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    The Duning Touch

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    As esteemed composers Carter Burwell (Carol), Johann Johannson (Sicario), Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight), Thomas Newman (Bridge of Spies) and John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) await the selection of who among them will take home the Academy Award® for Best Original Score Sunday evening, today marks the birthday of a long-time Hollywood music maestro, who himself was a five-time Oscar® nominee. 

    In a long career that would encompass composing, arranging and conducting for radio, movies and TV, George Duning (1908-2000) became best known for his 17 years at Columbia Pictures, working with music director Morris Stoloff. Two popular projects among film score fans were favorites the composer as well as Twilight Time consumers who made their hi-def Blu-rays sellouts. Picnic (1955), in which, thanks to instincts of director Joshua Logan, Duning’s own Theme from Picnic and the popular song Moonglow (music by Will Hudson and Irving Mills) became indelibly interwoven during a sexy William Holden/Kim Novak dance sequence, that sent romantics of the era swooning. 

    Music historian Jon Burlingame observed: “It became an iconic moment in 1950s cinema, and a pairing of tunes that would thereafter seem inextricably intertwined. More than two-dozen recordings followed the hit soundtrack recording – a single of which went to no. 1 on the Billboard charts – including versions by Perry Como, Harry James, Liberace, Si Zentner and, two decades later, even a disco arrangement by Lalo Schifrin.” Per Film Score Monthly, director Richard Quine's film adaptation of the Broadway hit “Bell, Book and Candle (1958) allowed Duning to exercise his gift for melody, romance, and jazz (in several source cues featuring The Candoli Brothers on trumpet). 

    Duning was always at his best with romantic elements, and the film's fantasy aspects allowed him to extend his musical imagination into colorful depictions of witchcraft.” The five currently available TT Blu-ray titles graced by Duning’s artistry are also choice, starting with director Charles Vidor's Cinemascope salute to a legendary musician, The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), starring Tyrone Power as the fondly remembered orchestra leader/pianist, Kim Novak as his supportive wife and a dizzyingly lush assortment of Carmen Cavallaro-performed melodies by Chopin, Liszt, Jimmy McHugh, Harold Arlen and more. Duning and Nelson Riddle collaborated on the swinging jazz-inflected musical adaptation of the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart songs for Pal Joey (1957), starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Novak under the smooth and snappy direction of MGM veteran George Sidney. The other three Duning TT movies are hard-riding Westerns directed by three of the best: The Man from Laramie (1955) from Anthony Mann, Cowboy (1958) from Delmer Daves and Two Rode Together (1961) from John Ford. In each, whether in moments of quiet camaraderie, brawny horseplay or terrifying danger, Duning’s expansive and precise musical settings augment the powerful performances of Hollywood greats James Stewart, Glenn Ford, Richard Widmark, Jack Lemmon and Arthur Kennedy. Each of the five Blu-rays features an Isolated Score or Music and Effects Track that showcases the melodic and well-honed gifts of a time-tested musical giant.