Before auteur director Alfred Hitchcock and composer Bernard
Herrmann collaborated on such legendary projects as Psycho, North By
Northwest, Vertigo and Marnie- the duo had already forged a lasting
relationship on earlier film projects such as The Trouble With Harry and
The Man Who Knew Too Much.
The Wrong Man (1956) would mark their 3rd
collaboration that would also be their most unique experiment in neo-realism. A
black and white film, it forwent many of the traditional Hitchcockian devices
of suspense. Yet, in many ways this film would precede and foreshadow their
future projects such as North By Northwest and Psycho. The
Wrong Man and North By Northwest would feature the same classic
Hitchcockian theme of mistaken identity and likewise the main title music cue
would be in the same vein. The film is based on the premise of a mistaken
identity, here loosely based on a real life incident where a bass player at a New York jazz club was implicated in a theft scandal. Here the character of Manny, an
everyday man well essayed by veteran Peter Fonda, tries to embattle this crisis
and its effect on his family life.
Herrmann's involvement in the project began when Hitchcock
requested Warner Bros to have Herrmann score his film (before even the script
was finalised). Here, Herrmann's work is largely an exercise in minimalism and
brooding textures, an important facet of Herrmann’s subsequent music for film.
As the impressive liner notes indicate, this is the first score where Herrmann
would indulge in several melodic ideas alternating with harmonic progressions.
Considering the film’s stark style and simplicity, the minimalist approach to
scoring compliments the story's psychological narrative.
One of the highlights is the ‘Prelude’, a rare instance in
Herrmann's forays in titular cues where he eschews the traditional sense by
opening a popular dance tune which also acts as a fade in as on screen source
music played by Manny's New York Club ensemble. The music also compliments the
time-dissolve activity of the club. Interestingly this is the only cue that has
been made previously available on various re-recordings.
Apart from the Latino dance cues such as ‘Prelude’ and
‘Stork Club’, the score abandons the bright style for intense scoring. For the
most part, it has an almost baroque sound to it, with a small ensemble of
woodwinds, clarinets and brass, woodwinds, percussion, keyboards and a single
string bass (a reference to Manny's profession as the bassist in a New York nightclub). Muted trumpets add sting to the early scenes of arrest and
confinement, while brisk harmonies and rhythms emerge in ‘Police Van’. There is
also some melodic material for the main character’s family in ‘The Hallway’ and
‘Bob’ and ‘The Telephone’ that have elements of The Ghost And Mrs Muir. That
film also haunts the ‘Finale’, with its heart-wrenchingly beautiful oboe solo.
In retrospect this may not be any easy listen, but for hard
core Herrmann aficionados this will definitely do the trick. The liner notes by
Christopher Husted are extremely detailed and knowledgeable adding in depth
info on the production issues as well. As is traditional, FSM's packaging is
eye catching and in sync with their previous Herrmann effort (On dangerous
Ground). Sound quality (mono) is clear and enjoyable. There are a few bonus
cue such as opening 'Hitchcock' teaser as well as Alternates and Trailer Music.
FSM’s latest release easily belongs in any Herrmann
collection, but those who’ve never warmed to the composer might want to
scrutinize the sound clips available at Screen Archives Entertainment before