Prelude, The Man Who Knew Too Much
Hitchcock and New York-born composer Bernard Herrmann formed an instant rapport during their first collaboration, on Hitch’s black comedy The Trouble with Harry (1955). At the time, Herrmann was already the Oscar-winning composer of scores for such films as Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Jane Eyre, and The Day the Earth Stood Still; his gift for reinforcing a film’s psychological dimension -- often through bold, unorthodox orchestrations -- was the ideal dramatic complement to Hitchcock’s precise, sometimes chilly images.
The duo’s second collaboration was 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, a remake of the director’s 1934 British thriller whose earlier incarnation Hitchcock dismissed as "the work of a talented amateur." Both versions revolve on the same plot device: the child of a traveling couple is kidnapped to prevent the parents from revealing a planned assassination, to occur at London’s Albert Hall during a symphony concert.
Herrmann’s Prelude is a succinct summation of the drama to follow, and a foreshadowing of its concert hall climax: as the film’s opening credits appear, members of the London Symphony are shown performing this percussion-driven overture, which ends in the clash of cymbals: a sound, we later learn, will act as the signal for the would-be assassin’s bullet.
Steven C. Smith is the author of A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (University of California Press, 1991), and a recipient of the Deems Taylor Award for writing on music. He is currently a writer/producer on the A&E television series Biography.