Henry Mancini was John Williams before John Williams became cool as a film composer. Mancini started out writing scores for sci-fi and horror film before finding success on Peter Gunn. Mancini brought non-traditional musical themes and genres to scores, long before it was fashionable.
His jazz work on Peter Gunn led to a number of albums featuring music from the show, other film scores and his covers of contemporary music scored for orchestras. His albums were usually in the “easy listening” section of the music store. The stuff your parents listened to.
For decades, Mancini was the go to composer for television and film. He even enjoyed chart and radio success. He had 90 albums to his credit, four Academy Awards, 20 Grammy Awards and many other musical and legacy awards. He gave many concerts throughout the world. Mancini was it!
And then, he suddenly couldn’t get a job, and even had some of his work replaced by more contemporary music. In the 1980s, film scores went a different direction and his work was old-fashioned, so he moved into television. He found work doing Newhart, Remington Steele, Hotel and other series scores.
Here are my favorite Mancini moments.
Peter Gunn. Mancini composed and played the famous song, and provided the music to each episode of the television program.
The Great Race. One of the biggest films of 1965, Mancini wrote the stupendous score that included a variety of style. With Johnny Mercer he composed the “The Sweetheart Tree” which Natalie Wood’s character sings in the film. A very lovely and heartfelt song, one of Mancini’s best.
Hatari!. His only score for a John Wayne film, but one of the best. Mancini has to incorporate African instruments into the score, including a very rhythm-heavy series of songs. “The Elephant Walk” was notable for how well it blended with the elephants on screen. Light, fun and memorable.
The Pink Panther Theme. Mancini had a great relationship with director Blake Edwards and scored most of his work. Mancini wrote the iconic theme for this film and it became attached to the Pink Panther cartoon.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Another Edwards film, Mancini collected two Academy Awards, one for the score and another for “Moon River,” composed with Johnny Mercer, which became Andy Williams’ signature song.
“Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” Mancini arranged music from the film. It topped the pop chart in 1969, quite a feat for an instrumental.
NBC Mystery Movie Theme. This was the anthology series that launched Columbo, McMillan & Wife, McCloud and other series. Mancini’s theme open the weekly program, you might remember the man walking with the flashlight as the credits rolled. Very cool music.
Touch of Evil. Orson Welles flawed masterpiece. The music accentuated the paranoia and oddities in the film. Mancini mixed jazz, Mexican and other genres into this complex detective mystery.
Man’s Favorite Sport. A screwball comedy, so it needed a light touch. Mancini was the master at composing fun musical cues that were cleverness and fun to the screen action. Not a great film but a memorable score.
Victor/Victoria. Another Edwards film and one of his best. The comedy has a ton of music in it. Mancini did the score and he worked with lyricist Leslie Bricusse on the songs. They won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. The songs are clever and an integral part of the story.