The Wrong ManSoundstage Records (SCD-575)
Bernard Herrmann Film Scores: From Citizen Kane to Taxi DriverMilan Records (M2-36095)
Formats: CD, Digital (70 min)
Review: Wrong Man, The
5 / 5 Stars
We are all familiar with Bernard Herrmann\'s scores, especially those he wrote for Alfred Hitchcock\'s movies. The angular music from North by Northwest\'s famous opening credit sequence of intersecting lines and the infamous shrieking strings from Psycho\'s shower scene create a stain, as one of my friends likes to call it, on your psyche. You live with those sounds; they are indelibly etched as the essence of what a score can do. But as famous as these collaborations between Herrmann and Hitchcock are, they represent a mere jumping off point into a world rich in sight and sound. And just because the other movies are not as famous, does not mean they are not as good.
Take, for instance, The Wrong Man. Have you ever heard of it? Probably not, as it is sandwiched in 1956 between 1954\'s Rear Window and 1958\'s Vertigo and loses in any comparison with those two films. But it is a fascinating movie for several reasons. It is almost a documentary – the film is based on an actual case and was filmed in the actual locations without changing any of the characters\' names. To lend a documentary air to the movie, Hitchcock shot in black and white. And, while it was the third time Hitchcock used Herrmann to score a movie, it was the first in which Herrmann used a chamber orchestra to create lean, repetitive textures to heighten the suspense. It was a technique that became his trademark and you can literally hear its evolution in this score.
So, from what I\'ve just told you, you obviously need this score in your collection, but in case you are not convinced yet, let\'s look closely at two cues just to see a bit more how Herrmann worked to create the claustrophobic atmosphere the movie required. First up, the pair of cues titled "The Cell I" and "The Cell II" "The Cell I" starts off with muted trumpets blaring out a descending half step (think the Jaws theme turned upside down). As if in a far-off echo, the basses pluck out four descending notes. There\'s nothing to this construction; it is as open and spare as you can get. But then Herrmann begins taking that texture and tightening the screws. First, he takes the entire pattern up one step, then another. At this point, halfway through the first cue, he drops the trumpets, adds a layer of dissonant chords, and focuses on the basses. As a listener, it heightens your attention because you keep wondering "where are the trumpets?" When they finally do enter at the end of the first cue, it is a visceral shock, but there is no payoff; you sit there in tension as "The Cell II" creeps in with the same patterns, only the trumpets have opened their mutes and the timbres have climbed even higher. Then Herrmann gives the screw one final turn by speeding up the pattern. Soon, the trumpets and basses are playing on top of one another and still they get faster, and faster, and faster, never relenting until a cacophony has replaced the original measured calm. There is literally nothing to the music in these three minutes, but it works on you at a deep level to increase your anxiety.
The second cue I want to quickly look at is the "Prelude." Our hero, The Wrong Man, is Manny Balestrero, a bass player in a local dance club. Herrmann incorporates so many bass textures in the score as a nod to the protagonist\'s occupation. He also breaks out of the score\'s principle timbre by weaving in moments of dance band music as in the "Prelude." Full of Latin rhythms and percussion, the "Prelude" is a fun little piece of music with two themes, a rollicking brass one and a softer flute one. The work is all frivolity and lightness, but Herrmann cleverly brings back the sound of the band at the score\'s end in "Stork Club." After a half hour of tense music like "The Cell II," the dance music has lost its luster and sounds menacing and hard. He successfully shifts our perspective so what once was fun is now ominous.
Any Herrmann score deserves to be in your collection, but this release is particularly deserving. With its excellent liner notes by Christopher Husted and beautifully produced sound, The Wrong Man gives you the perfect opportunity to discover why Herrmann is rightly regarded as one of the masters of the art form.
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