Musical Scores for Film — The Music of Marvin Hamlisch

The Music of Marvin Hamlisch for Motion Pictures

 Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012)

A scene from “THE WAY WE WERE”



Note: The Last Score for film was for “Liberace — Behind The Candelabra” (2012):  Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012) wrote the music and did arrangements for Primetime Emmy winner Liberace — Behind The Candelabra,  starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, and directed by Steven Soderbergh. (HBO — 2012/2013) Showed at Cannes and Deauville festivals. Won several Emmy Awards. Read more about: Behind The Candelabra



The Music of Marvin Hamlisch for Motion Pictures:

Aside from the very well known films – The Way We Were, The Sting, Sophie’s Choice, The Swimmer, Take the Money and Run, Ice Castles,Marvin Hamlisch composed musical scores for many other motion pictures. His first score was for the film The Swimmer (1968), at the request of Sam Spiegel. ‑And many others followed. (See Biography section/Films).

The Way We Were, The Sting, The Spy Who Loved Me, Ice Castles, Sophie’s Choice

WATCH: The Inspiring Music of Marvin Hamlisch:

The Inspiring Music of MH


Marvin remembers how he got the job for this first film (Excerpts from the book: ‘The Way I Was’ ) — Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012) EXCERPTS:

Sam Spiegel: “I’ve got a new picture, Marvin,” And I’m looking for somebody to do the music. Tell you what. I’d love to hear a couple of your songs. I’ll phone you in a few days. Then you can come over and play them for me.”

Marvin: A few days later, Spiegel called. I appeared at his hotel and announced grandly that I was not going to play any of my old songs for him. He was taken aback.

Sam Spiegel: “What do you mean? You said you were a composer. So play me some songs.”

Marvin: “Mr. Spiegel, I’m not here to play you some songs. I’m here to play you the theme from The Swimmer.” When I finished, he said: “play it again, kid.” When I finished playing it a second time, Spiegel grabbed the phone and began calling a succession of people. I must have played it at least fifteen times. When the last listener had come and gone, Spiegel confronted me.

Sam Spiegel: “Okay, that’s it. I want you to do the movie.” ‑Then Spiegel frowned.- “But can you do a picture? Do you know what it takes to score a movie?”

A Streetcar Named Desire, Three Men And a Baby, Little Nikita, Switched At Birth, The Mirror Has Two Faces

Marvin — I looked him straight in the eye. — “Sure I do” — I said.

Marvin: “The truth was that I didn’t know the first thing about the movie business. I knew nothing about 35-mm film or click tracks or all the thousand and one things you have to know to write music for a feature film. I confess that I must have been given an uncanny instinct, and that was to know when an opportunity was at my door or when an offer came that could become a turning point. It never occurred to me, not even for a split second, to say to Spiegel that all this was brand-new to me or that I’d need a long course of study. I’ve always had the kind of chutzpah that lets me say: Give me the job and I’ll figure it out later. My mother used to call this “making your own luck.” Others call this “earn while you learn.”


Watch: Scene from A Street Car Named Desire (1984). Director: John Erman Writers:Oscar Saul, Tennessee Williams (play). Stars: Ann-Margret, Treat Williams and Beverly D’Angelo, Music by Marvin Hamlisch.

Street Car name desireAnn-Margret as Blanche Dubois:

Notes from Marvin:

One of the first movies I remember seeing when I was very young – which I had to beg my mother to see, (it had nothing to do with the rules of G, PG, R — none of those. It was my mother’s rules, and those rules were much tougher than the other rules), was called On The Waterfront. I loved the way they used the music in the film. Another film that means a lot to me is High Noon. To witness how a little, simple western song “Do not forsake me…” connects with the most important part for the whole, big, huge sequence at the end. You start to realize what music has going for it, and why it’s important.”



LISTEN: “Do Not Forsake Me.” Written by Dimitri Tionkin. Sung by Tex Ritter


The way I explain the use of music in films is that music should add something. So if something is funny, maybe it can be funnier. If it’s a love scene, maybe it can be more passionate. If it’s a mystery, maybe it can be more mysterious. And the key is, that if you were a painter and you came into a room that had white, all white walls, if you painted some more white on the white, all you would have is a white wall, exactly what you started with – just extra paint. The thing is to find that extra color, that extra something, that’s going to take that white wall and do something to it that’s even going to make it more. And what that is, that decision, is sometimes more about the color, in terms of the musical color. The quickness, particularly the speed, has a lot to do with films – how you pace a film, how you decide what is going to be fast and what is going to be slow, before you even get to things like melody and harmony. It’s the difference between having a great meal and then you decide that I really just want a little extra salt there. That little extra salt is called music. And that’s what it does.”

Film: Little Nikita -

A dramatic thriller starting the late River Phoenix & the legendary Sidney Poitier. A Richard Benjamin Film. Music by Marvin Hamlisch.

“I just did a film – a very interesting film — The Informant! — And Steven Soderbergh, who is a brilliant director – his first words to me on this film were,

I want people to know this is a comedy. You have to do whatever you can to let people know: This. Is. Funny.”

Now, if the director is telling you that, he is really giving you a big, wide range to be funny, you know what I mean? So yea, those things can be very helpful.

So, supposedly, when they asked Michaelangelo: “How do you make and elephant?” He said: “I get a slab of concrete. I take away everything that’s not an elephant. And I’m left with an elephant.” It’s the same way. Exactly the same way.

Bananas, Kotch, The World’s Greatest Athlete, Save the Tiger, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, The Absent-minded Waiter, Same Time Next Year

Here’s what happens: nowadays you work with DVDs, and in the old days I used to work with a Moviola, you know, a lot of racket. But now it’s easy. So the DVD is on. You have a screen at your piano, you know, like a little television. And of course, you always have a tuna fish sandwich. That’s so important when you’re writing music. You’ve got to have the tuna fish with the DVD, because otherwise you can’t write. So you’re writing, and I’ll tell you what it is. It’s not only trial and error. Because it is; you know, you write something and go, “Nah.” And sometimes nothing happens and you go, “Ugh.” If it gets to you, you go, “Oh, wait a minute, wait a minute, this is happening for me.” Then what normally happens is I either write it out or I record it. And then I let a day go by, because let me tell you something about composers – I think every composer lives with this problem. When you write something, you think, “This is the greatest thing in the entire world. Wow!” Because you’ve done it. You’ve done it. It’s like wow! But it may not stand the test of time. When I say the test of time, I mean one night. One night of sleep. One night to wake up and go, “Do I still love this melody?” It’s very much like writing. If you’re writing…

Watch Trailer:

Now, on The Informant! Which was really interesting – The Informant! Wasn’t so much about writing a specific melody or whatever. The Informant! Was about trying to figure out a choice about what type of music I was going to write. What flavor was this going to be? It took me two weeks to figure out this film. And for two weeks, I didn’t write a note. For two weeks, my wife said to me, “Marvin the clock is ticking, and you haven’t written one note.” And I said, “Well, that’s not true exactly. I’ve decided what notes I’m not writing.” So I’ve had two weeks to decide what I’m not writing.

I’m eliminating like crazy. One day I’m walking on the streets of New York and it comes to me. It just hits me and I go, “Okay, this guy’s a bipolar guy,” the guy who’s in the film. And I said, “If he’s bipolar, then that means that he sees the world from his eyes, which is totally crazy. Which means that he sees the fact that he’s just great and everybody else is nuts.” Once I decided upon the premise, that he’s wonderful, he’s “zippidy-doo-da” and everybody else is crazy, I start to figure out, “Okay, this score is going to be a score made up of vignettes, little things that would come.”


LISTEN: Zippity Do Dah:


So, If you see the film, I’m very proud of the fact that the very first cue is what I call my misdirection cue. It’s a cue that says, “This is a serious film. It’s almost like Bernard Herrmann, you know, and this is very serious.” The film starts out with a shot of a tape recorder, you know, a tape recorder with a reel-to-reel. You think, “Oh my God.” The next cue is in his head, we meet him for the first time. And I based it on the sound of “Zippidy-doo-da.” You know, I do my version of “Zippidy-doo-da.” Every one of the cues in the film is my version of something – whether it’s Mannix and that whole FBI thing, that whole sound of what Mannix was like- Whatever it is, it’s all based on vignettes. And that’s what I think makes the film totally off the wall and a lot of fun.

Watch reviews, listen to music, from: The Informant!


Read: Three Men and a Baby

Starring Tom Sellec, Ted Danson & Steve Guttenberg. They helped change her diapers, she helped change their lives. A Leonard Nemoy Film.

Three Men and a Baby

Read more: The Music of Marvin Hamlisch for Motion Pictures:

MH Films section

Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012)

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Source: Team Marvin Hamlisch / The Music of Marvin Hamlisch