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The World of Henry Orient (1964) starred Peter Sellars as an incompetent concert
pianist and compulsive Lothario with a predilection for married women. He is
the victim of a series of pranks played upon him by two young teenage girls
determined to reform him.
Elmer Bernstein wrote a score that, like his music for To Kill a Mocking
Bird, demonstrates how well he empathised with the world of childhood innocence.
It is also a colourful, tongue-in-cheek melodic score full of fun and high spirits.
The opening Main Title spills over with joyful, carefree charm much of the material
in Latin American/Western mode that recalls Bernstein’s Magnificent Seven music
and echoes the other Bernstein’s West Side Story figures. At other points in
the story we hear exotic oriental figures as a play on the Sellar’s character’s
name. One of the most amusing cues is Tuning/Concerto when Henry is soloist
in a modern piano concerto (in which he manages to get himself hopelessly lost).
Here Elmer Bernstein produces a clever irreverent take-off of a rambling avante
garde concert work. Here are many moments of charming tenderness too, like
the opening of ‘Sick Joke’ where the overlapping piano and woodwind phrases
area characteristic Bernstein trait and capture the offbeat warmth of Gil, one
of the girl’s household.
Bernstein in delightful light-hearted mode.
John Huether is enthusiastic too:-
In my review of "Celluloid Copland" last March, I remarked
how unique it was to find, after so many years, music by a leading American
composer still unrecorded. Similarly, it’s amazing that this 1964 score by Elmer
Bernstein is enjoying its first release only now, thanks to the good efforts
of Lukas Kendall and his crew at Film Score Monthly. Consider: The early 1960s
was a time of widespread soundtrack LP releases, and Elmer Bernstein was among
the most-often recorded film composers. Beyond that, United Artists – which
released "The World of Henry Orient" – was among the busiest
studios in the soundtrack market.
How, then, did this subtle little gem manage to go largely ignored for nearly
What’s most remarkable about this score is how deftly Bernstein captures the
characters of the story’s two protagonists -- a pair of 14 year-old girls. This
is music of pure and gentle whimsy, cleverly orchestrated in the main title
cue for accordion and guitar. As noted by Kendall and Jeff Bond in their liner
notes, Bernstein has a gift for delineating the unique innocence of a child’s
world — most famously, of course, Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird,"
and here with Val and Gil, both teetering on the edge of young maturity as they
romp through a New York City depicted here in a manner that, even for 1964,
must have been more than a little fairytale-like.
This mood of gentle innocence extends throughout the score, interspersed frequently
with overtly humorous music that range from a sort of mock-Asian/mysterioso
and Gil occasionally dress in Chinese costume to eavesdrop on Peter Sellers,
in the title role as a pompously incompetent concert pianist) to martial tempos
and even, in ‘Arrest,’ a madcap circus-romp melody. Dramatic piano flourishes
also help portray Sellers’ Lotharian character – as in ‘Rendezvous,’ in which
the piano is by turns first romantic and then comedic as his intentions are
Contrasting wonderfully with all this is what the liner notes refer to as
a "sunset" theme -- so named because even a first hearing
puts one immediately in mind of the more expansive Western scores Bernstein
was doing around this same time. This theme, generally carried on accordion
also, underlines another aspect of the two girls’ friendship. It emerges most
importantly late in the film in the cue ‘Father’ to underline Val’s relationship
with her parent.
One intriguing cue is ‘Concerto,’ written for a scene in which a befuddled
Sellers performs in concert with an orchestra of variously uninvolved musicians.
As this piece had to be written prior to filming, when Bernstein unfortunately
wasn’t available, it’s by Kenneth Lauber and what’s included here offers only
those portions unaccompanied by dialogue. Its cleverness comes through all the
same. In like manner, two source cues of lounge-type music are just light and
infectious enough to be realistic without irritating.
Apart from an occasional echo from "The Great Escape" of
one year previous, there is little in this score that is immediately recognizable
as Bernstein —all the more remarkable considering that "Henry Orient"
came in the midst of perhaps his most prolific period of film work. It also
was the first of three films Bernstein worked on with
director George Roy Hill -- followed by "Hawaii" and "Thoroughly
Modern Millie," the latter bringing Bernstein his only Academy Award.
That two of these works are comedy scores is also interesting, coming as they
did more than a decade before he entered that typecast phase of his career.
(His least-noteworthy phase, I might add, although "Henry Orient"
belongs in a class by itself.)
For his part, Bernstein has referred to "The World of Henry Orient"
as a rock-oriented score, though the only such cue comes at the very end, where
it slyly suggests what lies ahead for the two budding teenage girls. That may
well have been enough, in 1964, to make the score unique. What stands out today,
however, are its gentleness, whimsy and good humor.
No matter what else your Bernstein collection contains, it’s not complete
without this one.