Bernard Herrmann: North by Northwest
Alfred Hitchcock's tale of suspense and espionage is given a suitably tense musical treatment by the great Bernard Herrmann.
Bernard Herrmann's collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock often produced some incredibly daring musical moments (the shower scene from Psycho, anyone?), but with North By Northwest, it was all about tension. The rollicking storyline of a man on the run (Cary Grant at his dashing best) lends itself perfectly to Herrmann's choppy style of orchestration, and there are countless moments in the film that wouldn't have been half as effective without some serious banging and crashing coming from the score.
In the notorious crop-dusting scene where Grant's Richard Hannay is routinely dive-bombed by a mysterious plane, it's Herrmann's dancing score that gives the moment its danger and its menace. Blaring woodwinds and chaotic percussion are the perfect mirror to Hannay's life - appearing to spiral out of control, but somehow remaining just about controllable. North By Northwest came along just a year before Psycho did, at which point Herrmann and Hitchock's dynamic really cemented itself - but rarely was it more exciting than this.