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Westerns are films set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American Old West. Some of the most beautiful music scores had been inspired by these movies.

 

“Will, I think you’d better go while there’s still time. It’s better for you, and it’s better for us” (High Noon, 1952)

A town Marshall is personally compelled to face a returning deadly enemy, while his own town refuses to help him. Dimiti Tiomkin can probably be considered the father of western film score. His memorable score for this magnificent western adds to the suspense that builds up as Will Kane awaits Frank Miller, who is arriving on the noon train.

 

“We deal in lead, friend”  (The Magnificent Seven, 1960)

Based on the Japanese legendary film The Seven Samurai, it tells the story of Mexican peasant villagers oppressed by bandits that decide to hire a group of seven gunfighters to defend them. The epic score composed by Elmer Bernstein gives me a sense of euphoric excitement, followed by a relaxing sense of inner peace. It is like riding a horse at full speed in a wide-open prairie, then going across a turbulent blue-white river, and finally reaching a nice green meadow.

 

“Every gun makes its own tune” (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966)

Ennio Morricone composed the score for the ultimate Spaghetti Western film. Three gunmen set out to find a hidden fortune during the American Civil War. The inimitable music is very thrilling, and the background of hallucinatory chanting voices is exhilarating. It makes me feel like an outlaw galloping in a western desert with dusty winds and rolling tumbleweeds, while being chased by vicious bounty hunters. The “man with no name” also rode to the tune of magnificent scores in the first two films of the Sergio Leone’s trilogy.

 

“I had never really known who John Dunbar was. Perhaps because the name itself had no meaning. But as I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was” (Dances with Wolves, 1990)

The maestro John Barry wrote a melancholic, romantic, and incredibly beautiful score for the exiled military man who befriends wolves and Indians. The majestic and melodic “John Dunbar Theme” is an essential element in this transcendent, endearing, and breathtaking film.

 

“Should we distrust the man because his manners are not our manners, and that his skin is dark?” (The Last of the Mohicans, 1992)

Three trappers in the midst of the French and Indian War protect a British Colonel’s daughters. Trevor Jones composed a passionate orchestral composition that turned out to be one of the most popular and acclaimed scores of the nineties. Due to minor music cue contributions by Randy Edelman, the score was unfortunately not eligible for Oscar consideration.

 

From Stagecoach (1939) to True Grit (2010), we has been blessed with numerous western score masterpieces. I just have scratched the surface of this treasure trove. Get your shovels ready and dig deeper. You will not be disappointed.

 

Western Good-Bad-Ugly

Notable Western Scores

 

Stagecoach (1939) – Richard Hageman, Frank Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken, Louis Gruenberg, and Gerard Carbonara

The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) – Max Steiner

Fort Apache (1948)- Richard Hageman

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – Richard Hageman

Lone Ranger  (TV Series 1949) – “William Tell Overture” by Gioachino Rossini

Rio Grande (1950) – Victor Young

High Noon (1952) – Dimitri Tiomkin “The Ballad of High Noon”

Shane (1953) – Victor Young

The Man from Laramie (1955) – George Duning

Friendly Persuation (1956) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Searchers (1956) – Danny Knight

3:10 to Yuma (1957) – George Duning

Cowboy (1958) – George Duning

The Big Country (1958)– Jerome Moross

Rifleman (TV Series 1958) – Herschel Burke Gilbert

Rawhide (TV Series 1959) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Bonanza (TV Series 1959) – David Rose

Rio Bravo (1959) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Horse Soldiers (1959) – David Buttolph

The Alamo (1960) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Magnificent Seven (1960) – Elmer Bernstein

How the West Was Won (1962) – Alfred Newman

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – Ennio Morricone

For a Few Dollars More (1965) – Ennio Morricone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – Ennio Morricone

Return of the Seven (1966) – Elmer Bernstein

Once Upon a Time in the West  (1968) – Ennio Morricone

Hang ‘Em High (1968) – Dominic Frontiere

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Jerry Fielding

Two Mules for Sister Sarah (1970) – Ennio Morricone, Stanley Wilson

Duck You Sucker (1971) – Ennio Morricone

The Cowboys (1972) – John Williams

My Name is Nobody (1973) – Ennio Morricone

High Plains Drifter (1973) – Dee Barton

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – Jerry Fielding

Silverado (1985) – Bruce Broughton

Glory (1989) – James Horner

Lonesome Dove (TV Miniseries1989) – Basil Poledouris

Dances with Wolves (1990) – John Barry

The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – Trevor Jones

Unforgiven (1992) – Lennie Niehaus, Clint Eastwood

Gettysburg (1993) – Randy Edelman

Maverick (1994) – Randy Newman

Wyatt Earp (1994) – James Newton Howard

Legends of the Fall (1995) – James Horner

Deadwood (TV Series 2004) – David Schwartz

The Proposition (2005) – Nick Cave. Warren Ellis

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – Nick Cave. Warren Ellis

3:10 to Yuma (2007) – Marco Beltrami

True Grit (2010) – Carter Burwell

 

 

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962)

Harper Lee’s uplifting and magnificent story, including the damaged (but pure-hearted) Arthur “Boo” Radley saving the children from Bob Ewel, and Atticus’ moral imperative to defend the vulnerable are all priceless gifts that give humanity some hope.  The utterly moving music created by the inspired maestro Elmer Bernstein catapults the film to heartbreakingly beautiful heights.

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” (Godfather, 1972)

The great film composer Nino Rota’s score is truly an offer no one can refuse. Prepare to be captivated by Italian folk themes, amazing instrumentation, and emotionally charged melodies that capture the amazingly complex moods of one of the best films of all time. Without doubt, it stands as one of the most beautiful and inspired instrumental scores ever written.

“Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” (Chinatown, 1974)

Roman Polanski’s neo-noir is a stylish depiction of evil, greed, and corruption connected to land dealings and water rights’ disputes in California. The mysteriously haunting score composed by Jerry Goldsmith in only ten days is a perfect match for the film. Considered by many as one best scores of all time in great part due to the memorable mournful trumpet solos.

“You talkin’ to me?” (Taxi Driver, 1976)

Bernard Herrmann’s last film score was for Martin Scorsese’s brilliant portrait of urban alienation and decadence. The unforgettable jazzy and orchestral music is dark and ominous, strange and ethereal, subliminal and dissonant. It is the perfect companion for Travis Bickle descent into a nightmarish world of madness, delusion and violence.

“I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994)

‘Red’ (Morgan Freeman) and the other residents of Shawshank were unchained by the ‘Italian ladies’ singing “Canzonetta sull’ aria” (Mozart, “Le Nozze di Figaro”). Prepared to also fall in love with the haunting, dark and dramatic original piano music composed by Thomas Newman. The score is truly inspirational and a central element of this brilliant and miraculous story.

“The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay!” (Radio Show The Shadow, 1930). James Cagney would reply “that’s for yaps and small-timers on shoestrings” (Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938). As far as musical inspiration for great film composers go, the weed of crime does pay indeed.

Crime

Notable Crime Tunes

On the Waterfront (1954) – Leonard Bernstein

Perry Mason (1957 TV Series) – Fred Steiner

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Elmer Bernstein

Dr. No (1962) “James Bond Theme” – Monty Norman, arranged by John Barry

The Pink Panther (1963) – Henry Mancini

Mission: Impossible (1966 TV series) – Lalo Schifrin

Wait Until Dark (1967) – Elmer Bernstein

Cool Hand Luke (1967) – Lalo Schifrin

Ironside (1967 TV series) – Quincy Jones

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) – Michel Legrand

The French Connection (1971) – Don Ellis

Dirty Harry (1971) – Lalo Schifrin

Klute (1971) – Michael Small

The Godfather (1972) – Nino Rota

Papillon (1973) – Jerry Goldsmith

Serpico (1973) – Mikis Theodorakis

The Sting (1973) – Marvin Hamlisch and Scott Joplin

Chinatown (1974) – Jerry Goldsmith

The Godfather: Part II (1974) – Nino Rota, Carmine Coppola

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – David Shire

Night Moves – (1975) – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Midnight Express (1978) – Giorgio Moroder, “Chase”

Dressed to Kill, 1980 – Pino Donaggio

Body Heat (1981) – John Barrry

Blade Runner (1982) – Vangelis

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – Ennio Morricone

Beverly Hills Cop (1984) – Harold Faltermeyer, “Axel F.”

Blue Velvet (1986) – Angelo Bedalamenti

Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Carter Burwell

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Howard Shore

Basic Instinct (1992) – Jerry Goldsmith

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Thomas Newman

Se7en – (1995) – Howard Shore

The Usual Suspects (1995) – John Ottman

Fargo (1996)  – Carter Burwell

Hamlet (1996) – Patrick Doyle

L.A. Confidential (1997) – Jerry Goldsmith

Dark City (1998) – Trevor Jones

Mulholland Drive (2001) – Angelo Badalamenti

Road to Perdition (2002) – Thomas Newman

Mystic River (2003) – Clint Eastwood

Sin City (2005) – Robert Rodriguez, assisted by John Debney & Graeme Revell

Zodiac (2007) – David Shire

Sherlock Holmes (2009) – Hans Zimmer, “Discombobulate”

The Town (2010) – Harry Gregson-Williams, David Buckley

Sherlock (2010 TV Series) – David Arnold

Drive (2011) – Cliff Martinez

Slapsticks, parodies, spoofs, screwballs and romantic comedy films have been brightening up our lives with laughter, humor and amusement for generations.

 

“Yes, I can see now”

In my opinion, City Lights (1931) stands at the pinnacle of both silent and romantic comedy film. The music takes us through a wide range of emotional responses as the Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl, and develops a friendship with a millionaire. Charlie Chaplin composed a true symphony of laughs, tears, and love. Holding my hand to my heart, I rejoice with hope as I witness the triumph of the human spirit over poverty, infirmity, sorrow, and despair.

 

“I, Lord Kelvin, hereby vow to surrender my position as minister of science to Phileas Fogg if he can circumnavigate the globe… in no more than 80 days” (Around The World In 80 Days, 1956)

The unforgettable score for this adventure comedy film allow us to musically circumnavigate the globe, sampling vibrant exotic tunes as English gentleman Phileas Fogg (David Niven) and his valet Passepartout (my beloved comedian Cantinflas) progress in their 80 days journey. Victor Young was a master of melody and one of the finest film composers of his generation. Prepare to be captivated as you embark in this acoustic voyage. Like leaving Paris in a hot air balloon, it is truly an unforgettable emotional tour de force.

 

“It’s buried under a big W, I tell you. A big W” (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, 1963)

The W stands for Wonderful. The sunny, sweet and pleasant music score by Ernest Gold sets the mood for the incredible adventures of Spencer Tracy and a very talented cast. They will endure about three hours of furiously paced tribulations, as they drive, fly, drill, dynamite, and double-cross their way to $350,000 in stolen cash. This epic comedy film and its irresistible score will stay with you forever.

 

“If you look deep into the stone, you will perceive the tiniest discoloration. It resembles an animal” (The Pink Panther, 1963)

The Pink Panther is a fictional diamond with a distinctive flaw, which resembles a leaping panther. The great Henry Mancini composed a mysterious, highly sophisticated, and utterly original theme for the Blake Edwards’ comedy masterpiece.  This beautiful, seductive, and jazzy instrumental diamond has no flaw.

 

“No, it’s pronounced Fronkensteen” (Young Frankenstein, 1974)

We may never know why the horses rear up and neigh madly in fright every time they hear the name of Fra Blucher, but we all know this Mel Brooks’ film is one of the funniest movies of all time. The black-and-white comedy features a descendant of the infamous mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), and his re-animated creature (Peter Boyle). They dance with top hats and tails to the song “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (originally written by Irving Berlin in 1929), which parodies Fred Astaire’s Blue Skies (1946) version. The film also features a beautiful violin score “Transylvanian Lullaby” by Brooks’ longtime composer John Morris.

 

“There’s no reason to be alarmed and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?“

Airplane! (1980) is a genial spoof of airport and other disaster movies. Elmer Bernstein took his job of scoring this ridiculous parody seriously. I love the segments when he makes fun of John Williams’ Jaws. The music film auteur also wrote very well crafted compositions for the comedies Trading Places (1983), and Ghostbusters (1984).

 

Let’s close as we started with a silent romantic comedy film score, the amazing music written by Ludovic Bource for The Artist (2011). It is lighthearted, uplifting, and very emotionally touching. “I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh.” (Audrey Hepburn)

 

Comedy Chaplin

Notable Comedy Tunes

 

City Lights (1931) – Charles Chaplin

Modern Times (1936) – Charles Chaplin

The Three Stooges short subjects (1939 through 1959) – jazzy “Three Blind Mice”

The Philadelphia Story (1940) – Franz Waxman

The Ladykillers (1955) – Tristram Cary

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) – Victor Young

Some Like It Hot (1959) – Adolph Deutsch

The Apartment (1960) – “Theme from The Apartment” , originally “Jealous Lover” (1949) by Charles Williams)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – Henry Mancini

The Pink Panther (1963) – Henry Mancini

Charade (1963) – Henry Mancini

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) – Ernest Gold

Casino Royale (1967) – Burt Bacharach

The Producers (1968) – John Morris

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) – Burt Bacharach

Reivers (1969) – John Williams

MASH (1970) – Johnny Mandel

Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973) – Vladimir Cosma

The Sting (1973) – “The Entertainer”, “Solace” (Written by Scott Joplin/Conducted and Adapted by Marvin Hamlisch)

Young Frankenstein (1974) – John Morris

Blazing Saddles (1974) – John Morris

1941 (1979) – “The March From 1941” (John Williams)

Airplane! (1980) – Elmer Bernstein

Tootsie (1982) – Dave Grusin

Trading Places (1983) – Elmer Bernstein

Ghostbusters (1984) – Elmer Bernstein

Beverly Hills Cop (1984) – “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer

Romancing the Stone (1984) – Alan Silvestri

Back to the Future (1985) – Alan Silvestri

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – Danny Elfman

Princess Bride (1987) – Mark Knopler

Spaceballs (1987) – John Morris

Beetlejuice (1988) – Danny Elfman

Scrooged (1988) – Danny Elfman

Big (1988) – Howard Shore

The Burbs (1989) – Jerry Goldsmith

City Slickers (1991) – Marc Shaiman

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) – Howard Shore

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – Patrick Doyle

Groundhog Day (1993) – George Fenton

Ed Wood (1994) – Howard Shore

Il Postino (1994) – Luis Bacalov

Emma (1996) – Rachel Portman

Life is Beautiful (1997) – Nicola Piovani

Austin Powers (1997) – “Soul Bossa Nova” (1962) by Quincy Jones

As Good As It Gets (1997) – Hans Zimmer

Chocolat (2000) – Rachel Portman

Amélie (2001) – Yann Tiersen

Sideways (2004) – Rolfe Kent

The Artist (2011) – Ludovic Bource

 

 

During the 1940s and 50s, gifted directors together with Hollywood legends (Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck, William Holden, Humphrey Bogart) crafted stylish crime dramas combining the following elements:

– a deceitful, manipulative, double-crossing, but extremely beautiful and sexually appealing lady (a “Femme Fatale”);

– a cynical, and ethically compromised male main character, usually (but not necessarily) a private eye, or a detective;

– a visual style that emphasizes black-and-white photography, high-contrast lighting, distorted shadows, dark city streets, cigarette smoke, and fog.

The French critic Nino Frank coined the term “Film Noir” in 1946 to describe these films.

 

Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) dramatically descends her grand staircase and, proving she has completed her plunge into a delusional state of mind, delivers the film’s most famous line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Sunset Boulevard (1950), one of the greatest films of American cinema, stands at the pinnacle of the “genre”. Franz Waxman composed a poetic, reflective and unforgettable score for the movie.

 

“Goodbye, Laura. Goodbye, my love.” Columnist Waldo Lydecker, police detective Mark McPherson, playboy Shelby Carpenter and every other man in the film will fall under the love spell (and eventually become obsessed with) the beautiful and highly successful advertising executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), or with her notorious portrait. Composed over one weekend by David Raksin, the exceptionally sophisticated and haunting title theme song “Laura” will become one of the most recorded and performed songs of the 20th century (lyrics by Johnny Mercer). It clearly has become one of the film’s most endurable legacies. Both Laura (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (above) were honored in 2005 as two of the top 25 film scores in the American Film Institute’s “100 Years of Film Scores” list.

 

“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” (Written by Orson Welles to be delivered by his character Harry Lime). The Theme from The Third Man (1949) is simply brilliant, full of suspense, shadowy betrayal, and postwar fear. Anton Karas wrote and performed the score using only the zither (a string musical instrument). It was no cuckoo clock; it easily topped most international music charts in 1950.

 

“The Fault… is Not in Our Stars, But in Ourselves…” (William Shakespeare).

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst at a mental hospital in Vermont. She protects the identity of an amnesiac patient accused of murder. Miklós Rózsa bejeweled the famous dream sequence (designed by Salvador Dalí) of the film Spellbound (1945) with one of the most moving, thrilling, passionate and beautifully paranoid orchestral scores ever composed. Although the score won the Academy Award, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t like the music because “it got in the way of his direction” (quote from Rózsa).

 

Finally, I would like to highlight the scores from two late film noirs: Sweet Smell of Success (1957), and Touch of Evil (1958). Elmer Bernstein and Henry Mancini, two young and upcoming composers at the time, crafted these works of genius. Bernstein’s furious jazz and orchestral score done in collaboration with the Chico Hamilton Quintet is one of the top film music masterpieces in the 1950s.  Mancini’s crime jazz score is sinister, sleazy, swinging, and very cool.

 

 

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Notable Film Noir Scores

 

The Letter (1940)- Max Steiner

Rebecca (1940) – Franz Waxman

The Maltese Falcon (1941) – Adolph Deutsch

High Sierra (1941) – Adolph Deutsch

Laura (1944) – David Raksin

Double Indemnity (1944)  – Miklós Rózsa

Spellbound (1945) – Miklós Rózsa

The Lost Weekend – (1945) – Miklós Rózsa

Mildred Pierce (1945) – Max Steiner

The Big Sleep (1946) – Max Steiner

The Killers (1946) – Miklós Rózsa

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) – George Bassman

Dark Passage (1947) – Franz Waxman

Brute Force (1947) -Miklós Rózsa

Force of Evil (1948) – David Raksin

Key Largo (1948) – Max Steiner

The Third Man (1949) – Anton Karas

White Heat (1949) – Max Steiner

Sunset Boulevard (1950) – Franz Waxman

The Asphalt Jungle  (1950) – Miklós Rózsa

D.O.A (1950) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Strangers On A Train – (1951) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Suddenly (1954) – David Raksin

The Night Of The Hunter (1955) – Walter Schumann

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) – Frank DeVol

The Killing (1956) – Gerald Fried

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) – Elmer Bernstein

Touch of Evil (1958) – Henry Mancini