Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Lilies of the Field: Jerry Goldsmith’s Classic Original Soundtrack



By Nicholas Stix
Last updated at 12:19 a.m., on Monday, April 14, 2014.

The Lilies of the Field is a heartwarming, humorous, black-and-white movie made on a shoestring by Ralph Nelson, a liberal TV and movie director who specialized in such movies. In fact, he made his other best movie, Soldier in the Rain, starring Jackie Gleason, Steve McQueen, and Tuesday Weld, the same year as The Lilies of the Field. Soldier was about a scheming, self-described “obese narcissist” supply sergeant (Gleason), his young protégé (McQueen), and the beautiful, dumb, but kindhearted blonde (Weld) that the protégé is sweet on. But while Lilies will leave you with a smile, Soldier will break your heart. Almost 50 years after seeing it, I still remember the fadeout.

Around the same time, I saw Lilies, about Homer Smith, a wandering black Army veteran, who stumbles onto some German nuns in the desert Southwest. The mother superior (Lilia Skala) has been praying to God to send a man to come and build her a “Shapel” (chapel), as she says in her heavy German accent. She has no doubt that Homer is the answer to her prayers. Homer, who is a handyman, not a builder, seeks in vain to disabuse her of the notion: “I ain’t buildin’ no ‘shapel’!”

But the Mother Superior knows better.

(I got a refresher on the story from a Youtube tribute that is a four minute-long, Reader’s Digest condensed spoiler film.)

One of the few things I recalled from this picture, was when Homer first comes to town, and orders fried eggs and “O.J.” in a greasy spoon. It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone refer to orange juice that way.

The movie got Poitier his Best Actor Oscar, and got Skala a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. He and Tony Curtis had both been nominated for Best Actor four years earlier, for Stanley Kramer’s civil rights masterpiece, The Defiant Ones, about two escaped prisoners manacled to each other, who hate each other, but have to learn to be civilized to each other, in order to survive. It was an allegory about race relations.

It could be argued that Poitier's Oscar was a make-good win for The Defiant Ones, but it was much more likely the first affirmative action Oscar.

The original score, which Jerry Goldsmith composed and conducted, is Coplandian in the best sense of the term. As Aaron Copland did with his scores to the ballets Billy the Kid (“I’m Leavin’ Cheyenne”) and Applachian Spring (“Simple Gifts”), Jerry Goldsmith takes an American folk song, in this case the black …… song, “Amen!,” and works endless lovely variations on it that are superior to the original, while layering those variations with original tunes of his own, that are more beautiful still. Ultimately, those who do not listen closely will mistakenly conclude that the music is merely derivative.

Correction?: I was trying to determine whether “Amen!” was a spiritual or a gospel song. According to The Pretend Encyclopedia, it was an original song, written for Lilies by Jester Hairston. But then the TPC undermines its own claim:

“Cover Versions

“Prior to the Impressions version (December 1960), Marv Meredith's "Salvation Rock" (essentially a version of "Amen") reached the Music Vendor national Top 100.”

Lilies was released in America on October 1, 1963. It is impossible to “cover” a song, almost three years before it has first been performed.

In any event, what I said about Goldsmith's music, in relation to the song stands.

Update, July 5, 2023: Why did I take the pretend encyclopedia seriously, for anything?! "Amen" was written in 1935!

Main Title

Homer Returns

The Roof

Homer Awakens/Breakfast


Thanks to johnwaynegodbless for recording and uploading his old LP!

Other Jerry Goldsmith Music at WEJB/NSU:

“Jerry Goldsmith’s Score to Kirk Douglas’ Lonely are the Brave (1962)”;

Patton (1970);

Executive Decision: Jerry Goldsmith’s Score (Suite)” (1996);

“Capricorn One Soundtrack Suite: Jerry Goldsmith”; and

“Jerry Goldsmith: Classic TV Themes Played by a Full Orchestra.”

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