chapter  9
12 Pages

‘Mania for needless impostures’: Novels 1950–1953

Two further novels brought to an end this productive phase of Montgomery’s career. Continuing his habit of placing stories in settings of which he had experience, Frequent Hearses (1950) concerns the murder of a film starlet, and most of the action takes place within the hot-house atmosphere of a film studio. Montgomery had composed his first film score in 1948. He loses no time in making fun of his friend Geoffrey Bush, who had recently decided that the frenzied schedules of composing for films were not for him, and other prominent composers, including John Ireland, are also mentioned in passing. There is a vivid description of how composers for films are expected to submit to the conventions of the screen as well as to keep their natural inclinations under control:

Judy […] was in Sound Stage Number Two, listening while the Philharmonia Orchestra, under Griswold’s direction, rehearsed and recorded the score for Ticket for Hell. Upon the screen in front of her two lovers, bereft of their sound-track, mouthed preposterously at each other; in the sound engineer’s glass-fronted control-room, behind her, the composer sat complacently imbibing through a substantial loudspeaker the noises he had contrived. The ticker on the wall spelled out the seconds; Griswold, with headphones adjusted and a cigarette in his mouth, glanced rapidly and continuously from the players to the score to the ticker to the screen; and music appropriate to its erotic context – susurration of strings, plangency of French horns, the oily sweetness of tubular bells and the aqueous ripple of harps – filled and overflowed the room. Not a bad score, Judy conceded: in his concert works Napier was a somewhat acrid modernist, but like most such composers he unbuttoned, becoming romantic and sentimental, when he was writing for films. 1