List: Best Film Scores #40-21

MV5BNDAzMjZhYTQtZjQxMC00ODE4LWIxYzEtMjljNWRjODAxZjY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUxODE0MDY@._V1_  Max Steiner: #70: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948); #37 Casablanca (1942); #25 Now, Voyager (1942)

Thursdays in June I’m giving my picks for the greatest movies scores of all time. 3 weeks ago, I listed #100-81, then #80-61 and last week #60-41. Now, here is the list for #40-21. Listen to all scores from #100-21 here.

40. Franz Waxman, Sunset Blvd. (1950)

39. Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

38. John Williams, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

37. Max Steiner, Casablanca (1942)

36. John Williams, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

35. Duke Ellington, Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

34. John Barry, Dr. No (1964)

33. Carter Burwell, Fargo (1996)

32. Richard Rodney Bennett, Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

31. John Williams, Jurassic Park (1993)

30. Roy Webb, Notorious (1946)

29. Mikos Theodorakis, Zorba the Greek (1964)

28. Nino Rota, 8 1/2 (1963)

27. Patrick Doyle, Sense and Sensibility (1995)

26. Howard Shore, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2003)

25. Max Steiner, Now, Voyager (1942)

24. Bernard Herrmann, Citizen Kane (1941)

23. John Williams, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

22. Dave Grusin, On Golden Pond (1981)

21. Herbert Stothart, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Compulsion (1959)


Artie (Bradford Dillman) is compelled by dangerous, violent, and perverse whims. Judd (Dean Stockwell) is compelled by Artie. Whatever Artie desires becomes Judd’s goals. Artie has gained so much power over Judd that it’s as if he thinks for him and controls his actions. This makes for a very deadly pair. Artie may think for Judd but his conscience has been completely seared and his emotions have become completely numb. So Judd is left feeling for himself, feeling his own feelings while someone else thinks for him. Because of this, though they’re a deadly pair, they’re not unstoppable. Judd’s fears, hurts, and occasional lapses of conscience hinder Artie’s desire for a completely amoral existence, and it’s also those things that Judd possesses but Artie doesn’t that eventually gets them caught.

Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion is a fictionalized version of a real murder case. The first half of the movie follows the criminal partners. It takes us deeply into Artie’s own world where morality doesn’t really exist and all that matters is what he thinks he wants at any given moment. It takes us even deeper into Judd’s process of being brainwashed into acceptance of and submission to Artie’s beliefs. As he falls deeper in compulsion to Artie’s thinking, he becomes Artie’s pawn, fulfilling Artie’s every demand. Judd does all of Artie’s dirty work until he has one of those lapses of conscience, but after each one he always quickly re-submits to Artie’s massive hold on him.

Artie and Judd are both law school students who have determined themselves above the law. One of their fellow students is suspicious of the viewpoints they express in class but not to the degree that he expected they were capable of the crimes they had already committed. This student is dating a girl who develops feelings for Judd. She has difficulty expressing or even knowing for sure if they are romantic feelings or intense sympathy for Judd. She doesn’t recognize Artie as the source of the problem, but she recognizes that he is in need and not always in control of his actions.

The second half of the movie takes us into the murder trial. The lawyer uses the girl’s sympathy for Judd as the only hope to evoke that same sympathy in the judge who had the power to sentence both boys to death. Orson Welles is credited first in the movie, though he doesn’t show up until the second half, kind of like The Third Man. He plays the boys’ attorney. He knows they’re guilty. He has no evidence to work with to make any kind of plea for them other than a guilty plea with a life sentence. He has successfully prevented previous clients from getting a death sentence, and the second half of the movie hangs entirely on the question of whether or not they will be sentenced to death.

Compulsion is as believable and as gritty as any movie about violent crime could be in 1959. It never softens the reality of what the murderers have done. It allows us to feel the weight of their destruction. We are to feel whatever portion of the victims’ terror, grief, and trauma is possible, never for a second minimizing their suffering. But first through the girl who felt sorry for Judd and secondly through the lawyer, Compulsion also asks us to feel sympathy for the perpetrators. The lawyer’s closing argument is not so much a plea for his clients as it is a very persuasive argument against the death penalty. Wherever we might land on our convictions about that issue, the movie is helps us navigate our own thoughts and beliefs about justice, about the rights (or lack of rights) of criminals, and about the value of all human life. It asks big questions that it’s not willing to answer. We have to make up our own minds, but the movie helps us to weigh both sides of the debate very thoroughly.

Best Film Scores #60-41

Thursdays in June I’m giving my picks for the greatest movies scores of all time. Two weeks ago, I listed #100-81 and last week #80-61. Now, here is the list for #60-41. Listen to all scores from #100-41 here.


60. John Debney, Elf (2003)

59. David Amram, The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

58. Franz Waxman, My Cousin Rachel (1952)

57. David Raskin, Laura (1944)

56. Charles Chaplin, Limelight (1952)

55. Elmer Bernstein, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

54.  Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven (1992)

53. Alfonso Vilallonga, Blancanieves (2012)

52. Luis Bacalov, Il Postino (1994)

51. Ennio Morricone, Cinema Paradiso (1988)

50. Quincy Jones, The Color Purple (1985)

49. John Powell & Henry Gregson-Williams, Chicken Run (2000)

48. Victor Young, Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

47. Nino Rota, Amarcord (1974)

46. Alex North, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

45. Michael Giacchino, Ratatouille (2007)

44. Erich Wolgang Korngold, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

43. Bill Conti, The Right Stuff (1983)

42. Burt Bacharach, Casino Royale (1967)

41. Maurice Jarre, A Walk in the Clouds (1995)


12 Angry Men (1957)


Currently ranked at #5 on IMDB’s list of top 250 films according to its viewers, Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is beloved for its inspiring portrayal of justice defeating racial injustice and the ideals of the American justice system (innocent until proven guilty, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, etc.). 12 Angry Men is actually even more than these admirable qualities. Because it’s set entirely during the jury’s deliberation, we see plenty of details of the case but all second-hand through the jurors. The movie is about the jurors, not the case or the defendant, as the title says. And being about these jurors, it is also a movie about anger.

12 different types of anger are presented through the 12 angry men. Each juror’s thinking process is influenced, maybe even controlled, by the type of anger prominent for him. The juror played by Ed Begley is controlled by his hateful anger that always refers to the defendant with phrases like “one of those people,” revealing prejudicial anger toward an entire people group that has no basis in reality. The juror played by E.G. Marshall expresses a self-righteous anger, so in love with being right that his anger manifests itself in a suspicious antagonism against anyone who disagrees with him but never in a mad, violent way like Eg Begley’s character. The juror played by Robert Weber shows a passive aggressive type of anger that tries to soften everything with jokes but at the same time uses his humor as a weapon to try to get his way showing his own anger against anyone who tries to upset the way he sees the world. The juror played by Jack Warden has the most selfish anger of the bunch, throwing childish fits whenever it looks like deliberation could prevents his plan of going to the Yankees game later in the day.

The juror played by Lee J. Cobb has the most violent outbursts of any juror in the movie. His character is also the one most developed. His anger works against him and is more effective at changing votes from guilty to not guilty than Henry Fonda’s direct attempts to do that. We learn that his anger is mostly against himself, and he takes that anger out on the defendant who reminds him his son. His anger, like all the others I’ve mentioned, threatens to stand in the way of justice being accomplished. They hinder justice because their anger hinders them from sound thinking and judgment. They’re all so bound by their prejudices and selfish ambitions that they’re unable to clearly see the facts they’re presented with.

The other jurors are all more open-minded than the others. Even though 11 initially vote guilty, the others are willing to listen to the juror played by Henry Fonda when he shares what he believes to be plenty of reasonable doubts in favor of the defendant. But that doesn’t mean that they’re any less angry than the jurors I’ve already mentioned. These all have types of anger that enhance their abilities to think well, to feel for other people, and  to do the jobs they’re there to do. Because of the relationship between anger and thinking, 12 Angry Men is just as much about critical thinking as it is about justice.

One is motivated by the anger related to his own childhood similar to that of the defendant. This anger motivates him towards beliefs that no one should have to grow up that way, it motivates him towards sympathy with the defendant, and it will not stand for the ignorance spouted by the other jurors. Another juror’s anger is about being an old man who feels ignored and disrespected. When a few of the jurors blatantly disregard him, that anger motivates him to stand up for himself and for those who are at that point in the minority in favor of acquittal. I could go on like this for all of them, but I will stop here.

Yes, that means I’m not going to talk about Henry Fonda’s anger, but that’s just because his is the easiest, he’s angry at injustice. He’s the reason the movie is so well loved, because he is the center of the movie’s view of justice. That’s great and reason enough for the movie to be as well loved as it is. There’s just a lot more to the anger than anyone ever seems to talk about, and I think it’s about time we listen to the title of the movie and learn from it, because the movie is a profound portrayal of both healthy vs. unhealthy anger. Anger affects our thinking whether for good or for bad, and this movie is about the necessity to check ourselves and our anger, is it serving our thinking as it does for the jurors I mentioned last, or is our thinking serving it like those I mentioned first?

Best Film Scores #80-61

MV5BMjY5MTgzMTQ1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDg3OTcz._V1_.jpgJohn Williams, #98: Superman, #97: Jaws, #72: Home Alone

Last week, I started posting my list of the best film scores ever made. You can see the first list of scores #100-81 here. Click on my Youtube playlist here to listen to all the film scores posted so far. Here’s #80-61.

80. Philip Glass, The Illusionist (2006)

79. Leonard Bernstein, On the Waterfront (1954)

78. John Barry, The Lion in Winter (1968)

77. Dario Marianelli, Atonement (2008)

76. Hans Zimmer, Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

75. Bronislau Kaper, Lili (1953)

74. Miklós Rózsa, The Lost Weekend (1945)

73. Rachel Portman, Emma (1996)

72. John Williams, Home Alone (1990)

71. Dimitri Tiomkin, The Alamo (1960)

70. Max Steiner, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

69. Ernest Gold, Exodus (1960)

68. Justin Hurwitz, La La Land (2016)

67. Anne Dudley, The Full Monty (1997)

66. Jerry Goldsmith, Chinatown (1974)

65. Henry Mancini, Hatari (1962)

64. Marvin Hamlisch, Take the Money and Run (1969)

63. Lalo Schifrin, Bullitt (1968)

62. Michael Giacchino, Inside Out (2016)

61. Ennio Morricone, Once upon a Time in the West (1968)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


Shadow of a Doubt is one of the prime reasons Alfred Hitchock is considered the “master of suspense.” It’s odd, though, because the movie is an anti-mystery. In the opening scene we hear the “Merry Widow Waltz” being played and we see Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten) acting very cagey as he avoids two men coming to see him. It only takes a few minutes for the viewers to realize that Charles is the merry widow murderer. This knowledge never prevents the movie from being suspenseful, because all that matters for the suspense is that his niece Charlie Oakley (Theresa Wright) doesn’t know what we know.

Charlie idolizes her uncle. I don’t mean that in a normal, healthy way that many kids and teens look up to elders as role models. I mean that she believes the world revolves around her uncle. When she experiences a crisis, she thinks that he is the only one who can make things right. She has expectations of him that no person could live up to. When she thinks her family is stuck in a rut, she turns to him assuming that he can single-handedly get them out and bring new life to the family. She has very literally made him her idol.

Charlie’s sick beliefs about her uncle were inherited from her mother Emma who is played by Patricia Collinge with so much vulnerability, compassion, tenderness, and naive trust, that we can see how her life has been shaped by her devotion to her brother and that when others say that an investigation on Charles for murder would kill her, we believe it. Emma made sure that Charlie, her first child, was named after her beloved brother. She made sure that her daughter’s life was as shaped by her idolatry of her brother as her own has been.

Charlie is a teenager and hasn’t had the time to become quite as overcome by Charles’ deception as her mother has, but she’s definitely blinded to the possibility that he has committed unspeakable evils. After repeated viewings of Shadow of a Doubt, it becomes obvious that those who do not know Charles, including Charlie’s much-younger siblings, have a lot of suspicion about Charles when he comes to “visit” (he’s actually hiding and plotting his next murder/robbery). Charlie is a very smart girl, much smarter than some of the characters who had instant suspicion that turned out to be right. The movie shows how when deception takes over in people’s lives, smart people can believe very stupid things. This was the case with her mother for years, and has become the case for Charlie throughout her whole life.

Uncle Charles’ visit includes many twists and turns where he wonders how much Charlie knows. Her life depends on how she handles the information she discovers. The suspense in the movie comes from whether or not she will be willing to face the truth as she is confronted with it that shakes the core of who she is. If she’s willing to face it, it means her own life is at risk. If she’s not willing to face it, it means many other lives are at risk.

Joseph Cotten plays the villain with such a cold, calculated demeanor that a smile or a look from him can be terrifying. He represents all the things we believe in life that are not as they seem. The character is written in such a way to reflect the reality that when trust is misplaced, the results are always disappointing and sometimes devastating for the one who chose to trust the one unworthy. Because of the idolatry shown of two family members toward Charles, there is a strong spiritual dimension to that theme of trust. As Charlie learns the truth about her uncle, she is faced with the choice of whether she will renounce her worship of him and treat him as the murderous criminal he is by cooperating the police or protect him, refusing to let go of her nearly-divine opinion of him. Whether she will be a hero, a victim, or a co-conspiriator in her uncle’s crimes is the question we ask throughout the movie. So much for every character depends on Charlie’s decisions. All the suspense that Hitchcock brought so brilliantly depends on this question. Is Charlie too completely lost in her idolatry of her uncle to help others, or does she still have enough conscience to make sure that his next plans do not succeed?


Also directed by Hitchcock: Psycho (1960); Rebecca (1940); Saboteur (1942)

Best Film Scores #100-81

Every Thursday in June, I will post a list of my picks for the best film scores of all time, twenty at a time. Here’s the first installment. You can listen to all the scores here.

MV5BMTU4MTU0ODA0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTk1Njk3MjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,664,1000_AL_.jpgPictured: Danny Elfmann (#100 Batman & #85 Edward Scissorhands)

100. Danny Elfman, Batman (1989)

99. Michael Giacchino, Up (2009)

98. John Williams, Superman (1978)

97. John Williams, Jaws (1975)

96. Elmer Bernstein, The World of Henry Orient (1964)

95. Bernard Hermann, The Trouble with Harry (1955)

94. Hans Zimmer, Rain Man (1988)

93. Christopher Gunning, La vie en rose (2007)

92. Carmine Coppola, The Black Stallion (1979)

91. Adolph Deutsch, The Apartment (1960)

90. Dario Marianelli, Pride and Prejudice (2005)

89. Bernard Hermann, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

88. Carter Burwell, Carol (2015)

87. Woody Allen, Sleeper (1973)

86. Henry Gregson-Williams, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

85. Danny Elfmann, Edward Scissorhands (1990)

84. Dan Rohmer & Behn Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

83. Jerome Moross, The Big Country (1958)

82. Michel Legrand, The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

81. Elliot Goldenthal, Frida (2002)