Film scores

Soundtrack review: Five graves to Cairo (Miklos Rozsa – 1943)

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“Five Graves to Cairo” is a 1943 World War II film by Billy Wilder, starring Franchot Tone and Anne Baxter. It is one of a number of films based on Lajos Bíró’s play Színmű négy felvonásban, including Hotel Imperial (1927). Erich von Stroheim portrays Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in a supporting performance. During World War 2, an undercover British soldier tries get word to the Allies that the Germans have tons of supplies buried in 5 excavations across Egypt. The score was written by Miklos Rozsa.

I love listening to Golden Age scores with their bombastic sound, full of stride and pride. Miklos Rozsa is one of the most gifted composers that ever lived and almost every composition of his that’s unearthed and released is a feast for the years and soul. The prelude of “Five graves to Cairo” sends me back to a musical time when there were no shortcuts, no artificial sounds, just serious and spectacular orchestral music. The serious moments were grave and deep. “Prelude / First Scene / Walk in Desert (abridged)” shows just how great this composer was at writing massive cues that have time to develop and settle in.

The military theme for “Herr Rommel” also hides a hint of joyfulness in it which I think the composer uses to show us that the cue was written for an important and imposing character who takes himself very seriously. The two cues written for him stand out from the score.

I am used to epic Rozsa but this story is about sneaking around, about being undercover and the music makes sure I know that. The strings are subdued and controlled by the conductor and only explode when necessary like in “Davos discovered”. There’s no more need for hiding so the music is let free to enchant us.

As far as epic Miklos Rozsa scores this will not rank high but as a war score it works brilliantly. There’s always a threat in the music and there are no breaks or moments of rest. The emotion comes from people being killed as there are no romantic motifs in “Five graves to Cairo”; the closes we get to a romantic theme is “Davos departs”.

I love the feeling I get from listening to a Rozsa scoe. No matter the story or the context his music is a lesson in film scoring and his orchestral delights are unmatched. The journey of discovering his treasures continues.

Cue rating: 95 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 22 / 34

Album excellence: 64%

Highlights:

Prelude / First Scene / Walk in Desert (abridged)

Herr Rommel

The Professor’s Photograph

Ordered to Cairo

Davos Discovered

Lieutenant Is Killed

Davos Departs

Victory Montage (abridged)

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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