Rifling - The Rifleman

Retroist Scoreboard: Rifling through the classics

There’s been no shortage of soundtracks from classic westerns lately, but this week I have a real treat to bring to your attention, a vintage surprise from a label normally associated with audiophile classical releases rather than soundtracks. Laurel Records is releasing a 2-CD set of Herschel Burke Gilbert’s original music from the classic late ‘50s/early ‘60s TV series The Rifleman, remastered from the original session tapes. The 2-CD set includes a 24-page booklet detailing the series’ music and the career of its composer, who also happened to be the founder of the label. The track list includes such gems as a vocal version of the theme tune, which many listeners may not have realized had lyrics all along! TV soundtracks from this era, let alone soundtracks representing the golden age of TV westerns, are rare specimens indeed.

Rifling

The Esteemed Herschel Burke Gilbert.

Varese Sarabande is bringing back a classic soundtrack they first issued on vinyl in the 1980s, this time on CD for the first time: Bob Colbert’s score to the mammoth 1983 miniseries based on Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. Colbert, a veteran of such TV fare as Dark Shadows, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and Supertrain, gave the epic tale of family drama amid the turmoil of World War II a fittingly grandiose orchestral treatment that has been available on LP only for the past 30-odd years. As part of the Varese 500 series, this release is limited to a very, very short print run of 500 copies worldwide.

Even ThinkGeek is getting in on the soundtrack action this week, with an exclusive milk-white vinyl release of highlights from Ramin Djawadi’s music from season one of HBO’s Westworld. It contains only a fraction of the music available on the full-length digital download, but if you like your music for unnervingly emotional robots to have the warmth of vinyl, this is the only game in town. This title is reportedly selling fast, so muster your best robot-like reflexes on the ordering button.

Last but not least, Intrada has put a heap of back catalog titles on sale through April 26th, offering a 30% discount with the coupon code SALE30. Titles you can pick up at unhealable deep-cut discounts include 48 Hrs., The Blue Lagoon, In Like Flint, SpaceCamp, Cat’s Eye, Judge Dredd, Red Dawn, The Shadow, and vinyl releases such as Rocky IV and Clash Of The Titans. Pick up some real classics for your collection, possibly without weeping for your wallet. Hey, you needed to spend that tax refund somewhere, didn’t you?

Before we shut down this week’s Retroist Scoreboard, here are a couple of sneak previews. La-La Land Records has been delighting X-Files fans for several years with elaborate box sets containing highlights of Mark Snow’s scores from many a popular episode of the original show’s run, and now the label is bringing X-Files fans’ soundtrack collections up to date with a collection of music from the recent revival of the series, available for order next week.

Varese Sarabande is taking pre-orders for the May CD release of the score from Barbarella, the first-ever official CD pressing of this score. (There have been CDs transferred from the original LP before, but all of those prior releases have been bootlegs.) Also, the price is definitely right on this one – the music has that unmistakable flavor of the ‘60s, and it has a price tag from the ‘90s.

And finally, the official soundtrack of the human race as of 1977 is about to be made available! Last fall, Ozma Records launched a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a remastered edition of the Voyager Golden Record, the gold-plated LPs that were affixed to the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft before their launch toward interstellar space in 1977. Devised by Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan and Jon Lomberg, the Golden Record is a primer of the sights and sounds of Earth, including natural sounds from many environments, music from many cultures (including the late, great Chuck Berry and Louis Armstrong), and pictorial and pictographic representations of Earth, its location, and its dominant life forms who felt like flinging some very informative vinyl into the depths of the Milky Way galaxy. While the 3-LP vinyl box set ran nearly $100 and is still in production, those of us who, like myself, backed the project at a more budget-conscious level can expect to receive our digital downloads in the very near future. There’s no word as yet on any general, non-Kickstarter-backer release plans for the remastered Voyager Golden Record.

Now, if the Voyager Golden Record had been made about a year later, what are the odds that Earth’s Greatest Hits would’ve wound up including some John Williams tunes suitable for a galaxy far, far away?

Search

The superspy Search engine of the ’70s

It’s 1972. Missions to the moon are still being launched. A space station is about to go into orbit. Live television broadcasts and telephone communications via satellite are becoming commonplace, as are computers capable of handling and sorting immense amounts of information. In this context, the idea of one man, an Aston Martin, and a martini (shaken, but not stirred) standing between the free nations of the world and domination by evildoers seems quaint.
Search

At least that’s the idea in NBC’s Search, a short-lived “spy-fi” series dreamed up by Leslie Stevens, the producer who had brought us The Outer Limits in its original 1960s incarnation. Search involves the top-secret World Security Corporation, evidently a commercial entity with connections in all the right (high) places. Deep inside World Security’s office building lies PROBE Control, a kind of “mission control” guiding the activities of an elite handful of special agents around the globe.

[Via] Warner Archive

Sitting in the big chair at the center of PROBE Control is V.C.R. Cameron (the simply amazing Burgess Meredith), a veteran at the spy game who now turns his expertise toward guiding younger agents in the field. Surrounding “Cam” is a circle of specialists in data retrieval and analysis who, together with PROBE’s amazing computer power, can piece together information on the fly to help agents in the field.
Search - Burgess Meredith

Those agents are themselves called Probes. Each agent has been fitted with an implant that allows them to hear and speak to PROBE Control via satellite, and each agent has a tiny camera, worn either as a pendant or as a ring, allowing PROBE Control to see what they say, analyze things or even people at the spectroscopic level, and monitors and records the agent’s vital signs.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s more than one agent, and an acknowledgement that each Probe needs time off to recover from each taxing adventure. One of three agents leads the charge in each episode: Hugh O’Brian as Lockwood, a.k.a. “Probe One”, the best and brightest of the agents; Anthony Franciosa as Nick Bianco, a.k.a. “Omega Probe”, a former cop with deep knowledge of the criminal underworld; and Doug McClure as the carefree C.R. Grover, the Backup Probe, who gets the assignments no one else wants – or inherits hazardous assignments from Probes who die in the line of duty. (On a purely logistical level, this arrangement would allow for multiple filming crews to be filming multiple scripts at multiple locations, and future-proofs the show against such real-world incidents as a star being hurt…or demanding a larger salary.)


The action starts with the pilot movie PROBE, which aired early in 1972, starring Hugh O’Brian and no less a guest star than Sir John Gielgud. Introducing the show’s jetsetting international scope, flashy stunt work, and the seemingly vast PROBE Control set, the movie can’t have been cheap, but it sets up the concept and some of the characters – and hooked enough viewers to get a go-ahead as a series.

There’s just one problem: PBS was airing a documentary/news series called Probe at the same time, and the producers were asked to change the name of the series when it returned in the fall, hence its rebirth as Search. O’Brian and Burgess Meredith were still aboard, along with many of the same actors who played the PROBE Control computer operators, but O’Brian began rotating episodes more or less evenly with Franciosa and McClure, and the settings changed drastically from week to week.

Search is fun in that early ’70s gotta-have-a-car-chase-if-it’s-on-TV kind of way. Each of the leading men have their own quirks and charms (though Franciosa, as Nick Bianco, emerges as an early favorite just for his character’s Rat-Pack-worthy swagger), and Burgess Meredith anchors each episode, providing his trademark good-natured crankiness.

And that awesome spy tech? The funny thing is, in this world of the internet and cell phones (and, yes, cell phones that can get on the internet), Search’s technology is just now landing this side of the “plausible” line. In 1972, the technology depicted, and its abilities, were pure science fiction, an attempt to transplant the NASA technology that everybody had seen get men to the moon into a spy thriller setting.

After decades of obscurity and being forgotten, Search is back, with the full series available on DVD. PROBE is available on its own disc. It may not be worthy of binge watching as we now know it, but it’s fun to watch an episode now and again. And how did Search fans enjoy the show after it played on their local NBC stations? Believe it or not…there was an official set of Search ViewMaster reels…because nothing is more fun for kids than reliving Hugh O’Brian stoically putting down a terrorist plot!

As cool as that is, however, Search – and its whistle-able theme song and neat spy tech – signed off after a single season. Over the course of its months on the air, the expense of mounting weekly international spy capers (even if “international” meant “Hollywood backlot”) was evidently getting to be a bit much, as PROBE Control shrinks noticeably as the show wears on.

Had the show stayed on for a second year, it would seem like getting the three leading men together, either for a one-off mission to save the world, or as part of an all-hands PROBE effort to stop some global scheme, would’ve been a no-brainer for a sweeps month – kind of like doing Doctor Who’s celebrated Five Doctors episode in year two instead of year 20.

Is this one of those underground classics that needs a modern reboot? Should the Search continue? Seek out the original and judge for yourself.

Shoot Movies

Retroist Scoreboard: They shoot movies, don’t they? (4-12-17)

Soundtrack fans, saddle up for a return to the wild west, as La-La Land Records has a real treat this week: the complete Elmer Bernstein score, as heard on screen, from 1965’s classic John Wayne/Dean Martin western The Sons Of Katie Elder. Though there have been soundtrack releases from this film before, they have been suites or re-recordings, and not the original 1965 studio recordings used to score the film, and they’ve been nowhere near complete. And you’d better be ready to round this one up fast: La-La Land is only pressing 1500 copies.
Shoot Movies - The Sons of Katie Elder

And while you’re at it, La-La Land is making it easy to start a soundtrack stampede in your collection, dropping the soundtracks from Rio Lobo, Stagecoach, The Shootist, Bandolero, and Take A Hard Ride to $10 each through April 23rd. That, my fellow bad hombres, is enough of a steal to make you feel like a real bandito.

Varese Sarabande isn’t rolling out any new titles this week, but they are having an ongoing sale on some classics, including John Williams’ Family Plot, Jerry Goldsmith’s score from The Red Pony, Henry Mancini’s music from Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe?, and even the great Bernard Hermann’s music from TV’s The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Classic video game soundtracks hitting vinyl seems to be a thing these days – why tickle just one retro gene when you could tickle them all at the same time? – and in that spirit, Brave Wave is rolling out the full soundtrack from Ninja Gaiden, as heard both on the NES and in the arcade, across two volumes, available on CD, vinyl, and iTunes downloads. Composed by Keiji Yamagishi, Mikio Saito, and Ryuichi Nitta, this is iconic game music given a grand treatment; the second volume, in fact, boasts the first-ever official release of the music from Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom.

European label Quartet Records is also getting in on the vintage western action, releasing a freshly remastered CD of John Barry’s score from the 1977 Charles Bronson movie The White Buffalo, but that’s not the big surprise of this release. The big surprise is that the album producers unearthed the movie’s original score, composed by David Shire and rejected by the studio and director, on the grounds that it was too modern for the movie’s setting, resulting in a late rush to hire Barry to rescore the picture. But was the studio right? Now you can judge for yourself – both scores are presented here in their entirety.

And while it may not be retro, I can’t resist the plot setup of the new Anne Hathaway flick, Colossal.

[Via] JoBlo Movie Trailers

What makes it even more irresistible is that it’s been scored by Bear McCreary, of 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Walking Dead, Outlander, Battlestar Galactica and Agents of SHIELD fame. McCreary really is one of your author’s favorite current composers, and I’m really looking forward to his score from Colossal, which should be hitting the download services as we speak.

One of 2017’s most hotly anticipated releases is just waiting in the wings, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to drop some news on you about a soundtrack box set suitable for a heroine wearing satin tights while fighting for her rights. One also hears there’s music on the way from the most recent season of a show which assures us, repeatedly, that the truth is out there.

Until then, friends, it’s time for the final installment of the Retroist Scoreboard Glossary, putting all of the lingo of this wonderful hobby on the table at your disposal, so you know what you’re hearing, and how you’re getting to hear it. Hopefully this has been useful to budding fellow soundtrack enthusiasts.

The Retroist Scoreboard Glossary: what’s in a soundtrack?
Dialogue – it’s hard to do a movie without dialogue, but sometimes the producers of soundtrack albums feel that dialogue from the movie needs to be mixed into the music (instances of this include the original release of Queen’s Flash Gordon and the mixed score/songtrack album for Apollo 13). Opinions among film music enthusiasts vary wildly as to the merits of doing this, but the prevailing wind seems to favor not mixing dialogue in with music. Get three or four soundtrack collectors in one room, however, and you’re likely to hear a dissenting opinion.

Entr’acte – the older brother of the overture, the entr’acte is a piece of music dating back to when movies, particularly lengthy ones, featured an intermission. Sometimes music would play during the intermission (and sometimes it wouldn’t), but a piece of music called the entr’acte would notify the audience that the intermission is nearly over. Like the overture, the entr’acte was an opportunity for the composer to show their chops without competing with a sound mix or dialogue. While the overture could be found hanging around into the late 1970s, the entr’acte has fallen out of use (along with the intermission…). Movies with entr’actes include Ben-Hur and Ice Station Zebra; DVD and Blu-Ray releases often omit the entr’acte (…because who needs an intermission when you’ve got a pause button?), so music specially composed for the entr’acte is often lost to history unless it appears on a soundtrack release.

Overture – seldom used in the Modern Age of movies or film scoring, the overture is a piece of music played before a movie begins, prior to the opening credits, frequently summing up some highlights of the score before the audience has heard those highlights in context. It was a rare chance for film music composers to shine without having to compete against the rest of the movie’s sound mix. Overtures can still be found in movies as recent as Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Black Hole (both released in 1979).

Score – the instrumental underscore of a movie, television show, or game. Unlike source music, the characters in a movie do not hear the score, leaving the music to act as something of a Greek chorus conveying emotions or other meaning directly to the audience. The Academy Awards specifically separate Oscar awards for best song and best score. Some collectors – myself included – will use “score” and “soundtrack” interchangeably, though commercially released soundtracks may be more akin to a songtrack.

Soundtrack – in purely technical terms, this is the full sound mix of any movie or television show, including music, dialogue, and effects – the literal sound track adjacent to the picture on a film distributed to theaters. (As such, many an older soundtrack release is labeled as “music from the original motion picture soundtrack”.) In soundtrack collectors’ parlance, of course, a soundtrack is simply the music from a movie, though a soundtrack producer may decide there’s a reason to include dialogue as well.

Moonbase 3

Lunar lunacy on Moonbase 3

How excited would you be to find out that the minds behind Doctor Who were being given a second show to run, an original science fiction epic of their own design, with money coming not just from the BBC, but a major American studio, to be shown on a U.S. broadcast network?
Moonbase 3

If you were asked this in 2017, you’d probably be pretty excited. If, on the other hand, you were asked in 1973, you might also be excited, unaware that the result would be a short-lived show called Moonbase 3.

[Via] Collin Dubberley

Devised by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, who were, respectively, the producer and script editor of Jon Pertwee-era early ’70s Doctor Who, Moonbase 3 chronicles the dramatic goings-on at a British-run moon base, where research, politics, and the middle ground between the two – funding – are always points of contention. The pent-up confines of the base make it a pressure cooker between conflicting personalities; in this environment, personality quirks can become more pronounced, or even dangerous to others.
Moonbase 3

The BBC got 20th Century Fox to pitch in on the making of Moonbase 3, so its model work is fairly impressive – not just 1973 impressive, but nicely done and detailed. (Compare to a contemporary episode of Doctor Who, Frontier In Space, which featured a spacecraft whose spherical nose was literally a painted light bulb. Please don’t drop the model.) There was no obligation from the BBC to connect Moonbase 3 to Doctor Who, so it isn’t a spinoff; it actually aired in a late night slot on ABC in the States.

In fact, it’s that little known American broadcast that explains why we have the show at all now; as is often sadly the case, British-made shows shot on videotape tended to be shown once or twice, and then the tapes would be wiped and reused, as videotape was an expensive luxury in the 1970s. As far as anyone knew, until PAL-to-NTSC converted broadcast videotapes turned up in the vaults in America, Moonbase 3 was lost for good. (In fact, the show’s co-creator, Terrance Dicks, has offered the opinion that this might’ve been just as well, but when one considers the sadly incomplete state of such series as Doomwatch, Doctor Who, Ace Of Wands and Out Of The Unknown, the recovery of the entirety of Moonbase 3 has to count as a good thing.) Converted back to PAL, Moonbase 3 has since been released on DVD in the UK. (It’s so completely unknown in America that no Region 1 release has ever been scheduled; for whatever it’s worth, the show also exists in YouTubed form.)

[Via] Whovian69uk’s channel

What does Moonbase 3 have going for it? An always-interesting cast, ever-shifting alliances and agitations between characters, and some decent sets and special effects for an early ’70s BBC series. The acting style is, to be charitable, early ’70s UK TV – stagey and a bit shouty – but Moonbase 3 boasts some familiar guest stars if you’re a fan of British TV. The highlight of the six episodes is Castor & Pollux, an episode chronicling a mishap during an international space mission involving one of Moonbase 3’s crew – it’s a gripping and plausible story (from a show that predated the American/Soviet Apollo Soyuz Test Project mission by two years) with some dizzying effects work.

On the downside, Moonbase 3 is thick with human intrigue and interpersonal conflict, and perhaps a bit short on the awe and wonder of space. The heavy, oppressive atmosphere of the show isn’t a bundle of laughs, and depending on your frame of mind may not even be entertaining. A few keen observers of British TV have noted that there’s more than a slight similarity between Moonbase 3 and the moody first season of Space: 1999, which arrived two years later on rival network ITV.

Moonbase 3 is an acquired taste, and it’s easy to see why it ran six episodes and then simply didn’t get picked up. The spacey sets built for the show were easy enough to recycle – they turned up as a faux spaceship in the season of Doctor Who that came after Moonbase 3’s short run – and Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks elected to concentrate their energy on the relatively light-hearted travels of the TARDIS. Moonbase 3 survives as a bit of a TV cul-de-sac, a sci-fi curio that may be more effective as a mood piece than as a story.

Raven

1977’s Raven: a show fit for a King?

In the 1970s, there wasn’t really anything akin to a blank check in British TV sci-fi and fantasy, but if there was, writer/producers Trevor Ray and Jeremy Burnham would likely have had one after scoring a success with their first project, Children Of The Stones, produced at regional broadcaster HTV West and aired nationwide by ITV. Based partly on the real lore behind a Neolithic stone circle in Avebury, Wiltshire, which also happened to be the primary filming location, Children Of The Stones was a masterpiece of mood. Even if its plot – which ended up involving a cult whose purpose was to focus the energy of a black hole upon the Earth, and a time loop that trapped everyone within the fictional village of Milbury – was a bit convoluted, the sheer atmosphere – helped along by possibly the creepiest TV theme tune ever – was palpable.

[Videos Via] Network Distributing

What could Burnham & Ray possibly do to top that? They were already working on it at the time Children Of The Stones was going out over the air. The answer: England’s most legendary figure would return, as lore often said he would, at the country’s time of greatest need.

Raven, starring very young future EastEnders soap stars Phil Daniels and Shirley Cheriton, involved an attitudinal juvenile delinquent named Raven, sent to an archeological dig sit on a work-release program. The dig is in its final days, however, as the caves being studied by Raven’s host, Professor Young, will soon be evacuated to serve as a dumping ground for potentially hazardous nuclear waste.
Raven

Raven begins experiencing visions of a bird, and of himself – in robes and a crown – and is amused when Professor Young’s wife, herself a noted ornithologist, tells him that, judging by his descriptions, the bird he keeps imagining is known as a merlin. Can you see where this is going?

If not, the show’s six episodes waste little time in hammering it home. With six half-hours to tell its story, Raven has to be as subtle as a jackhammer at times with its Arthurian parallels. Worse yet, the show’s two writers can’t decide if Raven is going to rail against the destiny that seems to have been decided for him, or if he will embrace it and indeed become the reincarnated leader of legend, back from the dead to lead his country away from an ecological disaster in the making. There’s little consistency to the character – one moment he’s rallying followers who truly believe he is Arthur reborn, and the next he’s complaining about the role to which everyone nearby seems to be assigning him.

By the end of watching Network’s meticulously restored DVD* of the series, I couldn’t decide if Raven needed six more episodes to play out its story…or if it didn’t quite have enough story to fill the six episodes it had. Sadly, there’s no bonus documentary covering the show’s genesis and execution – and this is a show that really could’ve used some explanatory material along those lines.

Like Children Of The Stones, Raven is a triumph of style over substance, but there’s not quite enough style to disguise the plot holes and seemingly random character evolution. As a rule, if a show needs a commentary track or a documentary to explain itself, the scripts probably needed more time to cook.

That may be why even American kids remember Children Of The Stones and not Raven – the former show was selected as one of the UK imports that aired on cable in the U.S. as part of Nickelodeon’s “Third Eye” programming block, which also included such classics as The Tomorrow People. Raven wasn’t so lucky. Maybe its Arthurian mythology made it “too British” to make the jump across the Atlantic (though, let’s be fair, that’s never stopped any other attempt to play with or modernize the Arthurian myth), or maybe it confused even the people selecting programming at early Nickelodeon.

[Via] refbiz

Raven is fondly remembered by those who saw it air in late 1977, though it’s definitely an obscure minor footnote in the pantheon of British sci-fi and fantasy series – a fleeting, momentary memory. Like a bird.

Network’s Raven DVD release is only available as a Region 2 / PAL release.