American Movie Themes
Once "The Third Man Theme" won recognition for the merit (and commercial viability) of movie themes on their
own, it became standard practice to release soundtrack albums
concurrent with the release of films, and a number of these themes
achieved success as singles and became part of the standard repertory
of exotica and easy-listening artists.
"Moonglow"/"Theme from 'Picnic'"
First, an important distinction must be made: the exotica standard, in this case, is the combination of these two songs, not each song on its own. "Moonglow" had been
around since the 1930s, and was a hit for Benny Goodman's quartet,
among others. But in the 1955 film, "Picnic," it was played as the
backdrop to a scene of Kim Novak and William Holden dancing at a
Kansas town picnic.
The scene is a dance of seduction, and
"Moonglow," played by the band at the picnic on film gradually fades
out to the "Picnic" theme, played by a lush studio soundtrack
orchestra. For some reason, this combination held a special
attraction for listeners and performers alike, for after Morris
Stoloff had a hit with the first cover of the two songs, one segueing
into the other, dozens of artists followed his lead.
It's a challenge to find a cover of
"Moonglow" by itself after 1955--what you'll always find is a tune
listed as, "Moonglow/Theme from 'Picnic.'" The combination provided
good material for easy-listening groups: "Moonglow" being a light and
elegant tune, "The Theme from 'Picnic'" a lush romantic rhapsody. Two
for the price of one.
Music by Ernest Gold
Musically and thematically, "Exodus" is
on a scale larger than "Moonglow/Theme `from 'Picnic'." The film
tells a dramatic version of the founding of Israel, and the music
is something of an anthem. Most performances play it that way:
loud and heartfelt. But "Exodus" cannot resist the touch of a few
artists who can't help but be true to their own styles. Thus,
Martin Denny takes the melody and dumps the drama, dropping a
small cocktail umbrella into his mix. And Chet Atkins turns the
extravaganza into a low-keyed, country-boy stroll.
"Theme from 'A Summer Place'"
Music by Max Steiner
Percy Faith's cover of this tune spent
most of 1960 in the top 40 charts. The music and the movie's topic
of a romance between Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee were perfect for
the clean-cut whitebread pop that prevailed on the charts in the
era between Elvis joining the Army and the Beatles' arrival. It's
an interesting mix of musical effects: the rhythm of the song is a
stroll, while the melody is high-pitched and blithely romantic.
The strings play against a "Chopsticks"-like piano pattern. Kind
of like teen love: sincere but not overweight. It's also one of
the slowest and simplest melodies in all popular music, which made
it attractive to many groups with marginal musical ability.
"The High and the Mighty"
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
"The High and the Mighty" is the story of passengers thrown together by an inflight crisis en route from Hawaii to San Francisco. It's one of the many Airport"-style movies that follow a standard plot-line: take a bunch of characters from different backgrounds, toss in a crisis, and stir. The theme was noteworthy for its use of a whistler--Muzzy Marcellino on the soundtrack--to carry the melody.
Music by Dmitri Tiomkin
It's tough to top the original version
sung in basso-monotone by Tex Ritter on the film soundtrack, but
many have tried. Richard Marino's version starts with a
straight-face, then tosses in a swingin' lounge organ; Van
Alexander saw that the true spirit of the song could only be
brought out as a samba.
Music by Alex North
I wondered for years what the title of
this song meant. Only recently did I learn that there is no
mystery, other than the loss of a couple of quote marks: this is
the melody from "Unchained," a prison movie from 1955.
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