Max Steiner

King of the Night


  • Roger Hickman



Max Steiner; film noir; pre-composed music; thematic characterization


Max Steiner provided music for over 300 films during a distinguished career that extended over three decades. He is justifiably celebrated for his scores in multiple film genres, including historical epics, romances, horror movies, and dramas. Less well known are Steiner’s contributions to film noir. Yet he is a leading composer for this dark trend in Hollywood filmmaking. Three factors go into this assessment: the number of noir films that he scored, the prestige of those films, and the overall quality of his music. The span of Steiner’s noir composition is nearly identical to that of the era itself, which is generally defined as 1940–1959. Depending on which films are viewed as film noirs, Steiner is the third or fourth most prolific composer for the genre. Among these are classics such as Mildred Pierce, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, and White Heat, a roster of noir heavies unmatched by any other composer. For the most part, his music for these films consistently reflects traits that we associate with Steiner’s other film scores. This overview focus on two qualities in these films: the use of pre-composed music and thematic material as characterization. Included in this survey are Steiner’s scores for Mildred Pierce, The Woman in White, The Beast with Five Fingers, City for Conquest, and The Death of a Scoundrel.


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How to Cite

Hickman, R. (2022). Max Steiner: King of the Night. Journal of Film Music, 9(1-2), 121–127.