CD Review: Dr. Kildare
Between Bear McCreary's alternative space opera stylings for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA to Michael Giacchino's exotic mysterioso for LOST, there's a lot of cool music behind heard on television. Don't get me wrong. Yet I miss the days when television music was music. We're talking those fuddy-duddy lush orchestrations, boldly melodic themes and retro suspense, the kind of old-school stuff that composers like Lalo Schifrin, Bernard Herrmann and John Williams practiced on shows like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE TWILIGHT ZONE and LOST IN SPACE. These were essentially mini film scores done for the small screen, filled with the energy of composers who knew in their hearts that they were on their way to bigger and "better" Hollywood things.
Among those rising musical stars was a young Turk named Jerry Goldsmith, paged DR. KILDARE over several episodes in 1961, establishing a sound that would fill many of his classic scores to come. And Goldsmith was far from alone here, as composers like Lalo Schifrin, Alexander Courage and Bronislau Kaper contributed to NBC's medical drama to end all TV medical dramas, featuring Richard Chamberlain as the dashing Jim Kildare, who could break female hearts as well as heal them. Now after doing superlative round-ups for the musical "best of" such TV programs as THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and KNIGHT RIDER, Film Score Monthly has rounded up the highlights of five seasons of DR. KILDARE on a three-CD set. And the fact that I enjoyed the show's music so much without ever seeing one episode (my taste ran to STAR TREK reruns) says something about the passionate, stylistically diverse scoring of this classic primetime soap opera- music driven by the Goldsmith touch.
Goldsmith (then going for a time by his first, full name of Jerrald) was certainly no musical intern by the time that he joined DR. KILDARE's musical practice in 1961. His TV resume had included HAVE GUN- WILL TRAVEL, PERRY MASON and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. And work on such scores as STUDS LONIGAN and CITY OF FEAR showed he had the stuff to become a major composer. It's a melodic assuredness that shines on KILDARE's first CD and a bunch of its second, beginning with the instantly recognizable (to one generation at least) three-note opening title that would take Goldsmith to the top of the pop charts. Given a fairly small, but effective orchestra, Goldsmith never failed to get an unusually full sound for his five episodes. There's a beautiful lyricism to "Twenty-Four Hours" that would fill Goldsmith's latter score to A PATCH OF BLUE, not to mention his CBS work on THE WALTONS. But just when you think Goldsmith's KILDARE stuff will be soothing romance, he launches into brooding suspense, then outright horror percussion in "The Lonely Ones," its syncopated fear ultimately leading to scores like THE MEPHISTO WALTZ and THE OMEN (fittingly, this episode's devil is heroin addiction). You can also hear the antecedent to Goldsmith's "epic" sound in THE SAND PEBBLES with the gigantic brass hits of "Immunity" (not to mention a Eastern European military march in the episode). Sexy noir jazz suffuses the suite from "A Million Dollar," a saxophone showing off the doc's appeal as a babe magnet.
But just when you thought Kildare couldn't get wilder, composer Harry Sukman (BONANZA) enters the picture on disc two with "Johnny Temple." He hears mental illness with dark, busy suspense and creepy electronics right out of a 1950's monster movie (it's no wonder that Sukman would do such an eerily, Emmy-nominated job when he later scored the first TV adaptation of SALEM'S LOT). Sukman contrasts that craziness with the virtuoso violin playing of "The Administrator," the instrument going for all of its tragic worth. Sukman continues to swoon with "The Horn of Plenty" as a tender piano glissandi rips. Like Goldsmith, Sukman pours on the nightclub jazz with "The Gift of Koodjanuck" (one of the goofier episodic titles I've heard outside of POLICE SQUAD), the music's eccentricity complimented by Irish-style melodies and a piece for the accordion.
A multitude of KILDARE composers get to shine in the album's third, and wildest CD. Chamberlain gives Goldsmith's theme a pleasant vocal rendition on "Three Stars Will Shine Tonight." Side C then goes into outright 60's-style jazz with Sukman's "Tyger, Tyger," hep beatnik bongos going into a brassy orchestra overdrive that seem written for the spy antics of Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, even if its written for an epileptic surfer. Not only does "Tyger" stands as KILDARE's most popular episode, it's also the album's most outrageous highlight. The U.N.C.L.E. and MISSION man Lalo Schifrin shows off his jazz club chops in "The Bell in the Schoolhouse Tolls for Three" (doing what comes off like a take on "White Christmas"), "Beat's Beat" and "Soul Source." 60's pop icon Burt Bacharach also teams with HAWAII FIVE-O's Morton Stevens for the lush, Italian-style romance of "Rome Will Never Leave You." John Green pours on heart-and-flower grandeur for "Reckoning" that wouldn't be out of place in his acclaimed score for RAINTREE COUNTY. Even Bronislau Kaper's piano-heavy music for KILDARE's first, unsold pilot gets a chance to shine here.
But whether the stylings here are sweet, beat or something that you might hear on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, DR. KILDARE's composers give the musical seasons a cohesive quality, with the kind of daring and melodic construction that makes 60's TV music identifiable in the best way. And the nostalgia-driven Film Score Monthly has done their typically great job of presenting it. While bits here and there sound under the stethoscope, a great deal of KILDARE plays with audiophile vibrancy. And complementing the package is Jon Burlingame's liner notes, with the premiere authority on classic (and contemporary) TV scoring doing a his typical yeoman job of introducing a new generation of collectors to the best music from KILDARE's five season residency.
While I'm loath to be in any hospital, DR. KILDARE is the happy exception, a CD that not only shows off my favorite composer in top small-screen form, but also lets listeners hear the other great composers who were in the operating room at Blair General Hospital. Practicing in an E.R. of heart-attack inducing deadlines, they show how full-blooded melody can make work done for the big and small screens indistinguishable. It may have taken a few decades, but their baby has finally arrived in style.
© 2009 Daniel Schweiger
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