Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Music

In my last two posts I mentioned the importance of music in movies.  In the Hitchcock Blogathon, I wrote about Bernard Herrmann who added atmosphere to many of Hitch's movies.  In the Laurel and Hardy post, I mentioned T. Marvin Hatley and Leroy Shields, and the use of their music by Hal Roach.

I remember owning a long playing record of the soundtrack to King of Kings (1961) with the music of Miklos Rozsa (1907 - 1995).  I loved that record and played it often.  The movie came out when I was eleven, so I probably got the LP shortly after seeing the movie at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA.

Rozsa started as a musician and composer in Leipzig, and worked in Paris and London before moving to the USA to be nearer the movie industry.  He composed for many films, but his works were also used as stock music in many others. 

Perhaps his best known score was for Spellbound (1945).  And apparently Hitchcock didn't like it very much.  He said it got in the way of his directing.  I liked it.  I actually had a recording of "Spellbound" on a 78 rpm record, which was probably directed by the composer.

But don't stop there.  I was amazed when I looked at Rozsa's work.  He was well known for his music during the Film Noir era.  Films such as Double Indemnity (1944) and Lady on a Train (1945).  He then went into historical dramas like Quo Vadis (1951), King of Kings and El Cid (1961), and the exciting fantasy The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in 1974, produced by Ray Harryhausen (b. 1920).

He wasn't afraid to be inovative and used the newfangled electronic instrument known as the Theremin.  His final original music was written for Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) starring Steve Martin.  And it doesn't end there.

Some of his compositions were used as stock music for the TV show "Superman" in the 1950s, and he wrote "Dum-De-Dum-Dum" long before "Dragnet" was on television.  The "Dragnet" theme is still being used.

His music can also be heard in Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Francis Covers the Big Town (1953), Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), Ben-Hur (1959) and The Dirty Dozen (1967).

I believe Mikos Rozsa touched many more lives of movies fans than most would imagine.  His music could do wonderful things for a movie, and he is right up there with Dimitri Tiomken, Bernard Herrmann, and John Williams

Interestingly, I remember his name being misspelled on that old LP.  It was listed on one side of the cover correctly, and on the back as Rosza.


  1. Thanks, Allen, for a brief but informative tour of Miklos Rozsa's career...what I enjoyed as much was your recollection of your "King of Kings" soundtrack LP and having seen the film as a child at a local theater. As I came to the close of your post, other great film composers popped into my mind, like Max Steiner and Elmer Bernstein...& then I remembered a site I happened upon while researching Herrmann for a may enjoy it - the late David Raksin's reminiscences of his's a link (to cut and paste):

  2. Thanks for the link, Eve. I will check it out. I write quickly, so my blogs are brief, but I should have mentioned Steiner and Bernstein...two more greats.

    Now, think about movies without music or Bit Actors. What's left?

  3. Very nice profile of a fine composer. It's interesting to learn that Hitch didn't like the score for SPELLBOUND. I think it's beautiful...haunting initially and then romantic. I first heard it on a LP of movie music by the Stanley Black Orchestra. To your list of great composers, I'd also add Korngold.

  4. I would think it would make a great Blog to just talk about movie music.

    Thanks for the compliment.


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