Torn Curtain/Bernard Herrmann

September 8, 2006

Is it a coincidence that the 9th entry into the Elmer Bernstein Filmmusic Collection was the 9th and final collaboration between Herrmann and Hitchcock? Why was it rejected? How different is it from the John Addison composed score that became the soundtrack for Torn Curtain (1966) the suspense thriller starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews? These questions and more will be answered.Alfred was nearing the end of a long and highly successful career as one of the most recognized directors in the history of cinema. He was to do only three additional pictures Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972), and his last film Family Plot (1976). The film lacked in many areas and as a result wasn’t a box office success. Julie Andrews and Paul Newman didn’t have the necessary chemistry and were rather wooden in their performances. The script was interesting enough and helped to carry much of the film but it just was all in all rather ordinary as far as film goes. The music of course was a dismal disaster. John Addison wrote a nice enough score it just didn’t fit the film very well at all. It sounded more like a score to Barefoot In The Park (no insult to Hefti) or an Agatha Christie mystery than a tense thriller. And the Johnny Mann Singers doing the lyrics? No wonder Herrmann had taken enough from the powers to be in Hollywood. And please no disrespect to John Addison either. His theme is a recognizable one well written. It is just not for this film. If you are fortunate enough to have this collection or the Varese VSD 5817 CD listen to how the music is composed for the bus/bicycle sequence at the end of the film. In fact, taking it a step further, rent the DVD sometime and watch the film. Then turn off the sound and listen to a sequence that Herrmann wrote as opposed to Addison. There is quite a difference! The reason for the rejection according to liner notes provided by Christopher Palmer was Hitchcock walked onto the sound stage and saw an orchestra of 12 flutes, 16 horns, 9 trombones, 2 tubas, 2 sets of timpani, 8 cellos, and 8 basses and thought this ensemble isn’t going to provide any hit pop tune which of course it wasn’t designed to. The argument and break-up followed and that was the end of their 10 year relationship.

Just to set the record straight this recording is not an original OST but a faithful reproduction of the rejected score with Elmer Bernstein conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in August of 1977 as part of his filmmusic collection series on lp. It was one of two recordings that sold out. For the most part, this project taken on by Bernstein was a failure. In the case of selling out it only meant somewhere around 1800 copies! Guess the 2000 unit applied 30 years ago too!

The “Prelude” immediately sets the overall mood for the majority of the score with the horns carrying the melody backed by trombones and a rather brash timpani. The flutes enter and you can hear the tuba a little. Keep in mind the orchestra makeup which I described earlier and you will get the idea of what Herrmann came up with and if this is what Hitchcock heard and he had a pop tune in mind, yikes! The “Valse Lente” (a slow waltz) is an exception to the overall dark grayness of the score. Written for the strings it is a wonderful but short excursion into the world of chamber style music. Overall, it is still quite somber but the track flows nicely. Has a similiar flavor and feel to the work “For The Fallen” for people who know that work of Herrmann. “The Farmhouse” is a most interesting track that brought back memories of the third part of a work of Holst called “Beni Mora”, the third movement called In the Street of the Ouled Nails. Holst perhaps had a bit of influence on Herrmann as he used a low flute for a short passage and then proceeded to repeat it 163 times! Of course Bernard never repeated himself! This track also has excellent brass chords and is an excellent example of the superior underscore that Herrmann always wrote.

This is one of the more difficult scores for the average soundtrack listener to grasp and appreciate. It is overall pretty dark and depressing. The major key is not to be found. The avid Herrmann fan will take to this like the proverbial “duck to water”, appreciating it like another hard listen “Psycho”. To purchase as a separate unit any of the recordings in the set are going to be a difficult task at best. The Varese release originally titled The Unused Score might be your best bet given that the Bernstein was on LP.

Total Time is 42:30

Performed by the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Elmer Bernstein

Track Listing

1. Prelude (2:22)

2. The Radiogram/The Hotel (2:44)

3. The Phone/The Bookstore (5:22)

4. Valse Lente (3:04)

5. The Travel-Desk/Gromek (3:16)

6. The Farmhouse (2:16)

7. The Body (2:33)

8. The Killing (1:55)

9. The Toast/The Photos (2:57)

10. The Cab-Driver/The Hill (3:41)

11. Discovery/The Blackboard (2:52)

12. The Formula/The Corridor (2:50)

13. The Bicycles/The Bus (3:01)

14. Prelude (Reprise) (2:23)

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One Response to “Torn Curtain/Bernard Herrmann”

  1. Chris Larkin Says:

    I was on this recording (4th horn). Any idea where I might pick up a used copy these days ?


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