NOT QUITE A BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (But a GREAT Score) Walter Greene: THE BRAIN FROM THE PLANET

AROUS & TEENAGE
MONSTER
(74 tracks) MMM-1968 – TT: 77.14 ****
AROUS: 40 Tracks, MONSTER: 34 tracks

++++++++++++ The scores from THE BRAIN FROM THE PLANET AROUS and the obscure TEENAGE MONSTER are double-featured as the fourth of a quartet of recent CD releases from the ever reliable (and ever surprising) Monstrous Movie Music. The two films were released as an ultra low-budget double feature from Howco International in 1957, and while BRAIN went on to become a certified cult classic for fans of the genre, TEENAGE MONSTER remains a film that it seems not even MMM producer and avid fan boy David Schecter can love. Nonetheless, here are both scores complete on one of the more unusual (read weirdest but also fascinating) releases from MMM yet. Musically, BRAIN is the unexpected winner; the MONSTER score, like the film, not so much. As a film, BRAIN is notable for starring John Agar, on the way down from a promising career that began with costarring roles in John Ford’s FORT APACHE and Allan Dwan’s THE SANDS OF IOWA JIMA. Conversely, on the way up was co-star Robert Fuller, who went on to television fame as one of the western hunks on WAGON TRAIN - though his appearance here is disappointingly brief, his role being that of the first victim dispatched by the evil titular brain. Female lead is the attractive Joyce Meadows to whom this complete soundtrack is dedicated. The composer of both scores is Walter Greene (1910-1983). Though little known even among soundtrack buffs these days, Greene had a lengthy and impressive career scoring animation (including Woody Woodpecker, Speedy Gonzales, and Pink Panther cartoons), a bevy of Bwesterns, and arranging special material for stars like Fred Astaire and Kathryn Grayson at MGM. But BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, one of the strangest zero-budget genre offerings this side of Ed Wood, Jr., must have been a challenge ever after Woody Woodpecker. The plot, as described in Mr. Schecter’s notes, involves “a giant, evil, floating, sex-crazed extraterrestrial brain” that “wants to conquer the world and elope with the fiancé of a nuclear scientist while a giant, floating, virtuous extraterrestrial brain monitors the situation by hiding inside a pet dog.” Nonetheless the composer rose to the occasion with a score that keeps things hopping (or floating) in spite of a low budget and having to record both scores in only two sessions. Heard here complete the BRAIN score provides a surprising and surprisingly entertaining listening experience for those in tune with its somewhat specialized mode. It should be pointed out that Greene refrains from the expected Theremin/electric violin efx to score the entire film with what Schecter calls a “concert band,” in this case a substantial brass section, selected woodwinds, and, perhaps most distinctive of all, four saxophones. Alien efx are achieved with four percussionists and some spacey vibraphone overdubs, and the whole score should be fascinating to students of orchestration. The film opens with a frenzied main title (and a rather classy Howe International title logo) as a low budget point-of-light spaceship descends on a dark desert mountain. A rather “Twilight Zone” xylophone motif accompanies jolts of brass and swirling woodwinds, and the cue is not dissimilar to Greene’s also manic Main Title for WAR OF THE SATELLITES, (re)recorded (in stereo) on MMM’s excellent THIS ISLAND EARTH CD. (Note: here BRAIN is the original film soundtrack,

fairly effectively remastered). Track #2, a brief “Explosion,” follows, as the space ship lands. Cut to track #3, “Barbecue,” where the main characters are having a patio cookout and the plot gets underway. Here a complete change of musical mood reminds us that Greene was also an arranger for big bands such as Harry James and Xavier Cugat, among others. The track is a languorous, somewhat mournful beguine that moves to a lyrical love theme in muted trumpet. Both themes will recur in some of the tracks that follow, the latter suggesting the disrupted relationship of the two principles after Agar is taken over by the brain. I especially like the almost Duke Ellington bluesy sound of “Barbeque #2” which is momentarily interrupted by a blast of brass - the brain! - which suggests a similar effect in the INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN Main Title. Later in his notes Schecter kiddingly speculates on a commercial “Theme from The Brain from Planet Arous”, but these two haunting themes could easily have filled the bill. The score again shifts gear with #4, Ride to the Mountain, a rousing track that could have come out of one of the many westerns the composer scored. Ensuing cues alternate dramatic fantasy cues with sexy sax riffs and variations on the love themes, and Greene uses his limited musical forces with great impact and imagination throughout. Indeed, you never know what’s coming next with this score, and that is really one of its very real and very postmodern charms. An in-depth 20-page liner notes booklet with a few score pages is included, though it’s too bad the CD size format makes the latter difficult to examine. I for one would love to study this unusual score. Ross Care

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