Archive for the 'Music' Category

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.

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!