Henry Mancini’s Score for The Pink Panther

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Hollywood is a synonym for the US movie industry. It set the standard in the entertainment industry, which remains unsurpassed. As a result, Hollywood films gained popularity across the world. Music is as important for a film’s success as its plot, filming, and acting because it creates an emotional background that helps the viewer to reach the required emotional state. Therefore, Hollywood producers have been trying to involve composers who share their vision and are able to make movies unforgettable.  The Pink Panther (1963) movie is an example of a synergy of plot, images, acting, and music. Henry Mancini composed a recognizably American musical score, featuring jazzy tunes that perfectly accentuate this quirky criminal comedy.

The Pink Panther – Plot and Score

The Pink Panther (1963) is the first of the series of criminal comedies about a clumsy police inspector Jacques Clouseau. The plot of the movie revolves around a huge pink diamond with a silhouette of a leaping panther inside it. A suave aristocrat Sir Charles Lytton (played by David Niven) is courting Princess Dala, the owner of the gem, at a ski resort in Cortina. Inspector Jacques Clouseau (played by Peter Sellers) suspects Lytton of being the jewel thief Phantom. Moreover, Sir Charles’s nephew George joins the company. In his search for the Phantom, awkward Clouseau does not notice his wife’s affair with Sir Charles. Like his uncle, George is infatuated with the inspector’s wife and tries to steal the diamond for himself. However, at a masquerade at Dala’s villa in Rome, they find an empty safe. They escape from the spot, but their cars crash into one another, and police arrest them. It appears that the princess stole the jewel herself. However, she is smitten by elegant Sir Charles and decides to save him. During the court session, the defense calls Clouseau as a witness, and he discovers that the “Pink Panther” is in his pocket. Thus, Sir Charles and George are set free, and the inspector goes to jail. However, he is released when the Phantom commits another theft (The Pink Panther).  

Film director Blake Edwards cooperated with composer Henry Mancini ever since the latter wrote the musical score for his TV series Peter Gunn. Mancini’s music was remarkable due to its purely American character, since Mancini was little influenced by European music and used big band and jazz motives in his works (Myers).  Edwards felt that Mancini’s jazz-pop contributed to at least 50% of the series’s popularity (Caps 48). Their partnership brought them financial success and the recognition of the audience and the critique. Consequently, Edwards asked Mancini to compose music for his new movie.

Even though The Pink Panther is not a musical, it features many pieces of music. The farcical nature of the plot demanded a corresponding musical arrangement. Henry Mancini provided the score that greatly contributed to the film’s success. His music delicately framed the action, filling the movie with subtle irony. Mancini said, “Even in comedy, to me melody is very important, but to write a humorous melody, I’ve found, is not easy— something that is warm and humorous, but that doesn’t say, “Here I am, look at me, I’m funny”” (qtd. in Caps 165). Therefore, the musical score is intentionally reserved; while it enhances the viewers’ perception of the twists of the plot, it never attempts to explain or intensify the comical moments, hence acting rather as a background or accompaniment. Moreover, the composer consciously leaves the most important instants without accompaniment. The tensest episodes, such as the meeting of the two thieves at the safe at the villa in Rome, occur in silence, as if the composer holds his breath together with the viewer in anticipation.

The score includes such compositions as “The Pink Panther Theme,” “It Had Better Be Tonight,” “Royal Blue,” “Champagne and Quail,” “The Village Inn,” “The Tiber Twist,” “Cortina,” “The Lonely Princess,” “Something for Sellers,” “Piano and Strings,” and “Shades of Sennett” (The Pink Panther). Mancini usually kept to three styles: “powdery ballads, brassy swingers and quirky novelty numbers” (Myers). In The Pink Panther, he executed the following: the ballads formed the background for romance and reflection, like Dala’s reminiscences about her life; the jazzy swingers accentuated such characters as Sir Charles; finally, light, funny tunes, such as “Cortina,” illustrated quirky screwball moments or introduced a pleasant atmosphere.

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“The Pink Panther” Theme

“The Pink Panther” theme is one of the most recognizable tunes of the twentieth century. It exists in numerous variations and arrangements, and even those who have never seen the movie know this musical piece. The sleeky, sinuous title theme forestalls the mood of the action: it reminds of hiding, furtive steps, or chasing. Mancini masterfully uses low sax sounds to convey the suspense of the detective story. Despite its witty character, the theme music is not a novelty. Mancini considered intentionally funny music redundant at funny moments (Caps 77). In the animated opening of the film, the tune accompanies a mischievous pink panther chased by a white glove. As the action unwinds, the composer deconstructs the theme; it acquires unique sounding in various settings and with different characters. “The Pink Panther” theme became a hit and was nominated for “Oscar.”

Ballads

There are several ballads in The Pink Panther that serve as the background for romantic scenes and contemplations. “Champagne and Quail,” with alto sax and flute, is played when Sir Charles tries to seduce princess Dala. The melody transcends into a dreamy “Piano and Strings” piece as the young woman switches into a romantic mood. Finally, the sad sounds of “The Lonely Princess” waltz play as the tipsy princess is telling about her life to the adventurer while he is trying to learn the location of the gem (Caps 78). Jazzy music matches Dala’s oriental languor; it also helps to understand her character, revealing a lonely passionate woman behind a mask of tranquility and speckless behavior.

Jazzy Melodies

The light melodies used by Mancini are played during the funny scenes or to lighten the atmosphere. For example, “Cortina,” a short composition played while the princess is skiing, reflects a cheerful, untroubled enjoyment of youth. Its mood contrasts with the princess-related ballads, since all of them contain notes of sadness. Only “Cortina” shows her as a perfectly happy young girl. Further, “Something for Sellers,” named after Peter Sellers, who played Clouseau, is a soft tune that sympathizes with the hapless inspector and mocks him at the same time. “The Tiber Twist” is the composition played during the masquerade; it is a dancing jazz tune. Finally, samba “It Had Better Be Tonight,” or “Meglio Stasera” in Italian (lyrics by Franco Migliacci, performed by Fran Jeffries), can tune to the thoughts of the infatuated princess or the alertness and excitement of the jewel hunters. Since the action takes place in Italy, Mancini’s Italian roots and his personal affinity for Latin music influence the motifs that appear in some composition in the movie, and “Meglio Stasera” is the brightest of them.

The music in The Pink Panther reflects the search for the modern means of expression in the US post-war cinema. It is innovative and typically American, since jazz, swing, big band, and other styles utilized by Mancini originated in the USA. The composer’s genial work greatly contributed to the success of the film. Following the contemporary trend in the film music, Mancini made it a background to the action. His music stirs the emotions of the audience, highlights the themes, and emphasizes the feelings, without becoming boring or obtrusive. Just like in most popular Hollywood post-war movies, music becomes an integral and natural part of the action in The Pink Panther.

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