Archive for May 5th, 2010

Isn’t It Romantic (The Big Finish!)

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

In my last post, I went way out on a limb by claiming that I could and would authoritatively and definitively list the 10 Most Romantic Songs In The Movies – Ever. I then proceeded to offer my choices for places 10 through 6.

Today, I’ll just go ahead and saw that limb completely off. Because here are the rest of my choices:

5. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Play Misty For Me, 1971) For his first directorial effort, Clint Eastwood chose a Hitchcockian chiller about the fury of a stalker scorned. Clint played a disc jockey who becomes the victim of fan-turned-fanatic Jessica Walter. 2/3 through the film, he (and we) think she’s been institutionalized, and it’s with a huge sigh of relief that we (and he) enjoy his romantic R&R with lovely Donna Mills. Their background music, from Roberta Flack’s 1969 album “First Take” (so named because her tight budget barely allowed for one pass on each song), was a category-defying song composed by British folkie Ewan MacColl for his wife Peggy Seeger (daughter of Pete.) With lyrics that could have come straight from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet (including a unique repetition of each verse’s last phrase), and aided by Flack’s vibrato-free perfect pitch, the song had exactly the effect Eastwood desired: it lulled us into a false sense of security so that Clint could scare the bejeebers out of us moments later.

4. Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) (The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956.) This was another Hitchcockian thriller, one directed by Hitch himself. And in this case, the song not only pushes the plot forward, it provides the solution for stars Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. Their son has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in the London embassy of an “un-named ” East European country (Russia – c’mon! We all knew they were Russkies!) Doris and Jimmy somehow wrangle invites to a soiree at the embassy, where Doris is – of course – invited to sing. And naturally, she warbles the tune she had sung to her son earlier in the film. Upstairs, the boy hears his mother’s dulcet tones and begins singing back to her, and they all live happily ever after. In non-musicals, songs have rarely been used to propel a story to its conclusion so effectively. It’s a shame Sir Alfred never tried it again.

3. The Shadow Of Your Smile (The Sandpiper, 1965.) The turbulent romance of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor sold forests-worth of tabloids, produced a few good films (and some real stinkers, too), and gave us one spectacular song. In The Sandpiper, Liz is an artsy-bohemian type who seduces a married minister (Burton, of course). While okay, the film is chiefly notable for offering Charles Bronson a chance to play against type as a beatnik sculptor. “Shadow Of Your Smile” won the Best Song Oscar and the Song Of The Year Grammy, both well-deserved. Paul Francis Webster’s lyrics (including a seldom-sung verse that ties in with the plot of the movie) are superb. But it is Johnny Mandel’s amazingly-constructed tune (what other song in the Key of G can you think of that starts on an F# minor 7th?) that lingers.

2. What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life? (The Happy Ending, 1969). The Happy Ending didn’t have one – either on-screen or off. A well-acted drama about Jean Simmons’ mid-life crisis, it never quite found an audience when up against Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, True Grit, and Midnight Cowboy. So most folks who know the song may not even realize that it’s from a movie. But they certainly know it is a supremely-crafted triumph of the songwriter’s art. The lyrics from husband-wife team Marilyn and Alan Bergman (who also wrote the words to “The Way We Were,” “The Windmills Of Your Mind,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” and other moody masterpieces) mesh perfectly with 3-time Oscar winner Michel LeGrand’s minor-to-major (and back again) melody. If anyone reading this is a student of perfect song construction, then said reader should check out this tune – now!

1. As Time Goes By (Casablanca, 1942). Herman Hupfield is alleged to have composed this tune in 1931. I say “alleged”, because it’s hard to believe the same guy who wrote “When Yuba Plays The Rhumba On The Tuba” or “Goopy Geer (He Plays Piano And He Plays By Ear)” could possibly write something so sublime. Of course, it also beggars the imagination to think that vacationing high school teacher and unpublished playwright Murray Burnett would hear the tune being played (in a club very much like Rick’s, by a pianist very much like “Sam”) and include it in “Everybody Comes To Rick’s”, the un-produced play which went on to become one of the best and most-loved films of all time: Casablanca (that’s pretty good work for a rookie!). But what is most difficult to believe is that veteran composer Max Steiner (“Tara’s Theme” from Gone With The Wind, “Theme From A Summer Place”) would even consider replacing the song in the finished film. Indeed, he never understood its appeal, admitting only that “…there’s something there…” that people are attracted to. Yes, I guess there is. And we’ve been attracted to it ever since Ingrid and Bogey and “We’ll always have Paris.”

The American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 movie songs of all time lists the song Sam played when Bogey said “Play it again, Sam” (except – I’m sure you know – Bogey never said it) at number 2 – giving “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” top billing. Yeah – that’s a good little tune, too. But my list is for romantic songs only. And this one’s the best.