• Stefan Riedlinger

Silver Streak – Henry Mancini – Soundtrack Review


This review is another result of Covid-19. Even though, we are now allowed to meet more people, I am still sitting in my home office, okay with a bigger screen now, but it is still annoying. I found the CD of “Silver Screen” when I ordered another couple of CDs, and this movie is so full of childhood memories, and I love the main theme, that it is time now to add this review on my blog. I just realized it is the first review of a Henry Mancini score on my blog, and it is not “Pink Panther” or "The Thornbirds”.



The movie

“Silver Streak” is a 1976 American buddy comedy thriller film about a murder on a Los Angeles-to-Chicago train journey. It was directed by Arthur Hiller and stars Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, and Richard Pryor, with Patrick McGoohan, Ned Beatty, Richard Kiel in supporting roles. Kiel is playing a similar role such as his famous role “Jaws” from the James Bond-movies, and there is a joke about his teeth. Here is the trailer:



This film marked the first pairing of Wilder and Pryor, who were later paired in three more films. Critics said that especially Pryor´s appearance was one of the reasons the movie is so enjoyable. Colin Higgins who was at that time famous for writing “Harold and Maude”, one of my all-time favorites, wrote the script "because I had always wanted to get on a train and meet some blonde. It never happened, so I wrote a script." The script was sent out to auction. Alan Ladd Jr and Frank Yablans at 20th Century Fox bought it for a then-record $400,000. Ladd said "It was like the old Laurel and Hardy comedies. The hero is Laurel, he falls off the train, stumbles about, makes a fool of himself, but still gets the pretty girl. Audiences have identified with that since Buster Keaton."


Colin Higgins wanted George Segal for the hero, but Fox preferred Gene Wilder. "He's younger (Wilder was actually a year older than Segal), more identifiable for the younger audience. And he's so average, so ordinary, and he gets caught up in all these crazy adventures." Higgins also claimed that the producers did not want to cast Pryor because he had recently walked off “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings”. However, Pryor was very professional during the shoot. Gene and Pryor went to make two more movies together.


“Silver Streak” became the fourth biggest moneymaker for that year, grossing $60 Million and is listed in the top 100 comedies by the American Film Institute.

I saw the movie when I was a teenager and immediately liked it. The dinner scene between Wilder and Clayburg is a reminder of the scene from “North by Northwest”, and the plots remind you also of another Hitchcock thriller, “The Lady Vanishes” (1939). “Silver Streak” is one of the few movies that are even more enjoyable when you have watched it before because you know what is happening and can enjoy it. I found a nice making off:



The last scenes with the training running into the Chicago Train Station is, as one critic said, alone worth the money. Without an overkill of CGI like in today´s movies, this scene is just amazing fun to watch, and furthermore, in the times of Black Lives Matters, this movie gives you also a good example of how People of Color were treated in the 70s.



The composer


Composer Henry Mancini (born Enrico Nicola Mancini; April 16, 1924 – June 14, 1994) is a composer who normally does not know any introduction. He is very well-known for collaboration with Blake Edwards, especially on the Inspector Clouseau movies, with its Pink Panther theme. Mancini won four Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, and twenty Grammy Awards, plus a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.


His works include the theme for the “Peter Gunn” television series, the score and the song "Moon River" from “Breakfast at Tiffany's” (1961). Mancini also scored a No. 1 hit single during the rock era on the Hot 100: his arrangement and recording of the "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" spent two weeks at the top, starting with the week ending June 28, 1969. Mancini collaborated also together with director Stanley Donen on “Charade” (1963), “Arabesque” (1966) and “Two For The Road” (1967).


What some people might now remember is that in 1952, Mancini joined the Universal Pictures music department. During the next six years, he contributed music to over 100 movies, most notably Jack Arnold´s “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954), “Tarantula” (1955), “This Island Earth” (1955) and “The Glenn Miller Story” (1954, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination), Orson Welles' “Touch of Evil” (1958). Mancini is famous for the “Baby Elephant Walk” from John Wayne´s “Hatari” (1962) and the music for the already mentioned TV-series “The Thornbirds” (1984).


It is very easy to write a book just about the scores of Henry Mancini! His sense for melodies is so astonishing that a lot of people remember his music even though they might never hear the name of the composer. One from his latest more serious works is his music to Tobe Hooper´s “Lifeforce” (1985), a crappy but enjoyable SF movie in which French actress Mathilda May walks mostly around naked.



The music


I do not have so many Henry Mancini soundtracks in my library because mostly, I just like a few tracks or, for example, from the Stanley Donen movies, just the main theme. “Silver Streak” is different because here Mancini was giving a wide range of writing music for romance, comedy and action.


The main title introduces the main theme and is a kind of a musical joke because Mancini transforms the slowly starting of a train into ascending music. Even though I think this Main Title is not the best track of the score, it is a great example of Mancini´s ability to write beautiful main themes and his feeling for rhythm and effective orchestration. The jazz tune is timeless. Here is the main title:



You can find a lot of typical Jazz tracks in the score which I normally skip, one is the track “Something For Jill”, track 6 “Club Car Rock” another one, track 8 “Scenic Route”, track 12 “Redneck Blues”, track 15 “Shoe Shine”, track 16 “Men´s Room Rock”,


My favorite theme of the score is “Hilly´s Theme” which you can hear the following track “Hilly´s Theme / Bye Bye Professor 7 Lie Down George”, a seven minutes track with some shocking sounds in the middle because of what is happening in the movie. In the liner notes to the CD, there is an interesting comment that Mancini had the special gift to compose sad melodies for a lonely and vulnerable woman, and that is really true!


The next track “This Is Terrific” is another musical joke, the main instrument is the harmonica here. This theme is played when George gets thrown from the car or has to leave. This style of music is responsible that the comedy of this scene is so good working. And when you read that one track is called “Son Of This Is Terrific”, you know what happened.


Track 5 “The Fun of Flying” for a wonderful photographed scene in the movie brings us back the train theme in a nice variation. You can just admire how Mancini varies the main theme here, what an artificial composer!


There is also typical suspense music such as track 7 “Sneaky George”, track 9 “I´ll Try” and the following “Gold Teeth” (low-register clarinets and jagged string figures against a French horn to build up suspense) two very good suspense ones for a fabulous scene in the movie, track 13 “Pure Pussy”. The best suspense track is, of course, the music for the big showdown “Runaway Train”, this 6-minute-track is fabulous in his suspense approach and shows you the variety of Mancini´s composing style! I especially admire the constant increasing rhythm of this track until the train finally crashes in the station, and the music stops exactly in this moment.


With track 17 “Hilly´s Theme”, we have finally this beautiful main theme in a pure track without any suspense effects. Just a wonderful melody, played heartwarming in the combination of strings and the piano as main instrument here. Track 18 “The Swirl Effect” is the last time we hear the train theme in a track except of the End Titles which brings the album to an end.


Douglass Fake wrote in the liner notes to the CD that “Silver Streak” offers one of Mancini´s finest writing, and I totally agree. I would have wished that the Jazz sourcing tracks might be placed at the end of the album, but these days, you can program your CD player to skip them and concentrate on the other music. Though the film dates to 1976, Henry Mancini's score was never officially released as a soundtrack. Intrada's 2002 compilation became one of the year's best-selling special releases. Get the CD and enjoy this lovely music. And if you listen to this, then you realize again we are missing among the actual generation of film music composers!


Here is Hilly's Theme:



My favorite track and the reason I finally bought this track was track “14 “On To Kansas City”: This track is just pure Gold! The scene is a sun setting, and Gene and Richard are on the rescue to Jill. The scene is beautiful shot, and how Mancini underscores this music, is one of the best examples what film music can do to a scene!







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