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 River, of 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.