Archive for May 3rd, 2010

Isn’t It Romantic? (Part 1)

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Moses started the whole “Top 10″ list phenomenon. It has since spread to include J. Edgar Hoover’s Public Enemies and Mr. Blackwell’s Worst Dressed. And – many nights – it’s by far the best part of the Letterman show.

But I would have to be crazy to even dream of creating a definitive Top 10 Most Romantic Songs Of The Movies. Love songs are by their very nature so personal and idiosyncratic that no single list could ever hope to capture the 10 best, by any objective criteria. I’d be a fool to even try.

So that is exactly what I’ve done. What follows are my selections for positions 6 through 10. (The top 5 will follow, next time.)

10. (Our) Love Is Here To Stay. (The Goldwyn Follies, 1937.) George Gershwin spent the last 12 months of his life (he died of a brain tumor at age 38) composing songs for 3 Hollywood films. His creative output that year included “A Foggy Day In London Town,” “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and this gem. He arrived in a Hollywood where songs didn’t even have to be original to a film to earn a Best Song Oscar nomination. By his death, movie songs were pushing plots forward, rather than merely interrupting the storyline. I honor him both for this – his last – composition, and for showing the next generation of film composers (guys like Sammy Cahn and Henry Mancini) what was possible.

9. The Sweetheart Tree (The Great Race, 1965.) Speaking of Mancini, he both refined and defined the art of movie song composing. Along the way, we was nominated for an astounding 18 Oscars (winning 4.) “Moon River,” “The Days Of Wine And Roses,” and “Baby Elephant Walk” are but 3 of his catalog of hits. But – for me – the best of his romantic movie tunes occurred in the lull following a classic custard pie fight between hero Tony Curtis and comic villain Jack Lemmon. Natalie Wood, at her most hauntingly beautiful, picks up a guitar and strums this simple, yet elegant, waltz – almost whispering each line of the lyric. In what is otherwise a tribute to the knockabout comedy style of Laurel and Hardy (the film is even dedicated to them), it is 60 seconds of pure grace.

8. The Look Of Love (Casino Royale, 1967.) One of the great joys of any James Bond movie is its theme song, whether sung by brassy Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker) or sultry Carly Simon (“Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me). They almost always set the perfect tone for 007′s adventures. But it was the mostly awful ’67 “comedy” version of Ian Fleming’s first thriller (featuring 57 year old David Niven as 007) that gave us the best Bond song of all. Burt Bacharach was inspired to compose it while watching a film clip of Ursula Andress on a Movieola editing machine. (That would inspire me, too.) Dusty Springfield’s breathy delivery adds to the intimacy of Hal David’s lyrics, and makes the entire package one to savor like a fine wine.

7. I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You (Blue Hawaii, 1961.) If a “musical” can be defined as a film in which folks suddenly and spontaneously burst into song (accompanied by a full – if unseen – orchestra), then Elvis made more of them than anybody. This particular Elvis flick is no worse, and maybe a little better, than most of his output. But what really sets it apart is the moment when the Big E hands a music box-birthday gift to a mature Hawaiian lady and croons this love song to her with only minimal back-up (mostly from a celeste simulating the music box, Hawaiian “slack” steel guitar, ukelele, and vocals by the Jordanaires.) In its utter simplicity lies its eternal charm.

6. Unchained Melody (Unchained, 1955). 35 years before Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze, and Ghost, and 10 years before Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield lent his soaring falsetto to “I n-e-e-e-e-d your love,” there was a little and soon forgotten prison flick called Unchained (hence the name, “Unchained Melody.”) Future Football Hall of Famer and then-current L.A. Ram Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch spent a few weeks of his off-season filming at the medium-security California Institution For Men in Chino (and no – he wasn’t singing this song to his bunk mate.) Soon-to-be “Della Street” Barbara Hale played the wife he longed to see. The film was quickly forgotten, but the song spawned over 500 different versions (by the Supremes, Roy Orbison, Elvis, and Cyndi Lauper – among many others.) Hatfield’s rendition topped the Adult Contemporary charts for 2 weeks in 1990 – an amazing feat for a 1965 recording!

Next Time: The Rest of the Best!