8 Great Scores from Henry Mancini

There has ever been anyone quite like Mr. Mancini.

I believe that there is no other film composer, past or present, that shares the elusive quality of his music. His scores are, at times, lusciously lyrical, at others heart-poundingly exhilarating; but always they are stylistically flawless —each is not only bang-on emotionally but equally possesses that signature stamp of style, an absolutely vital component to the truly great artist. And so I present to you a countdown of some of the finest compositions from Henry Mancini, presented alongside the films in which they appear.

8. The Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

Starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, The Days of Wine and Roses tells a terribly pitiful tale of alcohol addiction and lost opportunity. As movies go, this is probably one of the most unbearably depressing I have ever seen. Yet, Mancini’s score is memorable and very appropriate; with it’s lilting melody and soaring strings, it expresses that longing, for something that never truly was, most beautifully.

7. Experiment in Terror (1962)

Like Wine and Roses, Experiment in Terror also features the terrific trio of Blake Edwards, Lee Remick and, of course, Henry Mancini, albeit thrust into a very different kind of world. Here, Mancini’s music is particularly critical to the images which they accompany. The score becomes this haunting, insanely organic entity, and drives the drama of the story forward with a thrilling invigoration.

6. Hatari! (1962)

The music of Hatari! is about as far away from the two previous as you can probably get, demonstrating the magnificent versatility of our composer. Much of the film’s soundtrack is probably familiar to you; for this post I have chosen perhaps the most well-known and well-loved: the delectable Baby Elephant Walk. The power this kooky little tune has over all of us is really quite something… think of any humourous situation, set it to Baby Elephant, and all of a sudden it’s a hundred times funnier.

5. Charade (1963)

For Charade, Mancini had in mind for his heroine, (Ms Audrey Hepburn, no less) a “sad little Parisian waltz” capturing her feelings of sadness, loneliness and vulnerability.  As the film tone sinks deeper into a chilling mystery, another facet of the Charade theme also emerges —the themes rings a little differently in our ears, becoming altogether darker and more ominous.

4. The Pink Panther (1963)

The second you hear a perfect 5th slinking chromatically upwards, you know you’re listening to one of the most iconic compositions of all time: the theme from The Pink Panther. It’s probably no overstatement to say that the whole world knows (and absolutely adores) this silky smooth tune, because it is catchy. Get this one stuck in your head and it may just never come out.

3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Mancini’s score here is pure cinematic gold, ranging from the glorious main theme capturing the very best of New York, to the jovial, go-lucky piece entitled simply Holly. Perhaps most memorable of all is the eternally charming Moon Riverof which at least 500 recorded versions exist today. Yet Hepburn’s gentle lullaby remains, in my eyes, still the loveliest. As Holly sits on the fire escape strumming her guitar, she sings Moon River, a beautiful insight into her longing for a simpler time.

2. Sunflower (1970)

De Sica’s Sunflower, starring the fine pair of Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, is a most moving film. It tells the story of a woman searching desperately for her husband, refusing to believe him dead at the close of the Second World War. As the drama soars to a shattering climax, so too does Mancini’s main theme, the gorgeous and ultimately heartbreaking Loss of Love. 

1. Two For the Road (1963)

Supposedly the favourite score of Mancini himself, the theme from Two For the Road is, in my opinion, the most exquisite of them all. This wildly expressive score, served with an enchanting dollop  of continental style, goes remarkably well with the film’s road trip across France, charting the ups and downs of a twenty-year romance.

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16 Comments

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  1. Mancini is undeniably a master, though you chose to include ‘Breakfast’, which is unfortunately one of my least favourite films. Both leads cannot sing, and detract from the otherwise excellent songs. I just find myself asking why? (Why?)
    Best wishes from Norfolk, Pete.

    1. Your comment actually made me laugh a little Pete! While it’s true that they’re not perhaps the best of singers, (and I have to say Breakfast at Tiffany’s is not a particular favourite film of mine either) I feel like Audrey’s voice is quite charming, and goes well with the almost innocent hope for that ‘rainbow’s end’.

  2. Glad to raise a smile Rachel! I understand what you mean about the intentional fragility of Hepburn. I have to confess that I don’t really rate her, and think that ‘Breakfast’ is one of the most woefully miscast films ever. Just a personal opinion of course. I was pleased to read your article though, and I don’t doubt that there are plenty out there who will disagree with my contention.
    Very best wishes, Pete.

  3. I never knew that Mancini considered Two for the Road to be his favorite…I would have thought he’d like Moon River best. My personal favorites are It Had Better Be Tonight, The Sweetheart Tree, and Whistling Away the Dark. Man, did that guy boast an impressive filmography! My father always held the belief that Mancini wished he had written “Jean” because he includes that song on many of his record albums. If you didn’t know it, you’d think he did write it..such a lovely song.

    1. Oh yes, “Jean” is indeed a very charming song. When I heard it in the film though, I didn’t quite understand why such a pretty and winsome tune supposedly went hand in hand with the almost ominous character of Jean Brodie herself. Then again, perhaps the song is a representation of how Jean wanted to be remembered, in all her romanticised glory.

    1. Yes, Love Story is a wonderful theme! The music though I think was written by the Francis Lai, a French composer who also wrote the very memorable score of A Man and a Woman. Mancini, if I remember correctly, did release a particularly lovely recording of Love Story.

  4. Lovely choices. Two For the Road is my favorite, too – but I can’t help humming the Pink Panther theme for hours after I hear it. His music was always beautiful and always enhanced the film.

    1. Very true – Mancini’s scores always fit so perfectly with the films which they accompanied. And yes, there seems to be nothing more catchy than that Pink Panther theme!

  5. Rachel–good stuff–though it was TV show, I think the Mancini music for PETER GUNN should always be included in any list of his work…AL

    1. The theme from Peter Gunn is indeed one of Mancini’s great works (and there are of course certainly many). However, in this article I limited myself to only his film scores and so did not include it.

  6. It must have been difficult limiting your selections! As a baby boomer I’m ever so glad I experienced most of these movies first hand and understand all aspects of that era. Hepburn fought to have her song left in–and yes, it does capture her innocence, more so because she isn’t a trained singer.

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