Songs from the 1950s usually leave my elderly audiences cold. But everyone makes an exception for “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” from the 1956 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much.
A popular song in a suspense film? Here’s how that happened, according to Susan Sackett in her book about Academy Award–nominated songs, Hollywood Sings!:
Alfred Hitchcock was adamant. He didn’t want a song in his new picture. Never had one before, didn’t need or want one now. But Paramount Pictures insisted that this was a Doris Day film, and people would expect Doris Day to sing. And that was that.
So Hitchcock called in the songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who had already won two Best Song Oscars: for “Buttons and Bows” in 1948 and for “Mona Lisa” in 1950.
Hitchcock explained the movie’s plot to the men: Jimmy Stewart plays an American diplomat working in Europe, traveling with his wife (Day, as a former Broadway singing star) and their young son. The boy is kidnapped and held prisoner in a foreign embassy.
Livingston and Evans offered Hitchcock “Que Sera, Sera,” which they’d actually written earlier, but they didn’t tell the director that. Hitchcock liked the song immediately and gave it a starring role in his film. Day sings “Que Sera, Sera” to her little boy in an early scene before he is taken away. She later uses the lilting tune, almost a lullaby, to attract his attention when she visits the embassy and saves him.
Doris Day considered “Que Sera, Sera” a children’s song and didn’t want to record it, but Paramount insisted. It became a hit—and Day’s signature song—whether she liked it or not.
When it was time for the year’s Academy Award nominations, Livingston and Evans called the song “Whatever Will Be, Will Be,” to comply with the rules requiring songs to have English titles. It won for Best Song of 1956.
The next year, they wrote “Tammy,” for the film Tammy and the Bachelor. The movie’s star, Debbie Reynolds, made a hit recording and the song was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s “All the Way.”
In 1958, Hitchcock tried again to wring a pop song from a thriller. Livingston and Evans wrote “Vertigo” for the film of the same title. The song was an afterthought, as explained on the website A Lost Film (alostfilm.com):
[“Vertigo”] was written in an effort to explain the word to the audience, as it was a concern during post production that movie-goers just wouldn’t understand what vertigo is (the trailer also opened with a dictionary and a lecture on the meaning of “vertigo”). Apparently, the concern was not in vain since singer Billy Eckstine, when asked what it meant before the recording, replied that he figured it was an island in the West Indies.
Listen and you’ll see why the song didn’t make it into the movie. Not very scary, not very catchy.
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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