By 1955, when Max Steiner composed this massive score, he was no longer on the permanent staff at Warner Brothers, where he had achieved so much since the mid-1930s, helping to fashion the art of film music with such masterpieces as The Charge of the Light Brigade, Now Voyager and Casablanca. Steiner nevertheless continued to work off and on at Warner’s on projects such as Battle Cry and the epic Helen of Troy.
The sheer industriousness of the composer is amply demonstrated by this two CD release, containing as it does the entire score for the original 3 hour 15 minute cut of the film. When the film was hacked back by almost an hour for its eventual release, a great deal of the score went with it. Luckily, Warner’s kept the original magnetic tracks and we therefore are able for the first time to hear Steiner’s original conception.
Despite its title, Battle Cry is concerned primarily with the amorous adventures of a group of US Marines who start out as raw recruits, are posted to New Zealand and then see action at Guadalcanal. As a result, there is a good deal of source music for scenes involving dates and assignations in the form of big band numbers playing from jukeboxes and more romantic stuff from pub pianists (of an improbably sophisticated kind).
As in many of his works, most notably Casablanca, Steiner also makes extensive use of pre-existing song tunes in his non-source underscoring. Here the song is ‘I’ll String Along With You’ by Dubin and Warren, written years before for the war for Dick Powell to croon to Ruby Keeler, which Steiner employs as a love motif for Andy and his New Zealand girlfriend Pat. The handsomely produced and informative booklet notes muse on the reason for the choice of song but I suspect that it fitted the bill because it was well known, permitted of a variety of different treatments and Warner Brothers owned the copyright in it.
The best wholly original cues on disc one are those depicting the delicate romance between a shy aspiring writer and a goodtime girl, carried on aboard a ferry. Steiner provides an effective lilting repeated figure in the strings which, unusually for him, has a slight Debussian quality to it.
Disc two contains much more original material, as romance is interrupted by action against the Japanese. In particular, ‘Beachhead’, an extended nine minute cue, represents Steiner at his best, building tension and effortlessly changing moods with the assistance of the fine Warner’s Orchestra and especially its principal ‘cellist.