The Alfred Hitchcock Hour An Introduction

Tom DeMary

The 30 minute series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, premiered in the Fall of 1955. At the time very few TV series had original dramatic scores. The series used “stock” music entirely. In the Fall of 1962 the episodes were expanded to an hour, and the title of the series was changed to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The series retained its familiar theme music, “Funeral March of a Marionette” by Gounod, but Lyn Murray (who had scored Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief) was engaged to write some original for some of the episodes. Throughout the series music from Murray’s scores and later Herrmann’s scores were re-cycled so that only about 1/3 of the episodes had original music.

The first Herrmann scored episode, A Home Away from Home, opened the second season of the hour series in the Fall of 1963. Herrmann also re-arranged the theme for creepy bassoons, and his version was used for the rest of the series.

Herrmann’s last episode, Death Scene, was aired in March 1965. Herrmann also scored Hitchcock’s Marnie during this period, and perhaps some episodes of The Twilight Zone. Aside from introducing the programs, Hitchcock had relatively little to do with the TV series, so Herrmann’s music should probably not be considered part of the Hitchcock/Herrmann collaboration.

Many of the series episodes, especially during the first season, were relatively straight-forward murder mysteries, often with an unexpected “twist” ending. During the second season, fantasy elements and macabre humor were introduced, perhaps due to the influence of Thriller, an out-and-out horror series. Herrmann got the majority of the genre episodes (some stories by Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and John Wyndham).

The music scores were chamber sized, employing fewer instruments than film scores, but utilizing typical Herrmann effects, such as muted trumpets and harps. Terror In Northfield features some morbid and chilling bassoons. Nothing Ever Happens In Linvale, basically a comedy, resembles Herrmann’s score for The Trouble with Harry. The McGregor Affair, a macabre comedy, set in Scotland takes on a distinct Scot flavor. The Life Work of Juaz Diaz uses the habanera, as in Vertigo‘s nightmare sequence. The Jar, the one episode everyone my age remembers, uses a circus caliope, alternating a grim merry-go-round tune with “Dies Irae,” as people contemplated what was in the jar.

Each episode had a theme or motif which formed the basis of the score. Sometimes the music seems dubbed a little carelessly, often a little too loud, but a Herrmann score is hard to ignore. Much of the scoring episodic TV has always been repetitious, but the anthology series provided a different characters and situations each week, so that the original scores really were original each week. These programs may have lost a little of their punch over the last 30 years, but I find many of them still enjoyable and unpredictable. The hour series has not yet appeared on home video, but the series is still available to local stations in the U.S.A.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour – An Introduction
Tom DeMary • 1997