One thing I was terribly impressed with was his quickness and his professionalism, his ability to change things quickly on the set. I suppose this came from his experiences in radio. But in those days, it was very common for the composer to have a real lock on the edited sequence and say, “That’s it, I’ve got the timing on it.” You were not to change it, because he was going to write his music to those timings. Max Steiner, who was the top man at the time – boy, if you fooled around with a scene after Max had got the timing on it, there was all hell to pay.
Well, Orson didn’t pay much attention to that. Bernie had the timings and Orson made some changes in scenes. I tried to make a point that this would be very difficult when we got down to the set, and Orson wouldn’t hear of it.
We got to the scoring stage, and the timing was different, the film had been changed, and I was sweating. But Bernie was not at all upset. He said, “Okay, we can cut to this bar here, and pull this together…” He very quickly adjusted his music, with great judgment, to fit the changes in the sequence. I had worked with a lot of music directors before, like Max and Roy Webb, and they wouldn’t hear of a change in their music. I was so impressed with Bernie, that he didn’t bat an eyelash.
What I recall [of Herrmann's music on] that film is the effectiveness of that chase scene at the end, with just the kettledrums. Usually you’d have a big 60-piece orchestra, but he just had four or five kettledrums. It was most effective chase music.
I had always thought very highly of Benny. He was a little rough to get along with sometimes, but I had tremendous respect for his talent. I felt it was the kind of film that would intrigue him, and he would do a really oustanding job.
While we were editing, I ran into Bernie somewhere. I told him about the film and he said, “Oh boy, that sounds great. As a matter of fact, I’ve talked to a couple of people who’ve seen it, and they say it’s a swell little film. I’d love to score it for you.” I said, “C’mon, Bernie, we can’t afford you, it’s a little film. We’ve got a $250,000 budget.”
He kept going, because he was very enthusiastic about it, so finally I made a date – almost reluctantly – for him to come in and see me and the producer. He came in and kept making his pitch until he finally said, “Well, how much money do you HAVE in the budget for the music?”
“Bernie,” I said, “We’ve got $10,000.”
He hit the ceiling – “TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS?! HOW CAN YOU BELITTLE THE MUSICAL SCORE WITH THAT KIND OF THING?!! THAT’S OUTRAGEOUS!!”… He frothed at the mouth, he carried on for 15 minutes, and he stormed out! That was so typical. He was so insulted – not personally, but just that that’s all we had for the score!
He was a temperamental, mercurial, and very talented man.