Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mentioning The Music

It’s very difficult to explain why I like the music of the late Henry Mancini so much. Maybe its style makes me think of an era that has since passed. Maybe it’s because his music compliments the films it underscores to such a correct degree. Maybe it’s because Mancini, at his, best, perfectly captures not only the elegance of drinking a martini but also the bitterness of drinking that Martini alone.

Despite my immense admiration for such scores as TOUCH OF EVIL, SILVER STREAK and yes, even LIFEFORCE, the Mancini I love, truly love, is the Mancini that scored so many films for his great friend Blake Edwards. There are few other director-composer partnerships that, to me, display such a true meeting of sensibilities to the point that it’s difficult to imagine the director making a film without a score by that composer. In fact, after they began working on the PETER GUNN TV show together Edwards directed only a handful of films that weren’t scored by Mancini.

The list of sequences in Edwards’ films that are heightened by the Mancini magic is lengthy. The party sequence in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. The main title of A SHOT IN THE DARK. The eerie coolness of the theme to EXPERIMENT IN TERROR as Lee Remick drives across the Bay Bridge. The unexpected disco-izing of the Pink Panther theme in REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER. Dudley Moore playing his full composition on the piano as he thinks of Bo Derek in “10”.The unexpected zaniness of the car chase in S.O.B. that will soon be undercut. The underscore of James Garner sneaking around the hotel room in VICTOR/VICTORIA. Even something like TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER has an unexpectedly lovely piece called “The Easy Life In Paris” that is just tossed off in the film—was it something that Mancini just had lying around? And THE PARTY has a track called “Elegant” on the album which is a true example of bittersweet, well, elegance that remains a favorite of mine.

The soundtrack album of THE PINK PANTHER contains two versions of the song “Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)”, one instrumental and one choral. Unfortunately, it doesn’t contain the version performed by Fran Jeffries in one of the film's most delightful scenes. Watching THE PINK PANTHER when I was younger, it was easy to become impatient with certain aspects of the film. As a matter of fact when the number in question occurs it’s at a point in the film where Peter Sellers’ Clouseau has already been offscreen for about twenty minutes. But the more I’ve seen it, the more I’ve become attracted to the jet-set ambiance of the film, the careless nature of these revelers cavorting around this ski resort in Cortina, with phonograph records emitting only the soothing easy-listening tones of Mancini. The movie even stops dead as Jeffries performs “Meglio Stasera” for everyone—on the DVD audio commentary even Edwards sounds a little mystified why he did this. Blocked for our viewing, not the characters on screen, and expertly shot in full-on Panavision in only two camera set-ups, it becomes more intoxicating the more I see it. People eventually get up to dance during the number, with a little bit of choreographed comedy for Sellers, and the visuals combined with this wonderful performance of the song make it one of my favorite examples of all of Edwards’ films where he allows the music by his friend to take center stage for no reason other than he simply felt like it. The song can be heard again in the background during THE PARTY as Sellers attempts to navigate the physics of a roll of toilet paper in a bathroom, so it’s hard not to think that the two men had a fondness for it. It goes perfectly with the action there as well; not Mickey Mousing, but providing a backup to the visual that adds a certain amount of juice to the scene.

My love of some the films directed by Blake Edwards and scored by Henry Mancini is too extensive to fully express in just a few paragraphs. But their continued collaboration certainly proved that few other filmmakers have ever understood the necessity of certain kinds of music to provide backup to comedy. And how elegant it sometimes needed to be as well.


MovieNut14 said...

There's one piece by Mancini that I just adore called "Lujon". It's been played in a few recent movies, but be sure to listen to it sometime.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I actually love "Jujon" very much. It's so haunting, so otherwordly, so beautiful. It's definitely a favorite.