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Alfred Hitchcock Presents...
Signatures in Suspense

A Whole Lot of People

This compilation, produced by the relative newbie album company Hip-O, attempts to accomplish the impossible: present a complete retrospective of Alfred Hitchcock's career through snippets of score found in his numerous films.  Not all of his scores are covered - that would lead to at least 3-4 discs - but the producers attempt to cover some of the most famous, specificatlly, those of Bernard Herrmann.  The album contains a wildly eclectic body of work - from Herrmann's aforementioned grouling dissonance to one source piece of campy '30s jazz.  Still, the album pulls this feat off, balancing the stranger cues with well-known concert suites.  An added bonus is the addition of several previously unreleased tracks - including the original recording of Herrmann's rejected score to Torn Curtain and part of Williams' superb Family Plot.  Sound quality, as you may imagine, varies wildly, since these are all the original tracks (except for a few notable exceptions.)  A lot of people will already own the majority of these, but it's a great album for newbies and composer completists.

Track by Track Analysis
1. Theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Funeral March of A Marionette)
    by Charles Gounod (:25)
Predictably, Hitchcock chose a well-known piece that perfectly fit his personality to begin his classic TV show.  The playfully macabre march (actually about 6 minutes long) was compressed and arranged into this 30 second orchestral stinger, designed to grab attention.  The present arrangement is also slightly jazzed up to fit into a cheesy '60s pop culture idiom.

2. Theme from Dial M for Murder
    by Dimitri Tiomkin (3:17)
An oft-parodied orchestral theme, this is throughouly steeped in '50s jazz.  However, it opens with an exhileratingly atonal and menacing orchestral prelude, which highlights the brass section, and is punctuated by xylophone stingers.  That doesn't last long, though, and we get our first glimpse of the theme, played on solo violin.  It's passed through various instruments, including muted trumpet, getting jazzier and more dated by the second.

3. Theme from I Confess
    by Dimitri Tiomkin (3:28)
Continuing in our maximum cheesefest from the '50s, this is another somewhat unmemorable Tiomkin theme, again utilizing excruciatingly high-pitched strings and solo tones.  It's basically a mirror image of its predecessor.  Sure, it's compositionally sound and nicely played, but I definitely couldn't endure stuff like this for more than 5-10 minutes at a time.

4. Juke Box #6 from Rear Window
    by Dimitri Tiomkin (2:29)
This piece doesn't even attempt to be orchestral or serious, and it's much more enjoyable.  Although there's not much of a theme (it's source music, for crying out loud!), there are several interesting jazz riffs, making the composition into a jazz/swing piece.

5. Scene d'Armour from Vertigo
    by Bernard Herrmann (5:05)
Finally!  Something without jazz!  In case you haven't read my Vertigo review, this is one of my absolute favorite pieces of all time (including classical compositions).  It's also one of Bernard Herrmann's most complex and moving opuses, and was the centerpiece of Hitchcock's entire film.  Unfortunately, I find Muir Matheson's conducting and the orchestra in general somewhat offputting; McNeely's faster, more intense reading with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is a better choice.  In that performance, the depth of the rapturous abandon feels much more pronounced and moving.  Pick it up if you haven't already!  And now back to the present album...

6. The Wild Ride from North by Northwest
    by Bernard Herrmann (2:54)
Continuing with our stunning lineup of Herrmann classics, this is another one of those that every serious film music freak should own, even if it's just on a compilation and not the full OST.  One of the only glorified action cues that Herrmann ever penned, the piece is written in the fast, exciting Spanish dance form called the Fandago; this cue is reminiscent of what he would later compose for Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion blowouts.

7. Psycho: A Narrative for Orchestra
    by Bernard Herrmann (14:29)
Although it's probably his most famous (and for some, most loved) scores, the full hour's worth can be quite a chore to sit through, especially with Herrmann's repetitive cues that worked great in the movie, but are boring on CD.  So, the ever-versatile composer gave us a perfect solution - a 15 minute concert suite of all the major cues.  Everything from the fast moving Prelude, to the chopping, murderous strings in the shower scene, and the shocking, depressing finale of the Madhouse theme and dissonant chords is present here.  Every major theme gets presented - even The City, which was one of my favorite in the score.  Unfortunately, Herrmann wasn't necessarily the best conductor of his own music, and the performance here is terribly slow and lazy - especially compared to the breakneck pace of McNeely's rerecording with the RSNO strings viciously attacking their instruments.

8. Prelude from Marnie
    by Bernard Herrmann (2:06)
Herrmann's and Hitchcock's next major score is Marnie, which is unfortunately unavailable in its complete form.  And yes, that is a severe travesty, because it contains some of the maestro's best cues.  Its main theme, presented here for the first time in its original form, is slightly reminiscent of his Vertigo material, but less macabre.  The melody is quite moving, and it makes me yearn for a complete album.

9. Marnie
    by Bernard Herrmann (3:04)
Here Herrmann gives us a full concert arrangement of Marnie's theme, beginning with low and cautious strings, but leading up to a full orchestral performance.  As I said above, it's quickly become one of my favorite Herrmann themes, and is ultimately worth the price of this entire album.

10. Main Title from Torn Curtain
    by Bernar-oops, John Addison (2:18)
Why?  Why did Hitchcock reject a uniformly superb Herrmann score for this unimpressing drivel?  Now, given, Addison is a fantastic film composer, but a Hitchcock espionage thriller is not the place for blaring saxophones and muted trumpets.  I guess the theme is serviceable by itself, but when compared to Herrmann's masterpiece there's no contest.

11. Prelude from Torn Curtain
    by Bernard Herrmann (1:56)
Here we have yet another reason to run out and purchase this compilation - the world premiere of the original tracks from Herrmann's rejected score.  And it's also one of the only times that a McNeely rerecording has failed in surpassing the original - there really is no contest.  Despite its age, the sound quality from this OST is much clearer than the newer release, and you can actually hear the strong, virtuoso flute line.  Truly magnificent.

12. The Ship from Torn Curtain
    by Bernard Herrmann (:54)
Continuing with the rejected score, this is a foreboding cue for flute ensemble, highlighting the rarely used alto and bass flutes.

13. The Radiogram from Torn Curtain
    by Bernard Herrmann (2:01)
This is another cue for foreboding flute ensemble, now coupled with meandering double basses.

14. March from Topaz
    by Maurice Jarre (2:36)
I'd have to say that Maurice Jarre is probably the most unlikely choice for a Hitchcock film I'd ever think of.  Upon hearing this, there's no doubt that this is the same guy who penned Lawrence of Arabia, since it's a superb military march exactly like that score's secondary theme.  Not having access to the original tracks, Hip-O reissued Silva Screen's rerecording with the City of Prague Philharmonic.  Fortunately, none of the orchestra's typical performance flaws are present, and this is definitely one of the album's high points.

15. The London Theme from Frenzy
    by Ron Goodwin (2:27)
We reach another memorable soaring theme in this track, which is from the composer of Battle of Britain.  Again using Silva's rerecording, this sports sparkling sound quality and a convincing performance.  The music itself is slightly more subdued than his Battle of Britain material, but there's no doubt that it's the same composer - cymbals in the background and a great string theme at the forefront.

16. Prelude from The Wrong Man
    by Bernard Herrmann (2:08)
Returning to the jazzy mood set with the Tiomkin selections from the beginning of the album, this is a nice little comedic theme from Bernard Herrmann, and, while serving up plently of spice and attitude, doesn't quite dip into cheese like Tiomkin's material.  It's quite abnormal for Herrmann, containing lots of jazz elements and ethnic percussion.

17. End Credits & End Titles from Family Plot
    by John Williams (2:33)
Yet another unexcusably unreleased masterpiece from Universal's archives.  For Hitchcock's last film, John Williams himself signed on and provided a richly orchestral comedy score that fits in perfectly with his other scores from the period, with parts sounding like the lighter material from JAWS, complete with harpsichord.  In the last 30 seconds, an ethereal chorus makes an appearence.

18. A Portrait of Hitch from The Trouble with Harry
    by Bernard Herrmann (8:15)
Hip-O wisely chooses another Herrmann masterpiece to round out the album, in the form of his oft-performed concert suite from The Trouble with Harry.  Here we have one of the maestro's only comedy scores, highlighting Hitchcock's quirky humor with several themes of macabre orchestral comedic happenings.  Surprisingly, it turns out that not even the great Herrmann is above borrowing his own themes - parts of this were later used in Jason and the Argonauts.

While being an excellent compilation overall, I'm afraid that this will mostly appeal only to collectors at opposite ends of experience - newbies wanting to get into the Golden Age and Bernard Herrmann, and Herrmann freaks who want to own every last note of every single OST of his.  The normal consumer will most likely have most of these.  However, if you want a great intro. to Herrmann and don't have many of these, go ahead and take the plunge!  I don't think many people at all will be disappointed by this superb compilation.

Signatures in Suspense: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 9/10
Orchestral Performance 8/10
Sound Quality 6/10
Length 10/10
Overall 9/10

Signatures in Suspense is Copyright 1999 by Hip-O Scores. Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.