August is my birthday month. Back in school it sucked because kids never bothered to remember your birthday during the summer. As a young adult, I used to have a mental list that I’d check off each year as friends wished me a happy birthday (or not). (Pathetic.) Now, due to the marvel of Facebook, complete strangers (who are still friends) send me birthday greetings! And my ego is just delicate enough that that makes me happy. (Equally pathetic.)
So rather than wait for the 19th to roll around (hint, hint, mark your calendars all you non-Facebookers…triply pathetic), I’m celebrating my birthday a little early by devoting this month’s “9 on the 9th” post to my favorite scores from the year of my birth—1962. (Do the math…)
That year in particular saw a wealth of great film music. In addition to the nine listed below, I had to leave off such classics as BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ and WALK ON THE WILD SIDE (Elmer Bernstein); THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR (Alfred Newman); DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (Henry Mancini); DR. NO (John Barry); JULES ET JIM (Georges Delerue), KNIFE IN THE WATER (Krzysztof Komeda); THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (David Amram); REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (Laurence Rosenthal); TENDER IS THE NIGHT (Bernard Herrmann); and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (Frank DeVol).
If you don’t feel like celebrating my birthday from whatever corner of the globe you’re in (and I can’t understand why you wouldn’t!), then by all means celebrate this treasure trove of amazing music.
Jerry Goldsmith’s first Oscar nominated score is probably better known today tracked in to ALIEN. But Goldsmith’s harsh—and at times tender—atonal music is the perfect backdrop for this biopic of the celebrated analyst. John Huston’s film has its own strange beauty, Montgomery Clift is a dead ringer for Freud, and Susannah York gives a lovely performance. The film is fascinating to watch, if not completely successful. If a troubled mind could be set to music, then this is it.
8. CAPE FEAR
Few films are as creepy as CAPE FEAR (both this version and the 1992 Martin Scorcese remake) and few composers could score fright with such dexterity as Bernard Herrmann. Those trademarks minor chords and repeated rhythmic and melodic cells send chills down my spine every time I listen to the score, all the while trying not to think about the classic Simpsons episode where Homer & Family go into the witness protection program to escape Sideshow Bob.
7. THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM
The poor Brothers Grimm. The art direction and costumes are colorful, but the story is stagnant and uninteresting, with lead performances by Laurence Harvey and Karl Boehm that border on manic and narcoleptic, respectively. Thankfully, the film is chock full of delightful music courtesy of Leigh Harline (score) and Bob Merrill (songs). Merrill’s simple tunes are brightly orchestrated and arranged by Harline, who displays some lovely melodies of his own. A thoroughly charming score that is best heard outside of film. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Helen Keller’s heartbreaking story is given musical voice in a truly beautiful score by Laurence Rosenthal. Rosenthal filters his memorable themes through harmonies reminiscent of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, yet still retains his own distinctive voice. If you don’t shed a tear when Helen learns to “speak,” beautifully underscored by Rosenthal’s heartbreaking music, it’s a miracle you still have a soul.
Anchored by the memorable main theme based on the song, “Second Chance,” Andre Previn’s dramatic jazz score oozes early ’60s New York City. Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine try to put their lives back together, all set to the mournful sound of a lonely trumpet. From finger-snapping jazz cues to yearning dramatic music, the score is still remarkably fresh and moving, thanks to Previn’s prodigious talent.
One of the most famous themes in film history and a score that screams FILM MUSIC in big, bold letters. Maurice Jarre’s colorful orchestrations exude the arid dessert heat while his action cues are every bit as exciting as David Lean’s film and Peter O’Toole’s star-making performance. But Jarre’s Oscar—and the score’s classic status—deservedly rest on that phenomenal main theme.
3. TARAS BULBA
Gypsies and Cossacks and Poles, oh my! Franz Waxman’s score bristles with energy and the expansive beauty of the Ukrainian steppes. Filled with one exciting cue after another and a tender love theme, Waxman’s music is a stunning piece of composition, brimming with orchestral color and thrilling action cues. If “The Ride to Dubno” doesn’t get your pulse racing, nothing will.
2. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY
While this waterlogged remake can’t hold a candle to the performances, direction and script of the classic 1935 film, this version is stunning to look at. Top-notch cinematography, art direction and costume design show why the film almost bankrupted M-G-M. But the real star of the film is Bronislau Kaper’s stunning dramatic score. The music pitches and rolls along the high seas, fleshing out the two-dimensional characters emotionally. Topped off by a haunting, exotic love theme and a majestic main theme, Kaper’s score is anything but dry-docked.
1. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
It seems anticlimactic to put Elmer Bernstein’s classic score in the top spot, but that’s where it belongs. A model of spare, emotional film scoring in which every note is perfectly rendered. From Harper Lee’s story to Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, MOCKINGBIRD is as emotionally powerful today as it was nearly 50 years ago. But I’d argue that much of the film’s classic status also rests on Bernstein’s equally timeless score.