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Film Scores for Comedies

A reader of Terry Teachout's recently asked if there were any "Hollywood comedies from the golden age" with great film scores. So far, Alex Ross, Lisa Hirsch, Marc Geelhoed, and Matthew Guerrieri have responded. The conundrum lies in the fact that most of the film scores one might consider truly great tend to be for dramas. Teachout specifies that he is looking not for "film comedies whose well-crafted scores contribute greatly to their total effect" but for a comedy in which "the music [is] truly distinguished in its own right." Alex Ross already suggested the movie that first popped into my head, Charade, and I would add another superb Henry Mancini score to it, Breakfast at Tiffany's (which won Mancini the Academy Award for Best Musical Score in 1961).

Play Time, movie posterThinking of that last movie made me look up the Academy Award winners for Best Score, and although the award used to be specified as "Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture," the list of nominees and winners skews heavily to the dramas, as Teachout assumed would be true. (That is, if we are excluding musical comedies, of course.) Other thoughts that have come to mind are, for movies that are purely comedies, Ernest Gold's music for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and, thinking outside the American box, Michel Legrand's music for Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, although that is really a musical comedy. Other possibilities are films that are not strictly comedies, like the black comedy Poruchik Kizhe (Lieutenant Kije, score by Prokofiev), Jacques Demy's much stronger Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (score also by Michel Legrand, but it's really a musical and not all laughs), Fellini's La dolce vita or Satyricon (although neither is a traditional comedy by any stretch of the imagination) or Zeffirelli's Taming of the Shrew (all scores by Nino Rota).

Well, there is one other category and that is silent films, but the scores have not always survived. An exception is the modern silent genre exemplified by Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot movies, where the music sets the tone and tells much of the story, like Mon oncle (music by Franck Barcellini and Alain Romans) and Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (music by Alain Romans). The score by Francis Lemarque for the last Hulot film, Play Time, is probably the best one.

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