The tune may be the perfect expression of Holly Golightly's sweet ambiance or a deft summation of a caviar girl recalling the days of grits and gravy. Then again, it may be simply lazy schmalz, dressed to the airy glamour of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Whatever the secret of its appeal, Moon River is the most successful melody to come from a film score since the classic Picnic theme six years ago. And its composer, Henry Mancini, has become Hollywood's hottest musicman. Says the modest Mancini: "I don't know how it happened, but there it is." Home in the Movies. Mancini, 38, spent six years as a back-lot scorer and arranger until an impulsive producer invited him to try his hand at writing background music for TV's Peter Gunn series.
The suave, flippant score was just right for the genteel hipster hero it accompanied, and with its reed melodies and assertive, five-piece, rhythm-section backing, it was distinctive enough to be heard by itself. In fact, an LP record of Peter Gunn themes has sold an astonishing 750,000 copies.
But Mancini soon switched from television to the movies. After copping two Oscars last month (for Moon River and the Tiffany score), Mancini has producers stacked up at his door pleading for his services and with cause. For they have discovered that Mancini's unorthodox orchestration can give quality to routine episodes, add drama to stock situations.
In John Wayne's forthcoming African epic, Hatari, Heroine Elsa Martinelli leads three baby elephants, trunk to tail, to a jungle water hole, then back up a hill to a camp. It is a nice scene, but hardly vital to the film. What makes it indispensable is Mancini's music a calliope, then a bass clarinet noodling a theme suggested by the old boogie-woogie tune, Down the Road a Piece. For the current Experiment in Terror, Mancini uses an autoharp; each appearance of the villain is marked by its dissonant and eerie chords.
Just Sipping. In the Breakfast at Tiffany's score, he sets off his melodies with a walking bass, extends them with choral and string variations, varies them with the brisk sounds of combo jazz. Moon River is sobbed by a plaintive harmonica, repeated by strings, hummed and then sung by the chorus, finally resolved with the harmonica again. Says Mancini: "It took me a long time to figure out what Holly Golightly was all about. One night after midnight I was still trying. I don't drink much, but I was sipping. And it came to me. I wrote the song in half an hour."