December 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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The Wrong Man  
Music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann
Album Produced by Lukas Kendall
  Available on Film Score Monthly (FSM Volume. 9 No. 7)
Running Time: 41:30

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 purchasing.

Amer Zahid

Rating: 3.5

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