Not only would Bernard Herrmann’s rush hour “wild fandango” usher in one of the greatest opening title sequences in movie history, but it would also serve as the gunshot that signaled the far more frantically suspenseful scores, and pictures to come to feature movie stars outracing fireballs. Yet through the years, the innovative impact and black-humored fun of NORTH BY NORTHWEST remains undiminished, always kept alive through the numerous soundtrack releases and re-recordings that have paid tribute to the most entertaining chase in the Herrmann / Hitchcock innoncents-on-the-run cannon. Now Intrada releases what will likely be the last CD word on this breathless masterwork, finessing the edits and amassing all the source cues that lead to the way to Mount Rushmore.
The over-the-top action template of NORTH BY NORTHWEST couldn’t have found a more rousing voice than Herrmann’s, whose ominous tones serve as sly counterpoint to tell comely hero Cary Grant just what kind of spy-filled mess he’s gotten himself into, throwing him into escalating absurd set pieces with the thematic momentum of a runaway train, car or plane. But it’s a frantic pace that Herrmann can just as easily turn to soft, seductive coolness for ice princess agent Eva Marie Saint. Yet even at its most energetic heights, “North By Northwest” is full of the kind of elegant, orchestral refinement that made Herrmann an equal master of suspense to Hitchcock. If VERTIGO stands tall as their epic of doomed romance, then NORTH BY NORTHWEST‘s idea of playing a 2,000 mile chase as a cliffhanging dance makes it a lark of breathlessly classic proportions, no more so than when the pounding brass of a near fatal fall takes a sweet tumble into a train compartment’s top bunk, the love theme and action theme simultaneously exploding as the locomotive hurtles into a tunnel for one of the screen’s most hilarious metaphors for vertical action of a whole different kind.
While such composers as Laurie Johnson and Joel McNeely have waved their batons energetically with the material, there’s absolutely no substitution for the original Herrmann recording, whose landmark status has kept it in better shape through the years than most scores of the era. And now that soundtracks are bouncing between specialty labels like a pack of MacGuffins, Intrada polishes up the already exemplary presentations by Rhino and Film Score Monthly with the best booklet packaging and sound that NORTH is likely to get for some time, complete with the entire score, Cole Porter source cues, Andre Previn’s extended easy listening “Fashion Show” and Herrmann himself signing off the affair with a hilarious snatch of one of his legendarily cantankerous freak-outs- the few seconds heard here more than worth making this NORTHWEST purchase worth it.
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