Tag Archives: MGM



To say that Miklos Rozsa was a prolific composer of music for the cinema is certainly an understatement, plus we should not forget Rozsa was not just a composer of magnificent film scores but also wrote music for the concert hall another area in which he excelled. Born in Budapest Hungary in 1907, Rozsa was the son of an influential industrialist and land owner. Rozsa came from an affluent family and most of his early years were spent at the family’s country estate in the county of NOGRAD which lay close to the Matra mountains. His first encounter wit music came when his was just five years of age, it was then that he began to study the viola and piano, just three years later after celebrating his eighth birthday he began to perform in public and made his initial attempts at composing music. His Father however was convinced that music was not the right career move for his Son, so insisted that Rozsa should set out to get an all round good education. Miklos attended a High school in Budapest for this education, but still remained actively involved in his study of music. After a while he moved to Leipzig where he began to study Chemistry. These studies however were short lived and after some intervention by Herrmann Grabner Rozsa’s Father was persuaded to allow his son to study music on a full time basis and concentrate on making it his career. He began to study at the Leipzig conservatory and in his last years there would often stand in for Tutors giving lectures and also instructing fellow students. Rozsa’s first published orchestral work was a piece entitled HUNGARIAN SERENADE for small orchestra which was given its premiere performance in Budapest during the summer of 1929 by The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Erno Dohnanyi (sometimes known as Ernst von Dohnányi). The piece was well received and garnered Rozsa much acclaim from composers such as Richard Strauss.


Rozsa soon established himself as a composer of note and built up an impressive musical canon, he collaborated with his friend and fellow composer Arthur Honegger to stage a concert of their combined musical works at the Salle Debussy in Paris. It was whilst working alongside Honegger that Rozsa heard the composer’s music for the move LES MISERABLES and became interested in the concept of writing music for the cinema and utilizing music to heighten the dramatic impact of film. After watching LES MISERABLES and seeing how music enhanced the images on screen Rozsa decided that composing music for movies was what he wanted to do. In 1936, he travelled to England to work on a ballet entitled HUNGARIA, and whilst there was asked to compose the score for Alexader Korda’s production of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (1937).


The movie and also Rozsa’s musical score were a great success and later that year the composer was engaged to write the music for another Korda production THUNDER IN THE CITY (1937), shortly after this assignment the composer was signed to the permanent staff of London films which was Korda’s production company. Rozsa first major scoring assignment came in 1939, when he wrote the music for THE FOUR FEATHERS, after this he worked on a movie that is probably still regarded by many as the composers most accomplished and memorable work for cinema which was THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1940). The film and the music thrilled and delighted audiences all over the world and became a lucrative production for the Korda organisation and was also the score that would lead Rozsa to Hollywood, this was because of the outbreak of WWll and the entire production of the movie including Rozsa being relocated to the United States who at that time were not involved in the conflict. The composer’s first Hollywood score was to come two years later when he penned the soundtrack to Korda’s THE JUNGLE BOOK (1942). The composer made a recording of a suite of music from the movie and also included narration on the recording by the films star Sabu, this was the first time that film music had been released on a recording in the United States and it proved to be very popular.


In 1945 the composer wrote the score for Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND and his hauntingly mesmerising soundtrack established him even more as a composer of worth and also garnered him an Academy Award for his efforts, in the same year Rozsa composed the music for Billy Wilders THE LOST WEEKEND and for this he employed what is probably the first electronic instrument within the score the Theremin. In 1947 the composer was awarded the Oscar for his music to George Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE and one year later Rozsa joined the staff at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, it is probably true to say that it was whilst at M.G.M that the composer was at his most prolific, writing the scores to such movies as QUO VADIS (1951), BEN HUR (1959), EL CID (1961) and KING OF KINGS (1962). He was awarded an Oscar for his monumental soundtrack to BEN HUR and received much acclaim for his epic score to EL CID. The latter becoming a firm favourite among numerous collectors of film music. As the Golden age of film music reached its sunset and the Silver age began to dawn film making trends and practices altered and styles of film production changed (not necessarily for the better) thus many up and coming film makers were attempting to create their own unique approaches to making movies and this did include the way in which music was utilized within film. Younger composers were beginning to break into the film music arena and although not turning their backs on the what had up till then been the traditional way of scoring movies were inventing new sounds and styles.


Rozsa however still remained busy during this period even though he had himself acknowledged that EL CID was his last major film score. The composer created a number of noteworthy scores that in many connoisseurs opinions were more worthy than the films they were intended to enhance. There were also thankfully a number of production that were creditable vessels for his wonderful themes, these in my opinion included, PROVIDENCE, THE LAST EMBRACE, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, TIME AFTER TIME and DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, the latter title including a score that parodied Rozsa’s own style and sound that he had employed in movies such as THE NAKED CITY, THE KILLERS and BRUTE FORCE.



During the 1980,s the composer was forced to retire from writing music because of failing eyesight, he passed away on July 27th 1995 aged 88, he left behind a rich and varied tapestry of musical works and is still influencing film music in the 21st Century via his powerful, sumptuous, haunting and innovative style of composing for the motion picture industry.





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SHAFT, is a character that I suppose we all primarily associate with actor Richard Roundtree, it’s one of those movie fan things, we hear the name Richard Roundtree and up pops the infectious SHAFT theme tune in ones head, more recently however Samuel L Jackson assumed the guise of the black private investigator with rather direct and unconventional methods of obtaining information, but Roundtree even made an appearance in that modern day version of the story. Shaft began in book form back in the 1970,s,authour Ernest Tidyman was white, but could see the possibilities of having a private detective in a black environment, he sold the rights to his book before it was finished and MGM asked him to write a screenplay, probably at the time the producers actors etc that were involved were not aware that it would become the runaway success that it was and also endure for so many years afterwards, but SHAFT was completely different from anything that had hit the screen before and also it had in all of its principal roles black actors, but black actors that gave performances which were also different from anything that cinema audiences had witnessed before.

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It took the IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT notion to a higher level, giving black actors a chance to show they were every bit as good if not better than white performers. Interestingly enough the films producers were all white, but MGM called on black filmmaker Gordon Parks to act as director on the movie, which was a smart move on the part of the studio. This I suppose was the beginning of the era of the Blax-ploitation genre, many critics at the time saw Shaft as a real depiction of how it was on the streets but in reality Shaft was nothing more than a sharp thriller, which in essence gave black audiences their own James bond figure.

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SHAFT spawned a handful of sequels and also a television series it was also to become the film that many other moviemakers tried to emulate during the 1970’s in films that would follow such as TROUBLE MAN, SUPERFLY, CLEOPATRA JONES, ACROSS 110TH STREET etc. It is also true to say that films produced decades later would take their cue from the SHAFT trilogy of feature films, i.e. BEVERLY HILLS COP, 48 HOURS and to a degree a more recent picture entitled ALEX CROSS and the BBC TV series LUTHER, in fact it even influenced movies outside of the private eye/police thriller genre in the form of BLACULA which was a blax-ploitation take on the classic Bram Stoker vampire story, which was updated and given soul and a whole lot of eye candy for the gents by its producers. But it was not just the movies within the SHAFT series that proved to be popular, the music for all of the films and also the television series became firm favourites with soundtrack collectors and also soul, funk devotees.

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The first movie in the series contained a score by already popular composer/performer Isaac Hayes, the composer/artist fused expressive grooves with funky sounding flourishes along side jazz vibes and blended these seamlessly with fast paced and dramatic orchestral elements and the occasional vocal performance such as the laid back and ever so soulful/ Gospel influenced HARLEM MONTAGE (SOULSVILLE) which Hayes performed himself ,the enticing near easy listening piece LOVE SCENE ELLIE (ELLIES LOVE THEME) and I CANT GET OVER LOSIN YOU (which has a kind of Earth Wind and Fire vibe going on) along the way to create a soundtrack that was not only infectious and haunting but one that crossed over from film music into the soul and jazz funk genres thus becoming a soundtrack album that was popular with numerous fans. It was a score that appealed to the already converted soul/funk collectors and also it intrigued hardened film music devotees, who had up until that time been used to more conventional symphonic sounding soundtracks, only sometimes experiencing jazz flavoured works for the screen by composers such as Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein and their like, in fact the only examples that I can think of that came close to the style employed by Hayes on SHAFT are in my opinion Sid Ramin’s excellent score for STILETTO, which was released in 1969, Ramin employing jazz vibes alongside easy listening cues and high octane dramatic interludes also the now classic soundtrack to BULLIT (1968) by Lalo Schifrin and to a degree Michel Legrand’s wonderful score for THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968). The pulsating and vibrant up-tempo beats created by Hayes for SHAFT were destined to become part of film music history and also earned the composer/musician an Academy award for his trouble in the best original score category. SHAFT contains a score that is jumping right from the off, smooth and delectable sounding jazz influences and bursts of adrenalin filled orchestral flourishes that are laced with funky colours that match the action are infectious memorable and got a lot going on. It was a fresh and original way to score a movie and the music worked well with the images on screen and also had a life away from those images, Hayes creating an urban sound that matched perfectly the inner city environment in which the film was shot. It is probably the now iconic title song that most are aware of, with Hayes performing the vocals and the rhythm section being provided by the Bar-Kays and movement, the title song or a version of it included on this FSM compilation SHAFT ANTHOLOGY His Big Score and More is taken from the actual score and is slightly different to the version that was issued as a single at the time of the movies release and I have to comment that the sound quality is a little distorted at times, this FSM compilation also contains a number of cues from Hayes’s score that have not been available before (SHAFT, score- tracks 1 to 22 disc one) and as bonus tracks has Hayes’s theme from THE MEN (track 23) and a cue entitled TYPE THANG (track 24) which was used as a source cue in SHAFTS BIG SCORE.

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Which brings us to the next instalment of the SHAFT film trilogy the aforementioned SHAFTS BIG SCORE (also included on the FSM compilation-tracks 1 to 18 on disc two) many thought that after the success of the music in SHAFT producers would have Hayes back to repeat his musical triumph and maybe even take it to higher levels, but to the astonishment of many the score was written by Gordon Parks who was the director of the original movie and also was the cinematic helmsman on SHAFTS BIG SCORE. This was due to certain disagreements between Hayes and the studio, and Parks found himself in the role of composer as well as director, musical arranger Tom McIntosh had already been contracted to work with Hayes on his return to the SHAFT scoring stage as he had done previously on SHAFT, but as Hayes was now not involved Parks negotiated with McIntosh to work with him on the score for SHAFTS BIG SCORE.

Gordon Parks.
Gordon Parks.

The music was very much inspired and influenced by Hayes’s original score and in fact although the music was essentially good and worked well within the movie, it did not contain the same originality, vibrancy or freshness that Hayes had demonstrated and achieved in the original score. The opening title song for example was in effect a clone of the SHAFT theme, yes it had different vocals and the instrumentation and construction was slightly different but it was still SHAFT all’a Hayes, with its simmering cymbals and smooth sounding strings that were punctuated by brass stabs, pulsating bass lines and up-beat percussive eruptions. BLOWING YOUR MIND was performed by O. C.Smith, and took the same line musically and stylistically as the original Hayes opening theme, it contained a long instrumental intro and then a question and answer vocal ensues O.C.Smith asking the questions, with the chorus vocalists answering him with breathy vocalising of “SHAFT” or “HE SURE WILL” and “THE MANS TROUBLE HIS BEEN TO MY HOUSE”,” PUT A HOLE IN YOUR SOUL HONEY” etc etc and all the time smooth but bubbling strings accompanying them with a constant background of percussive elements and brass punctuating the proceedings. Vocalist Smith also performed two additional songs for the score, DON’T MISUNDERSTAND which is a slow soulful number and also the upbeat and infectious MOVE ON IN which was utilized as source music in a scene in a club when Shaft is roughed up and dumped in a back alley.

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Parks score for SHAFTS BIG SCORE also featured a near 15 minute cue which was released as the entire B side to the original MGM Long Playing record, SYMPHONY FOR SHAFTED SOULS is an upbeat affair for the majority of its duration, featuring the tracks TAKE OFF,DANCE OF THE CARS,WATER BABIES,CALL AND RESPONSE and THE LAST AMEN. It was in effect a coming together of many of the major themes that had been heard throughout the score and cleverly arranged and orchestrated into a lengthy suite. Steamy brass and effervescent sliding strings with a background of up-tempo percussion are the order of the day. The third movie in the SHAFT trilogy was SHAFT IN AFRICA (unfortunately the music from this is not featured on the FSM compilation-but is available on I tunes) now this was something a little different as we see the central character becoming more of a secret agent than a gumshoe as he fights against slave traders in Africa, the movie was directed by John Guillerman, the musical duties on this final cinematic SHAFT outing were handed to veteran composer, performer, arranger and band leader Johnny Pate. Pate who had worked closely with Curtis Mayfield on SUPERFLY (1972) and been a collaborator on other projects with him, seemed a natural choice to the executives at the MGM studios.

Johnny Pate.
Johnny Pate.

SHAFT IN AFRICA included an infectious and vibrant title song ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH which was performed by the legendary Motown group THE FOUR TOPS, and Pate,s score was also a energetic and well structured work with powerful themes and imaginative arrangements that were dramatic and jazz influenced with a strong funky sounding foundation that was laced with an almost big band or swing sound. The opening cue sets the scene wonderfully for the remainder of Pate’s score, brassy percussive and up-tempo. YOU CANT EVEN WALK IN THE PARK sets the stage for an entertaining and polished work. With highlight cues being the slow and sultry sounding ALEME FINDS SHAFT, the upbeat but sophisticated and contagious SHAFT IN AFRICA(Addis) and the slow but compelling EL JARDIA plus three versions of the title song, the longest of these being the cut that was issued as a single. Also in 1973, MGM embarked on a small screen version of the SHAFT stories and a series of seven 90 minute shows were produced from the latter part of 1973 through to the early part of 1974, Richard Roundtree reprised his on screen role as John Shaft and included guest appearances by notable actors such as Tony Curtis, Robert Culp and George Maharis.


The music for the series was the work of Johnny Pate, who utilized heavily the original Isaac Hayes SHAFT theme and from time to time would work the theme into the fabric of his own scores and introduce various arrangements of the theme. The TV series soundtracks are represented on the FSM compilation by selections from 5 of the shows, THE EXECUTIONERS (Oct-1973), THE KILLING (Oct-1973), HIT-RUN (Nov-1973), THE KIDNAPPING (Dec-1973) and THE COP KILLERS (Jan-1974).
The Film Score Monthly compilation SHAFT ANTHOLOGY-HIS BIG SCORE AND MORE is certainly worth seeking out and adding to your collection, it is a toe tapping collection of funky tunes that are entertaining and infectious but also are innovative and highly original film scores. Presented superbly with great liner notes and a colourful collection of stills.