Parallelism, Pentatonicism, Phrygian Mode, Film Score, Motivic Integration, Thematic Variant, Villain, Leitmotif, Ear Transcription


Roar of the Dragon (1932) was an important work in film composer Max Steiner’s transitional period before King Kong’s success. While other substantial films of this period have been analyzed and treated in regard in the film community, Roar of the Dragon is a relatively overlooked entry that shares many similarities with King Kong and Steiner’s other early lengthy scores. Because the original score of Roar of the Dragon has been lost, the work I did in 2020 as a research assistant in the Harold B. Library’s department of cataloging and metadata to recreate the score through ear transcription allowed for this further analysis and research. All of the music figures included below are from my ear transcription. Because of the recreated score, others can soon study and research the film further. While it does not have as much music as other Steiner films leading up to King Kong, it certainly showcases Steiner’s skills in thematic variation and motivic integration with very simple music. I present a discussion of the dramatic usage of a chord like Wagner’s Tristan Chord or Weber’s Samiel Chord. Steiner utilizes existing connections between his setting and musical techniques in order to further establish the diegesis or narrative of the film. His score exhibits a kind of folky impressionism, rife with modal harmonies, whole-tone harmonies, and planing. Up to 45% of the film score is based on the same two ideas found in the villain’s theme, which is uncommon for this point in Steiner’s career.

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