Henry Mancini

(1924 - 1994)

1958    Touch of Evil

1961    Breakfast at Tiffany’s

1962    Days of Wine and Roses

1963    The Pink Panther

1964    A Shot in the Dark

1968    The Party

1975    The Return of the Pink Panther

1983     Curse of the Pink Panther

One of the first composers to break into films from the jazz world, ex-big-band pianist-arranger Henry Mancini first found success with his music for television’s Peter Gunn and almost immediately became a sought-after film composer, winning a pair of Oscars for the Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) score and its song “Moon River”. 

Mancini’s boundless gift for melody resulted in memorable theme songs for such films as Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Charade (1964), and Two for the Road (1967), all of which have become popular outside of their original movie contexts. His shrewd understanding of the record business also enabled him to achieve success with nearly two dozen soundtrack and popular-music albums throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Mancini’s long professional association with director Blake Edwards (which began with Peter Gunn) became the longest-running composer-director collaboration in Hollywood, spanning more than two dozen pictures over three decades, including the seven Pink Panther movies (starting in 1964) and such popular successes as 10 (1979) and the Oscar-winning Victor/Victoria (1982, which later became a Broadway musical). 

His success in the light-comedy and romantic realms belied his abilities as a dramatic composer, evidenced by his suspenseful for Experiment in Terror (1962) and Wait Until Dark (1967), the melancholy Irish colors of The Molly Maguires (1970), the whaling music of THe White Dawn (1974), and the grimly powerful score for the sci-fi picture Lifeforce (1985). Well known in the Hollywood community as both a tremendously talented composer and a genuinely nice man, Mancini won 20 Grammy awards (out of 70 nominations) before his untimely death due to cancer.

from John Burlingame, “Sound and Vision” (2000)

Touch of Evil (1958)

After toiling for several years on Universal “B” pictures, Mancini landed one that has gone down as a cinema classic: Orson Welle’s 1958 film about a Mexican detective and a corrupt cop who clash over a murder investigation. Charlton Heston, Welles, Janet Leigh, and Marlene Dietrich are in the cast, and the three-minute opening tracking shot is justly famous. Mancini’s score consists almost entirely of Latin-flavored jazz and rock, much of it emanating from the bars and hotels of the film’s border-town setting, and he always said it was one of the scores of which he was proudest. 

(Burlingame, “Sound and Vision”)

Touch of Evil (1958) - opening tracking shot

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

The film opens with a plaintive harmonica, a vaguely country-style tune, and a shot of Audrey Hepburn munching on a cruller and sipping coffee while gazing at a Manhattan window display just after dawn. Blake Edward’s 1961 movie turned “Moon River” into a hit, won two Oscars (Best Song, Best Score) for Mancini, and helped make him the best-known movie composer of the ’60’s. The soundtrack’s lush melodies and big-band charts sent the album to number 1 for 12 weeks (96 weeks on the chart in all) and won five 1961 Grammys including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. 

(Burlingame, “Sound and Vision”)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) - Opening credits with song “Moon River”

The Pink Panther (1963)

After “Moon River,” Mancini’s best-known theme originated as the stealthy motif for a cat burglar in Blake Edwards’s 1963 caper film starring David Niven. The Panther, immortalized in the animated titles that later spawned a cartoon series, was the name of the celebrated diamond whose theft calls for the intervention of bumbling French Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers). Mancini wrote the tune specifically with saxophonist Plas Johnson in mind. Much of the rest of the record is light, often pleasantly romantic, and vaguely European background music. An Oscar nominee, the soundtrack won three Grammys (Best Instrumental Composition, Best Arrangement, and Best Performance), went gold, spent 88 weeks on the charts, and hit the top 10 in the spring of 1964 (the single climbed briefly into the top 40). Mancini scored seven sequels beginning with A Shot in the Dark (1964).

(Burlingame, “Sound and Vision”)

The Pink Panther (1963)

Pink Panther Strikes again (1976) - Clouseau vs. Cato