Douglas Slocombe – 100 years old today

OK movie buffs, here’s a fun pop quiz for you: what do Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sean Connery’s last Bond movie, Michael Caine in The Italian Job, Montgomery Clift’s turn as Sigmund Freud and several classic Ealing comedies such as Man in the White Suit and Kind Hearts and Coronets have in common?

Yup, that’s right, they were all photographed by the great Douglas Slocombe, who is not only still with us but turns 100 today. Active for five decades, from 1940 to 1989, Slocombe remains one of the world’s great cinematographers. Here is a brief run through his long and extraordinary career …

Starting off as a news photographer and then making the transition to documentaries, he first made an impact at Ealing Studios on such fact-based wartime films as The Big Blockade (directed by Charles Frend) and even more notably Basil Dearden’s concentration camp drama, The Captive Heart, both starring Michael Redgrave, who also played a significant role in the company’s multi-director portmanteau horror Dead of Night, though Stan Pavey was in fact the DP responsible for Redgrave classic tale of an insane ventriloquist.

Slocombe was responsible for the indelible Noir images of It Always Rains on Sunday, an hommage to the razor-sharp work of his great idol Gregg Toland, a classic post-war melodrama starring Googie Withers and directed by Robert Hamer, one of Ealing’s genius-in-residence stable of directors who would later reunite with Slocombe to make the black comedy classic Kind Hearts and Coronets though he also proved his versatility with the gorgeous-looking TechniColor costume drama of Saraband for Dead Lovers.

Slocombe quickly rose to become the main cinematographer at Ealing Studios, working on comedies as well as dramas and worked on some of the very best of the films made by the studios in the 40s and 50s collaborating with all their great directors including Alexander Mackendrick, Charles Frend, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton. After the closure of the Ealing studios in the late 50s Slocombe moved on to work with such international filmmakers as Joseph Losey, Roman Polanski, John Huston, George Cukor and Fred Zinnemann; and for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg he shot the original Indiana Jones trilogy too (see here), who awed his crews by never using  light meter – but he did a lot more besides.

As adept at handling the claustrophobia of the new Swinging 60s London of The L-Shaped Room and The Servant he could also light such sumptuous historical dramas as the Oscar-winning The Lion in Winter, the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby and the fanciful Lillian Hellman biopic starring Jane Fonda, Julia. He was also the cameraman on musicals ranging from Cliff Richard vehicles like The Young Ones to Norman Jewison’s big budget version of the stage smash Jesus Christ Superstar; he also made such terrifying black and white thrillers as Taste of Fear for Hammer (which I previously reviewed here) and George Baxt’s garish Circus of Horror and handled the colourful and expansive original versions of such high-speed pics as The Italian Job and Rollerball as well as such torrid pics as Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers, his unforgettable portrait of Tchaikovsky, Herb Ross’ Nijinski starring Alan Bates as Diaghilev, and Joseph Losey’s Boom!, an adaptation of a minor Tennessee Williams piece starring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton – all lit with his innate and unshakable style and grace.

Freud

The Servant

The Blue Max

The Italian Job

The Great Gatsby (1974)

Julia

For a selection of some of the many tributes to Douglas Slocombe over the years, see the BAFTA site here – this profile by Philip French here; the detailed IEC piece on him here; Duncan Petrie wrote an especially good piece on him for screenonline. A BBC radio interview can be heard here.

Happy Birthday Mr Slocombe – and thanks for all the classic movies.

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This entry was posted in 'In praise of ...', Basil Dearden, Douglas Slocombe, Film Noir, George Baxt, Gothic, Hammer Studios, Jimmy Sangster, Joseph Losey, London, New York, Paris, Scene of the crime, Screwball. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Douglas Slocombe – 100 years old today

  1. Colin says:

    It’s marvelous that such a distinguished link to cinema’s past is still with us and celebrating his centenary. Lovely tribute.

    • Thanks Colin – and it is also impressive that some of the other greats of British cinematography have also proved remarkably long-lived – Jack Cardiff was nearly 95 when he dies and Ronald Neame made it to 99, while Wolfgang Suchitsky will be 101 this Summer (hopefully) – I think Ossie Morris is 97 and Gil Taylor 98! Just such a fantastic body of work – really inspiring. You’ll notice I barely tried to excuse this post in what is meant to be a crime and mystery blog though Slocombe made several mysteries and thrillers.

  2. Sergio – What a lovely tribute to such a talented person. What amazes me as I read this is the variation within his work. That takes considerable skill and a natural ‘eye’ if I can put it that way.

    • I think you are absolutely correct Margot – to have a natural talent and to then be able to make so much of it in a competitive industry is surely a sign of intelligence and a ability well beyond the norm and certainly well worth celebrating.

  3. le0pard13 says:

    As Colin said, “Lovely tribute.” I have seen a number of these splendid films lensed by Mr. Slocombe. May he have many more. Well done and thanks, Sergio.

  4. Not wishing to echo everyone else, but a great tribute to a talented man

  5. John says:

    I always learn of new movies I’d love to see when I read one of these posts of yours, Sergio. Wish there was a DVD of IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY. Based on that clip I’d like to see the rest. The data at imdb.com tells me its based on a novel by Arthur LaBern who wrote Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. Now I really want to see it.

    • cheers mate – it’s a terrific movie chum (and I’m not just saying that because today it’s been absolutely tipping it down!). it is out on Blu-ray in the UK. it is available on DVD in the US through the likes of Amazon but no idea about Netflix though.
      It Always Rains on Sunday

  6. TracyK says:

    I am familiar with Douglas Slocombe, but only because my husband is a fan and much more knowledgeable about films and cinematography than I. When we sat watching the credits for Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater, he noticed that Slocombe was the cinematographer and pointed that out to me. I was pregnant and we had been looking for a boy’s name for our child (sex unknown at the time) and immediately and jointly picked Douglas as the perfect name. Which it is.

    Thanks for adding to my knowledge about this talented man. I will follow up on the other tributes.

  7. Yvette says:

    I learn all about new movies I want to see as well, Sergio, from reading your wonderful posts. After reading, I add the titles to my list. It’s amazing to think that Douglas Slocombe is still with us at the tender (and wise) old age of 100. God bless him, I hope he’s feeling well, especially on his birthday.,

    As I go over in my mind the various films from your (and Slocombe’s) list, I am marveling at the finesse and dexterity of genius. Thanks for a great post, Sergio.

    I will definitely be reading more about Slocombe – thanks for the links.

    • Thanks Yvette, I needed that – that’s that the nicest anyone has been to me all day! Slocombe has been virtually blind for quite a while now but had a fabulous career and one would hope few regrets. Believe it or not, the cinematographer Arthur Miller (the DP shot shot Lifeboat for Hitchcock, Dragonwyck for Mankiewicz, Gentleman’s Agreement for Kazan and How Green Was My Valley for Ford, not the playwright of the same name) once complained that The Lion in Winter looked too good and that Slocombe should have inserted some duller shots because otherwise no one would be able to appreciate all his fine work – which is definitely great if backhanded compliment!

  8. Jeff Flugel says:

    Hey Sergio! Really enjoyed your tribute to a great cinematographer! It’s amazing, the number of memorable films Mr. Slocombe has worked on – and that he’s still with us! He has quite an eclectic C.V., ranging from noir and Ealing comedies, to such divergent films as A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA, FATHOM, THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, THE ITALIAN JOB and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, to name but a few. What all those films have in common is they all look great!

    • Cheers Jeff – the fairly silly Fathom in particular seems like a very odd choice but his work is nothing if not eclectic though he never left his Ealing roots – Jamaica was directed by Sandy Mackendrick and The Third Secret (1964) starring Stephen Boyd by Charles Crichton but there was so much variety – even a Diana Dors melo Tread Softly Stranger got the Slocombe treatment (review coming to these shores soon).

  9. Pingback: Farewell to Bryan Forbes | Tipping My Fedora

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