Published April 18, 2014
Much of the appeal of the movie “Moonstruck” for me is the music. I first saw the film, which was released in 1987, in the early 1990s and bought the soundtrack not long after, drawn to it for the mandolin music. I recently watched the movie again and got caught up in its look at Italian-Americans in New York City.
The producers patterned the movie’s structure after an opera and opened the first version with selections from Puccini’s “La Boheme,” but seeing lack of audience response during a test filming they reworked the opening, moving the opera scenes further into the show and placing Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” over the opening credits. The song’s tongue-in-cheek view of Italian-Americans set the tone and relaxed the audience.
Longtime jazz musician Dick Hyman arranged and composed most of the film’s music, his arrangements reminiscent of early 1960s jazz-influenced music that dominated much of popular radio before rock music took over. Vikki Carr’s 1967 hit “It Must Be Him” figures strongly in the film and contributes to its ambience, and New York City’s Little Italy further lends the film a feel of decades past.
Hyman’s career got started in the early 1950s, and he has served as pianist, organist, arranger, music director and composer, says his website, www.dickhyman.com. “His versatility in all of these areas has resulted in film scores, orchestral compositions, concert appearances and well over 100 albums recorded under his own name. While developing a masterful facility for improvisation in his own piano style, Mr. Hyman has also investigated ragtime and the earliest periods of jazz and has researched and recorded the piano music of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Zez Confrey, Eubie Blake and Fats Waller, which he often features in his frequent recitals.” He continues to perform in the United States, Canada and Europe, and his website lists a busy season of tour dates this year.
I remember Vikki Carr from my youth. My father played a concert album regularly, and I got to know “It Must Be Him” quite well despite being too young to comprehend its intensity, so hearing that song in “Moonstruck” took me back to my childhood in the 1960s. In the movie, Cher’s father, who is having an affair, plays that song quite a bit. Carr is also still touring; her site is vikkicarr.com.
The producers, in the DVD features made in 2006, said the main players functioned as the singers in an opera: soprano, alto, etc., with the grandpa serving as the Greek chorus: During one tense scene when the family was sitting around the kitchen table, he said, “Somebody tell a joke.” Each character had his or her musical theme, some written in the style of Italian folk music. Cher’s is “Canzone per Loretta,” played on mandolin and accordion and “Old Man Mazurka” for Grandpa, to name two. And the moon, naturally, figures prominently in the show, sitting low and full over the buildings of Manhattan, including the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
(Digression: Have you ever noticed that the moon is always full in movies? Movie producers love full moons, but they should study some basic astronomy and learn about phases. Yes, the full moon looks good on film, but a sliver of a crescent moon in the western sky near sunset looks just as enchanting.)
Only one piece of music in the movie sounds like it was written in 1987, and it reminds me of music from the TV show “Moonlighting” or the movie “Night Shift,” both 1980s productions. Much as la musica supports the show, it is a supporting player, although a strong one. And although “Moonstruck” includes marital infidelity, infidelity to a fiancé and lots of bickering, its central theme is the importance of family — la famiglia ... l’amore.
“When the moon hits your eye, Like a big pizza pie, that’s amore; When the world seems to shine, Like you’ve had too much wine, that’s amore ...”