It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

50 Favorite Film Scores, Part 2: #40–31

Yesterday, I began a week-long look at 50 of my favorite film scores. If you want to read about the background behind the project, check out the earlier post. The remaining scores will be covered throughout the rest of the week.

Now, on with the next installment of 50 of my favorite film scores…

 50 Favorite Film Scores, Part 2: #40–31

40. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

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Max Steiner’s classic score is made for the Technicolor sweep of the big screen. Anchored by arguably the most famous piece of film music ever written (if for no other reason than it’s been around the longest), the score is chock full of memorable melodies and enough period tunes to make you feel like Sherman is coming up on your rear. The South should always be defeated in such an epic, grand manner.

39. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)

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Bernard Herrmann reportedly hated Richard Rodney Bennett’s music for this adaptation of the Agatha Christie mystery, calling the score “silly, terrible…That train was a train of death!” No doubt Herrmann would have scored the film that way. But Bennett’s Jazz Age pastiche subtly conveys the wealth of the passengers and gives the film a lighthearted counterpoint to the dastardly doings on board. The waltz for the train leaving the station is one of my favorite moments in film music.

38. SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (2004)

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If SKY CAPTAIN is any indication, Edward Shearmur should be scoring today’s superhero epics. And had this big budget flop performed better at the box office, perhaps he would be. Beautifully shot but cold and sterile, the film is far more successful in its cinematography and art direction than in its storytelling. But Shearmur’s score is every bit the rousing orchestral tour de force the film required. With a great main theme, the score is perhaps too old fashioned for contemporary tastes (and perhaps was even in 2004), at least from the viewpoint of directors and studio execs. But if you’re looking for a throwback to the style of John Williams in the late ’70s and early ’80s, this is it.

37. THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964)

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You gotta love a composer who’s not afraid to let the music take over the screen, even when perhaps it shouldn’t. Such was the gift of Dimitri Tiomkin, and this sprawling epic was made for Tiomkin’s grand style. When later generations film the fall of today’s civilization, one can only hope it is scored with the kind of chutzpah that Tiomkin supplied on a regular basis.

36. THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR (1988)

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Eight years after his Oscar-winning ORDINARY PEOPLE, director Robert Redford was bound to hit a sophomore slump. And slump he did. While MILAGRO tanked at the box office, audiences missed out on a charming, if problematic film, that contained a magical score by Dave Grusin. Without overplaying the Latin influences, Grusin captured the enchantment at the heart of this sweet tale of Big Business encroaching on the simple inhabitants of a small southwestern town. When Grusin was nominated for an Oscar, I though he didn’t stand a chance. When he  deservedly won, it was a true miracle.

35. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010)

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With an awkward title and a studio known for their crappy animation, dated pop references and lowbrow humor, I certainly wasn’t expecting much from HTTYD. But few animated films have given me such a rush of pure adrenaline, primarily thanks to John Powell’s music. The story is heartwarming and witty, but it is Powell’s music that really helps the film take flight. The test drive sequence is a thrilling marriage of animation and music.

34. THE WIND AND THE LION (1975)

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One of the few film on this list I haven’t seen. I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, but I just can’t get into it. Maybe it’s Sean Connery as an Arab or Brian Keith as, well anything that’s not Uncle Bill. Though I have zero interest in the story, I do, however, have fond memories of our high school band butchering an arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated music. We clarinets got stuck with the violin parts and those action sequences were incredibly difficult. Hence the word “butchering”. Thankfully, I can still enjoy a score even without pleasant memories attached to it.

33. THE ARTIST (2011)

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Even with the VERTIGO cue, this Oscar-winning Best Picture is a sublime marriage of image and music. I fell in love with this delightful silent film immediately upon hearing a preview of the score. Was it because the music reminded me of the Golden Age music I so dearly love? Perhaps. But the film also reminds me of the numerous afternoons plopped down in front of the TV watching classic Hollywood movies. Even with the numerous new and archival scores occupying what little surface space I have in my apartment and waiting to be heard, I still keep revisiting this score. I don’t expect that will change.

32. JAWS (1975)

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Though I didn’t understand the effect of John Williams’s music on the film when it scared the bejesus out of my nerdy 12-year-old self in 1975, I was sufficiently impressed to “vote” in a blanket way for anything JAWS the next year when I watched my first Oscar ceremony the following year. I thought the film was the epitome of classic filmmaking (as if I had any clue) and should have won Best Picture over a bunch of dramas I’d never seen or heard of. In many ways I was wrong. And yet perhaps I wasn’t. I’d rather watch JAWS over and over—I have and will continue to do so especially now that the Blu-ray is being released today—than many of the stuffier films released that year. And Williams’s dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum will probably continue to freak me out till my dying breath.

31. IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)

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Given the plethora of comedic talent on display, I find this film incredibly unfunny. Long, lumbering and overly broad in execution, the film is, if nothing else, mad. Thankfully, we have Ernest Gold’s Oscar-nominated music to keep things humming along. Gold’s score is every bit as goofy and broad as the film, but with a light touch and hummability that almost makes the waste of two and a half hours bearable. Skip the movie and stick to the music.

Tommorrow: 50 Favorite Film Scores, Part 3: #30-21

About Jim Lochner

Jim has been writing about film music for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Texas at Arlington and a Master of Music from The University of Texas (Austin), both in Clarinet Performance. He has written soundtrack CD liner notes for Intrada, Varèse Sarabande Records, Film Score Monthly, La-La Land Records and Disques Cinemusique. Jim has been a bimonthly guest on BBC-Kent’s Drive Home at the Movies radio program and has been interviewed by a number of online and print outlets, including The Toronto Globe and Mail and the Los Angeles Times. Jim served as the managing editor of Film Score Monthly Online (FSMOnlineMag.com) and is currently writing a book on Charlie Chaplin's film music. For more information, visit JimLochner.com.

5 comments

  1. I guess I’ll have to give Powell and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON a try, even though I find contemporary animated fantasies interesting only for their dubious ability to pander to suburbia. It’s the only one of the scores above I haven’t heard.
    Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch the new blu-ray of JAWS!

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