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Franz Waxman

Franz Waxman Composer

Objective, Burma!, film score

Performances: 2
Tracks: 26
Musicology (work in progress):
  • Objective, Burma!, film score
    Year: 1945
    • Main Title/Opening Scene/Briefing in an Hour
    • Take off-In the Plane
    • Jumping
    • Killing the Sentry/Getting Ready
    • Stop Firing/No Landing
    • Andante
    • Two Came Back/Hollis Is OK
    • Burmese Village/Jacob's Death/Burial/Retreat
    • Resting/Radio Gone
    • Missing the Plane/Waiting/Up the Hill/Williams' Death
    • At Night
    • Ivasion/Landing
    • Camp/Finale
    • Main Title-Opening Scene-Briefing in an Hour
    • Take Off-In the Plane
    • Jumping
    • Killing the Sentry-Getting Ready
    • Stop Firing-No Landing
    • Andante
    • Two Came Back-Hollis is OK
    • Burmese Village-Jacobs' Death-Burial-Retreat
    • Resting-Radio Gone
    • Missing the Plane-Waiting-Up the Hill-Williams' Death
    • At Night
    • Invasion-Landing
    • The Camp-Finale
Fans of composer Franz Waxman (1906 - 1967) rate his score to Objective, Burma! as one of the greatest in his 144 Hollywood scores. It is first-rate symphonic action music, mostly avoiding the lushness of the Hollywood sound through emphasis on woodwinds.

Waxman, born in Germany (his name originally was spelled "Wachsman"), began working in the United States in 1934 and composed steadily for Hollywood until his untimely death. He was nominated 12 times for Academy Awards (including a nomination for Objective, Burma!) and won twice.

With a story by Alvah Bessie (nominated for a writing Oscar) and directed by Raoul Walsh, Objective, Burma! is one of the most effective World War II action films, with tense, crisp storytelling. It focuses more on small unit action than the epic sweep of the worldwide conflict, and is one of numerous World War II-era films starring Australian action hero Errol Flynn.

In the film Flynn commands a few hundred paratroops who drop behind enemy lines into Burma—then a British colony overrun in large part by Japanese forces and now the country of Myanmar. The mission is to knock out some key radar installations.

Nelson and his men must overcome horrendous difficulties before succeeding in their mission. First the hundreds of paratroops get scattered over a large area in the jungle—those who make it through the trees. Then they miss gathering at their intended rendezvous point and have to struggle to get to fall-back point. Many of them die when ambushed and tortured by the Japanese.

Errol Flynn in this film finally got to break through his almost comic-book leading roles as the brave officer who saves the war single-handedly. Critics today rate this as perhaps his best performances. A nuanced and understated role free of mock heroics, Flynn's Major Nelson leads troops facing realistic hardships: slogging through steaming swamps, constantly being hunted by Japanese troops, missing their rescuers, becoming more depressed as they weaken and lose buddies to snipers.

Ably assisted by his frequent orchestrator Leonid Rabb, Waxman created one of the best epic scores. The appearance of the title is stereotypically handled by the use of a large gong, and there is faint orientalism in the initial melody. But the film's true main theme arises in brilliant fashion: Waxman depicts the hundreds of parachutes scattering in many directions in zigzagging chromatic violin figurations. As some troopers make their rendezvous, these figures coalesce into the main theme.

At first it is jaunty, even cocky—a typical Hollywood epic sound is appropriate here. Later, though, the theme gets battered and broken as the men it symbolizes do, becoming deeply depressed in mood. Finally, it achieves its most noble statement while retaining its weariness but satisfied in the meeting of the mission's objective.

There are numerous suites and single-movement extracts of the score. The most popular individual number is "Parachute Drop," and the entire score is also available in a modern digital recording.

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