Top 5 Film Scores

Music in film serves many purposes, to engage the viewer, to signify danger or tension, to speed up the action or deepen the sense of emotion.  Morley tutor Marie Bennett has choosen her all time top five film scores.

King Kong (Merian C Cooper, 1933) – music by Max Steiner

This is a really important and influential score in the history of narrative music in classical Hollywood films. The main title music is indicative of the storyline to come. On the one hand, Steiner employs chromaticism and descending musical phrases to introduce us to this strange, gigantic beast, but he also references the romantic side of this ‘eighth wonder of the world’ by his use of lush strings.  The chromatic leitmotif that represents Kong is an early use of employing this Wagnerian technique to represent a person or object.

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) – music by Max Steiner

Another Steiner score, and this time he incorporates familiar anthems (the ‘Marseillaise’ and ‘Deutschland uber Alles’) with great effect. But it is not just the Steiner score that is memorable, for the films also includes popular song and instrumental numbers to create a specific atmosphere in Rick’s Café Américain and its opposite number, The Blue Parrot. Some of the songs heard in Rick’s are used ironically – Sam’s playing of ‘It Had to be You’, for example – and others humorously. There is also the skilful employment of music to indicate location.

The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) – music by Anton Karas

The Ferris wheel at the Prater may be a memorable visual image within the narrative of this film set in post-war Vienna, but the accompanying soundtrack proved to be notable aurally. The monothematic score was a popular choice for many films, but the use of the zither for this hummable melody became so synonymous with the film that the music is sometimes called the ‘The Harry Lime Theme’.  Indeed, the music is so mesmerising that it almost becomes one of the film’s characters.

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) – music by Bernard Herrmann

Hermann wrote the music for a number of Hitchcock’s best-loved films, and the score for this movie is one of his most famous – and intriguing – compositions. The unsettling main title music, matched with Saul Bass’s captivating visual images, encapsulates the dizziness that will be experienced by Scotty (James Stewart) through its use of swirling ascending and descending arpeggiatic triplet figures. Two melodies fight against one another, one moving upwards as the other moves downwards, the ‘clashing’ notes creating a dissonance and duality inherent in the storyline.

The Thomas Crown Affair (Norman Jewison, 1968) – music by Michel Legrand

An interesting score, but particularly notable for its incorporation of a popular song that not only underscores the main titles, but also a memorable sequence in which the protagonist, played by Steve McQueen, flies in a glider. Having masterminded a daring bank heist, Crown appears remarkably calm, but the song that accompanies the glider sequence, both through its music and through its lyrics, indicates that he is not as cool and composed as he outwardly appears.  

Music in film serves many purposes, to engage the viewer, to signify danger or tension, to speed up the action or deepen the sense of emotion. We asked Morley tutor Marie Bennett to choose her all time top five film scores.

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