Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Same Song, Different Movie: Theme From A Summer Place by Max Steiner

This is the next entry in a series from early 2012 that looks at the use of “needle dropped” songs, many of them popular tunes, in movies. Specifically, in more than one. Yet they are not officially considered part of a film’s score. A score consists of those orchestral, choral, or instrumental pieces some consider background music. Both music forms are equally utilized as cues by filmmakers for a specific purpose or to elicit certain reactions by the audience.

I’m fascinated by this in general, and movie soundtracks have long intrigued me. This convergence of the music and film arts I’ve spent much time toward. My wife can confirm this. Some (not all) movie soundtracks have incorporated those songs the director or music programmer showcased in their production along with the film’s score.

A few filmmakers have made it part of their work to incorporate well-known or popular song as a recurrent element. Why not? Music and movies make for a wonderful tandem, and I regularly watch out for them. As usual, I give credit to my blogging colleague over at Fog’s Movie Review for helping to ignite this series care of his excellent post, Tossin’ It Out There: What’s YOUR Favorite Song From a Movie?:

“… there’s a deep connection between the two arts, and sometimes that winds up creating an inseparable bond between the two in the viewer’s mind.”

The second entry of the year in this series focuses once again on an early ’60s number. Likely, the single most impactful instrumental that not only elevated the category in Pop Music during its rebellious decade but propelled my appreciation of the genre to this day. Referring to Percy Faith and his orchestra‘s rendition of a movie score piece from a late-’50s movie that became the insanely popular hit song, Theme from A Summer Place

And it’s not even the main melody of the picture1, which was written by the great Max Steiner2.

Due to its popularity, “Theme From A Summer Place” was dropped into the early period feature dramas The Crowded Sky (1960), Claudelle Inglish (1961), and Susan Slade (1961), and used cast members from the original source film, A Summer Place (1959).

Like last month’s tune , it’s been covered broadly. Although adapted across not only Pop and Jazz, but R&B and Easy Listening, as well as a vocal care of later added lyrics by Mack Discant3. The melody reused heavily in film, TV, and even video game4 for years to establish and contrast a seemingly more naive age. We’ll concentrate on two needle-dropped instances that marked a pair of “genre film” soundtracks, which spanned distant decades but centered their tales on the early ’70s.

The Omega Man (1971)


Recommended reading: my friend Colin’s fine review of the film from 2011.

The first instance an instrumental piece like this was musically positioned into a sci-fi-horror movie arrived the next decade over. If the ’60s became revolutionary, the ’70s were its tumultuous cousin…coming by to “…sleep one off.” Where else to find the second attempt at adapting Richard Matheson’s influential I Am Legend novel to the big screen; and by a director more known for his TV work, Boris Sagal. Entertaining enough, and fueled by Charlton Heston’s career second wind that decade. The Omega Man‘s lone survivor scenario of an apocalyptic biological war clashing with the mutants left over has merit. One highlight, as blogger Livius put it was “…Ron Grainer’s achingly melancholic score…” And it’d be the composer’s orchestra recreating Percy Faith’s vibrant hit forlornly on eight-track tape as our hero Neville drives about a desolate L.A. for the eerie start of the film.

Dark Shadows (2012)


Recommended reading: colleague Darren’s opinion of the film, which I heartily agree with that went against most reviews that year.

Yet, in contrast to the above, the original recording would be humorously used by a filmmaker who specializes in the quirky aspects of macabre fantasy. The song showcased the prime scoundrel of Tim Burton’s under-appreciated, horror-comedy based on the gothic television soap opera, Dark Shadows. His frequent collaborator, musician Danny Elfman, again scored the film5 and deployed a number of contemporary hits that resonated the soundtrack back to the film’s 1972 setting. Here, the reintroduction of the villainess, Barnabas Collins’ jealous ex-lover…the witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) who cursed him (Johnny Depp) to the immortal life of a vampire two centuries earlier. The accompanying lover’s theme hinting at the spark still there, and twisting the tune’s long-lost purity care of the cold corporate heart beating beneath her seeming beauty.

The entire series can be found here.

  1.  This was the “Molly and Johnny Theme” from the picture’s soundtrack, the characters portrayed in the film by Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue
  2. Steiner wrote famous film scores for the likes of Gone with the WindCasablanca, Now Voyager, and The Searchers, among many others. 
  3. Stirring numbers like Julie London‘s absolutely splendid ’65 vocal version, Bobby VintonAndy Williams, and even The Lettermen
  4. From National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), Con Air (1997), Ocean’s Eleven (2001) to The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and video game Willow
  5. The second time “Theme From A Summer Place” was needle dropped into a Tim Burton film; initially used in the scene where The Joker attempts to seduce Vicki Vale in the museum for Batman (1989). 

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