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Herrmann's longest drawn-out project was his years-in-the-making opera of Wuthering Heights—its failure to see performance on a major scale or receive proper recognition fueled his ugly, roiling bitterness. A lifelong weakness for Victorian gothic atmosphere and the Brontë mystique shows itself in Herrmann's score for Jane Eyre (1944), which is more moving than the film itself, in which an arid Joan Fontaine is a Jane without any mystery or secrets, and seems too close in age to Welles's Rochester. In the same vein but better is Joe Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), about a melancholy New England widow (Gene Tierney) with nothing to do but vogue dreamily, who is visited and romanced by the ghost of a sea captain (Rex Harrison). The sometimes phony sentimentality is coupled with unexpected laughs, particularly from the brusque captain, too much of a boor to fulfill dashing dreamlover stereotypes. Herrmann was a sucker for this material (the captain and the widow embody the two sides of Bernard), and his score, one of his personal favorites, yields without caution to the melodrama.
The symbiotic and matchless composer-director relationship between Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock began with one of the director's most uncharacteristic (and underrated) films, the tender dark comedy The Trouble with Harry (1956). From the beginning, Herrmann's music is an outspoken force, not merely complementing the action but supplying much of the wit and attitude, and finding depths of beauty in the ostensibly lightweight diversion that is actually heartfelt autobiography. Harry's dead, is his trouble, and his corpse is a nuisance for the main characters (including Edmund Gwenn and Shirley MacLaine), who must repeatedly bury and rebury it— and what better metaphor for Hitchcock's life's work than the complicated logistics of how best to shuffle around a dead body. With its Technicolor Vermont scenery (many of the red-orange leaves were glued on), it is also one of the great autumn films.
Herrmann appears as himself in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much redo, conducting the climactic "Storm Cloud Cantata" with the London Symphony Orchestra as an assassin in the crowd waits for the final cymbal crash to take out a foreign statesman. The scene is so exhilarating (as both pure cinema and as an extended tribute from director to composer) that the draggy last act, with Doris Day endlessly belting "Que Sera Sera", is an afterthought. While Herrmann's stripped, all-strings Psycho score is a work of expert mechanics ("a return to pure ice water," he called it), on Vertigo, in which both source novel and score are based on Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, his romantic streak is allowed to swoon unchecked, and the result is the most overwhelmingly emotional and lavishly beautiful film score ever written.
It is Herrmann's music again that makes the concluding "Book People" segment in Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966) as powerful as it is. In Obsession, his score is so dominant (without being overbearing), that the sordid lark of a story seems built around it rather than vice versa. As in the beginning with Welles, Herrmann remained a collaborator most concerned with the quality of the whole picture, whose brash assertiveness and impatience with stupidity were matched by his intuition for the right notes.