Saturday, April 8, 2023

Recent discovery: Dino

Talk about being lucky enough to hit the ground running: Composer Gerald Fried’s first three big-screen assignments were for Stanley Kubrick’s first three features: Fear and Desire (1953), Killer’s Kiss (1955) and The Killing (1956). Fried then switched to the creature feature genre, with a score for The Vampire (1957). But it wasn’t much of a stylistic shift; as an isolated listening experience, his music for Killer’s Kiss and The Killing — both depravity-drenched, film noir thrillers — sound very much like monster movie music: slashing strings, shrieking orchestral cues and ominous horn filigrees.

Ah, but Fried’s score for Dino, also released in 1957, slides more aggressively into jazz territory. Although some of the score cues for this juvenile delinquent melodrama still rely on traditional orchestral shading, aggressive percussion and horn elements give the music some bounce. No surprise, since the players included Frank Rosolino (trombone) and Maynard Ferguson (trumpet).1 On top of which, Fried supplies two diegetic cues — tunes played on a phonograph, during a lively sock hop — that are sassy jump jazz.


“I was particularly proud of [my work on] Dino,” Fried recalled, during a June 2003 interview.2


Dino gave young actor Sal Mineo an opportunity to expand on the similarly “tough kid” supporting characters he earlier played in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Crime in the Streets (1956, discussed in Volume One). Dino actually began as an episode of the TV anthology series Studio One, which aired January 2, 1956; co-writer Reginald Rose expanded the story, and — alongside director Thomas Carr — turned it into a 94-minute feature film. (Rose, already a celebrated writer who had just completed 12 Angry Men, would go on to garner numerous Emmy Awards and nominations for anthology series scripts, and would create and write for The Defenders during its four-season run.) Mineo and co-star Pat DeSimone reprised their television roles; the rest of the film cast was new.


Mineo, in a solid performance, stars as 17-year-old Dino Minetta. Following a brief prologue, the story begins as he’s released from a juvenile detention center, where he served 3-1/2 years for participating in a robbery that turned ugly when a night watchman was killed. Now sent back to his slum neighborhood (obviously a studio back lot), carrying the world’s biggest chip on his shoulder, Dino defiantly resists well-intentioned guidance from his parole officer (Frank Faylen, as Frank Mandel) and case worker (Brian Keith, as Larry Sheridan). Thing are no better at home; his mother (Penny Santon) seems kind enough, but his father (Joe De Santis) is an abusive bully. Only younger brother Tony (DeSimone) is genuinely pleased to see Dino, mostly because his gang — the Silk Hats — wants “experienced” help with their plan to rob a gas station.


The compact, straightforward narrative turns on whether Dino will allow himself to see the wisdom of the better path Sheridan offers, or succumb anew to his larcenous and violent tendencies.

Repeated four-beats on drums and ominous horn pops shadow the initial heist, set behind the title credits, which takes place in montage as three boys — one of them Dino — attempt to steal tires from a warehouse. A shift to staccato percussion signals the arrival of the night watchman, who slowly descends a set of stairs against a repeated 2-2 motif on low-end piano, the notes echoed by a bass horn and shrieking brass. Suspense builds as an unsettling 2-2 motif slowly climbs from bass to treble, finally exploding into full orchestral fury when the watchman is beaten to death; the music then holds on a single piercing note as the final blow is delivered by 13-year-old Dino.


The scene shifts to Dino’s last day at the Parkinson State Reformatory, where his brutal peers do their best to beat him up one final time. Shrills strings and an uh-uh-uh-uh bass vamp heighten this threat, the cue diminishing only when Mandel’s arrival saves Dino; a final reprise of the foreboding 2-2 motif reminds the boy — and us — of what he’s leaving behind … perhaps only temporarily.


A slow, mournful cue follows Dino as he returns home, pausing outside his apartment door. Ferguson’s muted trumpet amplifies the boy’s indecision, which Mineo portrays sublimely; should he knock first, or simply go inside? This angst proves moot, as nobody is home; his parents are working late — their excuse for not having collected him at the Reformatory — so Dino retrieves a key from under the mat, and lets himself in. He glances about the empty rooms as Rosolino’s somber trombone amplifies his sense of being out of place, even though (we can safely assume) nothing has changed during his long absence. His parents, when they get home, are as awkward around him, as he is around them. Only Tony brings a smile to Dino’s face, but that burst of pleasure evaporates when the younger boy explains why he’s happy to have his brother back.


The next day, obeying Mandel’s demand that Dino show up for a 4 p.m. appointment at the James Street Settlement run by Sheridan, the boy arrives against a rising, more thoughtful 5-note motif, heard first as horn solos, then echoed by the orchestra; the cue is inviting and hopeful, suggesting the promise of something better. The place is laden with kids of all ages, including an unexpectedly benevolent gang of older boys and girls — the Golden Dukes — who apparently have succumbed to Sheridan’s brand of compassion (a contrived detail, and one of the few plot elements that dates this film). Dino catches the eye of Shirley (Susan Kohner), a mousy, mildly shy girl who works at the Settlement; alas, Dino immediately flies into a rage after being jostled accidentally by a couple of guys, and Fried shifts back to the shrill, angry horns and 2-2 reform school motif.


No music accompanies Dino’s subsequent sessions with Sheridan: a wise move on Carr’s part, as this allows Mineo and Keith to make the most of their shared scenes (by far this film’s most powerful moments).


Following the first session, rumbling drums, edgy cymbals and heartbeat percussion set up what quickly becomes a nasty confrontation between Dino and his father, back at home; the 2/2 “violence motif” returns as the boy goads his old man, the latter finally exploding, smacking his son’s face until he bleeds.


A bit later, Tony outlines his gang’s upcoming heist to Dino, against pensive trombone, trumpet and low-end piano notes, accompanied by edgy orchestral touches. Dino, lapping up his younger brother’s admiration, quickly agrees to take over the planning. The rip-off is set for Saturday night: coincidentally the same evening the Golden Dukes will host a dance party at the Settlement. As that day approaches, Sheridan persuades Dino to attend, which he initially does only as a means to kill a few hours prior to the larcenous activity that will follow. Fried supplies the two aforementioned diegetic cues for this extended party sequence: both finger-snapping swingers that grant Ferguson and Rosolino terrific solos (and are called “Little Jazz” and “Saturday Night” on the soundtrack album). Perhaps as a means to allow these two cues to run at length, cinematographer Wilfrid Cline repeatedly shoots through the gyrating legs of all the dancers, rather showing any of their happy faces (a rather odd directorial choice by Parr). 


Dino — a stricken look on his face, having no idea what to do in such a setting — freezes like a deer in headlights. Sensing his loneliness, Shirley invites him to dance; all he can manage is a slow, closely held ballroom box step, much to the amusement of all the other kids, enthusiastically bopping via the Twist, Bunny Hop, Sugar Push and Mashed Potato.

After the party concludes, Dino walks Shirley home; they sit and chat on her stoop for a bit. He’s clearly surprised by this girl’s kindness, and the degree to which she genuinely likes him. Music is absent until she goes inside; a sweet, joyful cue — lovely horn touches — begins when he walks her up the stairs, and they kiss. It’s a hugely significant moment for Dino, who — finally having opened up with Sheridan — earlier lamented that he’d never been kissed by anybody.


With Shirley deposited safely behind her door, Dino hastens downtown to meet Tony and the rest of the Silk Hats, waiting impatiently near the targeted gas station. With zip gun in hand, Dino suddenly finds that he doesn’t want to go through with it … much to Tony’s disgust. This reaction horrifies Dino, who cold-cocks his younger brother — his only means to sabotage the gang’s intentions — while Fried reprises the “violence motif.”


Cue a rather hasty happy ending, as — the next day — Dino asks Sheridan if he’d be willing to also counsel Tony. (We’re forced to assume that the younger kid will go along with this, and the rest of the Silk Hats will simply disappear.) Shirley, delighted by this outcome, skips gaily out of the Settlement, and onto the street (nearly getting hit by a passing truck). Cline’s camera pulls away from this boisterous neighborhood scene, as Fried concludes the film with his score’s one and only chirpy, genuinely jolly cue.

Pretty much all of Fried’s score was issued by Epic on a soundtrack album, also released in 1957. The two diegetic jump jazz cues run a bit longer than their film version, and some of the other tracks are built from short cues stitched together. Digital release finally arrived in March 2023, when Dragon’s Domain paired Dino with Fried’s score for 1959’s I Mobster. Somewhat surprisingly, this digital release mimics the 1957 Dino soundtrack LP, rather than re-sequencing the tracks to conform with their film order.




1. Dino soundtrack LP liner notes, 1957.

2. Gerald Fried, interviewed by Karen Herman for the Television Academy Foundation, June 26, 2003; accessible here