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Around the World in 80 Days (Original Film Soundtrack)

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Album Review

Veteran Hollywood composer Victor Young died of a heart attack at age 56 on November 11, 1956, three-and-a-half weeks after the premiere of Around the World in 80 Days, one of the last of hundreds of movies for which he wrote music. The 167-minute epic film version of Jules Verne's 1873 novel about a man who wagers he can accomplish the journey suggested in the title was a cinematic extravaganza mounted by brash producer Michael Todd in a widescreen process he had immodestly dubbed Todd-A-O. It was also a considerable success, winning the Academy Award for best picture and out-grossing every movie of 1957 except the similarly epic The Ten Commandments. In fact, it won five Oscars, one of them for Young, a sentimental favorite given his recent demise, since the composer had never won previously despite having been nominated 21 times before.

In the aftermath of the Academy Awards ceremony on March 27, 1957, the Decca Records soundtrack album for Around the World in 80 Days became a massive hit, entering the Billboard chart for the week ending April 13 and rising to number one for the first of ten weeks on July 22, which made it second only to the Elvis Presley soundtrack Loving You as the most successful LP of 1957. Its popularity was aided by the release of the film's main theme, a waltz called "Around the World," as a single that reached the Top 20 in the soundtrack version, with competing chart renditions by Mantovani and (with lyrics set by Harold Adamson) Bing Crosby and the McGuire Sisters.

Does all this mean that Young's score for Around the World in 80 Days was his best? No, but it may be his most characteristic. Young had an unusual gift for melody and was known for scoring pop hits with his tunes, among them "Stella by Starlight" and "Sweet Sue (Just You)." That gift certainly hadn't abandoned him at the end; the lilting "Around the World" was one of his most memorable themes. He was also known for using existing material and weaving it into his own writing, to the point that he sometimes seemed as much an arranger as a composer. Around the World in 80 Days offered extensive opportunities for this tendency, as the main character, Phileas Fogg, and his valet, Passepartout, travel from country to country. Fogg's own theme, not surprisingly, was "Rule, Britannia," and it turned up repeatedly in many different guises. It suggested that Young, viewing the movie properly as one big entertainment, wasn't going to be worried about indulging in clichés. On the contrary, his score reveled in them. No sooner were the heroes in Paris than a bit of the "Maxixe" would be heard. And so it went, with "Yankee Doodle Dandy" accompanying the movement to the U.S.; "La Cucaracha" heard in a Southwestern sequence; the Cavalry arriving to "The William Tell Overture"; and so on. This is not to say that Young didn't write plenty of his own music, and that much of it wasn't engaging, but even when he was being original, he was drawing on standard notions of what the music of a country or ethnic group sounded like. Of course, it was all in fun, just like the movie it accompanied, and the music was a major element in maintaining the light mood over the hours and continents. [The 50th anniversary expanded edition of the soundtrack adds nearly half-an-hour to the album as originally issued. Many of those additions are minor or repetitious, but a 72-minute version of Young's score is more appropriate to the scope of this film that the version that was edited down to the length of an LP in 1957.]


Born: August 8, 1900 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Soundtrack

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s

American composer Victor Young gave up a successful career as a concert violinist for popular music, becoming a major musical figure from the 1930s through the mid-'50s, writing many popular songs and scores for over 300 Hollywood films. Young was born on August 8, 1901, in Chicago where his father was a tenor in the Chicago Opera Company. He was ten-years-old when his mother died and after this, Young went with his sister to Warsaw, Poland, where they were raised by their grandparents. He studied...
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Around the World in 80 Days (Original Film Soundtrack), Victor Young
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