David Buttolph is remembered today as the composer of the theme for the 1950’s TV series Maverick. But, as Jon Burlingame tells us in the booklet notes, Buttolph worked extensively on movies, largely at Fox and Warners, before turning to the small screen.
The Foxes of Harrow is a New Orleans–based costume picture from 1947. The source novel’s sprawling narrative was reduced to what is essentially a variation of the marital travails of the Butlers in Gone With The Wind, even down to the death of an adored only child. Buttolph’s style is, however, much more akin to that of Alfred Newman than Max Steiner, employing a lighter touch and being less reliant on folk and other popular music influences. The energetic, almost jaunty theme that begins the ‘Main Title’ looks forward to Maverick, before the mood changes in a brooding, brass-punctuated passage involving the giving away of an unwanted baby. ‘River Boat Scoundrel’ is in a similar vein.
In ‘Just Enough Time To Build’, Buttolph produces an expansive treatment of the yearning ‘Lily’ theme, which then skilfully morphs into the masculine theme of the ‘Main Title’, which, as with the TV series that would follow ten years later, involves a roguish gambler of the pioneering era.
One of the highlights of this disc is ‘Pauv Pit Momselle Zizi’, in which Maureen O’Hara displays an extremely fine contralto singing voice. Another is the exciting use made by arranger Jester Hairston of a number of spirituals sung by the slaves of the plantation (‘Wade In De Water’ and ‘Sooner Will Be Done’). Again, the mood owes nothing to Steiner, being more oblique and unsettling. Even better are the highly sinister voodoo vocal arrangements in ‘Erzilee’.
As with other SAE releases, The Foxes of Harrow showcases the work not just of the featured composer but the wealth of creative talent that existed in the Fox music department during its glory years under Alfred Newman. Besides Burlingame’s contribution, the booklet notes include an excellent essay on the production of the picture from Ray Faiola, who also provides descriptions of the cues themselves.