Funeral March of a Marionette

Before the sound era, filmmakers were at the mercy of the pit musicians in various theaters—Chaplin included. Even when cue sheets of pre-existing tunes were compiled, listing the pieces to be played at various points in the film, there was no guarantee that audiences would hear the same music from screening to screening. You couldn’t even necessarily be guaranteed the same accompaniment on either side of the Atlantic.

Chaplin had already started working with musicians to compile scores for his films. While I have yet to find evidence that he did so for his 1923 film THE PILGRIM, there are two separate set of cue sheets that paint very different musical portraits of Chaplin’s character.

In the film, Charlie plays an escaped convict who steals a bathing minister’s clothes. When he lands at Devil’s Gulch, Texas, on a Sunday, the locals mistake him for their new parson.

In the U.S., the cue sheet was compiled by Broadway Theatre music director and former Moving Picture World orchestra music columnist James C. Bradford. Bradford also worked for Cameo Music Publishing Co., which produced M.J. Mintz’s “Thematic Music Cue Sheets”. These went beyond the standard cue sheets, incorporating the beginning of each piece’s melody reproduced on a musical staff.

A copy of the cue sheet which resides in the archives at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, shows that the theme Bradford assigned the Tramp was a song from 1919 called “Somebody,” written by George Little, J. Stanley, and Harold Dellon. The E-flat major key, the Allegro giusto (roughly translated as “either too fast or too slow”), and the one-step nature of the tune are decidedly light in character.

Pilgrim US Cue Sheet
Courtesy George Eastman House

The UK cue sheet from the Chaplin Archive contains a list of “musical suggestions” for the musicians. Edward Van Praag of the London Opera House, Kingsway, chose Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette” for Chaplin’s parson-in-disguise. Gounod wrote the piece in 1872 for solo piano (and later orchestrated it in 1879) as the first movement of a proposed Suite burlesque, which was eventually abandoned. Today, the tune is familiar to most audiences as the musical signature of Alfred Hitchcock, popular from the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show that aired from 1955 to 1965.

It’s hard to imagine Gounod’s loping triplet melody in D minor (first heard in the clarinet in the orchestrated version), now so synonymous with Hitchcock’s portly profile, as the musical embodiment of the Tramp’s conflicted convict. Where the use of the one-step in the US gave the character a contemporary swagger, the choice of Gounod’s melody played more to the character’s darker past.

The “Somebody” tune is marked on the US cue sheet only twice—as the Tramp arrives in Devil’s Gulch and in the famous finale. THE UK cue sheet repeats the Gounod tune throughout. Then, as the Sheriff banishes the Tramp across the border to Mexico where he spreads his arms with joy for “a new life—peace at last,” Mexican bandits pop up from the desert shrubbery in a shootout. As the Tramp runs off straddling the border with one foot in the US and the other in Mexico, the sixth and last repeat of the Gounod tune is marked vivace (“in a brisk spirited manner”). And neither influenced the tango that Chaplin later composed when the film was released as part of THE CHAPLIN REVUE compilation (along with A DOG’S LIFE and SHOULDER ARMS).

In a 1931 interview for the release of CITY LIGHTS, Chaplin moaned that “heretofore all we could do was to have some one score a picture to well-known themes and then hope that the organist would play them.” Imagine what would have happened to the Tramp’s musical persona—much less Hitchcock’s—if Gounod’s tune had been used and caught on in the US.

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