The musical soundtrack pantheon of our moviegoing lifetimes must include another composer named John besides that of Williams: the great John Barry (1933-2011), who would have turned 82 today. Across 12 James Bond films (with Barry’s unmistakable arrangement of Monty Norman’s deathless 007 theme debuting in Dr. No and continuing ever after); journeys through the Dark Continent (Zulu, Out of Africa), the American West (Dances with Wolves) and outer space (The Black Hole); dark detours into neo-noir (Body Heat, Jagged Edge) and Hollywood’s underbelly (The Day of the Locust); historical pageantry and romance (The Lion in Winter, Mary Queen of Scots, Robin and Marian, Somewhere in Time); and even one’s own off-the-radar personal favorites (mine: They Might Be Giants, yours: fill in the blank), his melodies endure. Stepping outside the Bond realm in the mid-1960s, there is another great achievement: Barry’s inspired Academy Award®-winning Best Original Score and Best Song (lyrics by Don Black) for Born Free (1966), the beautifully crafted true story of Elsa the Lioness, based on Joy Adamson’s global best-seller and directed on location in Africa by James Hill. Playful, soulful and bountiful with emotion, Barry’s melodies provide the warmly inviting blanket for the tale of naturalists Joy and George Adamson (then-married couple Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers) and their dedicated and perilous struggle to rehabilitate the orphaned and home-raised lion cub Elsa and reintroduce her the wild with the skills she needs to survive. The film was an instant audience and critical favorite. “Almost from the opening shot—a vast expanse of corn-colored African plain where lions feed on the carcass of a freshly killed zebra—one knows that Joy Adamson's best-selling book Born Free has been entrusted to honest, intelligent filmmakers, Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times. “Without minimizing the facts of animal life or overly sentimentalizing them, this film casts an enchantment that is just about irresistible.” In the years afterward, McKenna and Travers became wildlife conservation activists and the movie itself endures as a magical and persuasive argument for the preservation of the natural environment. On the cusp of its 50th anniversary, Born Free has undergone a new Sony Pictures 4K restoration and its gorgeously photographed (by Kenneth Talbot) visual splendor will be showcased on Twilight Time’s new hi-def Blu-ray, coming home for the holidays. Barry’s ravishing score will be showcased on an Isolated Track, and the roaring-good Audio Commentary by movie music authority Jon Burlingame and TT’s own Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman explores the glories of maestro Barry as well as the film. Born Free arrives December 8; pre-orders open on November 20.
Another lion of cinema celebrates a birthday today: Charles Bronson (1921-2003). The born-to-be-badass star of currently available Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays The Mechanic and 10 to Midnight (as well as the sold-out Hard Times) will play a role in TT’s 2016 release schedule and like Elsa, he occasionally must channel his wild side on screen as well. Watch for news of more long-awaited Bronson movies in the coming months.