Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2010 August 02 • Monday

This month we celebrate Robert Mitchum (August 6, 1917 – July 1, 1997)!

We'll begin with Bernard Herrmann's score for Cape Fear, the 124th Soundtrack of the Week.

This is one of Robert Mitchum's best movies and one of Bernard Herrmann's greatest scores.

It begins with trombones playing two four-note descending lines. In an interesting coincidence, a very similar four-note descending line can be heard in the other Robert Mitchum movie that Herrmann scored, White Witch Doctor. While it's part of a love theme there, here it's pure menace, as remorseless and unyielding as brass.

The rest of the music is pure Herrmann. There's a breathy and light-hearted bit for flute that's similar to a cue from North by Northwest. There's another bit that's uncannily like John Williams's famous theme for Jaws.

The moods of tension and suspense alternate with dreamy and watery atmospheres and some of Herrmann's most stirring action writing.

Strangely, there doesn't seem to be an official release of this music. The CD I have is from Germany and is, I think, a bootleg.

But when Martin Scorsese remade Cape Fear in 1991, Elmer Bernstein was brought in to arrange and adapt Herrmann's original score for the new movie. This CD, a beautiful stereo recording, is official and easily found.

Nobody could have done a better job than Bernstein, a colleague and admirer of Herrmann who had already conducted re-recordings of some Herrmann scores. I read somewhere that Bernstein also used some of Herrmann's rejected Torn Curtain score in the Cape Fear remake.

Robert Mitchum was also brought back for a cameo (as was his original co-star Gregory Peck).

The opening credits were designed by Saul Bass, who also did the opening credits for Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest.

The remake is nowhere near as good as the original. It works better as a comedy than as a thriller, which I don't believe was Scorsese's intention.

The way the music is used demonstrates one way the movies are different. Herrmann's original score comes blasting out with its main theme. Bernstein's arrangement builds up to it. While Bernstein's arrangements are beautiful and make for great listening, this emphasis on build-up is what ruins the remake. The original Cape Fear just got down to business while the remake spends a lot of time goofing off.

Herrmann's Cape Fear music was also used in the "Cape Feare" episode of The Simpsons, since which it's become the theme music for the Sideshow Bob character .