Pop Culture

RIP Marvin Hamlisch: Five Underrated Film Scores

On Monday afternoon the music, theater and film worlds lost a legend with the passing of composer and pianist Marvin Hamlisch, who died at the age of 68 after a brief illness. The New York City-born musician was best known for his work on the enduring work on the Broadway hit A Chorus Line, and he also won three Oscars for his music for the films The Sting and The Way We Were.

It is Hamlisch's film scores and the extracted singles from them that most casual fans will know him for, beyond his classical and theater work, though most people know the whole set of Chorus Line material front to back and don't even realize it. That "singular sensation" song? Hamlisch.

Hamlisch's most lasting pop culture will more than likely be his take on "The Entertainer," which was written in 1902 by Texas's own ragtime star Scott Joplin, and used in 1973's The Sting. The song itself has sadly been credited to Hamlisch a lot, but it came from a Texas man.

Hamlisch's filmography, beginning in 1968 with Frank Perry's The Swimmer and closing in 2009 with the Steven Soderbergh-directed Matt Damon political farce The Informant!, and he received his last Golden Globe nomination for that Informant! work.

This past Sunday afternoon, I accidentally watched about an hour of 1991's Frankie and Johnny, which Hamlisch also wrote the score for. The man died the next day.

His film work was mostly saccharine at times. Okay, that may be an understatement. I mean, he did write Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" and Carly Simon's James Bond theme "Nobody Does It Better," two songs you are most likely to find on your grandmother's iPod.


Fun schlock-rock trivia: Hamlisch also composed Lesley Gore's sugary confection "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows" in 1963.

Here are five of Hamlisch's most underrated film scores. Yeah, The Sting is all you will hear about for the next 12 hours, but what about....

Take The Money And Run (1969)

Underrated, understated, and outright hilarious this score is a perfect counterweight to one of Woody Allen's best comedies. I mean, he's a bankrobber.

The Informant! (2009)

The movie didn't do so hot, so only Hamlisch fetishists noticed the soundtrack. Oddly enough, it shows off the colors in his career palette.

Bananas (1971)

The drums on this score is really where it's at. I think I could listen to hours and hours of Hamlisch's piano battling a drum set.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

There are modern indie-rock bands who would kill to make something as catchy and lush as "Bond 77" on their album or even the swinging tribalism of "Mojave Club." His The Spy Who Loved Me score was one of the more adventurous Bond scores, one part disco, one part classic Bond.

Seems Like Old Times (1980)

If Bond wasn't enough disco enough for you, check out the score this Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase comedy, which I think no one under the age of 25 has ever seen. Chevy Chase devotees like myself are a rare (weird) breed.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty