October 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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DVD Review

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much starring James Stewart and Doris Day. Music by Bernard Herrmann UNIVERSAL Home Video DVD 902 568 [2 hrs approx.] AmazonUK AmazonUS


This is of course the Hitchcock film in which we actually see Bernard Herrmann, on-screen, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Arthur Benjamin’s Storm Clouds Cantata, the climax of which is the cymbal crash intended to drown out the noise of an assassination attempt in London’s Royal Albert Hall. The accompanying documentary, The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much, pays tribute to Bernard’s insistence that the Benjamin work be retained from Hitchcock’s original British black and white version of The Man Who Made Too Much, made in 1934, when Herrmann could have easily opted to compose a work of his own. The same documentary includes one or two musical cues with on-screen action that illustrate Herrmann’s skill in heightening tension and creating atmosphere; and also anticipate later scores particularly for Vertigo and Psycho.

The thriller itself has dated well. Hitchcock tightens the tension in masterly fashion and the location photography in Marrakesh and London is excellent. We learn how obsessive Hitchcock was about the authenticity of his locations and how he would meticulously plan each scene imagining all possible photographic angles. Hitchcock was right to have insisted on the casting of Doris Day who turns in an excellent performance as the distraught mother whose little son is kidnapped by spies plotting the assassination. Film fans will recall that the song she sang in the film (so well woven into the plot) ‘Que Sera Sera’, won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1956. James Stewart is equally convincing as the ordinary guy reluctantly caught up in international espionage.

Ian Lace.


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