Henry Mancini would have gone down in film history had he only composed the instantly recognizable “Pink Panther Theme,” or supplied the melody to Johnny Mercer’s wistful lyric “Moon River.” But those accomplishments are mere tips of the iceberg for the man who scored over 80 films and recorded over 90 albums, garnering 20 Grammys and 4 Oscars along the way. Hardly a year goes by without a CD reissue of one of his classic scores, and 2010 is no exception, with 2 very different works given new life in recent months: The Hawaiians (1970) and Married to It (1991).
Due to a persistent pop sensibility that rewarded him richly with hit albums and singles, Mancini insisted on re-recording most of his scores for LP presentation. These LPs were often wonderful and still stand the test of time. But Mancini usually rearranged his already-melodic cues into more easily accessible short tracks. Both Intrada’s The Hawaiians (Intrada Special Collection 124) and Kritzerland’s Married to It (KR 20015-0) offer the first presentations of the original, complete film recordings, and as a bonus, The Hawaiians also includes the re-recorded United Artists score LP on a second disc. (Married to It receives its first-ever album here, as no soundtrack LP was issued at the time of the film’s release.) Details follow after the jump! By 1970, Mancini had tackled nearly every film genre, and despite moody, intense work for films like Touch of Evil (1958) and Experiment in Terror (1962), the composer was best-known for comedies and capers, many directed by his longtime friend Blake Edwards. (The Mancini/Edwards collaboration surely ranks with Herrmann/Hitchcock and Spielberg/Williams in the annals of cinema.) The Hawaiians, though, was still a first for the composer, an epic with exotic locales and sweeping drama. Charlton Heston starred in the Mirisch Company’s sequel to 1966’s Hawaii, drawing on the same James A. Michener source material as the previous film. The 26 tracks comprising the score should be somewhat of a revelation for those only familiar with the light, lounge-leaning side of the composer. The stunning opening “Theme from ‘The Hawaiians’” juxtaposes sumptuous, romantic strings with the sound instantly recognizable as Hawaiian music: percussion, Tiki-style. Most intriguingly, Mancini combines actual Asian instrumentation (the cheng, the hsun, standard and bass kotos, the santur and the hichiriki, according to the excellent liner notes by Jeff Bond) with more traditional orchestral colors. The film contrasts Chinese culture with that of the Hawaiian natives, and the score reflects that, as well. Blended with these disparate influences, of course, is the composer’s unerring melodic instinct, evident even in cues like the action-oriented “Pineapple Pirates,” the grandiose “The Molokai Express” and the dark, brooding “Auntie’s Theme.”
That same instinct is on display in the score to Married to It, while the film is a polar opposite. Arthur Hiller’s 1991 comedy about three married couples whose lives intersect starred Beau Bridges, Cybill Shepherd and Stockard Channing, and is very much of a product of its time. Married to It required no unusual instrumentation or sweeping statements, or even the frothy swing of many of his earlier comedies. Instead, the composer doffs his hat to modern expectations with a series of short cues, many reliant on synthesizer. But when the orchestra joins in, it sounds unmistakably like Mancini. Interestingly, Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” recurs; as the film’s climax depicts schoolchildren singing it, Mancini was most likely asked to weave it into his score. He does so adroitly, and the main title arrangement of Mitchell’s tune recalls his own composition, the bucolic “Theme from Newhart.” As a fun in-joke for longtime fans, Mancini includes among the source music two of his early songs: “Theme from Mr. Lucky” and “Tinpanola”/”(I Love You and) Don’t You Forget It.” Never before heard bonus tracks include alternate takes of the main title and “The Circle Game.” Married to It was one of Mancini’s final films, but it’s clear that he hadn’t lost his ability to create music that both complemented the characters and action onscreen but also could stand on its own as a pure listening experience.
Both of these lovingly-assembled sets are recommended for showing different sides of a familiar composer. Intrada’s The Hawaiians’ booklet is filled with copious annotation by Bond and producer Douglass Fake along with many full-color film stills. Kritzerland’s Married to It offers photographs and producer Bruce Kimmel’s usual entertaining personal remarks on why he chose this album for release. Until the vaults are open to releases of the actual soundtracks to classics like The Pink Panther, these lesser-known Mancini gems will suffice very nicely. Both discs are limited editions: 1500 for The Hawaiians and 1000 for Married to It. Snap ‘em up while they last.