differential between ‘making the date’ and not making it. There is no orchestration credit on ‘Raintree County’ because the overwhelmingly major portion of the score was committed to paper in my own fully detailed, seven line sketches. When, however, towards the end of the composition period, my remaining time was suddenly cut in less than half, a group of talented, good friends rallied round to make the impossible recording date possible. After meticulous projection room discussion and sessions at the piano with me, Alexander Courage, Sidney Cutner, Robert Franklyn, Conrad Salinger, and Albert Sendrey each adapted and arranged my detailed sketches for certain remaining scenes.” 9 Volume I of Green’s final bound set also includes some credits as to which arrangers worked on which sequences, these becoming more detailed towards the end of both picture and score. The supplementary arrangers were generally assigned specific sections of the film: Sid Cutner handling the Civil War sequences in at the beginning of Part II of the film, Conrad Salinger contributing the end cues, and so on; Albert Sendrey, and some others seem to have worked on a variety of cues throughout.
Green’s final five-volume score for “Raintree County” is dated September 13, 1957, and is dedicated to his daughter, Bonnie. Volume I is divided into five sections, with sections II through V listing the actual cues as they finally appear in score form in volumes II through V. The score volumes are also arranged by reels: volume II/reels 1-6, etc. Cues are listed as they are heard in the film, and also numbered G1, G2, etc., G referring to the sequence of the pieces in Green’s bound volumes. Exact timing data and instrumentation for each cue are also included, and some (but not all) are dated. These bound volumes are no doubt the “detailed, seven line orchestral sketches” of which Green spoke in his liner notes, and are indeed thoroughly notated, down to such minute technical details as Green’s notations for pedal changes in the harp part.
While Green’s original volumes are now at Harvard, the Library of Congress in Washington also has photocopies of the original studio piano conductor’s score of the “Music Score of Phonograph album ‘Raintree County’. Received on Dec. 11, 1957, this is the copy sent to the Library by MGM for copyrighting purposes. The phonograph album score, dated 6-25-57 by Loew’s Incorporated, is in the beautifully executed style of all the MGM scores of the period, a key example of the meticulous work of the studio era’s music copying departments, while Green’s volumes are done mostly in free-hand pencil, clear and also quite meticulous, but not always easy for the non-professional eye to decipher. An album of piano themes, “The Music of RAINTREE COUNTY” (Robbins Music Corp., New York, NY, 1957, $1.25), was also published at the time of the film’s release, and a copy (dated Nov. 19, 1957) may also be found in the Music Division.
In the following score discussion reference will be made to both the Green and Phonograph Album scores, as well as to the written data and notes contained in Green’s volume I. Space considerations limit my in-depth investigation of the score to cues from the opening Indiana sequences (admittedly, for me, the most lyrical and atmospheric sections of both film and score).
Section one of Green’s Volume I lists the film’s major credits, and notes that its world premiere was in Louisville, Kentucky on October 2, 1957. The composition period of the score is cited as November 1956-May 1957. The notes in section one pertain mainly to the film’s road-show engagement “Overture,” but also include Paul Francis Webster’s first draft of his lyrics for “The Song of Raintree County,” dated April 10, 1957:
The way to Raintree County
Can’t be found on a map or a chart.
Like me you’ll find that Raintree’s a state of the mind
or a dream
in your heart.
Long ago one day
with the buds of early May
up you came like a flame from the South!
And I looked into (laughing eyes so bright and blue)
Eyes of periwinkle blue
and I knew;
then I knew – –
I’d love you in Raintree County
and I’d learn what we all seek to know
We shared a golden dream when we found our true love
In Raintree long ago.
For the brave who dare
there’s a Raintree everywhere,
We who dreamed found it so long ago.
Webster’s words are basically the same as those used in the final version of the song; the main concepts are all there and in need only of a few instances of fine-tuning. Green commented that his challenge “…was to write a melody, with a certain folk flavor, which would serve well as the thematic representation of Raintree County itself, of a locale and its people, have popular appeal as a song and yet dovetail with the color and style of the total score,” while Webster’s was “…to use the words ‘Raintree County’ with the title, to create a lyric that would be comprehensible in today’s incomprehensible song market, to maintain some definite relationship between the words of the song and at least the feeling , if not the story of the picture, to be commercial and yet be literate enough to ‘belong’ in the company of the rest of the elements of the film.” 10
Webster, who created effective lyrics for a variety of title songs from the period, managed to tastefully meet the considerable demands cited by Green. The main revision in the original lyrics quoted above occurs in the first two lines, the lyricist opting to insert a terse reference to the legend of the Raintree which suffuses both book and film: “They say in Raintree County There’s a tree bright with blossoms of gold,” then just slightly varying the next two lines: “but you will find the Raintree’s a state of the mind, or a dream to enfold.” The song as a whole is compact, and the expected second A section (of the usually strict AABA form of most pop songs of the period) never happens; instead, Green and Webster move directly to the B (or bridge) section with its reference to the Elizabeth Taylor character, the “flame from the south.” The final A section manages to merge both the obligatory reference to “love,” requisite in any song of the period (“I’d love you in Raintree County….”) and finally the informing concept that Green refers to as “the essence of the picture” and which serves as a kind of coda, “… For the brave who dare there’s a Raintree everywhere, wewho dreamed found it so, long ago,” a phrase which even manages to suggest the original (and unpunctuated) closing lines of Lockridge’s book: “….of some young hero and endlessly courageous dreamer”
Nat King Cole (a rather curious choice for a film the heroine of which is driven mad by, among other things, her paranoia over having “nigra blood”) performs the song as the film’s Main Title. Due to contractual restrictions Cole’s version is not included on the RCA soundtracks, but he did record “The Song of Raintree County” as a Capitol single and on an LP album of movie songs;11 while the single did not prove a major hit, the song itself was included on many of the then-popular movie theme “mood” albums of the day. Both scores include Cole’s vocal line and orchestral accompaniment, though only Green’s includes the two additional brief cues, “The Lion” (for the MGM logo), and a transition into the song referred to as “Nat King Cole Capitol Intro” which leads directly into the “Main Title Nat “King” Cole version”. A cue for the 12-voice male choral back-up to the Cole solo is included in the Green score, but no copy of the mixed choral version arrangement used on the record album is to be found in either score. A complete version of the title song, and “Never Til Now,” the song developed from the Johnny/Susanna love theme (but not sung in the film), are both included in the piano album as well.
The melody of “The Song of Raintree County,” a folk-like diatonic theme in which the repeated perfect 5th intervals of the opening phrases build to a poignant suspension effect on the word “find”, permeates the first third of the score, weaving into and out of the cues and various other motifs in a manner richly suggestive of the original novel’s stream of consciousness style. No matter how much new material is introduced in the score’s opening cues, each element seems to marvelously gravitate to a duly transformed reprise of the title theme, thereby reinforcing the hyper-lyrical “Raintree” motive (and its charged symbolic mythos) in the minds and hearts of the audience.
Reel 1, Part 1: “Overture” – “Nell and Johnny’s Graduation Gifts”
Both scores open with the road show “Overture”, “adapted and arranged in part by Albert Sendrey from themes by Johnny Green, ASCAP.” The most complete version is found in the record album score, while Green’s copy omits the Susanna/Johnny love theme which forms the middle section of the album “Overture. Green’s personal notes also list several unused thematic sequences considered for the “Overture,” including the “Swamp Agitato,” “The Carriage Ride,” a “War Commentary” theme, and an “Emotional Tension” subject. At one point Green also notes: “Call Sendry May 4th with ‘Never’ development”.
The first actual cue in the film (after the Main Title song slowly fades out over a series of establishing landscape scenes) is “Nell and Johnny’s Graduation Gifts,” built mostly on transformations of the optimistic motif that springs from a simple major chord in the second inversion, but given a modernistic cast with its prominent use of major 4th intervals.
The instrumentation is marked: 2 fl.; 1 ob-E.H. (English horn); 2 cls. (A & B-flat); 1 bass cl. (3rd cl if wanted); 1 bn; 3 hrns’ 1 harmonica’ 1 perc- triangle; bells; 1 hp’ 1 cel; 14; 4; 4; 2 (these latter numbers referring to the string section): total instruments: 38. This cue appears on the album almost exactly as it is heard in the film, underscoring the sequence in which Johnny and his Raintree County sweetheart, Nell, exchange graduation gifts in a sunny woods. Like most of Green’s cues in his personal volumes, this one is notated in the seven stave format he described above; his notes to his orchestrator (here unspecified), are included. For a shot of Nell crossing the stream, Green suggests: “This is now a rich flowing pastoral – string-lead tutti – warm with shimmering wws (woodwinds), fluid harp, etc, the soft bells, celeste, etc.” When Nell presents Johnny with his gift of a book on Raintree County Green notes: “This is a straightforward statement of the Raintree song. The melodic burden to be entirely with the strings – Completely simple – dialogue style.” (A harmonica solo nonetheless captures and elaborates the already poignant melody.) As Johnny and Nell exchange an emotionally charged glance, Green explicates: “This is a big string lead tutti – the big open country – much warmth – pastoral style, wws. perhaps – but don’t cover the tune!”. That so subtle an exchange as that of mere glances should elicit from Green so pointed and precise a musical response, points to that incredible symbiosis between music and emotion that Hollywood in this period (and Green uniquely in this instance) inherited from the legacy of European romanticism. No date is attached to this “Johnny/Nell” cue.
Reel 2, Part 2″: “There’s Another Tree”
The next cue is a brief but evocative track, “There’s Another Tree,” (not heard on the soundtrack album). It underscores the Professor’s description of the mystical Golden Raintree which, local legend holds, Johnny Appleseed brought to the heart of frontier Indiana (interestingly, the idea presented here is essentially that expressed on the back of the paperback edition: a lovely Americana myth that gilds the novel’s tortured psychologies with a homegrown transcendent grandeur). Scored for 2 flutes (1 doubling alto flute), 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bsn., horns (Green’s asks “2 or 3, Al?’ suggesting Albert Sendrey or Alexander Courage worked on these sections), 3 percussion: bells, xylophone, vibraphone, and “small cymbal-metal rod” and a note with “finger cymbals” crossed out and replaced by” “Raintree Jimjik,” 1 harp, 1 celeste, strings: 14, 4, 4, 2. (No total here). “Echo Chamber” is also written and double-underlined on the title page. The cue is an exotic, mystical variation on the title song, scored for highly reverbed (and atmospheric) alto flute solo and tremolo strings divided in three and four parts, which vividly underscores the Professor’s narrative (including a “chinoiserie” spin on the bridge) about the oriental origins of Appleseed’s planting. Needless to say, the cue sublimely tracks the profound feelings that the Raintree and its attendant symbolism arouse in the questing Johnny. Date: 5/3/57.
Reel 2, Part 2: “Johnny’s Search For The Raintree”
The Professor’s provocative narrative leads directly to “Johnny’s Search For the Raintree,” one of the most ecstatic and pantheistic sections of the score, and one of the film’s most celebrated cues. The orchestra is expanded here, mostly by a full 4/3/3/1 brass section, along with additional percussion including 4 timpani. Green notes that the “Raintree Jimjik will be separately recorded,” as will be 6 high soprano voices. Strings are also expanded (22/6/6/4), bringing the orchestra to a total of 64.
Titled simply “The Swamp” in Green’s score, the cue is a contrapuntal fusion of all the motifs heard in the score so far, including hints of the “Nell and Johnny” theme (suggesting that their love may already be the answer to Johnny’s youthful search) and introduces new material in the form of the mystical motif of the great Swamp itself, a combination of an ascending bass arpeggio preluding the mystical half-step swamp motive (C-D) heard almost immediately in the unison female voices.
A fragment of the Raintree song, its opening perfect 5ths, is heard in solo horn (marked “hauntingly” at measure 6) as the swamp motif extends itself in triplet figures in 4/4 and 3/4 while the accompaniment remains in 12/8 and 9/8. As the wordless voices soar to a high obligato (measure 11) the full melody of the song is heard in the cello section in a high register as the vocal obligato continues, escalating from unison to thirds, and finally to ecstatic full triads at the “mystic” parallel chords which always form the transition to the song’s bridge.
At measure 22 the voices revert to unison for a statement of the bridge, but a series of abrupt and rather jagged cuts on the soundtrack of the film suggest that there was some last minute tampering with the visual structure of this sequence. In the film the 4-part horn chord at measure 21 is repeated, an obvious and rather awkward studio edit, and a large and quite abrupt cut (which includes the end of the bridge and the reverbed trombone reprise of the song’s main melody with its lovely solo violin and harmonica counter lines) is made to measure 28, the “Subito molto agitato” section where Johnny falls into a hidden pool. Cuts continue in the film music track, including some measures dropped out of the agitato fugato treatment of the song melody underscoring Johnny’s struggle in the water, and some bars are also snipped from the beautiful transitional coda, with its reprise of the swamp motif heard in solo oboe as the mystical voices “ahhhh” the “Song of Raintree County” to bring the sequence to an unexpectedly tranquil close.
Fortunately, the cue as Green composed it is heard in its entirety on the soundtrack album. That there were some problems with this sequence during the post-production period is also suggested by the fact that Green’s score has an insert (noted as measures 27a to 27g) with a crossed-out measure at the end. Though no arranger credit or date is included with Green’s sketch, a somewhat smudged comment at the “agitato” section at measure 28 states: “Al, please add no preparation, wws. (?), hp. gliss. or the like. The complete shock is the intent here”. At the same point (where Johnny falls into the pool in the film) Green notes the sopranos’ climactic high B-flat as “Quasi scream”!
While up to this point the film is promisingly engaging, due primarily to idyllic location shooting in the Nell and Johnny scenes, and especially to the cynically witty dialogue and arch characterization of Nigel Patrick as the Professor, the swamp sequence, with its picturesque but sadly mundane imagery – at one point Green notes the “big bird shot” in his score – is something of a let-down. Nothing in the literal visualization of this sequence measures up to the poetry with which Ross Lockridge, Jr. evoked the mystical pantheism of his mythic Raintree County, or indeed to the very Lockridgian music which Green created for this key sequence. (Which is no doubt why the sequence was ultimately trimmed).
In the cinematic “Raintree” director Dmytryk seems more successful with actors, particularly the males, than with mood or atmosphere. The swamp sequence, more than any other in the film, also suggests that MGM got to “Raintree County” several years too late: episodes such as this should have called forth the magical poetic naturalism of such location/studio fusions as “The Yearling” (not to mention the on-location naturalism that director Clarence Brown and MGM brought to their unexpectedly authoritative realization of Faulkner’s “Intruder In The Dust”), and of certain studio hot-house films like “The Pirate” or sections of other musicals such as “Ziegfeld Follies”. The Swamp sequence would surely have benefited from some of the studio poetry of the sequence from “The Yearling” when Jody finds the fawn in an artfully artificial Florida glade and carries it home against the backdrop of a luminous MGM cyclorama of Maxfield Parish cloudscapes. But by the late ’50s even MGM had lost its ability to convincingly stylize the lush, highly atmospheric studio look that found its apotheosis in the 1940s (as films like “Raintree” and “Green Mansions” sadly proved). Traces of this ambiance fleetingly appear in “Raintree County,” for example, in the New Orleans episodes, some of which have the soft-focus mezzotinted look of Minnelli’s “Limehouse Blues” sequence in “Ziegfeld Follies”. The swamp cue is also undated.
Reel 3, Parts 1 & 2: “Freehaven”/”Flash Perkins”
After a brief cue, “Nell and Gar”, underscoring Johnny’s post-swamp encounter with Nell and Garwood Jones (and cut from the final print), the scene shifts to the rural Indiana town of Freehaven, and a jaunty, folk-like motif for Flash Perkins, with its infectious banjo sound, and syncopated, pseudo ragtime rhythm.
Green’s score includes two “Freehaven” cues, and it’s the second (G11), titled “Freehaven 2nd Revised,” dated 7/30/57, and marked “Andantino alla Campagna,” that is heard in the film. The major cue in this section is “Meet Flash and Susanna,” dated 5/6/57, and which is introduced by a brief “Prelude” (Reel 3, Part 2A, 5/13/57); both underscore Johnny’s meeting with Flash Perkins (Lee Marvin), a bragging rake who challenges Johnny to a spontaneous footrace. Green notes concerning the two opening cues: “This is a direct seque-as-one at bar 2 from end of reel 3, part 2A – ‘Prelude to Meet Flash and Susanna’. Will be recorded as one piece.” Sections of this cue are heard as the “Flash Perkins” record album track, but since the exciting musical build-up to the race is abruptly cut off in the film when the Professor calls a halt and reschedules it for the 4th of July, a climactic alternative ending was written for the soundtrack album, and is included in Green’s score. The episode also introduces Susanna, whom Johnny briefly glimpses as a crowd gathers for the race, the first brief statement of their main love theme being intercut into the “Flash” music (but not included on the albums). On the title page of “Meet Flash and Susanna” Green notes: “Clarinetists in this piece must be 2 of our jazz men” and “Please get Jack Marshall on banjo (tenor). He will need capo.” A brief undated cue, “Johnny’s Crown” (Reel 3, Part 4, and marked “Allegro rimato – sardonically”), concludes the outdoor Freehaven sequences.
Reel 4, Parts 1 & 2: “Johnny and Susanna’s First Meeting”
Reel 4 opens with Johnny’s visit to the photographer’s studio where he first meets Susanna Drake. The score here is divided into five cues, including two inserts in addition to the main cues, with the pivotal cue being “First Meeting”, Reel 4, Part 1. (These various cues are edited into the track “Johnny and Susanna’s First Meeting” on the album.) Only the opening and closing cues in Green’s volume are dated: 5/13/57 and 5/14/57, respectively. The orchestration is for a reduced orchestra of about 38 with an emphasis on strings and reeds. The scherzo-like cue “Look at the Birdie” opens reel 4, cut off midway by an “Insert” which interjects a fully-developed statement of the “positive” love theme at measure 8 as Johnny sees Susanna being photographed as she poses in a draped white Greek gown, clutching a lily, and looking drop-dead gorgeous. Liz gives the first in a series of marvelously unspontaneous shrieks as she notices Johnny and rushes off to change. The lyrical love theme is interrupted by a light scherzo variation as Susanna is seen hurriedly changing so she can catch up with Johnny, and the cue fades as he reluctantly leaves the studio.
Just as Johnny is exiting Susanna rushes out to meet him (Liz shrieking “Wait for me!” in another “unladylike” outcry which is referred to in the ensuing dialogue), and the main cue, “First Meeting”, commences. This is primarily a development of the love theme, pure and simple. At one point Green notes: “Al: this next section is a simple, tender, warm and straightforward statement of the Susanna-Johnny Happy Love Theme. The melodic and harmonic burden is to be entirely in the warm strings unless otherwise specifically indicated. Please add no element, harmonic, rhythmic or linear that does not appear here. Do not spread any counter element so as to place it above the top of the melody line. We are behind dialogue all the way!!! Please indicate in this sketch exactly who’s playing what as you score!!!”
As with the “Johnny’s Search” cue, there seems to have been some re-editing of the film sequence. There is an alternate bar at measure 25, succeeded by several deleted measures and an added cue, “First Meeting (Insert)” The insert brings the cue to a momentary conclusion in tandem with the Professor’s line, “Boy, you are definitely ready to graduate!”, when he sees Susanna on Johnny’s arm. There also appears to be an unspecified cut of an entire page at measure 29, and around measure 35 Green notes “DO NOT COPY – THIS IS A DELETION – AN ERROR -NOT A CUT!!!,” after which the cue more or less proceeds as notated, moving on to the statement of the “Happy Love Theme” Green described above.
The cue also includes a lovely but vaguely troubled variation on the love theme, harmonized in open 5ths and 6ths, which lends an appropriate premonition of melancholy to the cue as a whole. There are actually two variants of “happy” love theme used throughout the score. The first is a languid, semi-pastoral version in 6/8 time with slight harmonic variations. The second variant is the one described above, in 4/4 with the opening motif harmonized in 5ths and 6ths and slightly extended and developed.
Reel 4 ends with a brief coda, Nell’s Huff,” in which, seeing Johnny with Susanna, she displaces her anger and slaps Garwood; his stunned reaction is Mickey-Moused with comic muted trumpets, in Green’s words: “Harmon” (a type of brass mute) “but not jazzy”.
The ensuing sequence involving the 4th of July footrace, and the Professor’s unsuccessful plot to get Flash Perkins drunk and keep Johnny sober by surreptitiously substituting tea in Johnny’s bourbon bottle, opens with a close-up of the winner’s wreath of oak leaves (referred to in the “Johnny’s Crown” cue) held by Susanna. The footrace episode is one of the book’s more celebrated passages, and was reprinted in “Life” magazine at the time of the novel’s publication. The entire sequence is unscored except for a few instances of source band music in the background (and another great outcry from Liz as a firecracker is exploded near her hoopskirt in the opening shot). Even the footrace itself, so vividly evoked in the “Flash Perkins” album cue, goes unscored.
Reel 5, Parts 4-6; Reel 6, Parts 1-4: “July Picnic”/”Train From The South”
The “July Picnic” sequence (along with its emotionally charged “coda”) is perhaps the peak of Green’s by turns heroic, by turns wrenching, lyricism. It heartbreakingly distills both the idealistic aspirations of the American “experiment” (which Lockridge’s entire book throws into hopeful/despairing relief), and that mid-summer sense of emotional ripeness and decay which Johnny and Susanna’s romantic peak-and-subsequent-downfall so inexorably illustrates. Perhaps only Franz Waxman’s underscoring for the same holiday in “Peyton Place” is Green’s equal in both celebrating and mourning the day’s unique mood of promise and defeat.
After John wins the footrace, the scene shifts to the streamside Independence Day picnic of John, Susanna, the Professor, and Lydia Grey (the beautiful but married object of the Professor’s affections). Green makes up for the absence of music in the preceding footrace sequence by providing uninterrupted scoring for the entire picnic scene, and its ensuing sequence, Johnny’s later encounter with Nell after Susanna has left Freehaven. Two short additional cues support the concluding episodes which document the aftermath of the Professor’s botched attempt to escape Raintree County with Lydia Grey. The picnic sequence is divided into several cues – “Pursuit of Happiness,” (no date), “July Swim,” (5/14/57), “Tell Me About the Raintree” (no date) – all underscoring the sequence which climaxes with Susanna’s seduction of Johnny, while the “Dell Insert,” (7/1/57) and “Your Exact Location” (no date) cue John’s brief but emotional reunion with Nell after Susanna has returned to the South. All of these cues are heard intact in the 6.01 “July Picnic” track on the album.
“Pursuit” is a brief introductory cue for the picnic scene, and a scherzo-like, syncopated variation on the happy love theme which develops to a swirling climax as Johnny and Susanna frolic in the stream and collapse in a secluded spot on the bank. When Susanna asks about the Raintree, (in one of Taylor’s most subdued and touching moments), Green supplies an equally moving variation on the title song with contrapuntal lines for harmonica and the wordless female choir heard in the swamp sequence: “Tell Me About The Raintree”. As Johnny and Susanna passionately embrace, the music peaks over a discreet fadeout, continuing uninterruptedly as the scene shifts to Johnny and Nell in the fields, with an ecstatic development of the Johnny/Nell motif in solo trumpet and strings. Green again noted his desired effect: “Again the big open pastoral quality as in Reel 1, Part 2 – the upper woodwinds moving around the inner harmony. The two harps and celeste helping the float and shimmer continually.” He further adds humorously: “immer der schimmer, toujours la schmour” and “sempre I spaghetti,” adding on page 143, “relax the flax.” John’s conversation with Nell, “Dell Insert,” as he speculates on becoming a great writer, effects a moody antiphonal development of their motif, fused with the “Raintree” song theme, and the cue concludes with another full-length variation on the title song as Johnny and Nell temporarily reconcile: “Your Exact Location”. With these several cues contained in one continuous flow of music, one is struck by Green’s impressive skill at both developing his motifs in a cohesive, dramatically compelling fashion, and deftly integrating appropriate and highly atmospheric variations on the resilient title tune into the underscore.
Several brief cues (all undated)–“Going Home” (Reel 6, Part 3), which is also found in the revised version heard in the film (Reel 6, Part 3A), and “Train From the South” (Reel 6, Part 4, here arranged by Alexander Courage)–provide hints of the polytonal brass chords, some built on 4ths, which will characterize several of the later Deep South/Civil War cues. The brief brass “Train” cue, also marks the end of the film’s first section, and the symbolic end of Johnny’s youth. As the train on which the Professor finally escapes pulls away, he bestows on Johnny his richly cynical last word, with this departing comment: “Dear friends, remember me as someone who loves Raintree County, but just happens to loathe everyone in it,” at which point Johnny finds Susanna on the platform, newly returned from the South with the news that she is pregnant.
The Rest of the Score
While this opening third features some of Green’s most charismatic and lyrical music, his score continues to grow in power as the screenplay moves into its long-in-coming (and somewhat laborious) resolution, maintaining a consistency and depth that unfortunately eludes the rest of the film. Space prohibits further cue-by-cue discussion of this wonderful American musical classic, but mention should be made of Green’s highly original music for the gradual manifestation of Susanna’s dementia, as well as his haunting (and haunted) cues for the sequence in which John and Susanna visit the burned-out shell of her childhood mansion where she formed a deep and lasting attachment to her Negro nurse, Henrietta.
Green uses a motif based on the expressionistic interval of F-sharp to F-natural, sometime B-natural to B-flat, and first heard on an anachronistic but oddly appropriate alto sax (with added reverb effect) to represent Susanna’s madness. There is also a more agitated secondary “mad” motif of 16th note triplets which whirl over a counter melody based on a whole-tone scale. (See “Triplet Mad Motif”).
The ethereally melancholy “Lament for Henrietta,” heard as Susanna describes her tormented childhood, begins with a hint of the same interval, suggesting the connection between Susanna’s condition and her conflicted attachment to the black woman who took the place of her also mentally disturbed biological mother, and with whom her father was having an affair. This lovely melody is first heard in solo flute, also with dreamy reverb, and later in full strings.
As the film moves from its opening sequences in the mythic Indiana of the hero’s youth, to his coming of age in the Civil War and a disturbing marriage which ends in Susanna’s (rather contrived) death, Green’s score accordingly develops in depth and complexity. The orchestration, ably realized by Green’s staff of six assistants, is relatively traditional, with an emphasis on strings and a well-utilized reed section, and an escalating use of brass in the latter sequences. But along with this basic instrumentation, the modernist tone of Lockridge’s novel is also evoked by the use of modern recording technology.
Most obvious is the aural motif for the Golden Raintree, an electronically-concocted shimmer of bells, notated by a cymbal-style “X” with an ensuing downward glissando sign in the score. This sound, which Green arbitrarily named the “Jimjik” – “the equivalent of ‘thing-a-ma-bob,’ merely an identifying handle” – was separately recorded and given its own channel in the final mix (when it was added to the previously-recorded orchestral tracks), and is just one example of the forward-looking recording techniques that make “Raintree” an early masterpiece of multi-track studio scoring and overdubbing. Green described the mechanics of the effect and its technological application within the score: “A good toy glockenspiel, scraped from top to bottom by two pairs of brushes (one pair following the other – two percussionists, of course) produced the effect. On the recording stage, to the naked ear, it was virtually inaudible. It achieves the characteristic heard on the sound track via multi magnification and maximum reverberation (echo chamber). The exact method of producing it was later worked out by trial and error on the recording stage.” 12 The “Jimjik” effect is usually heard to the mystical parallel triads heard between the first (A) section of the “Song of Raintree County” and its bridge (B).
The score’s technological aspects are particularly notable in the Southern sequences when Susanna’s dementia begins to escalate, notably in the eerily nostalgic “Burned-Out Mansion” cue, made-up of several individually recorded takes – male voices and banjo, a plantation polka for strings, and a basic orchestral track – all of which was superimposed on tape (to click tracks carefully indicated in the score with mathematical precision). Electronic enhancement also evokes the frankly mystical elements in the film’s first third: the reverberated voices in “Johnny’s Search For The Raintree,” and the similarly enhanced harmonica, female voices, and sensuous alto flute in the “July Picnic” cues. Green’s technical notations – “alto sax, pure tone in echo chamber” – are an integral part of his detailed orchestral sketches.
Green touched upon of the mysteries of studio composing and recording which are such an integral part of the total “Raintree” sound in a reference to the motif for Susanna’s favorite doll, Jeemie, a motif closely related to her dementia music: “The doll motif, recorded as a separate entity, was composed and orchestrally arranged in such as manner as to be played against the basic Mad Theme during the re-recording or dubbing process. In other words, that which emerges on the sound track as a single piece of contrapuntal music, was never played as such on the recording stage. The arithmetical niceties of timing, meter, and the like are sufficiently intricate to form the basis of a separate article.” 13
Some of the complexities of the process can be seen in a description of the collaboration between composer and sound engineer involved in creating one of the brief (2.21) doll cues made up of two separately recorded tracks overdubbed to play back simultaneously, (as Green described above). For “Where Is That Doll” (reel 12, parts 3 and 3X, , or numbers G51 and G52 in Green’s personal score), Green explored both the technical and psychological aspects of his music and motifs in a note to recording engineer Bill Steinkamp: “This piece (G52) works along with the basic music track (G51) starting and ending as above indicated. This is the doll motif and works in and out (of G51) as a kind of a ‘sick haze’ – barely heard, yet there. We first become aware of it when Susanna says, ‘Where is that doll?’ As Johnny says, ‘Come to bed’ – we loose it. As she says, ‘No, I must find it,’ it somehow is there again, having started to sneak in on the second of the two ‘no’s’ that precede the complete sentence. As Johnny says, ‘Don’t you remember, etc.’ it’s gone again. In the silence following Johnny’s ‘…. a long time ago’ it is heard a couple more times, and is gone as J. puts arm around Susanna to lead her away.” Green’s note concludes with an emphatic comment on balance: “At no time is this track as loud as the track it is running against!!!” Detailed timings are attched to the notes for these cues, as they are for most of the cues in Green’s first volume: 0:20, Susanna: “Where is that doll?”, 0:50, Johnny puts arm around Su to lead her, etc.
In his “Film/TV Music” article Green cited Steinkamp and his contributions to the score: “Any discussion of the music score of ‘Raintree County’ would be incomplete without enthusiastic thanks to the artist who was at the electronic controls during the re-recording process, William Steinkamp. It is his masterful combining of all the sound elements of the picture that brings the music to its completed state on the sound track.” All of which reveals how the composer consummately merged a lyrical and essentially traditional style with “modernist” elements, both stylistic and complexly technical, to vividly mirror Lockridge’s wildly ambitious literary fusion of the same dissonant perspectives. Ultimately, Green’s magisterial score, with its free-floating, perceptive intermeshing of character and emotional leit motifs, is, in fact, the only element in the film that genuinely reflects and pays homage to Lockridge’s immensely poignant, homegrown adaptation of Joyce’s Olympian stream-of-consciousness meditation on mundane reality.
Larry Lockridge also commented on the score in a letter to the writer: “Green should have won the Academy Award for the ‘Raintree County’ score, but the movie itself probably killed his chances. I still remember the thrill I felt as a kid hearing that score before seeing the movie. If only the movie had been the score’s equal! I met Green at the premiere in Louisville (when he was still ‘Johnny’), and again many years later here in New York, where some of his music, including portions of the RC score, were performed at Carnegie Hall. It is odd, but true, as you say, that despite the movie’s badness a sort of charisma attaches to it. Green thought his score his own best work.” In the same letter Lockridge also noted the possibility of a new dramatization of “Raintree” as a TV mini-series. 14
In response to a letter written to Green long before the recognition of film music had become fashionable among both fans and academics, the composer himself wrote to the author of this article:
10 Vicarage Gardens
London WS England
24 March 1968
My dear Mr. Care
“I am deeply grateful for your extravagant compliments about my RAINTREE COUNTY score, and I am amazed and delighted by the detailed knowledge of the score that your compliments reflect. I was particularly gratified that your favourite spots in the score include several of mine.
Your references to aesthetic reward or lack of same in connection with the writing of film music triggers so large a topic as to rule out discussion in a letter of this kind.
Your reference to the hit songs that I wrote prior to composing the score for RAINTREE leads me to tell you that a large part of my professional life has been spent in the making of music of all kind for films. I started as a rehearsal pianist at Paramount in December of 1929, at the age of just 21.
Yes, I did read Ross Lockridge’s novel prior to writing the score.
I wrote about two hours and eighteen minutes of music for the film of which two hours and ten minutes are in the released print. In actual composing and orchestrating time it took me about four months, working around-the-clock seven days a week.
Since 14 April ’67 full-time (and from July 7 ’66 up to 14 April last part-time), I have been at work, not as a composer, but as the Music Director, adaptor, arranger and orchestrator of the music and lyrics of Lionel Bart for the film OLIVER!. I shall be hard at it on this project and its companion phonograph LP here in London though mid-October of this year.
I left MGM in March of 1958, have been free lance ever since and have done most of my film work during this period for Columbia.
Repeated thanks to you for the joy that you have given me, and my very best wishes to you for success in your own musical work.” 15
In reference to Green’s none-compositional film work (the pressures of which Green himself refers to in the above letter), author Tony Thomas observed: “… if Green hadn’t been so busy with musicals he would have been one of the industry’s foremost composers.” “Raintree County” verifies this speculation, though it’s sadly ironic that Green’s sole major score was put to the service of such a mundane, though admittedly, if only in retrospect, charismatic film.
But Green’s vivid musical evocation of the myth of the Golden Raintree remains a durable lyric masterpiece of the Hollywood studio system’s protracted golden twilight, one still capable of stirringly conjuring the pantheistic sunlight and Gothic shadows of a unique epic of literary Americana: The Great American Film Score for what came very close to being The Great American Novel, if emphatically not The Great American Movie.
Ross Care, September, 1995 – January, 1996
1. Larry Lockridge, “Shade Of The Raintree,” New York, Viking, 1994. p. 334
2. Ross Lockridge, Jr., “Raintree County,” Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1948. Preface, p. vii
3. Johnny Green, “Raintree County: A Discussion of the Score by Its Composer,” Film And TV Music, (Fall and Winter, 1957-58), p. 3
4. Ibid., p. 3-4
5. Ibid., p. 4
6. Ibid., p. 5
7. C. Sharpless Hickman, “Movies and Music,” Music Journal, (Jan., 1954): p.31
8. Ibid., p. 31
9. Green, p. 10-11
10. Green, p. 4
11. Several versions of Cole’s vocal may be heard on the 2007 Film Score Monthly 2-CD restoration of the RAINTREE COUNTY score.”
12. Green, p. 7 13 Green, p. 8 14. Larry Lockridge, letter to Ross Care 15. John Green, letter to Ross Care, March 24, 1968