Two men, each with their own intense artistic obsession. Together they formed one of the most rewarding artistic collaborations ever created in cinema.
They worked together on eight films, until a rift on Torn Curtain brought their partnership to a tragic ending.
One of the most fascinating themes found in Hitch&Alma is the remarkable relationship between these two highly diverse yet remarkably similar short men. The book shows the great loyalty and respect that existed between these two masters of their respective art forms. It also paints the tragic break up of their collaboration as one of the great tragedies to mark Hitchcock's later career.
Herrmann had an artistic stature that put him on almost an equal footing with Hitch, compared to his other excellent film collaborators. A musical prodigy with a Jewish Brooklyn upbringing, Herrmann was part of Aaron Copeland's circle, when he was bought over to Hollywood by his good friend Orson Welles to compose the great score for Citizen Kane.
As Herrmann's stature as a Film Composer grew with such titles as The Devil and Daniel Webster, and On Dangerous Ground, Hitchcock became interested in using Herrmann's music on one of his films, but scheduling difficulties delayed their first venture until 1956, with The Trouble With Harry.
Herrmann's sensibility married with Hitchcock's perfectly, even in defining the whimsical ironic British humor of this very personal classic. Herrmann even created a musical "Portrait of Hitch" as part of this film's enchanting score.
Hitchcock was so pleased with Herrmann, that he seemingly shaped his next project around the composer, by remaking his 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much. This new film had as its centerpiece an assassination attempt during a concert of "Storm Cloud Cantata," especially written for the original version by the noted composer Arthur Benjamin. Hitchcock practically gave up his own personal appearance to Herrmann, who was very prominently filmed conducting Benjamin's original Cantata in Royal Albert Hall.
This ritual of exalted display and subtle humiliation (Hitch could have easily have asked Herrmann to write his own Cantata, rather than reprising the original) seems to echo the same pattern of initiation Hitchcock subjected his leading ladies to(placing them initially in subservient roles, before giving them more assertive parts.)
Their next collaboration was on the black and white film, The Wrong Man. Herrmann would later explain that in Psycho, he composed a score for an orchestra of all strings, so that the music would have the same limited palette. In The Wrong Man, Herrmann's score is all wind instruments and the bass fiddle, the same instrument played by the accused Manny Balestrero.
Perhaps Herrmann's greatest score of all was with the next film, Vertigo. Is it even possible to imagine this great movie without the music? All of Herrmann's music has a spiraling figure eight infinity pattern. The haunting beauty of this score leaves no doubt that Herrmann had an artistic vision on par with Hitchcock's own.
This great tragic score was created under the most trying of circumstances. Because of a Los Angeles Musician's strike, Herrmann was unable to conduct his own score, and arranged for Muir Matheson to conduct it with the London Philharmonic, as he completed and wrote revisions up until the last minute. Then the London Orchestra went on strike in sympathy with the Los Angeles musicians, and the rest of the nearly completed score had to be frantically finished in Zurich.
As profound as Vertigo's score was, the next film, North by Northwest, had all the spectacular bombast and brilliance of a symphony by Kachaturian. And then, there was Psycho. An orchestra of seventy strings creating one of the most disturbing scores ever, relentless, full of pathos, heart breaking at times, then full of horror.
The string music of Psycho has a very bird-like quality, in keeping with the stuffed birds Norman kept in the parlor and the wordplay of Marion Crane's name. In his detailed production notes, Hitchcock had initially made it clear to Herrmann that the shower scene was not to have a score. Herrmann disobeyed the memo, and wrote one anyway, which Hitch allowed in. One could almost say that in this instance, the score to the shower scene almost upstaged the stunning cinematic montage Hitchcock created.
Perhaps these are reasons why Hitchcock, high on the huge success of Psycho, chose to make The Birdswithout a music score whatsoever. Hitchcock had always scripted each Foley sound in his movies as an important structural component. For The Birds, he had one of the first sound synthesizers created by Remi Gassman and Oscar Sala, to montage unnaturalistic fluttering of wings and bird calls into a surrealistic symphony that mirrored the unreal nature of the film itself. Herrmann is credited as a sound consultant on this film. One can imagine him composing a score for flapping wings and raven caws was as strange and restrictive an experience as conducting an orchestra with a baton tied behind his back.
Perhaps this was the reason for the romantic lushness of the score he created for Marnie, a film that has always struck this writer as Hitchcock's way of creating his own Gone With the Wind. There are many parallels to the two movies, the headstrong woman in a marriage of convenience with a man she doesn't love, the fall of a horse jumping a hurdle, and a music score evocative of Max Steiner.
Universal hated Herrmann's score, and tried to convince Hitch to go with another composer for Torn Curtain. Hitch stood his ground and defended his friend, promising the executives Herrmann would deliver an outstanding modern score, and a pop tune.
Their break up during Torn Curtain was a tragedy, precipitated in part by Herrmann writing a music score to the torturous murder of Gromik in the East German farmhouse. Hitchcock specifically wrote instructions to Herrmann that he wanted this scene without a score, the same direction he had given Herrmann in regards to the shower scene in Psycho. Of course, in that instance, Hitch relented when he heard the shower score, allowed it in.
But when Hitch arrived at the Torn Curtain recording session, he saw the unusual orchestra arranged with sixteen French horns, twelve flutes and no violins, and learned that Herrmann had again disobeyed him by writing the Gromik murder score. He cancelled the scoring session and hired another composer, John Addison.
Is it possible Hitchcock did not want another of his great cinematic murder scenes to be again upstaged by an equally great Herrmann score? Perhaps he was simply asserting his directorial authority, and lost one of his best collaborators because of his pride.
The great strength and uniqueness of both of these artists, as well as their obvious affinity, can readily be seen by the similarity of their work done apart from each other. Certainly, Hitchcock's cinema evoked great scores from Franz Waxman and Dimitri Tiomkin. So to that extent, there was a history of Hitchcock music before they began their collaboration. But Herrmann's distinctive music demonstrates an identity beyond Hitchcock. This is why the Hitch&Alma Web site features selections from Herrmann's non-Hitchcock film scores.
Hitch&Almaprominently portrays Herrmann as one of the story's central figures: a knowing man who saw the obsessive undercurrents within Hitchcock’s stories, perhaps because he had similar obsessions himself.
The friendship and working relation between Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann is shown to be a fascinating one, and when Hitchcock experiences a personal crisis during the filming of Marnie, Herrmann steps in as the man who knows too much.
Below is an excerpt from when Hitchcock walks into the scoring of Vertigo. (Note: in reality, Herrmann did not conduct Vertigo's score because of the musician's strike.)
INT. MUSIC STUDIO
BERNARD HERRMANN, another short brooding man with thick glasses and dark wavy hair, stands in front of a FULL ORCHESTRA, conducting his SCORE. He stares up to a scene from Vertigo that flashes on the large screen before him. MUSIC fills the studio, giving emotional voice to the scene of Stewart kissing Novak before the ocean.
Hitch enters the room and sees the same scene on the screen silent. Then he listens as the SCORE completes the scene. His eyes well up as the lush instrumental gives emotional voice to the lost love being enacted.
Herrmann finishes the segment and as the orchestra winds down, he RAPS his baton for attention.
HERRMANN (to the orchestra): That's better. Take ten, everybody.
The orchestra breaks up, as the musicians scatter to the back of the room. Herrmann now sees Hitch standing quietly in the darkened corner and proudly walks over to him.
HERRMANN (cont.): Well, Hitch, what do you think?
Hitch looks pained, as the stomachs of the two short men almost touch.
HITCHCOCK: I don't know, Benny. It's a bit on the heavy side.
HERRMANN: Oh, come on. That's bullshit.
The excitable Herrmann reacts offended, but a cool Hitch stares back with complete authority.
HITCHCOCK: You've overdone it, Herrmann. It's like you're beating the audience over the head with Wagner.
Herrmann glowers as he waves his hands, almost conducting.
HERRMANN (angrily): That's the whole point! What drives some poor idiot to suffer like that over a woman he can never have?
Hitch looks back defensively through his calm mask.
HITCHCOCK: What on earth are you talking about?
Herrmann stares back at him pointedly.
HERRMANN: I know what this movie is to you.
Hitch and Herrmann stand before a silent movie of the same scene projected over and over again for a dubbing loop. Hitch looks on pained as the screen shows Stewart staring longingly at Novak.
HERRMANN (cont.): I'm glad you've finally gotten over her.
Hitch turns his back to Herrmann.
HITCHCOCK: It's only a movie, Benny.
HERRMANN: Sure, Hitch. But it's one of yours.
The orchestra is reassembled and Herrmann picks up the baton for scoring the next scene. On the screen above, the film loop shows Scotty waiting anxiously in the neon lit hotel room for Judy to reemerge from the bathroom as Madeline.
As the orchestra plays out the WAGNERIAN SCORE, Hitch cranes his head up to the screen. He closes his eyes and feels the emotion becoming his own.
To read the rest, order your copy of Hitch&Alma on this website.
(About the music on this site: These sound clips are selections fromBernard Herrmann's great film music. This page plays the Main Title Theme from Obsession.)
A reading sample from Hitch&Alma:
An interview with author of Hitch&Alma, Robert Schoen
Did Hitch have a secret collection of Outtakes? Some Photos and Posters:
Alma, the woman behind a very large man:
Hitchcock's Other Leading Ladies:
The Mother in Hitchcock's films:
Events during the Hitchcock Centennial:
Hitch at Work:
The Perfect English Couple:
Fine Art and Hitchcock:
Reader’s and Web Site Visitor’s Comments:
Book description and how to order a copy of Hitch&Alma:
Links to other Great Hitchcock Web Sites: