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.
The Blue Max
The Italian Job
The Great Gatsby (1974)
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.