Hitchcock’s Music
Hitchcock’s Music
Jack Sullivan
Yale University Press, 2006
384 pp., $40.00

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John H. McWhorter

Cue the Violin

Was Hitchcock a master in his use of music?

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Someone in the back asked Sullivan to discuss the score of Bell, Book and Candle, and had to be gently reminded that Hitchcock didn't direct the film. (The confusion was understandable: Bell, Book and Candle starred Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, the very same year they starred in Vertigo.) Next question.

Meanwhile, however, I was thinking about how much I'd always enjoyed the scoring in Bell, Book and Candle: sneaky, jazzy but contained, revolving around a neat, Pink Panther-like motif, pointing up the action without overwhelming it, and at times nicely interlaced with "literal" music by a jazz combo. One could pen a perfectly legitimate chapter analyzing the artistry of the score's composer.

Who was, get ready, one George Duning, a house composer for the meat-and-potatoes Columbia studio, whose status in the composer firmament is indicated by the fact that while the celebrated Franz Waxman scored the classic Mister Roberts, it was left to Duning to do the honors for the unmemorable sequel Ensign Pulver. Yet workaday, unsung Duning managed the utterly deft and amiable score for Bell, Book and Candle. Often, what Sullivan praises Hitchcock for in lengthy detail was otherwise known as professional competence.

Especially having made my way through 30 Hitchcock films in six weeks, I salute Sullivan's having viewed all 50-plus multiple times. It must also be mentioned that Sullivan makes ample reference to original score materials and the story behind the composition of each score, which often essentially means a description of the making of the film, material that is in itself almost always interesting.

I will value Hitchcock's Music as a neat reference book on each and every Hitchcock score. Yet it will continue to be the seven scores by Herrmann—who conveyed Henry Fonda's terror of imprisonment in The Wrong Man by putting a mike on someone plucking on the lowest strings of a grand piano—that draw my rapt attention. In that very selective preference, I suspect, I have plenty of company.

John H. McWhorter is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is the author most recently of Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America (Gotham Books). Among his other books is Defining Creole(Oxford Univ. Press).

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