The Great Mancini

In a recent Wall Street Journal review, Eric Felten examines the genius of Hollywood composer Henry Mancini, whose music made him millions, but who eventually went from cool to cheesy. I’ve always thought of Mancini as cheesy but I liked that about him (his collected works were among my father’s Easy Listening collection, alongside Ray Coniff, Paul Anka, later Bobby Vinton, and Jerry Vale).

Here’s how Felten explains it:

The root of the problem, according to [Bernard] Herrmann, was all this grabby, greedy hustling for hit tunes when the composer should be focused, instead, on contributing to the dramatic affect of a picture. “They’re looking for a musical gimmick to lure the public,” Herrmann griped, singling out such soundtrack schticks as “a harmonica surrounded by a choral group, the twanging sound of an electric zither, or the wail of a kazoo in an espresso cafe. Stuff like that. It only takes away from what’s happening on the screen.”

The harmonica and chorus crack was a gibe at Mancini’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” soundtrack. Page Cook, the music critic for Films in Review, was even less generous. He described the work of Mancini and his imitators as a succession of “non-filmusical improvisations, haphazardries, banalities, and auditory disturbances.” Even though the complaints put no dent in Mancini’s booming career at the time, Herrmann did identify the key part of Mancini’s success that would ultimately drag down his film-scoring career—the quest for LP-record revenues.

An interesting bit of trivia: Mancini’s love theme for Romeo and Juliet went to the top of the Billboard chart, displacing the Beatles’ “Get Back.” (Incidentally, the book reviewed is Henry Mancini by John Caps.)

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