Monday, 2 March 2009

Malcolm Arnold: Postcard from the Med

One of my favourite films is The Captain’s Paradise starring Alec Guinness. He plays a “prosperous seafaring man” who has so ordered his life that he has a wife and house at each end of the sea-trip – which he makes one or twice a week. His first home is in Gibraltar, where he has set up house with Maud (played by Celia Johnson). This is the staid side of his bigamist relationship. In this home he expects his slippers and pipe waiting for him. He enjoys the quiet life- his wife preparing his dinners and the Captain reading his newspapers.

Yet at the other end of his voyage, in Morocco, is the beautiful Nita (Yvonne de Carlo)who is the antithesis of Maud. This lady is a socialite and a party animal. She loves to be wined and dined and to dance. The contrast could not be more different. Gone are Captain Henry St. James’s pipe and slippers to be replaced by a flamboyant lifestyle.

Alas it is not to last. Both wives begin to hanker after a different routine. Maud wants to go out on the town, and Nita wants to become the archetypical housewife. And, of course, Henry wants things to stay just as they are. The film is an exploration of these comic tensions!
As I understand the situation, the score was lost or destroyed. Fortunately, Philip Lane was able to reconstruct the music from the film itself or perhaps from sketches. At any rate there is a small (four minutes only) ‘postcard’ from The Captain’s Paradise available for Malcolm Arnold enthusiasts.
The piece opens with a little seascape in miniature – complete with images of swelling seas and billowing sails. It is as if the ship is about to leave port – and the captain is about to visit the ‘other’ wife. There is even a little musical representation of the nautical term ‘Ahoy!’ But suddenly the music changes: it breaks into a full scale Latin dance band number – complete with muted brass and 'samba and rumba' rhythms. It is definitely a case of the confection by Arnold being better than the ‘real thing.’ It should be noted that this is music representing the Captain dancing with wife number two – the exotic Nita and not the homely Maud! There is a little jaunty, nautical tune that depicts the Captain – without a care in the world. But then the Latin beat returns... The piece ends almost too quickly.
The reconstruction of the film score can be heard on Malcolm Arnold Film Music Volume 2 on Chandos

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