Musical Moods From The Godfather

It’s pretty much a given that most men are fascinated by the Godfather movies. (Or at least the first two — it’s also a given that Godfather III didn’t quite make the grade.) I guess it’s like they say – it’s a guy thing – but most of us have seen the films countless times and can quote most of the memorable lines. This never fails to surprise our significant others, who are convinced that our memories are…selective.

I’m not going to list those immortal quotes from the movies, because those of you who know them are already well acquainted with them, and those who don’t know them, don’t care. (See paragraph one.) But sometimes those lines lead to another memorable aspect of the movies — the music.

The main themes from the movies are very familiar melodies, but the skill of the film-makers extended much further. Some of the scenes were greatly enhanced by the choice of music, even if – as with most background music – we might not have realized it at the time.

One scene that always seemed to me to be well served by the music was early in the first movie, after Johnny Fontane asks for the Don’s help with a producer who wouldn’t give him a movie part. The Don tells Johnny that he’ll take care of the producer. “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” (A line that’s number two on the AFI list of memorable lines, trailing only “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.)

The Don sends Tom Hagen to Hollywood to deal with the producer, and we see his plane landing in post-war California — sunny, booming, full of life, and accompanied by a tune that seems to perfectly suit the mood. Eventually the problem with the producer is solved by the famous horse’s head scene. (A bit of trivia — it’s been said that a real head was used. It was obtained from a pet food factory.)

I watched the movie and enjoyed that scene a number of times before I finally decided to do some investigation about the tune being played. It was familiar, but I just couldn’t place it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the song I thought perfectly fit the image of balmy California was actually — Tommy Dorsey’s “Manhattan Serenade”.

Huh? Manhattan? Sheesh…well, maybe the film-makers thought the song would evoke a feeling of New York meets California. Or maybe they just thought the lush, big band style of the song worked well in that spot. Whatever the case, it certainly did the job for me.

Tommy Dorsey and orchestra with Jo Stafford* – “Manhattan Serenade”

* ( In the movie, the song fades out before Jo Stafford’s vocal appears.)

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