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John Caps: Henry Mancini - Reinventing Film Music

Chris May By

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Henry Mancini: Reinventing Film Music

John Caps

312 pages; hardcover

ISBN: 978-0-252-03673-6

University of Illinois Press


When the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's was released in 1961, its tag line promised: "It's everything you've always wanted to do—and Audrey Hepburn's the one you've always wanted to do it with." It was a more innocent time.

The soundtrack for Breakfast at Tiffany's was scored by TV and film composer Henry Mancini, whose "Moon River," in different arrangements, constituted most of its content. It is Mancini's best known tune, but far from the only one which endures decades on, with a life independent of its original screen vehicle.

Mancini captured the newly prosperous, middle class zeitgeist of the early 1960s with more acuity than any of his contemporaries. The melodism and sophistication of his music harked back to the creators of the American Songbook, yet he was also adept at rock and roll and West Coast-derived jazz; Mancini's raucous theme music for the TV series Peter Gunn, launched in 1958, provided hits for guitarist Duane Eddy and instrumental combo The Ventures, and his score for the movie The Pink Panther (1964) is a pop-jazz masterpiece. Other contemporaneous Mancini film soundtracks included those for Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and A Shot in the Dark (1964). His best-matched lyricist partner of the era was Johnny Mercer. Following Mercer's passing in 1976, Mancini enjoyed a productive relationship with Leslie Bricusse.

Mancini's biggest early successes were for projects directed by Blake Edwards, and the pair continued collaborating right up until Mancini's passing in 1994, aged 70, when he was working on a Broadway version of Blake's 1982 film Victor / Victoria. It was a partnership which had its stresses and strains, most particularly following the advent of New Hollywood in the early 1980s, when production company accountants ousted auteurs such as Edwards as Hollywood's power brokers, and more and more film soundtracks were compiled from previously released, commercially-proven hit songs conceived separately from the movie itself.

John Caps' assiduously researched study of Mancini's life and career—informed in part by extensive 1976 and 1992 interviews with Mancini, and others with his protégé John Williams, family members, Bricusse and fellow film composer Elmer Bernstein, among others—is detailed and insightful. It is not the first book about Mancini, who (with Gene Lees) wrote the autobiography Did They Mention the Music? (Chicago Contemporary Books, 1989). But it is the first comprehensive study of Mancini's work and includes analysis of almost all his film scores. It will be enjoyed both by film buffs and music lovers.

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