Paul Sawtell

Active - 1939 - 2016  |   Born - Jan 1, 1906   |   Died - Jan 1, 1971   |   Genres - Western, Action, Drama, Adventure, Crime

Share on

Biography by Bruce Eder

Paul Sawtell started his career as a movie composer at RKO, where he wrote the music for such features as the comedy Mexican Spitfire and the thrillers The Gay Falcon and A Date With the Falcon. After scoring Youth Runs Wild -- one of the truly offbeat, non-horror films of producer Val Lewton, dealing with wartime juvenile delinquency -- he left RKO to join Universal, where his first assignment was The Pearl of Death. A part of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series, based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story The Six Napoleons, The Pearl of Death was one of the better entries in the series and provided a rich canvas for Sawtell's work, although as with most members of the Universal music department, he was also forced to adapt pre-existing material in the studio's library, primarily written by Frank Skinner and Hans J. Salter. Sawtell later proved adept working in a multitude of idioms, including Westerns and horror movies, and also scored what was perhaps the best of the Holmes films, The Scarlet Claw. He returned to RKO during the second half of the 1940s and also worked for various independent producers, such as Aubrey Schenk at Eagle Lion, on Anthony Mann's crime thriller T-Men, and Harry Sherman at United Artists, on Four Faces West. In 1951 he began a relationship with producer/director Irwin Allen when he scored the Oscar-winning documentary The Sea Around Us, adapted from Rachel Carson's book. Begining in the late '50s, Sawtell became extremely busy scoring science fiction films such Kronos, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, The Black Scorpion, and The Fly, amid his usual spread of Westerns and dramas, and set the stage for the most visible part of his career, as part of Irwin Allen's production team (it helped that Sawtell had a contractual relationship with 20th Century Fox, where Allen was based. He scored early features of Allen's such as The Story of Mankind at United Artists and The Big Circus at Allied Artists, and when Allen went into production on his science fiction and fantasy vehicles, Sawtell was there with his music for splashy, all-star productions like The Lost World, Five Weeks in a Balloon, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. During the 1960s, he remained busy in features, co-writing the music for such familiar science fiction titles as the Italian-made The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, but by the middle of the decade he had largely moved to television, working on Allen's series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; his title theme for that, with its swirling main motif and the musical equivalent of a sonar pulse in the background, is one of Sawtell's most striking creations and one of the most well-known science fiction themes ever to come out of '60s television. The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea scoring has become Sawtell's most easily heard music, thanks to a series of CD releases by GNP-Crescendo Records, beginning in the 1990s, devoted to Allen's television series.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography