Friday Film (40)

Related imageIt’s pretty clear to me that the principal reason why more people do not know and appreciate the marvellous film musical achievement of Erich Wolfgang Korngold is — quite simply! — that the films themselves are so seldom encountered. Back in the years when I had a TV and watched it, I only ever came across three or four of his films in the schedules (and one of those — Another Dawn [1937]– was broadcast from a print or a tele-cine that gave the music a maddening wobble all the way through…). Some of the others I’ve managed to see because people have loaned me their ancient off-air VHS copies or because I happened to spot a commercial release in a shop; but even today — and despite the help of the internet! — there are several films with Korngold scores that I’ve still not seen…

But, in a couple of hours, that number of ‘films never seen’ will have reduced by one — because some unknown person has very recently uploaded Kings Row (1942) onto YouTube — and, for the moment, at least! — it’s still there!

If you want to watch it — and there’s certainly one reason why you might not want to — you’ll need to be quick, and you’ll find the panel for the whole film at the bottom of this posting. What I want to do at this point is mention something that makes this a ‘film and music’ posting in a slightly different way…

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

You see, it was not until I was in my 30s that I learned — from an older composer friend — that Gustav Holst had a brother who was a Hollywood film actor. I had long felt that I had a pretty good knowledge of twentieth-century British music and its most interesting composers — and it was quite a shock to find that this interesting bit of information about a British composer’s brother had entirely passed me by.

This was before the days of the internet, of course, so I had to wait until I was in the vicinity of a really good library to do all the checking I wanted to. But when I was finally able to go through some serious film-historical literature, I discovered just why it was that I never knew what I hadn’t known.

For it turned out that, while the brother — originally Emil Gottfried Adolph von Holst, and two years younger than Gustavus Theodore — had begun acting in the mid-1890s, he ultimately chose to work under the stage name ‘Ernest Cossart’. What’s more, after 1908 most of his years were spent in the US — which, of course, meant that he largely vanished from his brother’s everyday life, and so scarcely figures in normal ‘biographical’ discussions of Gustav’s life and music. On top of which, there is the fact that, while Emil/Ernest appeared in two silent movies in 1916, his proper Hollywood career did not begin until he was signed by Paramount in 1935 — which was a year after his brother’s death, and thus at a point in time that a ‘Holst biographer’ has no reason to scrutinise.

Ernest Cossart (1876-1951)

Obviously, I was very keen to see footage of Gustav Holst’s own brother moving and talking as he did all those decades ago (even if he was pretending to be someone else at the time); but, naturally, I couldn’t. Though he appeared in 36 movies between 1936 and 1949, it turns out that these films, too, aren’t encountered all that often…

Well, I can now report that one of these films is in fact our suddenly available Kings Row — in which Cossart plays the part of Pa Monahan, father of the female lead. Since most of his screen acting career seems to have involved him playing butlers, valets, manservants and priests, I think it’s rather nice that Kings Row allows him to appear as a salt-of-the-earth working-class Irish-American paterfamilias. (Yes, I immediately scooted through the film to find the bits with him in them!)

So, just so you can make his acquaintance, let me present Emil Gottfried Adolph von Holst, appearing under the name of Ernest Cossart and on loan from Paramount to Warner Brothers so that he may take the role of ‘Pa Monahan’…

And by now, of course, you will have seen why it was that I mentioned the possibility that you might not actually want to watch this film all the way through. I literally cannot think of a single good thing to say about Ronald Reagan, and there is absolutely nothing — apart from one or other circle of Hell — that I would ever be pleased to see him in. And let me stress that this has nothing to do with his supposedly mediocre acting ability (he wasn’t as talentless as people pretend) — but is entirely on account of the slug-trail of life-destroying evil that he smeared across the planet during his 93 worthless years: secret FBI informer, anti-communist witch-hunter, conscience-less corporate shill, enabler of economic gangsterism, prima facie war criminal in the manner of every single US President you can name, and more besides.

If you don’t believe you can stomach the prospect of seeing this smiling monster playing ‘a nice guy’ in scene after scene of a movie — even with Korngold providing the score! — then you may prefer simply to listen to some musical extracts and give the actual film a miss…

But if, like me, you are prepared to go the extra mile for old Erich Wolfgang — and find out what he does in a film where no-one at any point is fighting to the death with Errol Flynn — here’s the entire thing. If it helps you to steel yourself against the sight, sound and stink of Ronald Reagan, you may care to know that the British composer and pianist Harold Truscott (1914-92) apparently watched this film in the cinema more than 30 times — sometimes with his eyes closed all the way through — simply because of its music

Good luck.


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One thought on “Friday Film (40)

  1. A friend writes from abroad:

    “A beautiful, pristine, restored DVD of this film is on sale! You might also like to direct your blog readers to the lavish double CD, issued by FSM (available on Amazon etc) of the complete soundtrack conducted by Korngold himself: it is minus dialog and sound effects, and in restored sound. (It also has ‘The Sea Wolf’ as a bonus! And the booklet must be around 17,000 words!) At the very least, this would allow people to avoid Mr Reagan altogether!”


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