top of page
  • Writer's pictureStefan

Bernard Herrmann - The Trouble with Harry - Soundtrack Review

This week another classic score by Bernard Herrmann for one of the few comedies by Alfred Hitchcock. Even though I prefer Bernard Herrmann as conductor of his own music, I will discuss the album with the complete soundtrack, conducted by Joel McNeely, and performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

The movie

“The Trouble with Harry” is a 1955 American Technicolor black comedy film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The screenplay by John Michael Hayes was based on the 1949 novel by Jack Trevor Story. It starred Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick, and Shirley MacLaine in her first film role. Here is the trailer:

The plot takes place during a sun-filled autumn in the Vermont countryside and is about how four people of this small village are dealing with the dead body of Harry. The film is not really a murder mystery, it more a romantic comedy with thriller overtones and black humour. You can see Hitchcock’s genius in the bathroom scene in the last 10 minutes of the movie, one scene full of suspense and a great twist.

The film is one of Hitchcock's few true comedies and has surprisingly some element of frank dialogue. One example of this is when John Forsythe's character Sam Marlow tells MacLaine's character that he would like to paint a nude portrait of her. The paintings of Marlowe were painted by American abstract expressionist artist John Ferren, who was present during principal photography in Vermont. He instructed John Forsythe in the correct painting technique for his on-screen work. Hitchcock was particularly interested in Ferren's work because of his vivid use of colour, which he thought would match the autumnal colours of New England.

The music

“The Trouble with Harry” is the first collaboration between Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock. In an interview for “The New York Times” on June 18, 1971, Hitchcock stated that the score was his favourite of all his films (Wikipedia, but I could not find any quote for this to check this statement). Very popular is a new arrangement of the highlights of this score, done by Herrmann, and called “A Portrait of Hitch”. I found a piano version of this suite:

Joel McNeely’s album consists of 40 tracks, and a lot of them are not even running one minute. There is no break between the tracks, so it gets difficult to separate the tracks if you are not constantly looking at the track listing on the album. The “Overture” which can be considered as the main title features the main theme with the famous tuba motif for the dead body Harry. With the second track, we have the beautiful autumn theme for the Vermont village. From all soundtracks for Alfred Hitchcock movies, this score is the most lyrical one and offers one of the most beautiful music Herrmann ever composed. A good example is track 4 “The Captain”.

One of my favourite tracks is track 8 “The Doctor”, Herrmann uses the string section for a beautiful motif for the doctor. This lovely theme is constantly interrupted by the Harry theme, the music follows very much the direction of the scene, one of the best scenes in the whole movie. A similar track is track 13 “The Doctor’s Return”.

With track 16 “Tea Time”, we have the best performance of the love theme, and with track 18 “Waltz Macabre” and the following ones called “Waltz Reprise” and “Valse Lent”, we have three Waltz tunes for the comedy elements of the story. “Valse Lent” is the longest track of the whole score and the most lyrical one, too.

Because the police, portrayed by Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs, gets more and more involved into the story, the music gets darker, and Herrmann offers more suspense music as in track 29 “Suspicion”, track 30 “Porch Talk”, track 36 “Afterbeats” and track 37 “Bathtub” for the already mentioned bathroom scene.

The last three tracks “Confession”, “The Solution” and “Finale” brings the story and the album to an end. After watching the movie, you really wish that Hitchcock and Herrmann would have been more involved in comedies.

I found a fan video with music and pics from the movie:

“The Trouble of Harry” ranks as one of the finest examples of black comedy music and is also in the longer version a joy to listen to because you can have so much to explore how Herrmann develops his themes and his black comedy music for this music. The orchestration is quite unusual but also typical Herrmann, and the famous “Harry” motif is one of the best and well-known motifs composed by Bernard Herrmann.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2018, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

Jerry Goldsmith First Knight.png
Next review...
Latest reviews...
bottom of page