Episode 15 - Penelope

March 20, 2019

Natalie Wood is the star of "Penelope," but the film puts so much more focus on Edith Head's costumes that it takes away from the flimsy and uneven plot. John Williams manages to compose a very good theme for the film by way of a 60s-era song that begins his longtime collaboration with the English songwriter Leslie Bricusse. Host Jeff Commings talks about the numerous permutations of the Penelope theme in this episode, as well as the history behind the making of the film and how it affected Natalie Wood's film career.

Episode 14 - The Plainsman

March 13, 2019

Universal Pictures had two Westerns released in 1966. After the box office flop "The Rare Breed" came another underperformer, "The Plainsman." John Williams, nearing the end of his contract with Revue Studios, the TV arm of Universal, tackled this uneven film and produced very little score that is memorable after watching the film. Does the fault lie with Williams being overworked in 1966, or does it lie with the filmmakers not creating a film rich with inspiration for its composer? Host Jeff Commings examines some of the musical moments in the film, including some precursors to what Williams will do in the "Star Wars" films.

Episode 13 - How to Steal a Million

March 6, 2019

The Audrey Hepburn art caper comedy "How to Steal a Million" was a turning point in John Williams' career, at least in the eyes of the composer himself. Host Jeff Commings explains why Williams felt this was a new chapter in his professional career, and how it shaped his life going forward. The film itself was one of the biggest successes in which John Williams was able to take part, and it's in no small thanks to the main theme that's used for many different purposes.

Episode 12 - The Rare Breed

February 27, 2019

Did you know that John Williams wrote music for Westerns? The first one was the James Stewart vehicle "The Rare Breed," which features a bull named Vindicator and a sort-of British accent from Maureen O'Hara. As far as the score, it features a fine theme from Williams, and some decent moments in the relatively predictable film. This was the first of five films released in 1966 that would feature a John Williams score, and despite his busy schedule, he had the time to write his first - and only - symphony. Host Jeff Commings discusses the strange history of Symphony No. 1 and the presumed reasons why Williams only had it performed twice.

Episode 11 - John Goldfarb Please Come Home

February 20, 2019

Technically, John Williams' follow-up to "None But the Brave" is a war film, as it deals with the U.S.-Soviet animosities during the Cold War, but it really is nothing more than pure slapstick comedy that stoops low but still strives to aim high. "John Goldfarb Please Come Home" takes the real-life incident of Francis Gary Powers crashing his U2 plane and makes lowbrow comedy out of it. What results is a low point in Shirley MacLaine's movie career, but a great effort by John Williams in his 10th film. The music in this film relies heavily on arranging the orchestra to create a Middle Eastern flavor, with some 60s punk sprinkled on top. Williams uses many musical styles throughout the film, from a quiet love theme to Keystone Kops-style antics. A major milestone of the film concerns the title song, which marks the first song co-written by Williams to appear in a theatrical film. Host Jeff Commings analyzes Williams' contributions to the film, and the court battle that nearly derailed the film's release.

Episode 10 - None But the Brave

February 13, 2019

John Williams' first war film is "None But the Brave," a misguided directorial debut by Frank Sinatra. Despite the bad acting and preachy plotline, John Williams is able to write a very ambitious score that runs about an hour. It's his longest score to date, and you'll hear some music that will lay the foundation for his work on future war films, including "Saving Private Ryan." There's also music for a shark attack in this film, though it's not as good as the music he would write 10 years later. Enjoy this examination of Williams' writing for brass and how he creates tension with strings in several key scenes. It's likely the film that gave him true confidence that he could be a great film composer. Host Jeff Commings guides you through this film and details more history in the career of John Williams. Enjoy!

Episode 9 - The Killers

February 8, 2019

It's John Williams' birthday, and we're celebrating with a special release of this episode of "The Baton." The film itself is nothing really special, though we get some pretty dramatic acting from future Oscar winner Lee Marvin, as well as John Cassavetes and future President Ronald Reagan. This is probably the first film of decent quality in the John Williams canon, and we're lucky that it made it to the big screen at all after censors axed plans to air it on television. Williams gets back to writing a fully-realized and compelling original score, though his friend Henry Mancini gets in the way a couple of times. John Williams doesn't seem to mind that, since he helped Mancini on one of his most famous film scores that year. Sit back and enjoy the ride with host Jeff Commings!

Episode 8 - Gidget Goes to Rome

February 6, 2019

John Williams is back in comedy territory for "Gidget Goes to Rome," the third and final film in a trilogy about the Southern California girl who gets in a mess wherever she goes. This time, it's to Rome to celebrate high school graduation. There are a couple of international incidents and unrequited love scenes galore. John Williams has to limit his scoring duties to adapting the music for a song written for the film, similar to what he had just done for "Diamond Head." Why did Williams take on this film? Find out in this episode!

Episode 7 - Diamond Head

January 30, 2019

The first of two films that John Williams would score in 1963 took him back to dramatic territory, specifically the lush locales of Hawaii in the Charlton Heston film "Diamond Head." There wasn't much opportunity for Williams to stretch his composing muscles, as he was restrained by the existence of a theme composed by Hugo Winterhalter. The score to "Diamond Head" was full of Winterhalter's theme, with Williams simply filling in the gaps in this sparse score. At least Williams gets a "Music By" credit on the film. Take a listen to this score with host Jeff Commings, and examine how well Williams works with his orchestrator to put his stamp on the score. And we'll discuss the situation concerning the casting of white actors in roles that should have gone to Hawaiian actors, something Hollywood continues to do in the 21st century.

Episode 6 - Bachelor Flat

January 23, 2019

The year 1962 was a big one for John Williams, earning his first Grammy and Emmy nominations for his work on TV shows. But his gaze never left the movie theater, and he contributed a fun and earnest score to the slapstick comedy "Bachelor Flat." It would mark his first film with 20th Century Fox, where he would later become a megastar with "Star Wars." But that was 15 years into the future. At the time, this was Williams working to show that he could write good music for any film, while his colleagues were drifting toward television and thumbing their noses at comedic films. Host Jeff Commings breaks down some of Williams' finest work on "Bachelor Flat," including a fantastic piece written for a dog!