Warsaw-born Bronislaw Kaper’s lack of name recognition is compounded by his success as a composer. His music is so organic that we know the melodies after we hear them in the film without again asking why or how we know them. We hear the soundtrack theme otherwise orchestrated and we know it; it speaks to us, but it does not shout its composer’s name.
Among his nearly 150 movie compositions, he co-wrote “San Francisco,” sung first by Jeanette McDonald six times in the film San Francisco, sung famously by Judy Garland in her Carnegie Hall concert, and sung again by Rufus Wainwright in his re-do of Garland’s classic program. Kaper composed the main theme for A Life Of Her Own, a Lana Turner potboiler that survived that strangely flawed George Cukor melodrama to re-appear as the main theme of the later film Invitation, and as “Invitation” became a pop-tunes standard. He adapted Chopin as well as composed the original music for the Broadway musical, Polonaise, the theme song for the television series The FBI, and the Academy Award winning score for the motion picture Lili, the basis for the Broadway musical, Carnival. Others of his most beautiful themes are heard in Butterfield 8, The Brothers Karamazov, Green Dolphin Street, Gaslight, The Prodigal, The Swan, Lord Jim, Them!, Auntie Mame, and the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty as well as his uncredited work in Sweet Bird of Youth, Green Mansions, The Clock, and Raintree County, among many other titles.
The Prodigal, based on the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son, features the human wheel of fortune, the wall of many colors, the gardens of pleasure, the vulture and fire pits—both of no return—as well as Stereophonic Sound, Colour, Cinemascope, and Perspecta to create “one of the all time spectacles in film history.“ Mutiny on the Bounty features an over-the-top performance by Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian, the role for which Clark Gable had been Oscar nominated in the original film and a 108-foot replica of the HMS Bounty built for MGM Studio (the Hollywood tall ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean in Hurricane Sandy) and thus“The greatest adventure ever lived becomes the greatest adventure ever filmed!” Lord Jim is based on the Joseph Conrad novel. A 1925 version, directed by Victor Fleming, was filmed on the lot while in this version, Kaper’s fellow countryman’s novel was “Filmed in the far corners of the Far East...High Adventure that reaches across the world!” Epics! Their soundtracks must be monumental—exotic and enormous—highly theatrical and even more highly orchestrated—Hollywood’s take on the Bible, history, and the literary masterpiece—brutal, reverent, flamboyant and inspirational. And Kaper’s music is on the grandest scale and leads where epics from The Gladiator to Jurassic World were sure to follow.
Indeed, Kaper’s musical masterpiece is probably the greatest standard of the American Song Book least associated with its movie source. The film, Green Dolphin Street, turns on a single drunken plot device: writing his marriage proposal in a long distance letter from New Zealand when he is drunk, William Ozanne sends for the wrong sister—you can see this one coming because the two devoted sisters—Marianne Patourel (shrew sister) and Marguerite Patourel (sweet sister)—live, sleep, love and even swoon simultaneously. It could have been worse, instead of confusing sisters Marguerite and Marianne, and bringing the wrong sister to New Zealand, Ozanne might have confused destinations and sent the right sister to New Guinea, Newfoundland, or even New Jersey. Anyway, the main theme “Green Dolphin Street” (later re-titled "On Green Dolphin Street"), composed by Bronisław Kaper with lyrics by Ned Washington for the film of the same name, would become a jazz standard a decade later after being recorded by Miles Davis in 1958…a tip of the hat to Miles Davis! And so Bronislaw Kaper’s musical theme for the costume epic Green Dolphin Street becomes “On Green Dolphin Street,” and earns its place in American jazz history.
The range of Bronislaw Kaper’s musical contributions decries the unfamiliarity with his name. He influenced the genre of movie soundtracks as well as he composed popular songs and standards including the quintessential jazz anthem. American immigration authorities misspelled Bronislaw Kaper’s Polish name. Sometimes credited under different names and different spellings as well as sometimes uncredited, Bronislaw Kaper wrote solo and in partnership. Fortunately, recording practices have increasingly cataloged Bronislaw Kaper’s works to make his music identifiable and available to contemporary audiences.