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Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) – Monstrous Movie Music - MMM-1965; 46 tracks

, 54.39
Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter were a unique footnote to mainstream Hollywood music of the studio era. Sawtell was a violinist and Shefter a concert pianist and each was conservatorytrained as well. But in the late 1950s they formed a collaboration that produced a number of classic genre scores for films ranging from low budget cheapies to fairly lavish CinemaScope/stereophonic Irwin Allen epics for 20th Century Fox. Among the former is a varied and extremely effective symphonic score for THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, an Italian production starring Vincent Price and helmed by low budget producer, Robert Lippert. The film itself is based on the Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend, and Matheson himself originally adapted a screenplay for Britain’s Hammer Films. But when Hammer bowed out the script eventually underwent various alterations resulting in an ultimately mixed reputation for the final (ineptly dubbed) Lippert version.

One aspect of LAST MAN that works remarkably well is the Sawtell/Shefter score, recently released in a complete world premiere stereo recording from Monstrous Movie Music. The story of Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) fighting off a plague of vampire zombies is, as producer David Schecter’s liner notes point out, pretty much of an on-going downer. Add to that flashbacks involving the death of Morgan’s wife and child, plus Franco Delli Colli’s moody black and white cinematography and the pervasively depressing mood of doom and gloom is complete.

However, the atmospheric Sawtell/Shefter score certainly helps create variety and excitement as well, for a film Schecter also calls “a unique and memorable example of low-budget science fiction moviemaking.” The CD includes 41 cues from the score as well as bonus tracks that provide versions of five cues without the choral overdubs used in the film. As far as I know it’s somewhat unusual for the composer team to include wordless choral parts in their scores and Schecter somewhat questions their appropriateness in the context of this film. Personally I find them very effective, giving cues such as “Beside Casket” and “Fights off Vampires” a brief jolt of the sound of Les Baxter’s exotic Capitol Records period.

The score was recorded with a 41-piece orchestra, rather impressive for a low budget production, and the team certainly makes the most of it with evocative orchestrations that sometimes suggest Debussy and Alban Berg. The woodwinds are particularly well scored and performed and their solos beautifully captured in the vivid stereo recording. Science fiction staples such as vibes, harp, and celesta are also impressionistically utilized (“Killing Vampires”). In a more dynamic mode the use of muted trumpet with drums and strings at the end of “Goes for Supplies” is a brief but exciting passage which one wishes could have been developed more at length.

The liner notes also meticulously document motifs and passages recycled from other Sawtell/Shefter scores such as THE RETURN OF THE FLY, IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (another recent release from MMM), and JACK THE GIANT KILLER. LAST MAN is emphatically one of the finest releases so far from the adventurous and ever expanding

Monstrous catalog - they recently also released Ernest Gold’s SHIP OF FOOLS - and a welcome addition to the also growing renaissance of Sawtell/Shefter releases.

Ross Care