Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Sleazy, sweaty, brassy... the music behind noir movies

I'll start with Henry Mancini's "Main Title" from Orson Welles's Touch of Evil  (1958):
Here's Duke Ellington's wonderfully swaggering"Upper and Outest" from Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959):

Back to Henry Mancini, with the main theme from Blake Edward's brilliant late noir thriller, Experiment in Terror (1962):

Anthony's North's "French Quarter" from Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) may be the sleaziest slice of music I've ever heard:

Mind you, the great Elmer Bernstein runs that pretty close, sleaze-wise, on "Goodbye Baby Blues" from Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success (1957):

And "The Street" from Sweet Smell of Success demonstrates the undeniable fact that nobody did Big City Swagger better than Bernstein:

I watched Don Siegel's Private Hell 36 (1954) for the first time last week. Not bad - and the same can be said of "Daddy Long Legs" by Leith Stevens and His Orchestra, which was used in the film:

The TV series, 77 Sunset Strip was hardly film noir - but that's not going to stop me including The Warren Barker Orchestra's "Caper at the Coffee House" in this post:

I'll end with my favourite piece of film noir music - Elmer Bernstein's "Frankie Machine" from Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm (1954). I've always found the film unwatchably depressing, but I'm happy to listen to the theme music any time:

The image for that last video was from the cover from the Jazz Noir, 3-CD set which I bought recently, and which contains most of the music featured in this blog. Odd choice for a man who has always claimed to hate jazz, but there you go.


  1. Great themes and a wonderful connection between the score and the film. i am sure that lurking somewhere is the figure of bachelor Johnny Cool - yes, you heard me right the first time, strictly liquor, love and laughs. And he's got a dark brown overcoat..

  2. Agreed, you can't get much sleazier than 'French Quarter.'
    I'm sure Bernard Hermann 'used' parts of this in Taxi Driver and those 8 or 9 beats on the kettle drums in Touch of Evil also reminds one of the cab moving wrathe-like through the escaped subway 'fog.'
    Enough of that film, the principal actor's absurd posturing of late, yes you Robert, has diminished it in my eyes a smidgen, whereas these glorious scores plus all the rest stand the test of time.
    Thank you Mr. Gronmark excellent piece.


  3. In their early days, Lee Brilleaux and Wilko Johnson were in a London pub and the barmaid said, "Yes gentlemen?"

    "Gentlemen? Before you is the cream of English pub rock, we'll have two pints of your best and twenty Bensons"

    Barmaid comes back and says " What's the name again?"

    Dr Feelgood.

    No, the cigarettes.

  4. The French Quarter in New Orleans was made real by the author of " A Confederacy of Dunces".