When one thinks of Errol Flynn in swashbuckling mode, the name of Erich Wolfgang Korngold immediately springs to mind. The continuing and well-justified appeal of his scores for Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk has, however, tended to overshadow the superb music which Max Steiner composed for 1949's Adventures of Don Juan, the last major film which Flynn made for Warner Brothers, the studio which had been his home since the mid 1930s.
Some tantalising fragments of the original soundtrack for Don Juan were released on LP in the 1970s, in celebration of 50 years of Warner's film music. Around the same time, Charles Gerhardt re-recorded some cues from the film, including most notably, the percussively wondrous 'Parade into London'. Now, however, for the first time, the complete original soundtrack is available, thanks to the efforts of Brigham Young University home of the Steiner archives.
Although Steiner was to a degree influenced by Korngold in fashioning his score for Don Juan he was clearly not overawed by his compatriot. After a brief brass fanfare, the 'Main Title' launches into the priapic Don Juan theme, followed by an expansive treatment of the lovely melody representing the Queen of Spain, whom Juan loves (platonically). This music is the emotional heart of the score and it is particularly pleasing to find that this disc features it in an extended form in 'Paragon among Queens', which appears to have been cut from the release print of the film.
Besides the themes for Juan and the Queen, the other main motif is a delightful serenade which Steiner employs in a variety of guises, to accompany the amorous adventurer's seductions, most of which are rudely interrupted. The best instance of this is 'Donna Elena's Advances', where the serenade theme is carried by a solo trombone, before a hunting horn announces the unexpected arrival soon-to-be-irate husband.
Besides these themes for sincere - and less than sincere - love, there is a good deal of 'action' music, with Steiner putting the Warners orchestra through its paces. Particularly fine is the double cue 'Seeds of Treachery/Count de Polan Captured', with the brass achieving a savage, rasping sound that Dimitri Tiomkin would later exploit in his extraordinary processional music for 1954's 'Land of the Pharaohs'.
Speaking of processions, it is fascinating to hear the aforementioned 'Parade into London' (or 'Processional' as it is here called) in all its original glory, employing no fewer than ten forms of percussion as Juan makes his way through the streets of London masquerading as the Don de Cordoba.
For anyone who wants an instant introduction to the splendours of Hollywood's Golden Age, there is no better choice than to buy this disc. The quality of the recorded sound is excellent, especially in the treatment of the many solo or smaller ensemble passages where the orchestra shows that it is, frankly, world class.
I realise that this review runs the risk of overdoing the superlatives, but Don Juan is to my mind a very important release that no serious collector should be without.
A final word: the liner notes by film historian Rudy Behlmer and John Morgan (of Marco Polo fame) are extremely informative and Leslie Gunn's design of the booklet and packaging is a delight.