Movies only…we’ll leave this, by a long ways the best TV western theme, aside…
..and stick to the cinema entries.
First, a little history:
Narration: Though High Noon opened to universal praise in late July, 1952, one of its early previews has proved disastrous.
Fred Zinneman, Jr.: What was wrong with the preview was that there was wall-to-wall music in it and what people were responding to was the amount of music. After it was over, people–all the executives–were forming into little groups, whispering, and I just went into the bathroom, where two other executives were, and I heard one of them say to the other, “Well, what does a European Jew know about making westerns anyway?”
From Inside High Noon (50th Anniversary DVD edition of High Noon, Frank Langella, narration)
Stanley Kramer: He (Columbia studio head, Harry Cohn) said “What difference does it make? So I ran it. It’s a piece of junk anyway”
Narration: Now, in fairness to Harry Cohn, the print that he saw of High Noon was missing a crucial element: music. You don’t have to be an expert to know how much music can add to a movie. But in this case the music was so unusual, so revolutionary, in fact, for its time, it added a whole dimension to the picture. Most movies of the 1950s opened with a fanfare, a big orchestra. Here’s what you heard at the beginning of High Noon…as spare and low-key as the film itself:
(From The Making of High Noon (50th Anniversary DVD edition of High Noon, Leonard Maltin, narration)
Not that those sometimes fanfares went away entirely….either from not so famous movies…
or extremely famous ones…
Or that you couldn’t split the difference:
Still, the makers of High Noon–having gone with too little music and too much–were onto something when they found the right mix. In the western, at least, vocals added something.
But there were only a few great ones. Some spare and low-key, some operatic.
And some of them didn’t make it to the movie. Well, one of them anyway:
Sometimes, a shoulda’ been didn’t make the movie either…
…that’s from the cutting floor of Rio Bravo, which, if it’s missed, is not as missed as it might have been, thanks to what is there.
This couldn’t have been a theme, exactly….
But this actually was…(well, a piece of it was, anyway)
So you can see (or hear), where they might have had a hard time choosing. And why they had a high bar to meet when they “remade” it (fanfare and all)…
And, by the late sixties, there was even at least one instance of a theme that blossomed out into a soundtrack (i.e., an ongoing ballad that ran through the whole movie, with endlessly witty variations, the gist of which are barely hinted at up front):
But, really, when it’s all said and done, there are three that stand head and shoulders above the rest.
One has the advantage of being from the greatest movie ever made:
One has the advantage of being both the greatest vocal and the best song ever recorded for a western theme.
But, down at the end, there’s something about the ground-breaker…Tex Ritter’s proudest moment, and one which he knew how to deliver more ways than one. My favorite is the one I played first, but this is a great variation. And there’s no more elegant or mysterious phrase in the English language than…”Wait along.”