ben-hur-image

50 Favorite Film Scores, Part 4: #20–11

If you want to refresh your memory of earlier entries in the list, check out the past few posts—Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. We’re coming into the home stretch but not just yet. Herewith are the next batch of some of my favorite scores…

 50 Favorite Film Scores, Part 4: #20–11

20. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bernard Herrmann goes romantic. The fantastical story of a young widow in love with a dead sea captain features arguably Herrmann’s most ravishing work (and Herrmann’s personal favorite). The score beautifully captures the crashing waves and swirling emotions inside these two stubborn characters. Heartbreak, heartache and loneliness have never sounded more lovely. I still think this would make a great musical. Somebody should grab those rights. Who knew Benny had a heart?

19. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Americana film music at its peak. Channeling his inner Aaron Copland, Elmer Bernstein portrays a world of prejudice, danger and innocence with a childlike musical wonder that is as moving today as it must have been in 1962. One of the few scores that seems to cross all boundaries and musical tastes. I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read a harsh word against this score. The violin solo when Scout meets Boo will break your heart.

18. SPARTACUS (1960)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Alex North’s magnum opus and crowning achievement. The perfect blend of North’s mid-20th century atonalities and lush film music idioms, capped by a deservedly famous love theme. North takes the music beyond the expected Hollywood sword and sandle trappings to create a true classic that remains remarkably fresh in its musical approach. An epic score for those who hate epic scores.

17. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Imagine what audiences in 1951 must have thought when they first heard Alex North’s sleazy wailing trumpets. Every bit as groundbreaking as Marlon Brando’s signature performance, North’s music drips New Orleans humidity and Tennessee Williams animal heat. Sexy, sensual and violently decadent, North’s groundbreaking score ushered jazz into the world of dramatic underscoring. Nothing was ever the same.

16. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The film that almost bankrupted MGM almost broke Bronislau Kaper. With numerous problems and delays, changes and edits, Kaper composed enough music for three epics. FSM’s stunning 3-CD set provides a fascinating glimpse into how a score morphs and changes over the course of a film. As for the music itself, BOUNTY is Kaper’s finest hour. Grand, sweeping and dramatic, Kaper captures the drama of this classic mutiny at sea and the exoticism of the Polynesian islands. The sailing of the BOUNTY is one of the great moments in film music.

15. RETURN TO OZ (1985)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

When Disney flops, they flop bigtime. Though this wasn’t a remake of MGM’s classic film, audiences were expecting the candy-colored Oz they had grown up with. Alas, this tale is far darker with characters that just couldn’t match the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, much less Judy Garland’s Dorothy. If the film suffers in its conception and execution, it did provide David Shire with the crowning achievement of his career. Filled with memorable themes, soaring musical set pieces and a heartbreaking finale, the score reveals a side to Shire I wish we’d heard more of during the course of his career. A beautiful composition from beginning to end.

14. THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Where would we be in life without our guilty pleasures? There is something so appealing about watching Gregory Peck’s evil Dr. Mengele chew scenery and Laurence Olivier giving the first in a long string of Jewish-inflected performances (even when the character wasn’t Jewish!) throughout the rest of his career. But the real star of this Hitler-cloned tale is Jerry Goldsmith’s sweeping Viennese score. A memorable main title waltz and terrifying action cues have brought me years of listening pleasure. One of those scores from my early years of film music discovery in the late ’70s that I know backwards and forwards. Now when will this film come out on Blu-ray?!

13. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold may not have initially wanted to write this score, but thank God for film music posterity he did. Korngold’s score is as colorful as the three-strip Technicolor process featured in the film. One of the few scores that comes close to the level of a classical masterpiece (not surprising given Korngold’s prowess in the concert hall). Grand great fun now and forever. The first and last word on swashbuckling.

12. THE BIG COUNTRY (1958)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Primarily known for its classic main theme, no other score captures the energy and expansiveness of, um, “the big country” than Jerome Moross’s Oscar-nominated score. Western to its core and brimming with great melodies and explosive rhythms, Moross’s music takes the genre to a whole new level far beyond campfire harmonicas and lonesome cowboy tunes. Every time I listen to this score I’m reminded anew of what an underutilized talent Moross was. The Western score to end all Western scores.

11. BEN-HUR (1959)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The epitome of Miklós Rózsa’s epic style. Biblical without being cloying, grand without being over the top, and a marvel of compositional and orchestrational skill, Rózsa transports us back to a time just before A.D. Rich, colorful, and monumental, Rózsa’s Oscar-winning classic is just the tip of the iceberg in a career full of highlights. You could substitute a dozen other titles. I just happened to pick this one. A classic from first note to last.

Tommorrow: 50 Favorite Film Scores, Part 5: The Top 10

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.

One comment

  1. You definitely have some all-time, top-5’ers here.

    By the way, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL is on an all-region blu-ray via ITV/Granada in the UK (and it’s reasonably priced on Amazon by US sellers); best of all, it looks and sounds like opening night 1978, so you won’t regret grabbing one up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *