The Cinema Cafe

Serving Cinema's Tastiest Treasures

Top Ten: Motion Picture Music Treasures Part 1 The Best Years of Our Lives

Ever since silent pictures were shown with live organ accompaniment, music has been an important asset in enhancing the dramatic development of a cinematic story.

A truly magnificent motion picture score not only enriches the viewing experience, it becomes inextricable: completely genuine and deeply immersed in its subject matter. The composers of these scores have demonstrated an uncanny gift of knowing how to perfectly capture the emotional heart of the story, influence the narrative's pace, and enter and exit with amazing precision. They boldly tell us through their considerable skill, what the visuals alone cannot begin to describe but nevertheless take nothing away from them.

Choosing only 10 of these is a daunting task since there are easily 100 or more that could be listed with full honours. I'm hoping therefore that readers will appreciate and focus on the choices made instead of the many, just as worthy scores, left out. I have chosen 1 film per composer so that a few more supremely talented artists can be represented and will try and choose the motion picture that most benefits from the composer's contribution.

Many of us enjoy listening to film scores on their own. Compared to classical music, the experience is quite unique with shorter, more condensed cues that can radically change in tone sans transitional material or a noticeable resolution. There is, however, an emotional richness, excitement and passion in this comparatively new musical art form. Film music's admirers recognise but still appreciate the difference in structure. After all, the music we are listening to is intended as part of a creative whole and not, at least initially, meant for stand-alone listening. It is for this collaborative contribution that the selections have been made and assessed as reaching the pinnacle of artistic achievement.

(They are listed in alphabetical order)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Composer: Hugo Friedhofer

The film begins with a stately and gorgeous main theme over the credits and continues to Coplandesque Americana describing 3 servicemen's return to civilian life. This score perfectly conveys the sad and heartfelt emotion when the disabled war veteran is unable to adjust to what he wrongly perceives will be his girlfriend's rejection. The composer describes another vet's jazzy reunion with his trophy wife, haunts us with a powerful description of his war nightmares and beautifully fulfills his final discovery of a love pure and undeterred, just as the other two returning vets have found, by reprising the original, superlative beginning theme. Hugo Friedhofer's Academy Award-winning composition is this film's most remarkable and essential artistic contribution.

It's that good.



The Best Years of Our Lives is available on Blu-ray here:

The Best Years of Our Lives [Blu-ray]
Starring Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo

It is also available on DVD here:

The Best Years of Our Lives
Starring Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy

Its soundtrack can currently be purchased from Screen Archives Entertainment here:


Next time: Cleopatra (1963)

Composer: Alex North