Movie Magic: A Wild Ride!

 

In our feature artist article on Andy Williams, we focus on his penchant for performing outstanding movie themes.

Movie themes.  Andy Williams.   Cool August nights at the Drive-in.  Sounds like a good place to start a collection of movie memories.

Fasten your seat belts…

One of the all-time movie myths concerns a teenage Andy Williams and a teenage Lauren Bacall. In Bacall’s first major motion picture, the 19 year old ingenue struck sparks with Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not. In the movie, Bacall sings “How Little We Know.” A rumor persisted for decades that Bacall’s voice was actually dubbed by one of the singing Williams brothers. A dusky voice was needed, in a certain register, to match Bacall’s, and young Andy Williams fit the bill…or so the story goes.

Williams, of course, was too much of a gentleman to ever disclose such a thing, and was generally evasive when asked. Bacall eventually tired of the rumors, and put it all to rest in her autobiography by admitting that she was unable to hit some of the high notes, and the talented Williams voice was used for those. Now of course the complexity of mixing two different voices seamlessly was not perfected in the 1940s, so Miss Bacall’s answer is a bit odd…but a talented recording engineer could make it go, so we’ll have to take her word for it. But who knows what we really hear in the film.

What we do know is that “How Little We Know” was composed by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. Both are icons in the history of pop music, Carmichael of course for composing “Stardust,” and Mercer for starting Capitol Records and writing just about a gazillion hit songs. “Stardust,” a song synonymous with Frank Sinatra, a decent actor in his own right.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Back to Hoagy. Carmichael’s connection to To Have and Have Not goes a bit further, as he actually played a role in the film; the on-screen piano player for Bacall. Carmichael has another movie connection you may not be aware of, in that he was the original “model” for the character of James Bond, 007. Author Ian Fleming mentioned in a couple of his novels that Bond “resembled” Carmichael, “but with a scar on one side of his face.” One of those novels was Casino Royale, for which Fleming sold the film rights in the mid 1950s to raise some cash.

After the success of the early Bond films, Casino Royale was put into production amidst some unbelievable upheaval in the Bond franchise. Connery wanted no part of it, Broccoli and Salzman were out, and so a film was haphazardly put together with Peter Sellers in a starring role. Sellers — a comic actor for the ages — was playing the role straight as originally intended. The movie was steadily molded into a satirical piece, and Sellers quit. David Niven — better as a serious actor — was brought in to flesh out the comedy. What a mess.

Perhaps the only thing that wasn’t dreadful about Casino Royale was the original soundtrack, although that was a bit of a mess as well.  It was composed by pop legend Burt Bacharach, then at the peak of his career.  Bacharach, if you weren’t aware, was a Brill Building regular during the 1950s whose first major hit on the pop charts was “Magic Moments” by Perry Como. Not bad.

The soundtrack from Casino Royale is actually quite good; the recording features the trumpet playing of Herb Alpert, who, like Mr. Mercer mentioned earlier, started a major record label of his own.  The “mess” part of it is well known:   Bacharach hired British vocalist Mike Redway to sing lead, but then dropped the voice track in favor of Herb’s horn.  So you’ve most likely heard the trumpet version — the vocal is only heard on the closing credits of the original film.  It’s not difficult to find and listen to on YouTube if you’re so inclined.

Redway, in case you’re unfamiliar with that name, was the top British backing vocalist in the 1960s and his voice is heard on countless hits by Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, even the Beatles.

As for Bacharach, Casino Royale will barely be remembered as his movie work. A couple years later he would pen a little ditty for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Newman/Redford vehicle was a massive hit, and the ditty was “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which won Bacharach a little thing called an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Bacharach is arguably the greatest composer of American Pop in the late 20th Century. If he isn’t, he’s certainly up there. He penned songs for quite a few films, but he’s got another — much sexier — connection to the world of motion pictures. Obviously we’re referring to his ex-wife, the lovely Angie Dickinson.

burt bacharach and angie dickinson photo

Dickinson appeared in a number of movies, but since this is PopularSong.org, the movie we’ll talk about next must be related to pop standards in some form. It has to be the original Ocean’s Eleven, known not so much for its pop songs but rather its tidy list of pop singers: Frank, Sammy, and Dean. All were great singers and “capable” actors.

Of the three, Sinatra probably made the most memorable movies.  As for Dino, after countless mindless Hal Wallis vehicles with Jerry Lewis, then said “enough” and went on to appear in The Young Lions with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. Brando’s last “great” performance is arguably The Godfather, and the theme song to that movie is “Speak Softly Love,” the hit version of which was recorded by ol’ Andy Williams. As for Hal Wallis, he would of course later work the same meaningless magic with Elvis Presley, cranking out forgettable film after forgettable film. We could talk about Elvis, but that’s not the teen idol we had in mind…

Before we leave The Young Lions, we should mention that the soundtrack was done by Hugo Wilhelm Friedhofer. Friedhofer won an Academy Award in 1947 for composing the music for The Best Years of Our Lives, which also won best picture and a whole bunch of other Oscars. Hoagy Carmichael played the role of Butch the Bartender in that film.

As for Dean Martin, a couple of his other memorable film roles were westerns with John Wayne. The two may have seemed an unlikely acting pair, but the on-screen chemistry was superb.  An acting and singing phenom named Ricky Nelson appeared in their first effort, Rio Bravo, a 1959 film directed by Howard Hawks. Hawks is best known for directing a Bogart/Bacall classic called To Have and Have Not. Ricky Nelson, of course, a pop legend in his own right. Can you guess the leading lady in Rio Bravo? If you guessed Bacall, you’re wrong. That leaves Angie Dickinson of course, co-star of Rio Bravo. Bacall worked with John Wayne in his last movie, The Shootist. It’s widely believed that Bacall’s vocal solo in her first movie was recorded with assistance from Andy Williams.

Got all that?

What are your memories of this musical journey?