Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Exploiting Hitchcock, from a record-collector's perspective

A couple of months back I promised a posting on music associated with the films of Alfred Hitchcock...and almost forgot about it. I'm finally getting around to it...

A few years ago I watched a terrific documentary on Bernard Herrmann, one of my musical heroes. Two scenes really struck me. The first was about the early scenes of Psycho, before Janet Leigh stops at the Bates Motel...someone suggested turning the sound off for a minute during the scenes in which she's driving, especially during the rainstorm. They're well shot, of course, but nothing's really happening. Then watch those scenes with the sound on...it's Herrman's music that keeps you on edge...

Of course, the shower scene has been discussed so many times that I'm not going to bother. It's probably the most-recognized musical cue from the movies.

The other scene in the documentary dealt with Torn Curtain...a movie that's not all that bad, even though it's certainly not top-drawer Hitch. In the movie, there's a particularly brutal killing scene. The scene is run through twice, the way it exists now (with no music)...and then with the music that Herrman wrote. The latter was far more effective.

Yet, Hitch decided to scrap Herrmann's music and go with a score by John Addison. Why? That's anybody's guess, although it appears that someone wanted there to be a hit pop record from a Hitchcock movie, or at least some lighter-sounding music, and Herrmann wouldn't (or couldn't) comply.

And that's where this blog comes in...I'm going to show how the record companies tried to exploit Hitchcock films. Of course, there are several albums of Hitchcock soundtracks available now...but almost all of them came out long after the movie did. And there were a couple of LPs that Hitchcock himself was involved in...namely the Alfred Hitchcock's Music To Be Murdered By LP on Imperial by the Jeff Alexander Orchestra and his Ghost Stories for Young People LP, but that's not what I'm concerned with in this blog (but you can see/download them here
http://scarstuff.blogspot.com/2006/02/alfred-hitchcock-music-to-be-murdered.html ) I'm going to play selections that have been overlooked by most of the experts...records that were issued at the same time as the movie that inspired them.

I'm going to start with Spellbound, from 1945. There actually was a soundtrack album issued on 78s (ARA pressed it...and poorly, I might add...it seems the records all came out slightly off-center), but here I'm more concerned with the popular market of the day. There was a big-selling 12" Victor called Spellbound by the Al Goodman Orchestra...an adaptation of the Miklos Rosza score.

Spellbound Al Goodman Orch., Irving Prager, violin Victor 28-0404

The next time a record connected to a Hitchcock movie shows up is for 1955's The Trouble With Harry...which was the first movie with Shirley MacLaine, featuring Herrmann's first score for Hitchcock. And six-year-old Jerry Mathers discovers the body of Harry. Yes, Harry's trouble is the fact that he is dead...and his body keeps getting buried, exhumed, and finally stuck in a bathtub. The movie's a dark comedy, obviously.

There was a cute novelty record that's labeled as being "inspired" by The Trouble With Harry. Here, Harry's a pianist who's stuck in a rut and seems incapable of playing anything other than a catchy little riff...that is Harry's trouble. He's not dead here...and there's absolutely none of Herrmann's lovely score here either.

Oh...does the voice sound familiar? Imagine it yelling at a singing rodent named Alvin. Yup...it's David Seville, alias Ross Bagdasarian.

The Trouble With Harry Alfi and Harry (Ross Bagdasarian and Friends, 1956) Liberty 50008

This was a fairly big seller, peaking at #44 in the States and #15 in the UK.

It was big enough to inspire two cover versions...this one by the Les Elgart Orchestra...

The Trouble With Harry Les Elgart Orchestra (1956) Columbia 40617

...and this one by Poppa John Gordy, buried in an RCA Victor Extended Play 45.

The Trouble With Harry Poppa John Gordy and his Piano (1956) RCA Victor EPA 719 http://www.box.net/shared/jep6fyvbz8

Hmmm....three different versions of a ditty that really has nothing at all to do with the Hitchcock movie...but all three plugging the film that "inspired" them.

The next Hitchcock movie, his 1956 remake of The Man That Knew Too Much actually did have a hit single...Doris Day's record of Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera Sera) hit #2 on the US charts. The Jay Livingston/Ray Evans song has become her theme song, at least for her 1968-73 CBS television show. And the song was indeed in the movie...actually, it's an important element of the plot.

The record is so well known, in fact, that I'm going to skip playing it...instead. I recommend that you see the movie...it's very exciting and entertaining...and you actually see Herrmann conducting during the climactic Albert Hall scene. You might want to compare it with the Hitch's 1934 version...that one is just as entertaining, and it's a helluva lot shorter. And Peter Lorre is a memorable villain. They're both great movies.

The Herrmann score for 1958's Vertigo was actually issued then on a Mercury LP at the time...one that didn't sell all that well at the time. It has been reissued several times since...I have it on CD, but I'm covering pop singles here.

Bypassing 1959's North By Northwest, which has another terrific Herrmann score, but didn't generate any kind of vinyl at the time, we come to 1960's Psycho. That movie didn't generate any vinyl either, at least not intentionally (I'm imagining a Bates Motel Twist...shudder). However, the term "psycho" became part of the vernacular...and there are three very different records that have that word as their title. I'll post those next time around.

1963 was the year of The Birds, which had no real score, just bird sounds (electronically manipulated by Herrmann). There was also a strange little 45, again "inspired" by the Hitchcock movie...a surf instrumental and a bossa-nova blues, both written by Decca staff men Bud Dant and Sonny Burke. Needless to say, this record never made a ripple on the charts.

Blues For The Birds The Surf Riders Decca 31477 http://www.box.net/shared/85eqjgqapc
The Birds The Surf Riders Decca 31477 http://www.box.net/shared/gcod5hx1pm

Finally, we reach 1964, and Marnie. There was a rather pleasant song by Nat King Cole released then. This one's unusual, because it's probably the only time anybody tried to make a hummable pop tune out of a Herrmann melody, one that was indeed in the movie, but not sung. It's too bad that this attractive side never charted, and never showed up on any album until the compilations of the 1980s were issued.

45-AA52146 Marnie Nat King Cole (1964) Capitol 5219
1964: Nat King Cole, vocal; Ralph Carmichael Orchestra.


The next movie was Torn Curtain, but I've already covered that....

...and that's the final reel.

Next time around I'll dig out those Psycho records. Save an aisle seat for me...I heard there's dim sum in the lobby.


Lee Hartsfeld said...

Incredible stuff!

Have you heard Spike Jones' "The Trouble with Pasquale"? I have it on a Verve EP which includes the imitation-Singing-Dogs version of "Memories Are Made of This." (Jones' comment on Dean Martin, apparently.)


ZorchMan said...

Isn't that the EP with "16 Tacos?" I have it, thanks!

Lee Hartsfeld said...

That's the one.

Toff Philippo said...

Great article!

I was considering writing on the topic myself, since I hadn't seen it treated elsewhere - and now I have. Drat! :-D

Actually I only knew of some of the ones you posted about, but Blues for the Birds was news to me. Probably would have been news to most people in 1963 too!

There's a few I know of that you didn't mention, and two I've been unable to find. If you've any interest in perhaps collaborating on an expansion of your blog post for publication, drop me a line!

(@mac.com [put:] toff [in front of the @])