Probably the most memorable musical sound in cinema is the slashing strings of the shower scene in _Psycho_, a supreme example of how music can heighten image. It isn't too surprising that the example should come from a Hitchcock film; over the past two decades, critics and academics have paid increasing attention to how Hitchcock used music because he was so good at doing so. In _Hitchcock's Music_ (Yale University Press), Jack Sullivan, a professor of English and of American studies, has given a guide to the music (or frequently, silence) in all of Hitchcock's sound films, with stories about Hitchcock's work with composers and how soundtracks became formed as particular pictures progressed. Sullivan knows the films better than almost all of his readers will, and while much of Hitchcock's music is memorable, Sullivan writes of it in such detail that even Hitchcock fans will find themselves wishing that they had instant recall of each particular phrase or tune. I myself went back to listen to the early talkie _The 39 Steps_ after reading Sullivan's chapter about it, because although I have seen the movie many times, I could not remember the music or how important it was to the plot of the film. This then is a wonderful reference book, and it will drive Hitchcock fans back into their DVDs to attend to the master with new ears.
Sullivan begins, of course, with Hitchcock's first picture after his silent days, _Blackmail_. Hitchcock used the music in this initial film the same way he would use it throughout his career, like using a harp for a demonic sequence (when harps are usually angelic) and using cheerful music as an irony to what is being shown on the screen. Using a musical tune as an important part of the plot is one of Hitchcock's many tricks. In _The Lady Vanishes_, the tune itself is Hitchcock's "MacGuffin", the otherwise unimportant device upon which the whole plot turns, because the tune is an encryption of a state secret. In _Shadow of a Doubt_, "The Merry Widow" waltz is intricately important to the plot, leading to the identification of Uncle Charlie as a murderer. Hitchcock was brilliant at using "source music", the kind of music that might be heard by the characters in a scene as a theater orchestra or a radio plays nearby. In _Rear Window_, there is traditional movie music from an invisible source only at the very end of the movie; all the rest of the music has been from radios and phonographs owned by the people being viewed through the windows.
There are fine stories here about the famous Hitchcock / Bernard Herrmann collaboration and its eventual break-up, as well as about David O. Selznick's meddlesome but often valuable recommendations on music and other aspects of _Rebecca_, Hitchcock's first Hollywood effort and his first use of a lush Hollywood score. Among the wonderful anecdotes are those about _Psycho_ itself, and how Herrmann's stubborn insistence on getting his music into the film kept the movie as a feature rather than a television show. Hitchcock had not wanted any music in the shower scene, for instance, but Herrmann asked him to view the scene without music, followed by a version with music. Hitchcock quickly settled on the version with music, whereupon Herrmann made the mock-petulant remark, "But you requested that we not add any music," getting the reply, "Improper suggestion, my boy, improper suggestion." Best of all, _Hitchcock's Music_ concentrates attention on a vital aspect of Hitchcock's success, one that is not always appreciated. Sullivan certainly appreciates the innovative and complicated ways Hitchcock worked musically, and any fan of the movies will fine new reasons here to admire them.