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The wartime consumers and big band listeners had had their day—these were the postwar babies coming of age, and they wanted to hear their kind of music. We can imagine the fear struck in the hearts of Universal’s music department at a time like this. Mancini was the youngest guy there, and they were looking to him now as the conduit that might connect the orchestral traditions they had taught him, the band music from which he had come, and this new breed of garage pop. James Dean had just been martyred on the California highways to the “cause” of restlessness and recklessness.
Nor was the idea of a raucous music score ever really on the table. But Mancini could work with that. This was a chance to write original songs and to gain screen credit for them. Mancini’s main love song, original to this film, was called “What’s It Gonna Be,” with lyrics by Bill Carey, a gently reassuring and conservative tune preserving an atmosphere of safety around these movie kids. Only in its transitional phrase setting up the end, as Mancini passes from F through A ♭7 and D ♭ to a suspended C7 chord, is there a sense of something modern.
Man Afraid’s second music cue (low, searching strings) comes as the two fathers meet at the police station, one reaching out, the other turning away. Its third cue is a variation of the opening horn motif in the main title and is heard as Simmons sees a photograph of young Michael in a TV story about the burglary and comes up with his revenge idea. These are Mancini’s intelligent and somewhat individualistic reactions to the Universal suspense formula, a cut above B-movie scoring per se, yet still part of the tradition.