Rory Calhoun as Marco Polo? The California-born star of films like How to Marry a Millionaire and camp cult classic Motel Hell was cast in the title role of 1962’s freewheeling Italian historical epic (shot in CinemaScope, no less!) Marco Polo. When the film was picked up for release in America, it was courtesy the wild ones at American-International Pictures! This Marco Polo was directed by Hugo Fregonese and featured a multi-cultural cast with Calhoun playing opposite Yoko Tani. And like many of American International’s best or most notorious pictures – Sadismo, Black Sunday, House of Usher – the score was provided by the versatile exotica legend Les Baxter. He replaced the original Italian score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. Kritzerland is adding to its growing Baxter library with its latest release, Marco Polo.
The New York Times wasn’t particularly kind to the movie, noting that Calhoun, clad in doublets and tights, “is as dauntlessly American as Gary Cooper, who acted the role in an equally foolish Hollywood version a couple of decades ago.” The review asserted that “the swashbuckling saga from American International is predictably juvenile, colorful and harmless.” But Baxter’s score has aged rather better!
Kritzerland has uncovered mono tapes of all of the music Baxter composed for the film, and best of all, none of it has been previously released! So the label’s limited edition of 1,000 is a treat for even those fans who are most familiar with Baxter’s oeuvre. Marco Polo is available for $19.98 plus shipping and handling directly from Kritzerland and will ship by the third week of July, but pre-orders from the label usually arrive an average of four weeks early. A special offer is also available at the CD’s order page for those who purchase Marco Polo. Hit the jump for the track listing plus the full press release and order link!
MIGHTIEST ADVENTURER OF THEM ALL!
American International Pictures had begun making a cottage industry by picking up foreign-made films at reasonable prices and then releasing them in the United States, mostly with the original foreign scores replaced by brand new American ones. Such was the case with 1962’s Marco Polo, a multi-cultural production directed by Hugo Fregonese and starring American Rory Calhoun, along with Yoko Tani and a large cast of multi-cultural players. Shot in Cinemascope and color, the film was not exactly unerring in its historical accuracy. In this Marco Polo, Marco Polo is a womanizing bon vivant, vagabond and rake who has to leave Venice because of circumstances of his own making (you get the drift). A title card then tells us that Marco was an inventor and discoverer who is about to set off to discover many things, including spaghetti. Along the way, he has many wonderful adventures and occasionally says pithy things like, “A song is an emblem of a gay heart.” It’s all painted in very broad strokes with tongue firmly in cheek, and it’s a lot of fun in a Saturday matinee way. The original Italian version’s score was by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. For the US version, American International went to their go-to composer, the great Les Baxter. And Baxter turned in a wonderful score, chockfull of great melodies, including an addictive main theme that repeats itself many times throughout the score. It was Baxter channeling Rimsky-Korsakov and other movie adventure scores and the result was a colorful, robust, and fun score that really helped give the film a sense of style, adventure, and fun.
Baxter had already made a name for himself with his 1950s exotica recordings, as well as several chart-topping instrumentals. Prior to Marco Polo, he’d already done Goliath and the Barbarians, House of Usher, Goliath and the Dragon, Black Sunday, Goliath And The Vampires, The Pit and the Pendulum, Erik the Conqueror, and Master of the World for AIP, and he would go on to score many, many other films for them. For anyone who grew up going to these films, it was like American International and Les Baxter went hand in hand. This is the world premiere release of the Les Baxter score to Marco Polo – none of it has ever been available before. The complete score tapes were housed in the MGM vaults – they were, of course, mono, and in very good condition, and contained all the music that Baxter wrote for the film. In the last few years, Les Baxter have been something of a Baxter renaissance, with a surprising number of Baxter soundtracks released on CD. We’re really pleased to present a virtually unknown Baxter score and one of his most delightful.
Les Baxter, Marco Polo: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack (Kritzerland, 2011)
- Main Title/The Beginning
- Marco Polo Takes a Hike/Ciu-Lin/The Great Wall of China
- Rescuing a Damsel in Distress/The Princess
- The Monastery of 100 Buddhists/The Rebel/To Peking
- The Ceremony/Food Fight/Marco in Jail
- Released/Meeting Khan
- Take a Wife, Please/The Private Confessional
- Marco and the Princess
- The Princess’ Chamber/The Amulet/The Kiss
- Treacherous Companions/Follow the Green Lanterns
- Brief Encounter/Marco in Hiding/Mongka Seizes the Throne
- Marco’s Plan/Inventing Fireworks/Ciu-Lin Finds Marco
- Princess in Danger/Blades of Death
- End of Mongka/I Did It All For Her/Marco and the Princess Reunited
- The Princess Bride and End Credits
All tracks are previously unreleased.