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Edge of Doom

Edge-of-DoomHugo Friedhofer has again exceeded the requirements by providing not only necessary support to the scenario but also music well worth listening to in its own right. His treatment of Martin Lynn’s long-standing grudge against an elderly priest is constantly sure-handed and sensitive, and the attached excerpt is typical of the independent musical validity prevailing.

The score features two sharply contrasting motives. One, a linear figure usually stated by solo or unison instruments, seems to express more or less generally the disturbed condition of the central character. The other is the thick, glowering fanfare at the start of the passage which is associated with Martin’s ideas, of the Church and Father Kirkman. To Martin both are identical, stern and overbearing. Here is an aspect of character told in music with little or no assistance from the script. The latter is far more concerned with Martin’s actions than with the emotions which give rise to them. It would be safe to say, therefore, that, without the music, the character of Martin would suffer a serious loss in credibility. There are several occasions where his behavior would seem pretty gratuitous in its absence.

Except for a couple of patches of narration, I don’t recall there being any music under dialogue. There seems to be a trend in this direction, and I am all for it. Music heard at low levels while people are talking not only degrades itself, but manages somehow to rob subsequent music of a good part of its effect. The scene involved usually takes on the quality of a laboriously contrived song-cue, and I find myself expecting someone presently to break into ‘Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life’. In EDGE OF DOOM, however, there is a good deal of well-placed silence. Relief from this comes in a wide variety of natural sounds in the scenes which are done with great imagination. There are the usual street noises, a funeral at J. T. Murray’s, (‘Thoughtful Service’), and particularly striking: the halls and stairways of the house where Martin lives. Immediately the front door is open, we are greeted by a magnificent mélange of screaming children, four or five radio programs, and someone practicing arpeggios.

Following the murder of Father Kirkman (though I seem to remember a long, swelling pedal note coming before that first crash) Martin hurriedly tries to cover the signs of his visit to the rectory, leaves and passes out through the church into the street. The section with its antiphonal alternations between brass and strings is surely the most stunning thing I’ve heard in pictures. It has a grandeur recalling what they tell us about St. Mark’s in Venice in the days of the Gabrieli. Marlin Smiles, who is overlooked in the main credits, is hereby congratulated for having a hand in it.

William Hamilton
Originally published in Film Music Notes Vol. IX/No.4, 1950
Official publication of the National Film Music Council © 1950

One thought on “Edge of Doom

  1. I came across copies of Film Music Notes at the Chicago Public Library in the mid-1960s. This short-lived publication was the first of its kind to discuss film music in a scholarly fashion. This analysis of Hugo’s score is a case in point.

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