THE COMPOSER: Miklós Rózsa
Budepest-born Miklós Rózsa (1907–1995) was introduced to film music in 1934 by his friend, the Swiss composer Arthur Honegger. Following a concert which featured their respective compositions, Honegger mentioned that he supplemented his income as a composer of film scores, including the film Les Misérables (1934). Rózsa went to see it and was greatly impressed by the opportunities the film medium offered.
However, it was not until Rózsa moved to London that he was hired to compose his first film score for Knight Without Armour (1937), produced by his fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda.
After his next score, for Thunder in the City (1937), he joined the staff of Korda's London Films, and scored the studio's epic The Four Feathers (1939). Korda and the studio's music director, Muir Mathieson, brought Rózsa onto their Arabian Nights fantasy The Thief of Bagdad (1940) when the operetta-style approach of the original composer, Oscar Straus, was deemed unsuitable. Production was transferred to Hollywood when the war broke out, and Rozsa completed his score there in 1940.
The film earned him his first Academy Award nomination. A further two followed with Lydia (1940) and Sundown (1941). In 1943, he received his fourth nomination for Korda's Jungle Book (1942)
In 1943, Rózsa scored his first of several collaborations with director Billy Wilder starting with Five Graves to Cairo, the same year that he also scored the similarly themed Humphrey Bogart film Sahara. In 1944, his scores for his second Wilder collaboration, Double Indemnity, and for The Woman of the Town, earned him separate Academy Award nominations in the same year.
In 1945, Rózsa was hired to compose the score for Alfred Hitchcock's film Spellbound. The score, notable for pioneering the use of the theremin, was immensely successful and earned him his first Oscar. However, Hitchcock disliked the score, saying it "got in the way of his direction."
Rózsa earned another Oscar nomination for scoring The Killers (1946). Part of the famed theme for the Dragnet radio and TV show duplicated part of Rozsa's The Killers main theme, and he successfully sued for damages, and subsequently was given co-credit for the Dragnet theme.
He received his third and final Oscar Ben-Hur in 1959.
His popular film scores during the 1970s included his last two Billy Wilder collaborations The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and Fedora (1978), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), the latter-day film noir Last Embrace starring Roy Scheider, and the time-travel fantasy film Time After Time (starring Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells).
Rózsa's last film score was for Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), a comic homage to the film noir films of the 1940s.
Learn more about his remarkable life and music here.