Newman, Alfred (1901–70)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
For his last Biblical epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Alfred Newman provided the initial music but was not responsible for the end result. According to Christopher Palmer:
The film’s original running time, over four hours, was gradually whittled down to two. Moreover, [director George] Stevens was constantly re-editing, shortening and shifting scenes; in some cases music designed for one scene was placed in another, and when further cuts were insisted on by the distributors, Hugo Friedhofer and Fred Steiner were assigned the task of boiling down Newman’s music to suit. Small wonder that in the face of this Newman should have declared “it’s my name but it isn’t my score. I’d be happy if my name were removed from the credits.” 1
Like Rózsa in both Ben-Hur (1959) and King of Kings (1961), Newman included dramatic vocalization in the portrayal of the Nativity scene. A solo flute melody, with harp and chorus a bocca chiusa, accompanies the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem, followed by Mary (Dorothy McGuire) holding little baby Jesus (Randall Taylor), then the arrival of the three wise men, Caspar (Frank Silvera), Melchior (Cyril Delevanti), and Balthazar (Mark Lenard). Compared to Rózsa’s music for this scene in both Ben-Hur and King of Kings, the former with a wordless carol and the latter with a wordless 6/8-time pastorale, Newman’s music is more subdued, more intimate in nature.
Another scene in The Greatest Story Ever Told that includes dramatic vocalization is the raising of Lazarus. According to Christopher Palmer:
The music is not merely that of The Robe re-recorded, but instead the literal audio track superimposed onto a new context. The thunder Palmer mentions seems out of place, since in the scene the sky is a lovely clear blue. The use of this music here points toward the work of Friedhofer and Steiner as arrangers, and not Newman, although it is his music from a different movie. After this section comes a choral fugato sung to the word “Hallelujah” based on the main theme from The Robe, followed by none other than the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, leading to the movie’s Intermission.
The Crucifixion scene in The Greatest Story Ever Told has none of the tumultuous music of the similar scene in The Robe. Instead, the orchestra plays quietly in the background until Jesus’s death. At that point a storm breaks out, but the accompanying music, including dramatic vocalization, is affirmative and hymn-like in nature. In the following moments come the words of a Centurion (John Wayne), “Truly this man was the son of God,” almost comical due to Wayne’s Midwestern accent.
(Nauman 2009, 248–49)
|The Birth of Jesus|
See similar clips from Ben-Hur (1959), King of Kings (1961), and Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979).
|Jesus Climbs A Mountain|
|Lazarus Comes Forth [excerpt]|
After a long quotation from the Crucifixion sequence in The Robe, the scene ends with the “Halleluja” chorus from Handel’s Messiah, immediately followed by the movie’s Intermission.
A short clip of Jesus before entering the Temple of Solomon and “cleaning house.”
|The Last Supper|
Hints of the melodic/thematic material from Newman’s score to The Robe.
How can one not love John Wayne as a centurion with his line, “Truly this man was the son of God [pilgrim].”
1 Christopher Palmer, The Composer in Hollywood (New York: Marion Boyars, 1990), 87. For more on the details surrounding the creation of the score to The Greatest Story Ever Told, see Ken Darby, Hollywood Holyland: The Filming and Scoring of The Greatest Story Ever Told (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1992).
2 Christopher Palmer, The Composer in Hollywood, 86.