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Movie Songs That Remain Unsung

by Leonard Maltin
June 11, 2012 2:00 AM
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Remember that romantic title song from A Place in the Sun? You know, the one featuring a beaming Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift on the sheet music cover? Never mind that the story is a tragedy and the two stars seldom work up a grin, let alone a smile, in actual film. The idea was to promote the picture by stirring up interest, and possibly getting radio airplay, for the song. (Ordinary people still purchased sheet music in great numbers, so that mattered, too. It didn’t hurt that Paramount operated its own music publishing division, Famous Music.) In this case it didn’t work out, even though the tune was written by the film’s talented composer, Franz Waxman, with lyrics by the prolific team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

Livingston and Evans were lifelong partners who worked on staff at Paramount Pictures for a decade. They were largely responsible for the rise in popularity of the title song, since their composition “inspired by” the Olivia de Havilland weepie To Each His Own became a major hit in 1946. Nothing succeeds like success in Hollywood, and before long the concept of a song that promoted a movie’s title caught on like wildfire. When it wasn’t possible to use the name, a studio would settle for any song that might be identified with the film, especially on the sheet-music cover. You have to admire the ambition, and optimism, involved in trying to sell a song related to Stanley Kramer’s sober post-war drama The Men…but someone did. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin had the last laugh just a few years later when his plaintive ballad for Kramer’s High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me), with lyrics by Ned Washington, became a sensation. It kept Tiomkin in the title-tune business for years to come.

This trend reached its peak with “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” in the 1950s. Along the way, Livingston and Evans amassed three Academy Awards, for “Buttons and Bows,” from Bob Hope’s The Paleface, “Mona Lisa,” from the forgettable Alan Ladd movie Captain Carey, U.S.A.,, and “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera),” from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, but they had their share of flops, too, like “How Can I Tell Her,” touted as the theme from Lucy Gallant, and their personal favorite, The Mole People, which they loved to sing in later years. Like “Mona Lisa,” they also enjoyed success from time to time with a number that had nothing to do with the film that spawned it, like the beautiful ballad “Never Let Me Go,” which Nat “King” Cole introduced in The Scarlet Hour. (Cole also sang their lovely ballad “The Ruby and the Pearl,” from Thunder in the East. It never became a hit, but it’s a beautiful recording.)

As an inveterate sheet music collector, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite odd and obscure movie songs with you. Perhaps we can all join together online and have an old-fashioned community sing of the theme from I, Mobster…or perhaps “Lonely Gal, Lonely Guy” from The George Raft Story.



Words by Lionel Bart, Music by Laurie Johnson Sheet Music From Columbia Pictures 'I Aim At The Stars: The Wernher von Braun Story'.
Words by Kim Gannon. Music by Bronislau Kaper. Rosalind Russell on the cover of 'Drifting' from 'Auntie Mame'. (Warner Bros.)
Words and Music by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. 'How Can I Tell Her' was the theme song for this Jane Wyman and Charlton Heston starrer.
Words by Paul Francis Webster. music by Franz Waxman. Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr are our stars taking to the beach on the cover of this sheet music from the film of the same name. (20th Century Fox)
Words by Bernie Hanighen. Music by Kenyon Hopkins. Scandalous at the time of its release, the film 'Baby Doll' (1956) was banned by the Legion of Decency.
Words and Music by Buddy Pepper 'Don't Tell Me' by Buddy Pepper from M-G-M's 'The Hucksters'. That femme fatale lovely in the lower right corner is Ava Gardner.
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  • Norm | June 11, 2012 7:53 PMReply

    Well, considering some of the films were made during hard times,well , maybe not that hard , having a "popular" tune to liven up the moment is an interesting enterprise. Although on the flip side, I really don't see many patrons humming the tune in the theatres to the rat-a- tat-tat of a mobster film...
    BTW , what beat goes with " I Aim at The Stars?' ..again...

  • Rodney | June 11, 2012 5:20 PMReply

    The movie theme song started -- somewhat surprisingly -- during the silent film era. One of the earliest was "Mickey," a song written for Mabel Normand's film of the same name from 1918. I once met a woman whose mother sang the song (in Normand's film costume of men's overalls) as part of a live prologue at her local theater, and was known as "Mickey" for the rest of her life. The song was very popular, as evidenced by the number of copies still available on ebay in a series of alternate covers. The late 1920s featured a series of waltz songs, from "Charmaine" (What Price Glory), "Diane" (Seventh Heaven), and "Ramona" (Ramona), to less-well-known gems like "Beggars of Life." Since silent films didn't have definitive scores, only the title music was likely to be the same from theater to theater.

  • Greg Ehrbar | June 11, 2012 5:00 PMReply

    And of course, Livingston and Evans gave us the immortal "A horse is a horse, of course, of course" theme from Mister Ed, sung by Livingston on the soundtrack.

  • Norm | June 11, 2012 7:38 PM

    wow, Mr. was never the same...

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