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February 28, 2014

Song of the Day #1179

Song of the Day: With a Song in My Heart (title track), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, is sung in the 1952 film by Jane Froman, who is played by Golden Globe winner and Oscar-nominated Best Actress Susan Hayward. This biopic tells the story of Froman, who was crippled in an airplane crash on 22 February 1943, and who went on to entertain the troops in World War II, despite her serious injuries, which required nearly 40 surgical procedures in the years thereafter. The legendary Alfred Newman won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and the film also received nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), Best Costume Design, Best Color, and Best Sound Recording (Thomas T. Moulton). The title track [heard in this great overture, with Froman's vocals], of course, originated in the 1929 Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical, "Spring is Here", which, itself, is a great song. The title track in this film has also been featured in other films, including: the 1948 film, "Words and Music," where it gets a classic Perry Como treatment [YouTube link] and the terrific "Young Man with a Horn" (1950), featuring a loving performance by Doris Day and trumpeter Harry James [YouTube link]. Other definitive recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and The Supremes [YouTube links] illustrate just how deeply this standard has become a part of the Great American Songbook.

February 27, 2014

Song of the Day #1178

Song of the Day: BUtterfield 8 ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Bronislau Kaper, has that lush quality that Kaper brings to anything he touches with his musical sensibility and jazz inflections (take a listen to Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez on "Invitation" or
Kaper himself [YouTube link]). This theme opens the 1960 film that brought Elizabeth Taylor her first Oscar for Best Actress. On this date, in 1932, Taylor was born.

February 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1177

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ("Showdown") [YouTube link], composed by Alexandre Desplat, encompasses all the passion of the ultimate film of the great series of feature films dramatizing the ultimate showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. A truly terrific piece from a truly terrific scene, illustrating the art, and the power, of a great score. (If you ask me, the people who give out Oscars truly missed the boat, so-to-speak, in virtually ignoring all the films of this series.)

February 25, 2014

Song of the Day #1176

Song of the Day: Flight ("Opening") [theost excerpt], composed by Alan Silvestri, is the pensive opening theme for the 2012 film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, and starring Denzel Washington, who gives a superb Oscar-nominated performance. The film provides hair-raising moments of suspense and poignant moments of raw honesty.

February 24, 2014

Song of the Day #1175

Song of the Day: Never Say Never Again ("Main Title") is the title track to the one "unofficial" James Bond film not produced by Albert Broccoli and company; it's a 1983 remake of "Thunderball" with a theme song that featured the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the music of Michel Legrand (who celebrates his 82nd birthday today! Joyeux Anniversaire, Michel!!!), and the vocals of Lani Hall, who performed with Brasil 66. With a cluster of talent like that, the song still doesn't hold a candle to the original "Thunderball," but I still think it's a mini-miracle that, with lawsuits hanging over the film, Legrand was still able to draw from his jazz roots and come up with a score fully consistent with the 007 musical canon. Listen to the title track on YouTube.

February 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1174

Song of the Day: Samson and Delilah ("Main Title")[YouTube link], music by the legendary Golden Age film score composer, Victor Young, is the perfect main theme for this DeMille directed 1949 film; it captures the grandeur, the flaws, the love, and the devastation to come. Starring Victor Mature as Samson and Hedy Lamar as Delilah, it is one of those memorable Hollywood Biblical epics. And here's a point of trivia: it is the film's title that is on the marquis of the movie theater where the townspeople have gathered in the George Pal-produced 1953 sci-fi classic "War of the Worlds," as they witness the first of many "meteors" falling in the Los Angeles area, as part of an invasion from Mars.

February 22, 2014

Song of the Day #1173

Song of the Day: Demetrius and the Gladiators ("Prelude") [YouTube link] features a score composed by Franz Waxman, who had two tough acts to follow: the stupendously successful film for which this one stood as a sequel, and its equally stupendous soundtrack, written by one of the Golden Era's Greats. This 1954 film was a "sword and sandal" sequel to the 1953 epic, "The Robe," which was actually filmed twice: once in the typical "flat screen" process of the day, and a second time in the revolutionary widescreen format of "CinemaScope," for which 20th Century Fox got an honorary Oscar (though, as a sidenote, for me, the performances in the "flat screen" version of "The Robe" are far better than its widescreen sibling). The sequel picks up where "The Robe" leaves off.  Waxman wisely kept reverential musical references to certain heartfelt themes composed by Alfred Newman for this film's predecessor. Listen up to 2:30 in the first YouTube link above to see how well Waxman incorporates the Newman motifs, while providing us with a strong score that stands on its own merits.

February 21, 2014

Song of the Day #1173

Song of the Day: Sleuth ("Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John Addison, opens up the 1972 mystery, the last film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, a dangerous game of daring wits played to perfection by strong Oscar-nominated performances for Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine (both of whom lost to Marlon Brando, who played Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather"). The theme almost sounds circus-like, but it is precisely a circus we watch, albeit the kind that includes the thrilling task of walking a tightrope without a net.

February 20, 2014

Song of the Day #1172

Song of the Day: North By Northwest ("Crash of the Cropduster") [YouTube link], composed by Bernard Herrmann for this 1959 cinematic Hitchcock gem, is as much about what music is not heard as much as it is about what is heard. This scene is the ultimate in Hitchcock iconography; Cary Grant is alone, with vast empty plains stretching for miles in every direction, as he awaits the arrival of the nonexistent George Kaplan. Suddenly, he is being chased by a cropdusting plane with a trigger-happy pilot. The whole scene is without accompanying music at first, as Cary runs from the plane, finding cover in crops until the cropduster flushes him out to re-target him. But as Cary flags down a huge fuel truck, the plane unavoidably crashes into the truck and disintegrates into flames. The suspenseful music begins with the crash. When Hitchcock and Herrmann were in sync, they knew when to let the action speak for itself, and when to let the music enhance the scene. Herrmann's non-score to this truly iconic scene is as effective as Rozsa's non-score during the chariot race in "Ben-Hur," also a 1959 film: we have a "Parade of the Charioteers" before the race and music announcing victory in its aftermath. But during the scene, we are assaulted by the deafening noise of the crowd, the horses and chariots, the tramplings, the sound and fury of a race to the death. (A similar pattern is used in the film "Independence Day," where at the Zero Hour, all of America's key monuments and cities are destroyed, the music not engaging us until the very end of that apocalyptic series of events.) In any event, the cropduster scene is one of my favorite scenes in one of my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. In honor of my mother, who was born on this date in 1919, I post it; she passed away in 1995, but seeing her Cary was among the few things that could perk her up even in illness. The film is often thought of as the first "Bond" film, before 007 made his cinematic 1962 debut, and it is not difficult to see why.

February 19, 2014

Song of the Day #1171

Song of the Day: Valley of the Dolls ("Theme") was composed by Andre Previn and Dory Previn for the 1967 film version of the Jacqueline Susann novel (Mr. Spock in "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" clearly understood "The Greats" of the twentieth century). The original recording of the song was to be sung by Judy Garland, who had been fired from the film. It was sung by Dionne Warwick. There is a John Williams arrangement of the song in the film; his arrangements were noted by the Academy, and became the first of his 49-to-date Oscar nominations, this one for "Best Score Adaptation." And then there is the single version from Warwick's album [YouTube link]). Listen to the Dory Previn version as well [YouTube link]. For all its kitsch and camp, the film depicts tragedy, and there are so many tragedies that go beyond the film; one need only remember that Sharon Tate was one of its stars.

February 18, 2014

Song of the Day #1170

Song of the Day: Pressure Point ("Main Title") [excerpt therein], composed by Ernest Gold, is a jazz-infused theme from the 1962 film. It has elements of its time, even its "West Side Story"-like moments.

February 17, 2014

Song of the Day #1169

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Salute for Messala") [audio clip at that link] is a 10-second cue composed by the legendary Miklos Rozsa, which is heard in the 1959 MGM epic upon the arrival of Judah Ben-Hur's childhood friend, Messala, who has returned to Jerusalem, a tribune of Rome, ready to assume command of the Roman garrison. To me, despite the flaws and corruptions that have engulfed the soul of the man who becomes Ben-Hur's nemesis, this particular cue, designed to express the requisite regality, also expresses strength of character and certainty of purpose. And it was a cue that never showed up on the umpteen versions of this film's soundtracks that had been released since the film's 1959 debut. That was rectified in 2013 by FSM Golden Age Classics, with the release of an utterly definitive 5-CD collection illustrating the complete brilliance of Rozsa's Oscar-winning score, one of the 11 Oscars that remains an Academy Award record (tied, but never bested by "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"). Since the beginning of Notablog, I've highlighted many cues from this soundtrack. Of this, one can be certain: On February 17th of any year, you'll find a "Ben-Hur" selection: in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and the tradition continues today. It's my 54th birthday, after all, and it allows me to offer an annual salute to my all-time favorite movie and my all-time favorite score.

February 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1168

Song of the Day: The Deer Hunter ("Cavatina") [YouTube link] is a piece composed by Stanley Myers, and was first heard in the 1970 film "The Walking Stick." Singer Cleo Lane added her own lyrics to the piece, and recorded it as "He Was Beautiful" [YouTube link], accompanied by classical guitarist John Williams. But it was that guitarist's version of the composition that is best remembered as the theme to one of the most shattering antiwar films ever made: "The Deer Hunter" (1978), starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, John Cazale, and Meryl Streep.

February 15, 2014

Song of the Day #1167

Song of the Day: Second Hand Rose, music by James F. Hanley, lyrics by Grant Clarke, was introduced with comic musicality by Fanny Brice in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921. In 1968, it was featured in the Brice biopic, sung to comic perfection by "Funny Girl" Barbra Streisand, who shared her Oscar that year in a rare tie with another actress, Katharine Hepburn, for her strong performance in The Lion in Winter. (The tie was announced on the Oscar broadcast by yet another great Oscar-winning actress: Ingrid Bergman [YouTube link]. Hepburn [YouTube link] appeared on only one Oscar broadcast: on 2 April 1974, the year of the streaker, to present the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.)

February 14, 2014

Song of the Day #1166

Song of the Day: Ruby Gentry ("Ruby") features the theme song Heinz Eric Roemheld of the classic 1952 King Vidor-directed film, starring Jennifer Jones, Charlton Heston, and Karl Malden. There have been so many instrumental versions of this song: one featuring the sterling harmonica work of Richard Hayman in 1953 (though I was first introduced to the song during Hayman's apppearance on the Boston Pops Orchestra show on PBS; Arthur Fiedler was a long-time mentor to Hayman; check out the original single on YouTube). Other famous instrumental versions include the one recorded by Les Baxter ]YouTube link], also released in 1953, with Danny Welton on harmonica), and a vocal arrangement, with lyrics added by Mitchell Parrish, for the legendary Ray Charles [YouTube link].

February 13, 2014

Song of the Day #1165

Song of the Day: Man on Fire ("Smiling") [YouTube link], composed by Harry Gregson Williams, is featured in the 2004 film, directed by the late Tony Scott. It also has the distinction of being heard in an Omega watch commercial (Omega site featuring the advertisement). It's a really sensitive piano composition.

February 12, 2014

OH NO My Captain, Say it Ain't So

The last of the so-called "Core Four," Captain Derek Jeter has announced that the 2014 season will be his final in professional baseball. The past year, he sported so many injuries, this Yankee fan was starting to doubt that he'd ever come back. But of that "Core Four," all but three are now retired: Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera to much well-deserved fanfare, and soon, Derek will join them.

I am upset and depressed; Jeter, by far, my favorite baseball player (in my lifetime of active involvement in Yankee fanaticism, Jeter ranks only with two other former captains of the Yankees: Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly, for both talent and humanity). Though my apartment still requires much work after the October fire, it has been and remains (since the mid-1990s), a virtual shrine to Derek. I will miss him, but I will always cherish the fact that I got to see him play, the personification of class, grace, heart, and talent.

Go Derek! Go Yanks!

Song of the Day #1164

Song of the Day: The Little Colonel ("Stair Dance") [YouTube link] created a magical moment in cinematic history, pairing the great tap dancer, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and the late great Shirley Temple. In later years, she became a diplomat, and added the surname of her husband, becoming "Shirley Temple Black." But it was not the added surname "Black" that broke the color barrier; it was Shirley's joyous appearances in films like this 1935 gem that did more to mow down racial stereotypes by showcasing great and precious talent. Shirley Temple will always be remembered as that endearing little girl in so many wonderful movies from the 1930s; but it was roles like these that truly showed what a trailblazer she was (check out "The Littlest Rebel" as well). She passed away 10 February 2014 at the age of 85 ... RIP Shirley.

February 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1163

Song of the Day: The American President (Main Theme) [YouTube link], composed by Marc Shaiman, is a stately theme that opens the 1995 film, starring Michael Douglas as widowed President Andrew Shepherd, who falls for Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, an environmentalist lobbyist. The film has many of the trappings of contemporary liberalism in terms of its politics and its cast of characters, and it served as an inspiration to writer Aaron Sorkin, who launched the equally idealistic liberalism of the brilliant TV series "The West Wing," which began in 1997. But it is not the politics that interest me here. This is a film with a lot of heart, plenty of laughs, and much poignancy. In anticipation of President's Day, I highly recommend the Shaiman soundtrack.

February 10, 2014

Song of the Day #1162

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Key Case") [YouTube link], written by Scottish big band composer and arranger Johnny Keating, is a grooving classy jazz track. It's a real throwback to the cool 1960s jazz sound, and is featured in the 1967 film.

February 09, 2014

Song of the Day #1161

Song of the Day: All My Loving, written by Paul McCartney (but credited to both McCartney and John Lennon), was the song that opened up the set that The Beatles performed in their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," 50 years ago this very day. It was the ultimate symbol of the "British Invasion" appearing on one of the most popular variety shows of its day; indeed, 73 million people are estimated to have seen The Beatles that Sunday night, and I was among them. A sample of this song also made it into the 1964 film, "A Hard Day's Night," a black and white classic of the comedy-musical genre. Beatlemania had begun, and popular music would never be the same. Check out the single version, an excerpt from the "Ed Sullivan" performance on 9 February 1964, and its sample in "A Hard Day's Night" [YouTube links].

February 08, 2014

Song of the Day #1160

Song of the Day: Deep Impact ("A Distant Discovery") [YouTube link], composed by James Horner, is the central theme of the 1998 film, which had an all-star cast, echoing the approach of many of the "disaster films" of the 1970s.

February 07, 2014

Song of the Day #1159

Song of the Day: Pinocchio ("I've Got No Strings"), music by Leigh Harline, lyrics by Ned Washington, is heard in the Walt Disney animated film that made its debut on this date in 1940. In the film, the song is sung by Dickie Jones, the voice of Pinocchio [YouTube link here]. My favorite version is the jazzy, swinging recording of Barbra Streisand for her utterly superb album, "My Name Is Barbra" [YouTube link].

February 06, 2014

Song of the Day #1158

Song of the Day: Funny Lady ("Isn't This Better?"), words and music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, is a sweet song from "Funny Lady," the 1975 sequel to "Funny Girl" The film continues the (highly fictionalized) story of Fanny Brice, centering on her relationship with songrwriter Billy Rose, played by James Caan. Check out Streisand's lovely rendition here on YouTube.

February 05, 2014

Song of the Day #1157

Song of the Day: Peter Pan ("You Can Fly!"), words by Sammy Cahn, music by Sammy Fain, is one of the highlights of one of my favorite childhood Walt Disney Films, released on this date in 1953. The vocals in the original Disney cartoon are provided by Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, The Jud Conlon Chorus, and The Mellomen. One of the really enchanting things about my childhood is that my mother used to read me bedtime stories all the time, and so many of them came from "Walt Disney's Story Land". So I knew this lovely story before having seen the Disney clasic.  Check out this joyous tune in a scene from the film on YouTube here.

February 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1156

Song of the Day: Suspicion ("Main Title") [Amazon.com excerpt], music by Franz Waxman, is the first collaboration between the absolutely debonair Cary Grant and the master director, Alfred Hitchcock. This 1941 film also starred Joan Fontaine, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The estranged sister of Olivia de Havilland, the two of them are the only siblings to have won lead Oscar awards. Amazingly, she is also the only actor to win an Oscar under Hitchcock's direction. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 96 on 15 December 2013. She is survived by sister Olivia. The Waxman score is not the only one that the famed composer did with Hitchcock; he also composed the soundtracks to the 1940 film, "Rebecca," and the 1954 film "Rear Window."

February 03, 2014

Song of the Day #1155

Song of the Day: Capote ("Out There") [YouTube link], composed by Mychael Danna, is a simple theme that holds within it the complexity of the person at the center of the 2005 film, Truman Capote, and the complexity of the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won a Best Actor Oscar for the role. Sadly, this 46-year old actor passed away yesterday; death need not be tragic, since it is an organic part of life, but when it comes so young to an actor with so much talent and promise, I can find few other words to describe it. RIP PSH.

February 02, 2014

Song of the Day #1154

Song of the Day: Judgment at Nuremberg ("Overture") [YouTube link], composed by Ernest Gold, offers a kaleidoscope of themes from the magnificent film starring among others the great Spencer Tracy (who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar), Burt Lancaster, and Oscar-winner Maximilian Schell, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83. The film is a morality tale about those who executed the orders of the Third Reich in perpetuating one of the greatest mass murders in human history.  Playing the attorney Hans Rolfe, Schell had the difficult task of representing the reprehensible defendants, and he does so with dignity and integrity, and won a well-deserved Academy Award. (Other shattering performances are offered by Judy Garland and Montgomery Cliff, each of whom was nominated in their supporting categories). Directed by Stanley Kramer, it is one of my all-time favorite films. RIP Maximilian Schell.

February 01, 2014

Song of the Day #1153

Song of the Day: The Hawaiians ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, opens the 1970 film I saw (a sequel of sorts to "Hawaii," covering the later chapters of James Michener's book) at the Somer Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, where its star Charlton Heston made an appearance to promote the film. I was awestruck; I could not believe the redness of his hair or all the freckles. Just the previous year, I'd seen "Ben-Hur" for the first time, at the Palace Theatre, and here he was in Brooklyn: Judah Ben-Hur, Michelangelo, Moses in the flesh. Anyway, today begins my annual film music tribute, now beginning its ninth consecutive year, leading up to the 86th Annual Academy Awards.