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Max STEINER (1888-1971)
She (1935) complete film score
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
Rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow; November 2007
Experience Classicsonline

The 1935 RKO Radio Pictures film of She was based on the fantasy adventure novel of the same name by H Rider Haggard (1856-1925). The film followed the novel, in essence; although the original 1887 novel’s initial African setting was transferred to the frozen wastes of the Arctic. The film, rarely seen today, is available on DVD:

  H. Rider Haggard
Classic opening logo of RKO Radio Pictures

 “To an unrepentant Haggard fan, [the film] does seem to catch the thrill
    as well as the childishness of his invention” - Graham Greene

The film starred Randolph Scott in the role of the hero, Leo Vincey. Scott went on to achieve fame as a western hero in a number of films for Warner Bros. and Columbia in the 1950s. Others in the She cast included Nigel Bruce, Helen Mack as the heroine Tanya and Helen Gahagan as Hash-A-Mo-Tep (She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed) (Ayesha in the novel) the dreaded queen who had made herself immortal by bathing in a pillar of fire. She had waited for 2000 years for the reincarnation of her lover whom she had slain in a fit of jealous rage. When Leo encounters her after various adventures, she believes that he is her slain lover returned from the dead.

Max Steiner’s original score for She - one of his favourites - was painstakingly put together from original materials and issued on a CD in December 1999. The quality of that composite mono recording was, as to be expected, somewhat primitive. Of the Tribute team, John Morgan who was responsible for music reconstruction and orchestration. Anna Bonn prepared the music together with conductor William Stromberg. Together they clearly realised the remarkable quality of this score and, after much meticulous restoration work, have produced Steiner’s complete score in a brilliant new performance delivered in excellent sound.

Go to fullsize image

Max Steiner – and (right)
 conducting the RKO
 Orchestra (mid-1930s)

Like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Steiner came from Vienna where he studied composition with Gustav Mahler at the Conservatoire. By 1935 he had accrued a considerable reputation as a, even the, pioneer in the art of film music. His early masterpiece, the music for RKO’s 1933 classic, King Kong, to all intents and purposes, set the standard for the subsequent scores of Hollywood’s Golden Age: (please scroll down past Nino Rota collection). The score for King Kong followed in the tradition of Wagner in the use of leitmotivs to delineate the major characters, their feelings and the often perilous situations they meet.

This use of leitmotivs is prevalent in Steiner’s She score. The theme for She, stated immediately and grandly in the Main Title music, is subject to many variations according to on-screen mood and action. In her first appearance, in the cue ‘The Queen’, a wordless choir wails the theme longingly. Hash-A-Mo-Tep has endured centuries without love and accordingly her theme in the same cue later becomes irresolute and painfully slow and devoid of joy. In ‘The Trial’, her theme is majestic, dramatic and threatening as She sits on her throne to pass judgment on those who had previously attacked Vincey’s party. In contrast, there is a warmer, lovely romantic melody for the heroine, Tanya, stated in ‘At the campfire’ for harp and strings with solo cello. There are so many highlights in this memorable score including the thrilling and highly evocative writing for the ‘Avalanche’ and the extraordinary music for the three Stravinskian ‘The Hall of the Kings’ cues that employ a huge and exotic percussion section with augmented brass and woodwinds.

Steiner’s music had its critics notably Aaron Copland who accused him of mimicking whatever was on-screen: Mickey Mousing. An example is heard in ‘The Escape’ as the music graphically represents a burning staircase. This whole cue might be a reminder of Saturday matinee serial melodrama material but, for this reviewer, it is all part of the charm of this score.

Conductor William Stromberg, following Steiner’s practice, deliberately chose to use the film’s soundtrack as his guide even though Steiner’s printed music may have shown a completely different indication. Like Steiner, Stromberg spontaneously speeded up or slowed down the music to catch on-screen action, thus adding an unsettling tension and increased dramatic effect. Not surprisingly this practice sometimes disconcerted the Moscow Symphony Orchestra players when he strayed from the printed score.

Interestingly, an unusual and special screening of She was held for Los Angeles music critics. “The last word in modern dissonance - and harmonies,” wrote one. Another noted the score’s scope and breadth and suggested it was “practically an opera wherein the vocal lines are spoken.” Tempo stated that Steiner’s music “seems to compare favourably with that of Debussy and Ravel [and] de Falla.”

The 32-page CD booklet is lavish indeed with many stills from the films, pictures of Max Steiner and commentaries on his score and the making of the CD plus details about the production of the film

A must for all Max Steiner enthusiasts.

Ian Lace


1)      The album includes a 1½-minute bonus track devoted to the Main Title of James Whale’s Frankenstein composed by Steiner’s orchestrator, Bernhard Kahn, adapting some of the She music for the purpose.

2)      She was remade in 1965 with Ursula Andress; a rather lacklustre production, in Technicolor. Haggard’s proper name for She, Ayesha, was used and his African settings preferred.

3)      Max Steiner would go on to conduct Dimitri Tiomkin’s music for the 1937 film of James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon a rather similar story about a lost but idyllic civilization in a remote Tibetan valley.

Track Listing:

1. Main Title/Time Passes (02:07) 2. Uncle John’s Vision (01:06) 3. To the Northern Rim (00:35) 4. The Barrier (01:07) 5. At the Campfire (01:21) 6. The Saber-Tooth Tiger (02:19) 7. Avalanche (01:21) 8. The Cave (03:14) 9. Fight With the Natives (00:49) 10. Trek to Kor (03:39) 11. At the Gate (00:29) 12. The Queen/Tanya in Bed (05:07) 13. Tanya’s Unrest (03:21) 14. Leo Asleep (03:06) 15. Fanfares (00:40) 16. The Trial (05:10) 17. Forgotten Place (01:51) 18. The Memory Pool/Cremation (04:29) 19. The Terrace (07:46) 20. Hall of Kings Part 1 (03:55) 21. Hall of Kings Part 2 (03:35) 22. Hall of Kings Part 3 (01:19) 23. The Escape (03:22) 24. The Flame of Life (05:01) 25. Finale (02:39)

Total Time: 71:07


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