From: Jack Sullivan, Hitchcock's Music (Yale University Press, 2006)

[Editor's note.  Jack Sullivan is director of American Studies and professor of English at Rider University.  His Hitchcock's Music has been widely praised.  Recently the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers gave it the Deems Taylor Award for best book on concert music.  In the excerpt below, describing composer Franz Waxman's contribution to Suspicion (1941), it is characteristic of Sullivan that he combines musical expertise with close attention to the film, including both image and dialogue.]

HITCHCOCK'S SECOND PROJECT FOR RKO during the [Selznick] loan-out, Suspicion, made an even more daring and extensive use of waltzes than the first [Mr and Mrs Smith]. In the most celebrated scene, Cary Grant, in his Hitchcock debut, dances up a shadowy staircase with a brightly lit glass of milk that may or may not be poison for his ailing wife, accompanied by a dark spin on Strauss’s “Wiener Blut” by Franz Waxman, in his second Hitchcock picture. Grant’s character Johnnie - a womanizer, spendthrift, liar, and gambling addict who may also be trying to murder his wife - is continually associated with this waltz. Usually it plays with straightforward elegance; in this scene, however, it is weirdly distorted, a distant, bleak woodwind fragment colored by a fateful gong. The suspicions of Johnnie’s wife, Lina, played with eloquent vulnerability by Joan Fontaine, appear to be justified.

“Wiener Blut” is heard six times in the film, debuting as a stylish contrast to the staid “Dance with Reggie,” where “Lina the Spinster” (as cue number 7 calls her) dances with a dully respectable suitor before being swept away on the dance floor by the attractive, mysterious Johnnie. Reggie’s music is a pallid version of 1940s swing; Johnnie’s is Strauss, seductively arranged by Waxman. Later, in Lina’s bedroom, the waltz wafts in from a distance, again from a real band, an effect from Waltzes from Vienna. “Let’s dance,” offers Johnnie, “before we . . .” Yes,” Lina interrupts, “let’s dance.”

“Wiener Blut” represents Johnnie’s allure and glamour, often seconds before Lina wonders whether he is a fraud. The couple’s “Honeymoon Montage” includes waltz fragments (written by Waxman) from Italy, Paris, and London; in the final shot, the waltz, now “Wiener Blut,” continues as the newlyweds dance privately, then is subverted by dissonance as Johnnie suddenly asks her for one hundred pounds. In later scenes, the meaning behind the waltz shifts with Lina’s growing doubts. An anxious cue called “Looking for Johnnie” reflects her worry that Johnnie has pushed his old pal Beaky off a cliff for his money; when she finds the two together and realizes she was wrong, the waltz erupts for full orchestra. As Beaky recounts  his near death on the cliff, her fears are revived; but when  he  points out that Johnnie saved his life, she is flooded yet again with relief. Through these huge mood swings, the waltz plays on, its significance continually changing.

In Rebecca, Waxman used conflicting themes to enact struggles between characters; here, the conflict is entirely in Lina’s psyche and is evoked by a single, ever-changing cue called “Suspicion.” Marked “Molto Appassionata”  in the main title, this cue sounds seductive and dangerous, its line dropping as it attempts to soar, its exotic harmonies shadowed by chromaticism. This tight, monothematic structure is revealed immediately in the cue sheet, which lists twenty-five “Suspicion” cues, nearly half the score. The opening variations suggest over-the-edge sexuality as Lina falls suddenly and obsessively in love. Johnnie meets Lina on a train, a prime location for significant Hitchcockian encounters, to the teasing strains of a countermelody (similar to the courtship cue in Rebecca) associated with Johnnie’s flirtatious charm, often before the main melody creeps in with a suggestion of something darker.

Hitchcock hated the film’s title, forced on him by RKO after audience tests; he thought it unspeakably tacky and instead wanted the film to be called Johnnie. The central cue could be called “Johnnie” or “Suspicion,” since the melody suggests both the charm of the male protagonist and a secret side. As the film progresses, “Suspicion” seems more apt; its colors and harmonies become increasingly uncertain as the heroine’s doubts grow. (The original score preserved by RKO is called Before the Fact, the working title based on Francis Iles’s novel.)

The opening scenes immediately establish Hitchcock’s growing mastery of sound. Clock chimes, church bells, barking dogs, and motor horns - all indelible parts of his sound tracks by the early 1940s - blend seductively with hunting horns in a surreal cacophony as Johnnie begins his hunt, obviously chasing after more than foxes. Pretending to take Lina to church, he makes an aggressive pass at her on top of a hill over shrill tremolos: “Did you think I was trying to kill you?” he asks, setting up the suspense. Lina declines the advance, snapping her purse shut and declaring she would have no trouble “handling” Johnnie any more than she would one of her horses. When she grabs and violently kisses him at the bottom of the hill, boldly taking the initiative after hearing her father describe her as an old maid with “intellect and a fine, solid character,” the strings tremble with dangerous passion.

From this point on, Waxman subjects the “Suspicion” tune to a variety of variations cuing Lina’s tumultuously shifting inner state. She suspects that  glamour-boy Johnnie is planning to kill her for her money but cannot be sure; all the evidence validates her growing panic, though her amorous feelings say the opposite. Drifting in and out of chronic suspicion, she exists in a state of exquisite ambivalence,a turn-on with constant cycles of tension and shuddering release fueled by variations that are sometimes lush, sometimes sinister - and often both at once. The “Suspicion” theme thus parallels “Wiener Blut” as a psychological barometer, though it  continually changes. Because  we really don’t know whether Johnnie is guilty, we are as uncertain as Lina, from whose point of view we see the action, and whose fantasies are sounded by Waxman’s ambiguous music. (Hitchcock kept an unhappy version of the ending on reserve, in case the censors who insisted on Johnnie’s final innocence demurred; except for the final cue, Waxman’s double-edged score would have worked for that version too.) When Lina becomes too suspicious to sleep with Johnnie, “Suspicion” sinks into despair; when he makes charmingly contrite resolutions to mend his spendthrift ways, the music becomes lush and consoling. Rarely does it do the expected: when Lina peeks at a letter from the insurance company revealing that Johnny gets her money in the event of her death, it whispers with eerie delicacy rather than exploding into a conventional stinger chord. When she refuses to let Johnnie take off her clothes prior to the  scene of his carrying the milk up the stairs, she nonetheless falls into his arms and fantasizes about the first time he tried to undo her blouse, as the score reprises the passionate “Suspicion” cue on the hilltop. At a certain point (as in the novel), Lina seems to accept Johnnie’s guilt and give in to it: when she looks knowingly at the glass of milk Johnnie has brought to her bedside in exchange  for a goodnight kiss, the melody has a wispy resignation.

This intense irresolution characterizes other cues as well. As in Vertigo, the music enacts the title. (Given the number of Hitchcock villains who whistle, even Cary Grant’s happy “Whistling Improvisation” sounds suspicious.) At “Isobel’s Dinner Party,” a writer of murder mysteries who claims she can determine if someone is a killer by his or her  face takes a look at Johnnie’s: a back-and-forth dissonance forms a question mark - it could easily go either way. “Car Ride” begins with silken strings as the lovers exchange endearments, degenerates into ugly discords when Lina reveals her knowledge of Johnnie’s job termination, then lurches back to romance when Johnny turns on the charm. As he declares his intention to develop a spectacular sea vista, a horn plays a lyrical but anxious solo.

In its darkest moments - the fateful waves of sound following Lina’s interrogation by police, the revelations of Johnnie’s employer - Waxman’s score signals pure terror, something far beyond suspicion. “Anagrams,” the most shivery example, begins with a Mussorgskian chord when Lina sees “Murder” on the game board, evoking a subjective montage of Beaky being thrown off a cliff, his screams mingling with garish brass clusters. When Lina opens Johnnie’s drawer and discovers The Trial of Richard Palmer, the story of a notorious poisoning case, a massive wave of sound resembling the ocean music in Rebecca crashes through the scene. When Johnnie locks the door following Isobel’s dinner party and leads Lina up shadowy stairs to the bedroom, a long bass pedal provides shuddery commentary.

Suspicion has striking musical correspondences with other Hitchcock movies. Lina writes an “I’m leaving you” letter to Johnnie over the hum of a pedal point, then tears it up, a forecast of Judy’s letter and its music in Vertigo. In haunting echoes of Rebecca, a novachord quivers through Joan Fontaine’s panic, and mysterious glissandos sweep upward as she opens bedroom curtains. Waxman’s score also anticipates later films: the  foreboding woodwinds introducing “Inspector Hobson” and the wandering harmonies as Lina is introduced to Johnnie’s employer foretell similar sounds during the Herrmann era.

The most dramatic parallel is literal: “Too Fast,” a crescendo of speed and panic, later lifted by Selznick for the ski sequence in Spellbound. This double-duty cue comes at the controversial end, where Johnnie turns out to be not a killer but a Hitchcock wrong man, the object of Lina’s fearful projections. Many have complained that this is a false happy ending, but it is consistent with Hitchcock’s preoccupation with obsession. He is always more interested in how people perceive reality and deal with troubling epiphanies than in who-done-it. In the end, Johnnie is absolved by music, and Lina is liberated from her mental torture. Whether we fully believe the happy outcome depends to a great extent on how convincing we find Waxman’s harmonies. The near-fatal car scene, in which Johnnie saves Lina’s life as she thinks he is ending it, is energized by an ostinato that collects all the anxiety the movie has generated, bringing it to a point of no return. Released by Lina’s cathartic scream, the bottled-up terror of “Too Fast” turns into a new version of the main theme, which appears in minor-key fragments surrounded by breathless tremelos as Lina realizes that Johnnie planned to poison himself rather than her and that he is guilty only of financial improprieties: “If only I had understood,” she cries, accusing herself of self-absorption, vowing to start the relationship over, and demanding an equal openness from Johnnie. He declares himself “no good. . . . You can’t change people overnight.” But the metamorphosis in the score, the ascending patterns moving painfully toward resolution, suggest change is possible; the music slowly takes a U-turn with the car and with the newly hopeful characters as the fragments come together, now ringing with chimes in consonance and closure, a satisfying symphonic resolution after so much disharmony and paranoia. This major-key peroration of “Suspicion,” which might now be called “Trust,” tells the final story: the concluding shot catches the reunited couple as they drive away so that we cannot see the expressions that have replaced their anguished close-ups. The credibility of the ending is tightly linked with that of the music.

The fatal threat turns out to have all been in the heroine’s head, a stream of fantasy cued by lusciously fearful music. Hitchcock’s next exploration of a young woman’s dire suspicion about a charismatic man [Shadow of a Doubt] would again use waltzes as a psychological keynote, but this time the threat would turn out to be real, indeed far worse than imagined.