BOY ON A DOLPHIN (1957) is one of those great 20th Century-Fox “dramalogues” of the 1950s, i.e., escapist narrative films emphasizing international locations lushly shot in Fox’s new wide screen/stereophonic sound process, CinemaScope. DOLPHIN showcases Greece and deals with the search for a priceless antiquity, the shipwrecked golden statue of the title that is accidentally discovered by Phaedra, a buxom Greek sponge diver (Sophia Loren), in the waters around the island of Hydra. A dedicated archeologist (Alan Ladd) and an illegal collector (Clifton Webb) both vie for the statue and who gets it provides the intrigue in director Jean Negulesco’s entertaining and strikingly photographed film.
Hugo Friedhofer’s score is a fusion of a title song, exotic folk influences, and the composer’s own brand of gorgeous orchestral impressionism. In his notes to the original (mono only) Decca LP Friedhofer comments: “Southern Europe, and particularly the Mediterranean area, is hardly an arctic wilderness. If I have been as successful with the delineation of the aural image, as (cinematographer Milton Krasner) has been with the visual, anyone so inclined can call it ‘’lush,’ if they want to. As a matter of fact I hope they will.”
And lush it is, in the best sense of the word. The film opens with a brief visual/musical tour of the Greek islands underscored solely with a droning folk-like cue that emphasizes a huge woodwind section. The ensuing credits feature an intimate title song (later also heard in a kicky “lounge” version: “The Café”). Though not mentioned in the liner notes, according to the film’s credits this is based on a Greek song, “Tinafto,” with music by Takis Morakis and Greek words by J. Fermanoglou. (Roughly translated the title means “what is this they call love?”) Friedhofer is credited with adapting the music and Paul Francis Webster with providing new lyrics. (Strangely enough, the film version was also recorded by Tony Perkins on one of his RCA LPs during his brief 1950s stint as a pop vocalist).
Whatever its origins the melody is a haunting one and is freely developed in the underscoring. At the conclusion of the credits (track 1) Friedhofer’s brief vacillating “sea” motif is first heard as Loren rises from the watery depths to emerge (like an earthy Venus) with one of the most striking wet looks prior to Jacqueline Bisset in THE DEEP! For the mainland sequences there is a recurring theme in 7/8, a distinctive Greek/Bulgarian folk meter also used by Bartok (“Instructions”), and other ethnic-derived cues (“Street Music”). The “Acropolis” and Meteora monastery (“On The Road”) episodes feature two of the most epic cues, the latter with an orchestral build of almost Bond-ian brass.
But Friedhofer’s most charismatic cues are for the several underwater sequences, liquid symphonic impressionism embellished with rippling harps and woodwinds and a seductive siren-song vocalise. (“Phaedra Finds the Boy” with its beautiful coda-conclusion, the 6.20 “Nocturnal Sea”). As rendered by the superb 20th Century-Fox orchestra under Lionel Newman (in beautifully spacious stereo) and overlaid with the ethereally pure soprano of Marni Nixon these are simply some of the most magical cues ever created for a mainstream Hollywood film of any era. Booklet includes lively, informative notes by Julie Kirgo and (as noted) a reprint of Friedhofer’s original LP comments.