Johnny Mandel scored the 1965 film The Sandpiper which starred much publicized lovers, real life husband and wife Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The entire soundtrack consisted of variations on the song “The Shadow of Your Smile,” also known as “Love Theme from The Sandpiper.” Mandel won a Grammy for Best Score for a Motion Picture, and along with lyricist Paul Francis Webster took home the Oscar for Best Original Song and the Golden Laurel for Best Song.
In the film the song is heard as an instrumental and sung by a chorus during the closing credits. It became one of the most recorded film songs of the decade especially since it lent itself so naturally to the beat of the Brazilian bossa nova, the craze of the sixties.
The movie, set in the Big Sur area of California, centers on a free-spirited, unwed mother (Taylor), her troubled young son, and the Episcopalian priest (Burton) who serves as a kind of counselor to the two. Originally disapproving of the young woman, the priest is eventually seduced by her. The film was mainly a vehicle for Taylor and Burton, but the romantic song has lived on.
Webster’s straightforward lyric is a basic expression of love:
The shadow of your smile
When you have gone
Will color all my dreams
And light the dawn
Max Wilk in They’re Playing Our Song recounts an amusing story by Johnny Mercer. “‘Couple of years ago they asked me to do the song for a picture called The Sandpiper. I worked up a lyric and brought it in, and the producer turned it down. He went and got another one--‘The Shadow of Your Smile.’ Huge hit. That can be pretty depressing.’”
Although the song never charted, Tony Bennett recorded a popular version, and Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto contributed to its popularity, using it as the title cut of an album. Mandel arranged “The Shadow of Your Smile” for Rosemary Clooney to sing at her Carnegie Hall concert honoring arrangers.
Most of the great jazz musicians recorded the tune in the sixties, including Bill Evans, Sarah Vaughan, Toots Thielemans, MJQ, Wes Montgomery, and Gerry Mulligan. Although the song’s popularity waned in later decades, it was recorded in the ‘90s by the Latin band of Tito Puente, Singers Unlimited, several guitarists, and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. Since 2000 it has been recorded by guitarists John Pizzarelli and Bireli Lagrene, pianist Roger Kellaway, and vocalist Blossom Dearie.