Music Webmaster Len Mullenger




EDITOR’S CHOICE – September 1999


In celebration of the centenary of the birth (August 13th) of Alfred Hitchcock –

Collection: Alfred Hitchcock Presents…Signatures in Suspense   HIP-O HIPD-64661 [62:36]




This is a superb production. I cannot think of a more elegant and fitting tribute to the master of suspense. One is immediately impressed with the quality feel of this album. The design is an elegant gate-fold sleeve with the booklet housed neatly under a flap that has a picture of ‘Hitch’ photographed with a row of cans of films of all 49 of his thrillers up to Marnie. (Inside the booklet there is another witty picture of ‘Hitch’ hitching himself up to place a can of his 50th film, Torn Curtain on the pile that towers above him.) The booklet and elaborate sleeve are printed beautifully in black and white with very tasteful typography and excellent pictures. Another of these shows Hitch walking down flights of stairs with an assistant dutifully carrying his studio chair behind him.

But it is, of course, the music that is important and here we have some fascinating material that has never been released before and, even more important, the music of the majority of the tracks is conducted by the composers themselves.

The album opens with the theme that introduced the long-running TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents; Gounod’s ‘Funeral March of a Marionette,’ chosen by Hitch himself. Its mordant strains were a perfect match for his rotund personality and dry wit.

Dimitri Tiomkin conducts two themes. From Dial M for Murder, there is the love music for the scenes between Grace Kelly and Robert Cummins, which, at its centre, grows tawdry for this is the illicit affair that sparks off Ray Milland’s cunning murder plot. Cleverly, Tiomkin weaves the telephone’s dialling and ringing into his score. In contrast, constancy speaks in the love music for I Confess. It recalls the past love between the priest (Montgomery Clift) and Ruth (Anne Baxter). The quality of the sound on these two tracks is so-so.

Franz Waxman is represented by the edgy energy of ‘Jukebox # 6’, from Rear Window; an overt jazz piece with the composer conducting the Paramount Studio orchestra. This exuberant little piece has never been available before.

But it is, of course, Bernard Herrmann, whom we principally associate with Hitchcock. In this collection, we hear Herrmann himself conducting the Paramount Studio Orchestra in the ‘Scene d’Amour’ from Vertigo. The composer' reading is definitive: you feel Scotty’s pent-up sexual desire boiling over and the music fairly bristles with forebodings of imminent disillusion and tragedy. From North by Northwest, Herrmann conducts the MGM Studio Orchestra in the opening Fandango, but as it is used to underscore the scene where Cary Grant, forcibly intoxicated, careers out-of-control, driving down a country road. Also included are brilliant refurbishments of the old Decca Phase 4 (London) recordings Herrmann made, with the London orchestras, of Psycho (A narrative for Orchestra) and his deliciously wickedly funny ‘A Portrait of Hitch’ (from The Trouble With Harry). Psycho comes up especially well with all those shrieking murder-scenes chords very well defined. Previously unreleased is Herrmann’s Prelude from Marnie with the composer conducting the Universal Studio Orchestra. This prelude includes some poignant material that poignantly suggests the vulnerability of the beautiful Marnie.

From Bernard Herrmann’s more popular music-based score appropriate to The Wrong Man, in which musician Henry Fonda is wrongly accused of murder, we hear Elmer Bernstein conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the film’s Prelude. But the most interesting of all the Herrmann tracks must surely be another previously unreleased set of three excerpts from his rejected music for Torn Curtain. These are: ‘Prelude’, ‘The Ship’ and ‘The Radiogram’. In Herrmann’s hands his 16 horns and 12 flutes vividly evoke the harsh, steely, unrelentingly repressive Soviet-block regime. The Prelude is certainly far more arresting than John Addison’s relatively colourless, jazz-based, commercial score for which Hitchcock settled. Addison’s ‘Main Title’ for Torn Curtain is placed, for obvious comparison, immediately before the Herrmann material in this collection!

Henry Mancini also felt Hitchcock’s ire. He was released from scoring Frenzy. Stalwart Ron Goodwin (often underrated) stepped in and wrote a fine score that included the stately ‘London Theme’ that played under Frenzy’s opening titles. It is played by the City of Prague Philharmonic; so, too, is the Maurice Jarre’s jarring (forgive the pun) and very untypical Hitchcockian March from Topaz. These two tracks have been borrowed from Silva Screen collections.

Finally we have music from John Williams who scored Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, the black comedy, Family Plot. The ‘End Titles’ echoes the bizarre elements of this movie including Barbara Harris’s kooky psychic and the baroque influence of Cathleen Nesbitt’s millionairess as characterised by the harpsichord.

It seems a pity that, after all that praise, I need to carp but the design of the booklet makes the sequencing of the (non-numbered and non-timed) tracks ambiguous. That is to say if you follow the programme through by the sequence of the track by track analyses. Unless you know the music, you need to check with the order of programme, printed on the rear of the sleeve to ensure you know which selection you are hearing. A Silly and irritating oversight; otherwise an outstanding release.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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