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Hitchcock’s Music

Hitchcock’s Music

jack sullivan
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Hitchcock’s Music
    Book Description:

    For half a century Alfred Hitchcock created films full of gripping and memorable music. Over his long career he presided over more musical styles than any director in history and ultimately changed how we think about film music. This book is the first to fully explore the essential role music played in the movies of Alfred Hitchcock.Based on extensive interviews with composers, writers, and actors, and research in rare archives, Jack Sullivan discusses how Hitchcock used music to influence the atmosphere, characterization, and even storylines of his films. Sullivan examines the director's important relationships with various composers, especially Bernard Herrmann, and tells the stories behind the musical decisions. Covering the whole of the director's career, from the early British works up toFamily Plot, this engaging look at the work of Alfred Hitchcock offers new insight into his achievement and genius and changes the way we watch-and listen-to his movies.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13466-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. 1 the music starts
    (pp. 1-19)

    John Williams, the last composer to work with Alfred Hitchcock, has stated that music is a key ingredient in Hitchcock’s work, indeed, “almost his signature pattern.”¹ InBlackmail,Hitchcock’s first movie with sound, that pattern is already dramatically present.² This revolutionary 1929 film, which he called a silent talkie, was among the first to blend sound and visual techniques in a personal, sustained, and sophisticated manner that became an intrinsic part of the atmosphere, psychology, and action.

    Coming only a year after Sergei Eisenstein’s hotly debated “Statement” on film sound,Blackmailexemplified many of this director’s principles. Eisenstein declared that...

  6. 2 waltzes from vienna: hitchcock’s forgotten operetta
    (pp. 20-30)

    Waltzes from Vienna,Hitchcock’s affectionate musical comedy about the Strauss family, is his rarest movie. Infrequently screened and notoriously hard to find, it would seem to be not worth looking for. Donald Spoto and other influential Hitchcockians have always panned it as worthless; François Truffaut told Hitchcock he had difficulty believing the project was his own choice.

    The film was actually chosen by the independent producer Tom Arnold, who offered a depressed Hitchcock the project after the commercial failure ofRich and Strange.Although most commentators regard Hitchcock’s association with this project as an anomalous act of desperation, it is...

  7. 3 the man who knew too much: storm clouds over royal albert hall
    (pp. 31-38)

    The Man Who Knew Too Much,Hitchcock’s first symphonic thriller, presents a daring musical conceit: a grandiose cantata cuing an assassination during a concert in which a member of the audience must decide between saving her kidnapped daughter and preventing the murder. The new cantata provides spectacular concert music—surely the most ambitious in any film prior to 1934—linked with Hitchcock’s most sustained suspense montage.

    InThe Man Who Knew Too Much,Hitchcock took a large step in his quest to make music a central player in his cinema. UnlikeWaltzes from Vienna,with its musical innovations but bad...

  8. 4 musical minimalism: british hitchcock
    (pp. 39-57)

    InMurder!, Waltzes from Vienna,andThe Man Who Knew Too Much,symphonic music became a force for romance, revelation, or murder. In his next several films, Hitchcock would show that a musical trifle—a guitar serenade, a music-hall band number, a Disney cartoon song—could, if carefully worked into the texture of the story, have equal resonance. Indeed, the most ordinary noise could take on powerful musical and dramatic properties.

    InThe 39 Steps,Hitchcock’s comedy-suspense breakthrough, the musical design is visual as well as aural. Accompanied by a jaunty band overture, the movie opens with a “MUSIC HALL”...

  9. 5 rebecca: music to raise the dead
    (pp. 58-80)

    InRebecca,Hitchcock’s Hollywood debut, music has uncanny powers. It conjures the illusion of Rebecca de Winter’s jealous ghost roaming the gigantic rooms of Manderley, watching her living love rival. It is a siren call tempting the new Mrs. de Winter to her doom as Hitchcock’s claustrophobic camera locks her and her tormentor, the spectral Mrs. Danvers, in a double close-up framed by Rebecca’s window.“You’ve nothing to live for,” whispers Danny, urging Maxim de Winter’s new wife to end her struggles with the old by leaping out the window. “Look down there, it’s easy, isn’t it? Go on, go on,...

  10. 6 waltzing into danger
    (pp. 81-95)

    Once Hitchcock landed in Hollywood, waltzes continued dancing through his movies. In a 1941 arrangement with David Selznick, he was loaned out to RKO, striking a two-movie deal. The first was a favor and tribute to his friend Carole Lombard, who had offered her house to the newly arrived Hitchcock family and who wanted him to direct her—not in a suspense picture but in a romantic screwball comedy, a film style whose name she had inspired.¹ The result,Mr. and Mrs. Smith,was Hitchcock’s first attempt at an American genre with an American cast. It has brittle content but...

  11. 7 sounds of war
    (pp. 96-105)

    In the early 1940s, Hitchcock directed a series of unusual war-propaganda films. Three of these—Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur,andLifeboat,all loan-outs from the Selznick Studio—were full-length features; two, “Bon Voyage” and “Aventure Malgache,” were shorts for the British Ministry of Information that were meant as salutes to the French Resistance. All were thrillers with a strong antifascist message. Hitchcock loathed the Nazis and was eager to demonstrate his patriotism both to his American colleagues and to his fellow Britons. In spite of being uncharacteristically didactic, these films are superb specimens of their genre, though only recently have their...

  12. 8 spellbound: theremins and phallic frescoes
    (pp. 106-123)

    Wouldn’t it be nice if psychotherapy were likeSpellbound?The leading man is so beset by neurotic guilt that he doesn’t know his own name and is worried he may be a murderer. Not to worry, says his beautiful psychiatrist (Ingrid Bergman, no less); just tell me a dream. He does, whereupon she unveils his identity, cures his illness, solves the murder, nails the villain, rescues him from jail, and goes away with him on a train.

    We aren’t meant to take any of this seriously, of course. As Michael Wood puts it, “Hitchcock is showing us the utter impossibility...

  13. 9 notorious: bright sambas, dark secrets
    (pp. 124-136)

    Notoriousis the least celebrated of the major Hitchcock scores, one few scholars or fans talk about. Deeply interior, lacking an easy-to-hum big tune, and projecting only a hint of romantic feeling, it has not enjoyed popular recordings or spin-offs.

    The neglect is unfortunate, for Roy Webb composed one of the most deftly designed scores of any Hitchcock film. It weaves a unique spell, one Hitchcock had not conjured before, and the hip, swingy source music is novel as well. After the thickness and warmth ofRebecca, Suspicion,andSpellbound,theNotoriousmusic is like a cool, stinging shower, ideal...

  14. 10 the paradine case: the unhappy finale of hitchcock and selznick
    (pp. 137-143)

    Hitchcock’s final collaboration with David Selznick was as ill-fated as its doomed heroine and her love-smitten lawyer. Everyone groused about it: Hitchcock, who resented being stuck with the interfering Selznick, for whom he had to make one more picture and whose bondage he could not wait to terminate; Selznick, who continued to find Hitchcock’s camera claustrophobic and “excessively cutty”; Gregory Peck, who pronounced it his worst moment, a judgment with which Hitchcock concurred; and Louis Jordan (in his movie debut), who was even more hopelessly miscast, Hitchcock believed, than Peck.¹ (In fact, both deliver robustly self-tortured performances, as their characters...

  15. 11 hitchcock in a different key: the post-selznick experiments
    (pp. 144-155)

    Having liberated himself from David Selznick’s demands and diatribes, Hitchcock sailed into dangerous—some would say stagnant—waters. His next three films were an indulgence in experimentation; in them he tried out everything Selznick would not have permitted, especially the manipulation of music, and many things he himself would not have countenanced, including the sabotaging of montage and suspense.

    InRope,the iciest and most fascinating of these experiments, music went the way of montage. The camera roaming through a single claustrophobic apartment in unrelieved long takes has no score to cushion its anxious movements or humanize the chilly partiers...

  16. 12 the band played on: a tiomkin trio
    (pp. 156-168)

    InStrangers on a Train,Hitchcock struggles aboard a train with a double bass, an instrument nearly as big as he is. The last film in which he had used a string instrument for a cameo wasThe Paradine Case,the first in a series of fascinating flops that had continued right up to this picture. Now he was back in form, with a tight, sensational thriller that reconnected him with his audience.

    Strangers on a Trainwas the first of three consecutive collaborations with Dimitri Tiomkin, who had not worked with Hitchcock sinceShadow of a Doubt.With eerie...

  17. 13 rear window: the redemptive power of popular music
    (pp. 169-182)

    Rear Windowis Hitchcock’s most daring experiment in popular music. Its pop-song surrealism is the forerunner ofAmerican Graffiti, Mona Lisa, After Hours,and many other films, but the way tunes and street sounds drift through the sound track, in and out of windows and the protagonist’s dreams, is unique.

    Indeed,Rear Windowfeels like such a radical experiment, unlike anything in a movie before, that we need to remind ourselves that its roots go back to British Hitchcock— toThe 39 Steps, Rich and Strange,evenBlackmail.AlthoughRear Windowseems thoroughly American, especially in its celebration of American...

  18. 14 lethal laughter: hitchcock’s fifties comedies
    (pp. 183-191)

    For Hitchcock, comedy was essential.¹ The movies he grumbled about as not being authentic Hitchcock pictures were invariably the ones he judged insufficiently comedic. Comedy permeated his tone, dialogue, and narrative structure, which was frequently Shakespearean: fromThe 39 Stepson, he loved to set up a quarrelsome romantic couple, beset them with elaborate obstacles, take them on a dangerous adventure far removed from their ordinary lives (in the case ofRear Window,a journey voyeuristic rather than geographical), and unite them in a finale full of sparkling music. Often the threats to the couple are deadly, moving the genre...

  19. 15 the man who knew too much: doris day versus the london symphony
    (pp. 192-206)

    “I’m not hearing the London Symphony!” That was Hitchcock’s complaint to James Stewart during the Royal Albert Hall sequence in the 1956 remake ofThe Man Who Knew Too Much.“You’re talking far too much.” Never one for talk, Hitchcock was particularly irritated with it here, for it was covering Arthur Benjamin’s gorgeous and grippingStorm CloudsCantata, which he had commissioned twenty-two years earlier for the assassination montage in the firstMan Who Knew Too Much, one of the most spellbinding specimens of “pure cinema.”¹

    The originalMan Who Knew Too Muchunited a cantata by one of Hitchcock’s...

  20. 16 the wrong man: music from the dark side of the moon
    (pp. 207-213)

    The Wrong Manis about a wrongly imprisoned bass player who has good reason to pluck the blues. According to Henry Fonda, who plays Manny Balestrero, the downbeat hero, this was a uniquely challenging assignment, but not for the lines he had to learn.“Memorizing the scripts is a cinch. Learning to thump a bass viol for the Warner film was something else again. . . . Hitchcock insisted I actually learn to play four numbers.” Fonda had “tootled on the trumpet” at the University of Minnesota, the extent of his musical experience. He spent six weeks studying with Allen Stanley,...

  21. 17 sing along with hitch: music for television
    (pp. 214-221)

    “Do you like Brahms?” Vincent Price asks his legal adversary in “The Perfect Crime,” an episode ofAlfred Hitchcock Presents.“Not when it’s a death march” is the answer. One death march people did like was Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” which introduced this and the 358 other teleplays in the series. Indeed, though Hitchcock is revered for his visual brilliance, he is identified most immediately in the public imagination by this jocular music, a tune that marched on for a decade throughAlfred Hitchcock PresentsandThe Alfred Hitchcock Hour.When Hitchcock appeared at the beginning and end...

  22. 18 vertigo: the music of longing and loss
    (pp. 222-234)

    Vertigoopens with triplets spiraling in contrary motion, plunging the audience into the cinema’s most beautiful nightmare. Obsession, the film’s theme, receives its definitive sound in Bernard Herrmann’s endless circlings, recirclings, and suspensions. By the time the haunted Prelude becomes the furious whirrings launching the terrifying rooftop chase, we are already hooked. For the next two hours, Scottie Ferguson’s obsession becomes ours.¹

    The gigantic terrified eye from which Saul Bass’s geometrical circles spin herald some of the cinema’s most hypnotic images. Bass might have designed an ear as well. UnlikeNotorious, Rear Window,and other films in which sound and...

  23. 19 north by northwest: fandango on the rocks
    (pp. 235-242)

    North by Northwestraces off the screen, outpacing all previous musical chases. As inForeign CorrespondentandSaboteur,the chase design is established immediately. The MGM lion roars, the lower brass growls, the timpani rumbles, and Bernard Herrmann’s steely fandango takes off. Saul Bass’s urban grids spike into Herrmann’s dance, then transform into lines of speeding cars, a modernist design that propels the audience into the movie and keeps them jumping through Hitchcock’s longest, most generous entertainment.

    Herrmann called this fandango a prelude to “the crazy dance about to take place between Cary Grant and the world.”¹ The dance and...

  24. 20 psycho: the music of terror
    (pp. 243-258)

    The most famous cue in movie history, “The Knife” inPsycho’s shower scene, has been ripping through our culture ever since Bernard Herrmann secretly created it. This is the cinema’s primal scream, deeply imbedded in our moviegoing subconscious. Anyone who teaches film knows that it is the one piece of movie music all students, even the most clueless, instantly recognize. (John Williams’sJawsmight be a second, which Hitchcock shrewdly divined when he hired Williams as his final composer just after the release of Spielberg’s film.)Psycho’s strings scream through everything from the disco version inRe-Animatorto kitschy parodies...

  25. 21 the birds: aviary apocalypse
    (pp. 259-272)

    InThe Birds,Hitchcock achieved his most revolutionary sound track. The great paradox of the film is that it ostensibly has no music yet delivers one of the most daring “scores” in the Hitchcock canon. The murderous birds have their own music and don’t need anyone else’s, not even Bernard Herrmann’s. In the most insidious sense, this is the music of nature, a natural world gone awry, not the benevolent force of Wordsworth and Whitman but the chaos of Poe—the raven, the black cat, the maelstrom.

    It is also the nature of Daphne du Maurier, whose gripping and poetic...

  26. 22 the music ends: hitchcock fires herrmann
    (pp. 273-289)

    The swift and permanent rupture between Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock over the score forTorn Curtainwas a tragedy for both artists. A decade of collaboration had established Hitchcock-Herrmann as the greatest director-composer team in cinematic history. Neither artist entirely recovered, though claims of their mutual collapse are exaggerated. Herrmann went on to write powerful music for Truffaut, De Palma, and Scorsese; Hitchcock got imaginative scores from Maurice Jarre, Ron Goodwin, and John Williams. Yet the shadow of Hitchcock-Herrmann lingered over the last works of both artists:Obsessionis an extended meditation on the music forVertigo, The Bride...

  27. 23 topaz: the music is back
    (pp. 290-297)

    Conventional wisdom has it that after Hitchcock lost Herrmann, everything went downhill. Claude Chabrol went so far as to assert that after the firing, Hitchcock’s music “was only good when it imitated Herrmann.”¹Torn Curtain’s score is indeed undistinguished, but what Hitchcock got from Maurice Jarre, Ron Goodwin, and John Williams was topflight. Indeed, as Hitchcock lost some of his touch with actors, scripts, and audiences, he retained his mastery of the sound track.

    Certainly this was the case withTopaz,an elegant, fascinating, though curiously inexpressive Cold War thriller about defectors and double agents set against the Cuban Missile...

  28. 24 frenzy: out with mancini, hold the bach
    (pp. 298-307)

    LikeStrangers on a Train, Frenzymarked Hitchcock’s return to form after a debilitating series of failures. It was his final comeback, and also his last journey back to England. Clearly, England had changed, and so had he. He always distrusted nostalgia, but the vision communicated inFrenzyis strikingly coarse and cynical, a world of predatory cruelty relieved only by the charm of Alec McCowen, Hitchcock’s most winning detective since John Williams inDial M for Murder.The dark tone is set in the score, which was created with the help of some of Hitchcock’s most detailed, insistent, and...

  29. 25 family plot: hitchcock’s exuberant finale
    (pp. 308-317)

    In a delicious irony, Hitchcock chose for his final composer John Williams, a close friend of Bernard Herrmann and soon to be the bearer of the oldfashioned legacy Hitchcock and his bosses repudiated when they terminated Herrmann’s contract. When Herrmann died, on Christmas Eve, 1975, having completedTaxi Driverthat day for Martin Scorsese, many thought the age of symphonic movie music had perished with him—until Williams burst on the scene.Jaws,which came out asFamily Plotwas in its early stages, was an enormously popular score widely credited with helping that film attain the largest box office...

  30. finale: hitchcock as maestro
    (pp. 318-322)

    Hitchcock once said that the ideal death would be to drop dead on a set in the middle of making a movie.¹ He almost got his wish. In late 1977 he was working onThe Short Night,an espionage-love story he had been contemplating since 1969. Bad weather and arthritis kept him from visiting the proposed location, Finland, but he was busy fussing over details. He had considered several composers from theTopazera, including Michel Legrand, Burt Bacharach, and “Shoster Kovich.” (Hitchcock phoned Harry Garfield to make inquiries about the latter and joke about the spelling.) He also discussed Leroy...

  31. NOTES
    (pp. 323-336)
  32. INDEX
    (pp. 337-354)