From the first organ accompaniment in those early silent movie theatres, music has played an integral though often underappreciated role in creating a non-musical film's desired mood and impact.
By and large, over the last quarter century, the most successful use of music in new releases- particularly those seeking to evoke a certain period- has taken the form of soundtracks, comprised of popular songs from the time that get re-introduced to generations old and new.
Notably, cult director Quentin Tarantino has adopted this approach to strong effect: "Reservoir Dogs" accounts for why my children have "Stuck In The Middle With You" (performed by Stealers Wheel) on their iPods, while "Pulp Fiction" gets the credit for their appreciation of Dusty Springfield's "Son Of A Preacher Man". (One of the movies that helped popularize the now-common "various artist" soundtrack approach was George Lucas's 1973 feature "American Graffiti").
It hardly makes sense to complain about a practice helps viewers appreciate the best songs that we, or even our parents, grew up with. Still, there is something special about a fabulous original piece of music that helps a great picture stick with you.
Surveying the historical span of filmmaking, the use of original music appears more prevalent from the dawn of sound through the 1970s- or perhaps it's just that the scores themselves were more memorable over this period.
During Hollywood's Golden Age in the thirties and forties, you had Max Steiner, who composed one of the most powerful, recognizable title themes ever- for "Gone With The Wind" (1939). Over at Warners, the brilliant Erich Wolfgang Korngold was creating heroic music that enhanced the sweep of Errol Flynn's various swashbuckling vehicles. Other big names of the day included Miklos Rozsa, Alfred Newman, and David Raksin, who reportedly composed the classic theme to 1944's "Laura" over a single weekend.
Perhaps generational factors account for my own preferences, but beyond the two specific scores listed above, for me the most enduring original music came mostly in or around the 1960s, attached to equally iconic films.
The following lays out my own picks for the ten most memorable movie scores over this fertile period when (not coincidentally) all popular music was beginning to expand in exciting new directions. You'll find in this list many composers known for other fine scores in addition to the features specified.
(Note: all movies referenced are endorsed by our site. For full write-ups of these films, and close to 2,000 other outstanding titles, visit www.bestmoviesbyfarr.com).
1) "North By Northwest" (1959) / "Psycho" (1960)- Composer: Bernard Herrmann
2) "The Magnificent Seven" (1961)- Composer: Elmer Bernstein
3) "Breakfast At Tiffany's" (1961) / "The Pink Panther" (1964)- Composer: Henry Mancini
4) "Lawrence Of Arabia" (1962)/ "Doctor Zhivago" (1965)- Composer: Maurice Jarre
5) "Dr. No" (1962) / "Goldfinger" (1964)- Composer: John Barry (and for "James Bond Theme", Monty Norman)
6) "A Man And A Woman" (1966)- Composer: Francis Lai
7) "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (1967)- Composer: Ennio Morricone
8) "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968)- Composer: Michel Legrand
9) "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid" (1969)- Composer: Burt Bacharach
10) "The Godfather" (1972) / "The Godfather, Part II" (1974)- Composer: Nino Rota