Frenzy on Disc - two music scores for one Hitchcock movie

Hitchcock's Frenzy, scores by Goodwin and Mancini - album cover "It was crushing when it happened", said Henry Mancini after director Alfred Hitchcock threw out his just-finished new score for Hitch's 1972 film Frenzy because it was supposedly too dark and forbidding. "And I joined a very exclusive club that is gaining members by the day. The rejected score club".

Would it be possible after Psycho and Marnie, after Rear Window, to have a movie score too dark for the Hitchcock universe? And how could the 1960s purveyor of light jazz and romantic melody be judged too dark to write music for anyone? What was Hitch thinking that he would hire and then sack Mancini, then praise the decidedly lightweight final score from Ron Goodwin as though that's what he had in mind all along?

Alfred Hitchcock We learn, of course, from subsequent sources and sagas in the press that Hitch, during those latter days of his career, was going through his own personal frenzy as to what his films "ought" to be like. He was being told, now, in no uncertain terms not to count on old fashioned tension scoring for his next movie – none of that drab glowering Bernard Herrmann stuff as in Torn Curtain. What was wanted was something brighter, something that promised excitement, perhaps something with a memorable theme line that could be exploited. Not a pop song, but at least something with adventure in it – the chase aspect of police work. That is what Hitch was being told from the front office and he was resisting it as far as he could. Actually, what he was doing was ignoring the advice and saying nothing to his chosen composer, Henry Mancini, about any of those studio directives as though they didn't exist. Indeed, Mancini said later that if he had been allowed to see those directives, he would have been able to supply exactly what they were looking for from a music score. Instead, he wrote by instinct reacting to the dark story on screen and, reportedly, Hitch nodded approvingly all through the recording sessions – until the very end when he said no; throw it out. By then, Mancini was no longer available to come back in and redo and so all he could do was move on.

Now fifty-one years later, producer José Benitez's Quartet Records has released a Frenzy CD with both Mancini's rejected score and the Ron Goodwin replacement that Hitchcock got instead. Sharp liner notes in the CD booklet by Deniz Cordell chronicle the whole debacle and the whole production represents a cautionary tale: not even Mancini was free from rejection and manipulation; not even Hitchcock was beyond front-office interference, especially in his latter years.

Henry Mancini The two musical approaches make an interesting study, maybe twenty minutes of Mancini music and twenty-five of Goodwin. But right away the demeanor is different. Mancini goes into his formalized British mode from the opening shot gliding down the Thames to set the locale where the murders are going to take place and even though there is no story yet, we are made to feel a certain lurking atmosphere and the weight of a minor key. Of course, it helps that he is using a pipe organ and the lower half of a baroque orchestra to carry this initial warning statement; there is no doubt that we're in a threatening world. And it is perhaps that presumption that the studio heads somehow wanted to disguise in order to draw people in to an exciting tale. Goodwin's Main Title music seems to have that objective – no hint of the horrors to come – rather the sound of an adventure, an exciting police case. "Well, if I had known that, if they had talked to me in those terms about what they wanted, I'd have taken that direction instead of what I did", Mancini said in the wake of the drama. "Nothing was told me".

Ron Goodwin Goodwin does involve some minor key motifs fairly soon in his scoring but they are 1950s-styled suspense sounds remembered from matinee thrillers and a few throbbing meters in the strings as the chords rise a half step in order to connect with a fragment of the original motif. And he relies on those melodramatic chords to anchor suspense scenes, all with the feeling of past experience: we are in familiar detective story territory here so that the music rather reinforces the conventions of the genre, aiming to please the audience, rather than what the Mancini score seems to want to do – creating an unsettling aural foundation so that we're never sure if the killer, and therefore the whole film, is going to careen off into uncharted crimes, Hitchcock ablaze. Mancini uses devices he has marshalled before in scores like Wait Until Dark and The Night Visitor: a sinister piano and harp duet where single chromatic notes alternate between the players, bass flutes in their deepest register, tight ensembles of eight or ten winds within the orchestra, low beds of strings with one lone horn calling out overhead like a sentinel, most always the lower half of each orchestral section…and all the while, no themes or melodies – not since that opening Thames piece. It's all music of anticipation and dread. If the front office was hoping to put together a summertime thriller film-package, no wonder they sat on Hitchcock until he commissioned a more open and welcoming music score.

Alfred Hitchcock: Frenzy, DVD cover Certainly Mancini was disappointed for the missed opportunity to have a Hitchcock film in his resumé, but it was happening to a lot of people in those days – scores rejected and repairmen brought in to do the replacement. Why, for Mancini alone there would be more such incidents – one scene-setting music cue that Mancini wrote for the opening of that Eskimo saga The White Dawn which the director didn't think was "dramatic enough" and so scrapped for some vague sound effects instead; an entire symphonic score for the crazy sci-fi picture Lifeforce that got chopped up and sacrificed because the film itself had to be re-edited to make any sense; even Mancini's longtime collaborator Blake Edwards would start second-guessing Mancini by replacing the composer's carefully selected electric violin sound in the witchcraft movie Switch in favor of someone else's pop song. The same thing happened with a number of Mancini scores in those days: Married To It, Santa Claus the Movie, Tom and Jerry...

Alfred Hitchcock with Bernard Herrmann As we have said, late Hitch is not so compelling or influential as prime Hitch and he could feel those same kinds of pressures from studios. He had already been to the mat with Bernard Herrmann over this same issue. What can I do? he pleaded with Herrmann; they want more commercial music. Herrmann, of course, told Hitch where to go and they parted ways. In this case, Mancini simply hadn't been told what was wanted and so just gave his musical reaction to their film. Ron Goodwin survived because he gave them a perfectly acceptable, expectable type of detective story score. In a couple of more years, John Williams would survive with Hitch (Family Plot) because he infused his score with a lot of entertaining gothic details to go along with the halfway comic story. It is the belief of many that Frenzy could have flourished more than it did, critically, if it had stayed with Mancini's dark sound world and, indeed, used more music than it did. One thing sure, everyone would have benefitted had the director considered his composer to be a collaborator and a firmer place had been established for the role of music in his film. Why, a strong storytelling score for a film like this could have been the single element that tied it all together and made a late-Hitch classic out of it. After presiding over scores like Psycho, Vertigo, North By Northwest, and Rebecca, Hitch should have known better.

Author: John Caps

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