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Book Review:

Hitchcock's Music
by Jack Sullivan

New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.
354 pages + Acknowledgments & Overture (xi-xix).

This most welcome survey includes discussion of all the Hitchcock films from his first, BLACKMAIL, in 1929 to his last film, FAMILY PLOT, in 1976. Hitchcock used some of the best film composers during those years, including: Franz Waxman (REBECCA, SUSPICION, THE PARADINE CASE, REAR WINDOW), Alfred Newman (FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT), Dimitri Tiomkin (SHADOW OF A DOUBT, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, I CONFESS, DIAL M FOR MURDER), Bernard Herrmann (THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, THE WRONG MAN, VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, MARNIE), and John Williams (FAMILY PLOT).

 

There are also lesser known but fine composers, such as Roy Webb (NOTORIOUS) and Lyn Murray (TO CATCH A THIEF).

Each of the Hitchcock films gets a separate chapter or a few pages in a chapter. The ones devoted to the films listed above are especially interesting to read. Just to call attention to a few of them...

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is the one about Miklos Rozsa and his difficulties with Hitchcock and David O. Selznick on SPELLBOUND (Chapter 8). After reading this chapter, one can feel sympathy for Rozsa's problems but also gratitude for his memorable music in this Oscar-winning score.

Also worth special mention are the best known Hitchcock and Herrmann matchups -- what might be termed "the thriller trio": VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and PSYCHO (Chapters 18-20). Sullivan gives plenty of information about these three classics. He writes this at the end of the chapter on PSYCHO, quoting the film's screenwriter, Joseph Stefano:

"After his rapture with Hitchcock, Herrmann maintained that the director resented his contribution precisely because of its importance. Stefano remembers it differently: 'Hitchcock was so proud of the music.' His open praise for the score was highly unusual, for he was not given to compliments: . 'As far as Hitchcock was concerned, if he decided to use you, that was compliment enough.'"

Sullivan's grasp of the musical and social elements between Hitchcock, who was musically minded, and his composers are well documented in this book. Sullivan writes with a no-nonsense yet elegant style, and steers clear of gossiping or trashing any of the people involved. Sullivan's comments are based on facts not rumors.

This is a wonderful read for anyone who wants to learn the relationship between one of the best known film directors and the composers who worked for him and often made his films even more enjoyable to watch.

Highly recommended.

 

-- Roger Hall, May 2007

 

See also

Film Focus No. 5: Bernard Herrmann and VERTIGO

Film Focus No. 8: Bernard Herrmann and the 50th anniversary of PSYCHO


 

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