Famous Movie Western Marks 55-Year Anniversary On July 24, 1952, the western High Noon opened in the U.S. Its score and title song set the tone for years. The song "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)" was a hit across genres.
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Famous Movie Western Marks 55-Year Anniversary

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Famous Movie Western Marks 55-Year Anniversary

Famous Movie Western Marks 55-Year Anniversary

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(Soundbite of song "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)")

Mr. TEX RITTER (Singer): (Singing) Do not forsake me, oh my darling on this our wedding day. Do not forsake me, oh my darling. Wait, wait along…

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Fifty-five years ago this Tuesday, a Western produced by an independent studio with a modest budget opened in New York. When the theatre lights dimmed and the reel began to roll, audiences heard music that would redefine film scores for decades. The opening song was also the harbinger of great changes in the motion picture business. The movie was "High Noon."

(Soundbite of song "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)")

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) O to be torn 'twixt love and duty. S'posin' I lose my fair-haired beauty. Look at that big hand move along. Nearin' high noon. He made a vow while in State's Prison. Vow'd it would be my life or his. I'm not afraid of death, but oh. What will I do if you leave me? Do not forsake me, oh my darling.

HANSEN: That's Tex Ritter singing "Do Not Forsake Me" from the film, "High Noon." To explain the significance of the film score is our movie-music maven Andy Trudeau.

Andy, it's so nice to see you in the summer rather than Oscar season. Welcome back.

ANDY TRUDEAU: Oh, I'm enjoying the change of pace but we're staying on message. Both the song and the score won an Academy Award.

HANSEN: So, more, what's the big deal about this?

TRUDEAU: Well, this is a story on a lot of levels. It's a film music story. It's a business story. It's a technology story. Let's do the film music story first. There's a famous legend about this. It was shown in previews, didn't have the music underneath it. It was not doing well. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin and lyricist Ned Washington were brought in to fix the film. They came up with the idea for that narrative song that opens the beginning and lays out the plot. That wasn't unheard of.

What was unusual is the way Tiomkin then melded fragments of the song into the score. He didn't do arrangements of the song but used pieces of it to generate his musical ideas. I just want to play a really stunning short sequence that occurs towards the end of the movie. This is just before the train arrives. Everyone's on edge. We got a series of fast cuts and the music just takes us through to the climax of the train arriving. The ticking of a clock sets it off. You'll hear fragments from the song's middle melody, o to be torn twixt love and duty, and then the great climax. Here it is.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: The clock.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Now in the brass, you're going to hear the first fragments of the theme.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Now we have some passagework. In this score, Tiomkin did not write for the high strings, which was also very unusual for a major Hollywood film: Brass, low strings, percussion.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: And flutter-tongue trumpet, which is a Tiomkin tribute.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: There it is.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Here comes our theme again, just a little bit.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Just winds and percussion on this bridge passes.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: When the theme comes back, it's going to take us to the climax of the train arriving.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: At this point, you hear the train whistle.

HANSEN: Ha.

TRUDEAU: The powerful sequence. Actually, the visuals were edited to the music on the cut that you see in the film. This was a time of financial crisis in the film industry. There had been a series of court decisions that had stripped the major studios of their ownership of the theater chains that used to be a big source of revenue for them. So, at this point, the film people are looking for some new revenue streams. And then suddenly, this song comes along and, on its own, becomes a big singles hit. Not ironically for Tex Ritter, but for Frankie Laine. And this is a commercial version where some of the lyrics are changed.

(Soundbite of song "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)")

Mr. FRANKIE LAINE (Singer): (Singing) I do not know what fate awaits me. I only know I must be brave. And I must face the man who hates me. Or lie a coward, a craven coward, or lie a coward in my grave.

HANSEN: Frankie Laine in 1952 singing the first commercial version of "Do Not Forsake Me." It's from the film "High Noon." By 1953, according to Time Magazine, the song had sold almost two million records, Andy?

TRUDEAU: Eight hundred thousand of which were to due to Tex Ritter who came out with the second commercial version. Tiomkin said afterwards he made much more money from royalties on the song than he ever got from writing the score in the first place. When this song hit the charts, light bulbs went out throughout of the movie industry. Suddenly, they had a new revenue stream. They took over the music-publishing business - the record business - and start to churn out these things.

Plus, they had something they could use to promote the movie. So before "High Noon," it was very rare for a dramatic film to have a theme song at the beginning. For the next 10 years or so, afterwards, it was hard for one to come out without a theme song. I think some less kind critics have said this pretty much killed serious film music for the next decade.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TRUDEAU: Now, another confluence here. The recording industry, at the time this came out, is undergoing a major technological change. Seventy eights are being replaced by long-playing records. So suddenly, an industry that only needed six songs for an album set now needs 12 songs. So this machine was in place. This song came along. It grabbed it. And it came out in all styles. And I mean all styles.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: A name not unknown to elevator music, Ray Conniff.

HANSEN: And his orchestra, and singers, and his sound effects people - doing the (unintelligible) claps.

TRUDEAU: And the kitchen sink.

HANSEN: I love it. You said all styles, Andy. All styles, another one?

TRUDEAU: Well within 10 years of the release, this song became something of an American standard, which wasn't bad for a tune written by a Russian composer but lyrics by a Pennsylvania writer. But to prove that it actually made it a little bit into jazz, which I would not have imagined given the nature of the melody. But there was a 1964 version by the great bluesman Joe Williams. His version omits the middle part and offers instead Joe's inimitable take on Ned Washington's lyrics.

(Soundbite of song "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)")

Mr. JOE WILLIAMS (Singer): (Singing) Do not forsake me oh my darling. You made that promise as a bride. Do not forsake me oh my darling although you're grieving. Don't think of me baby. Now that I need you by my side. Wait along, oh, wait along…

TRUDEAU: Go, go, Joe Williams.

HANSEN: Absolutely. 1964, the hula-balu(ph) version.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TRUDEAU: Now, this song was an international hit, so not surprisingly there were some foreign language versions. Now I'm always fascinated with the process of translating American vernacular into foreign terms. It gets especially tricky when you have faux western slang like wait along. So a 1952 German version by a singer name Bruce Low - listen to how he manage to solve that problem.

(Soundbite of song "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)")

Mr. BRUCE LOW (Singer): (Singing) (German spoken).

TRUDEAU: Now, who would have figured the German for "wait along" is hi dee hey, hi dee ho?

HANSEN: And who would have thought German could be so poignant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TRUDEAU: Now I wanted to end this little appreciation with a return to the original film song. Those who are familiar with it would have heard some of the way the commercial song changed the lyrics. And I understand why it needed to be done, but I think something got lost in the translation. Here's the original clause in the only recorded performance that I have of it with a baritone named, Bob Sacker(ph).

(Soundbite of song "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)")

Mr. BOB SACKER (Baritone): (Singing) Do not forsake me oh my darling. You made that promise when we wed. Do not forsake me oh my darling. Although you're grievin' I can't believe in until I shoot Frank Miller dead. Wait along. Wait along. Wait along. Wait along.

HANSEN: Do not forsake me oh my darling, the title song from the film "High Noon." Andy Trudeau has been here helping us celebrate the 55th anniversary of the release of the film "High Noon," along with its score by Dimitri Tiomkin and title song by Tiomkin and lyrists Ned Washington. Who would have thought, there are so many versions of that particular song? I imagine it will stick in our minds for the rest of the day.

TRUDEAU: Sorry about that.

HANSEN: Okay. Well, anyway, you're going to be back early next year at Oscar time and I look forward to it. Thanks a lot.

TRUDEAU: My pleasure.

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