Sunday, February 18, 2018

On the Beach (1959)

On the Beach (MGM 1959; dir. Stanley Kramer; underscore by Ernest Gold) might be a good project for the general student—one who doesn't read music—because its music, both underscore and source, makes significant use of the familiar tune "Waltzing Matilda." Gold's treatment of it is very professional, varied, and creative—in addition to which its different aspects are quite accessible: no one can miss his extraordinary re-harmonizations or changes of instrumentation.

Some useful sources for information about the song and its history: Wikipedia articleTrishan's site [among most popular Australian sites about the song].

I have created a PDF file with a detailed set of music notes; access here on my Google Drive: link.

Students might also be intrigued by the very atypical roles played by the several leads—of them, only Gregory Peck is his usual upright, not that talkative but still vulnerable self. Ava Gardner and an aging Fred Astaire are the "town drunks," as she puts it. He is a scientist turned hobby race car driver. And Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame) is a devoted husband and father, lieutenant in the navy.

After a short prologue without music, during which the submarine rises to the surface off Melbourne, Australia, the main titles give the first complete rendition of "Waltzing Matilda." Here is the version we hear during that scene:


Note that the alternate ending has the melody going up rather than down to end. That doesn't happen in the main title sequence. It happens in four later places and is associated with the relationship of Dwight (Gregory Peck) and Moira (Ava Gardner).  An interesting class activity might be to analyze why the final statement (within 30 seconds of the end of the film) is so immediately striking.

Another possibility is to try to label the style topics expressed in the several differing arrangements of "Matilda." Most should be obvious (for example, a whimsical march version for Dwight's first meeting with Moira (at 20:05)).