We're looking for contributors

Jack Cardiff

Jack CardiffCinematographer and director Jack Cardiff, one of the early masters of color cinematography, has died. He was 94.

Cardiff's work as a cinematographer was quite eclectic, ranging from his partnership with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in the British-made Black Narcissus (1945) and The Red Shoes (1948) to prestigious international productions such as John Huston's The African Queen (1951) and King Vidor's War and Peace (1956), and to low-brow commercial fare such as Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985).

I've never watched Conan or Rambo, but I have watched more than 20 of Cardiff's 60 or so features, and I can testify that whether working in art-house or commercial fare, Cardiff's cinematography was invariably one of his films' chief assets. At times, his work was those films' only asset.

Born on Sept. 18, 1914, in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, to music hall entertainers, Cardiff began his film career as a cinematographer in the mid-1930s, shooting — with Henry Imus and Hollywood color expert Ray Rennahan — Wings of the Morning (1937), the first British Technicolor film, a romantic drama directed by Harold D. Schuster, and starring Hollywood import Henry Fonda and French import Annabella.

That was followed by numerous short films — some in color, some in black in white — until 1942, when Cardiff, paired with Claude Friese-Greene, shot The Great Mr. Handel, starring Wilfrid Lawson as George Frideric Handel.

Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar in Black NarcissusPat Jackson's 1944 war docudrama Western Approaches marked Cardiff's first solo effort as a feature-film cinematographer. From then on, he would work in many of the British film industry's top — and greatest-looking — color films, among them Gabriel Pascal's Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh; Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death (1945), and the aforementioned Black Narcissus (right), for which Cardiff won a well-deserved Academy Award, and The Red Shoes. (He would earn two more Academy Award nominations as a cinematographer, for War and Peace in 1956 and for Fanny in 1961.)

Also, Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949), starring Ingrid Bergman; the Tyrone Power costumer The Black Rose (1950); Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), in which Cardiff's cinematography helped to enhance the film's dreamily romantic atmosphere; the all-star The Magic Box (1952), with Robert Donat as British film pioneer William Friese-Greene; and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's sumptuous The Barefoot Contessa, starring Ava Gardner.

Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the ShowgirlMarilyn Monroe, who worked with Cardiff in Laurence Olivier's The Prince and the Showgirl (1957, right), called Cardiff's skills "the best in the world."

Cardiff's work as a cinematographer became more infrequent in the 1960s and early 1970s, a period when his directorial career took off after the critical success of his 1960 adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, a black-and-white (!) family drama that received 7 Academy Award nominations, including best film, best director, and best actor (Trevor Howard).

Dean Stockwell in Sons and LoversSons and Lovers competed for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and earned Cardiff a best director Golden Globe and a best director award from the National Board of Review.

"I wanted to make it into a good film," Cardiff once said, "because the book is marvelous and I didn't want to let the author down." He considered Sons and Lovers his best effort and the most difficult to shoot. (The equally capable Freddie Francis was the cinematographer. Somewhat ironically, Francis was the film's sole Oscar winner.)

Among Cardiff's other films as a director are The Story of William Tell (1953), his directorial debut, starring a latter-day Errol Flynn; the thriller Intent to Kill (1958), with Richard Todd and Betsy Drake; the well-made (and great-looking, courtesy of Ted Scaife's lenses) Sean O'Casey biopic Young Cassidy (1965), with Rod Taylor; and the poorly received The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), starring Alain Delon and Marianne Faithful.

Cardiff also directed the 1964 vikings tale The Long Ships, starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier, but, though great-looking, it was much inferior to Richard Fleischer's The Vikings (1958), in which Cardiff had worked as director of photography.

Peter Ustinov in Death on the NileAs a cinematographer, Cardiff's work in the last few decades include Death on the Nile (1978, right), a so-so thriller-comedy that was immensely helped by his use of color; The Wicked Lady (1983), with Faye Dunaway; the war drama The Dance of Shiva (1998); and the documentary miniseries The Other Side of the Screen (2007).

Cardiff won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the London Film Critics' Circle in 1997 and was given an honorary Oscar in 2001.

Had he not worked in films, he once said, he would have been a painter.

 

Great Directors Series on Turner Classic Movies

Thomas Meighan, THE LOST SQUADRON at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

Luis Buñuel's VIRIDIANA Screening

If you enjoyed reading Jack Cardiff and/or found it an informative post, please recommend it to your friends. See share buttons above or on the left.
Jack Cardiff last modified:

Continue Reading: Torino GLBT Film Festival 2009: FIRE IN SILENCE

Previous Post: A PROMISE TO THE DEAD: THE EXILE JOURNEY OF ARIEL DORFMAN, PORTRAITS OF A LADY Screening


"Jack Cardiff" © 2004-2014 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s). Text NOT to be reproduced without prior written consent.


Feel free to leave your comment about the Alt Film Guide article "Jack Cardiff" in the space below. Note: Different views and opinions are perfectly fine, but courtesy and respect are imperative. Abusive, bigoted, trollish, baseless (spreading rumors or misinformation), and inflammatory comments and/or remarks will be deleted, and such commenters may be banned.

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

1 Comment to Jack Cardiff

  1. The Lasting Tribute website has updated its memorial pages to include Jack Cardiff.

    http://www.lastingtribute.co.uk/tribute/cardiff/3066170

    It's a respectful memorial to Jack and somewhere to pay tribute to the family's fortitude at this difficult time.

    EVERY comment is monitored so that nothing offensive or inappropriate is published.




Olivia de Havilland Academy Tribute
Sessue Hayakawa: Pioneering East Asian Hollywood Star
Best Films - 1925: Fred Niblo's BEN-HUR, Ernst Lubitsch's LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Best Films - 1945
THE TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS Review Part II
BORN YESTERDAY / Judy Holliday: George Cukor Oscar Actors
Harrison Ford, Lillian Gish, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland: Packard Campus Screenings
Sybil Jason Dead at 83: Warner Bros.' Answer to Shirley Temple in the '30s
Lupita Tovar: DRACULA Actress Turns 103
Best British Movies of All Time?