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Review
Beneath The 12-Mile Reef



Beneath the 12-Mile Reef

Original Soundtrack Recording, conducted by Bernard Herrmann, 1953.

Film Score Monthly Vol.3 No.10 (CD, 2001, 55 minutes).
Beneath the 12 Mile Reef (1953) was one of the first CinemaScope films, and while the poster reproduced on the back cover of the booklet of this release sports the legend "You see it without glasses in CinemaScope", alludes to the supposed three-dimensional properties of the CinemaScope image, the advertisers surprisingly missed out on the opportunity for even more hype. An integral part of the CinemaScope process was stereo sound, and Beneath the 12 Mile Reef was no exception, so direct from the original mastertapes we have the rare opportunity to hear an original 1953 soundtrack in true stereo. (Film Score Monthly have also just released the soundtrack to the very first CinemaScope film, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)).

Parts of Bernard Herrmann's music for Beneath the 12 Mile Reef are familiar to fans of the composer from Charles Gerheart's Classic Film Scores series of the 1970's, and it is well known that Herrmann took advantage of the stereo recording process to create a unique sound by scoring sequences for no less than nine harps which he had distributed across the recording studio to produce an exceptionally wide soundstage. With the film being relegated to rare television showings in mono, excepting a recent American DVD release this current album represents the first opportunity many will have had to here Herrmann's score as he originally envisioned it. And this is one score where the sound is particularly integral to the overall effect. Recording techniques were primitive in 1953 when compared to today, but ever innovative Herrmann pushed what technology was available to the limit. Thus for the underwater sequences Herrmann had the orchestral recordings played through speakers on the soundstage and re-recorded, effectively creating a reverb track which was then mixed with the original orchestral tracks to create a sound with more atmosphere and depth and a greater sense of mystery and space. Part of what this means is that while this original can not compare in terms of resolution with a modern digital recording, it does have a very specific quality which gives it a special place in both recording and film music history. Add to this the fact that this is a very important score musically in Herrmann's career and you have all the makings of an essential release.

Surprising then that it has taken 48 years for this soundtrack to make its album debut, but while it has certainly take a time Film Score Monthly have done Herrmann and Fox proud with a first-rate presentation. As expected, the booklet, in terms of notes, illustrations and printing is of a very high standard. Lukas Kendall informs us that "There is a subtle wow throughout which is impossible to eradicate or repair." Well yes, it is there. But you'd really have to be listening out for it to let it spoil your enjoyment. There is the occasional moment where it becomes more pronounced, but one soon finds oneself so swept-up in the music the imperfections barely register. Certainly anyone used to putting-up with the crackles, pops and distortion LPs are prone to won't be bothered by the 'wow' factor here.

And the music? At 55 minutes and 22 cues this is the complete score, a mixture of the romantic and the lugubriously menacing, with underwater scoring which may sound clichéd today, but if so only because Herrmann effectively established the sound of many an undersea adventure with his music here. Pieces such as 'The Undersea Forest' are essentially benchmarks for an entire sub-genre (pun intended) and prefigure Herrrmann's baroque orchestration for many a Ray Harryhausen fantasy feature. There is a lyric quality to 'Elegy', the more mournful aspects of the score having a melodic quality in common with The Snows of Kilmanjiro (1952) and Vertigo (1958), the climactic cues building to the battle with 'The Octopus' being fine examples of suspense writing giving way to intense action.

An excellent album of a landmark (or should that be watermark) score. While there is a certain amount of repetition between cues that may put off the more casual listener, it's doubtful the casual listener will ever hear of these series of releases, and for the dedicated Herrmann buff this is simply a joy. Unreservedly recommended.



Copyright © 2001 by Gary S. Dalkin / The Bernard Herrmann Society.
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International Society for the Appreciation of the Music of Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975)