Monday, March 30, 2015

Bernard Herrmann

900th POST!

Everyone remembers Bernard Herrmann as Hitchcock's composer: Psycho, North By Northwest, Vertigo, etc. - all memorable, all epic, and NONE Oscar nominated, which is insane. You may know he composed the scores to Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver as well. But a large portion of his career was also spent composing scores for sci-fi, fantasy and horror movies and TV shows as well. Long before guys like Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino and Danny Elfman (who was a huge fan), Herrmann was practically the go-to guy for genre fare in Hollywood. Here are five notable examples from across the length of his career. The links in the titles will take you to the scores, posted on YouTube:

- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I saw this on AMC one morning. Nice little Gothic romance movie. I'm usually kinda lukewarm about Rex Harrison, but I liked him here. He plays the ghost of a ship captain who forms an unlikely relationship with Gene Tierney, playing a widow who lives by the English seaside. Ghost before Ghost, basically. Herrmann has said that this is his favorite score. It's very Old Hollywood; lots of soft strings and gentle woodwinds. Not as melodramatic as one might expect.

- The Day the Earth Stood Still. The theremin! Herrmann actually used two of them for his score here, one pitched higher than the other, to accompany his electric violin, electric bass, electric cello, four pianos, four harps, and over 30 brass instruments. He even tweaked the music in places in the engineering room. The theremins were played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman, a noted thereminist who also worked on the score for Spellbound, among other movies, and Paul Shure.

- The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. A perennial Saturday afternoon favorite, snake women, cyclopses, and all, Herrmann's score here has a very Greek flavor while maintaining the appropriate bombast when necessary. One can almost feel the footsteps of the cyclops approaching. I'm reminded of the time I went to a Greek festival when I lived in Columbus. The music wasn't quite as epic as this, but it was as fun and lively.

- Journey to the Center of the Earth. I must have watched this on Saturday afternoons too, though I don't remember, but this score is even more grand. The organs make for a nice touch, and some of the weirder subsequent sounds are just as otherworldly as the theremin.

- The Twilight Zone. Before the more familiar "doo-de-doo-doo doo-de-doo-do" theme we all know and remember, Herrmann composed the original theme to the anthology sci-fi series, which was quite different. Where the familiar theme is anxious and unsettling, this one is moodier, more ethereal. Herrmann also provided the music for seven episodes, including the all-timer "Eye of the Beholder" (the one where a woman awaits the results of plastic surgery to make her less "ugly" and fit into a fascistic future society).

There's a CD called The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann that collects his scores from Journey, Sinbad, Day and Fahrenheit 451. If you dig film scores, I don't think you can go wrong with something like this.

Next: Joan Blondell

Films scored by Bernard Herrmann:
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Wrong Man
Jason and the Argonauts

Jack Lemmon
Jean Arthur
Edward G. Robinson
Rita Moreno
Frank Capra

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