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Filmmaker David O. Russell was thrilled that Jack White permitted him to use two of his songs on the soundtrack of Silver Linings Playbook, but I was more excited to recognize Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance,” which is directly followed by Les Paul and Mary Ford’s rendition of “The Moon of Manakoora,” as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have their disastrous date at the neighborhood diner. When I met Russell and told him how much I liked that parlay of vintage numbers he was astonished that I recognized the latter piece. Well, why not? It was “introduced” in John Ford’s 1937 movie The Hurricane and recorded by its star, Dorothy Lamour, among others. The melody was written by the legendary Alfred Newman, who won nine Academy Awards (and had 45 nominations to his credit) and the lyrics by Frank Loesser, the brilliant wordsmith who went on to write Guys and Dolls. (Newman originally wrote it as a theme for Douglas Fairbanks’ 1932 feature Mr. Robinson Crusoe, but no one seems to have remembered that when he resuscitated it five years later.)

This is the kind of stuff I carry around in my head, for better or worse. I would be lost as a modern-day Grammy commentator, but I know Georgia Gibbs’ voice when I hear even a snippet of her hit record “Kiss of Fire,” as I did in Hitchcock, during a scene at Helen Mirren’s beach house.

 Classic songs and selections from what’s now called the Great American Songbook still turn up in contemporary films, either suggested by music supervisors or thought of by savvy directors. Sometimes the usage is ironic or odd, as when Andrew Dominik chose to have Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards warbling “It’s Only a Paper Moon” while someone was being brutally murdered in Killing Them Softly.

More often, older music is used to evoke a particular mood or era. I anticipated hearing familiar tunes in Hyde Park on Hudson, which is set in 1939, but I was especially pleased to recognize two songs by The Ink Spots, “If I Didn’t Care” and “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” before a word was sung, as their guitar-and-piano introductions are so familiar.

None of this makes me special; I have lots of friends who are equally conversant with vintage pop music. But at a time when soundtracks are dominated by current and recent compositions, I take almost disproportionate pleasure in hearing music from an earlier time, especially when it takes me by surprise. 

P.S. In case you don’t know, two of Alfred Newman’s sons are carrying on his tradition as film composers: David Newman, whose credits include Galaxy Quest, Ice Age, and The Cat in the Hat, and Thomas Newman, whose Oscar nominations include The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, and this year’s Skyfall. Their cousin Randy Newman also has formidable credentials as a singer, songwriter, and film composer.

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mike schlesinger

Mr. Maltin? Kim Novak on line 1. :-D


Mr Maltin, your knowledge of Hollywood classics is virtually unparallelled, never mind your encyclopaedic understanding of cinema in general. However, this is where you really stand apart from other expert cineastes whose work I keep up with – your highly discerning taste and vast memory for the musical aspect of all things film.

Greg Woods

I have a Frankie Carle LP with "Moon of Manakoora"- lovely melody. (Still have to see this film though…)

Tony Caruana

Amen to that, Sir.


"The Master" made good use of classic pop songs from the late '40s/early '50s period.

Mark A. Vieira

Dear Leonard:

I have the 78 rpm record of "The Moon of Manakoora" that my father bought in Oakland in 1937. You can hear Mr. Newman's melody in the background of a scene in *Dodsworth*, a year before the lyrics were added. The scene takes place between David Niven and Ruth Chatterton in the stateroom of an ocean liner.


Randy Newman…yeah, I heard of him..took him twenty years to become an overnight Academy Award success… who knew …the Public.


You, sir, have always been a man after my own heart all the way back to Film Fan Monthly. It thrills me no end when a voice from the past is heard in a current film. I left a screening of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and immediately bought the soundtrack CD because I recognized Rosemary Clooney singing "Fools Rush In" and all those marvelous Mercer songs. And Doris Day's "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" in "Strictly Ballroom." Great article. By the way, I own every piece of sheet music that features Dorothy Lamour in a sarong. Newman's score for "The Hurricane" moves me the second I hear it in that beautiful movie, when Lamour and Jon Hall were at their most beautiful, and with Thomas Mitchell, Mary Astor and Raymond Massey to boot. Thanks for all you do, Mr. Maltin.

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