January 2, 2017


Jack Cardiff (1914-) b. Yarmouth, England.

Jack Cardiff

Britain’s finest exponent of colour photography in the post-war years, Cardiff turned to direction with initially pleasing results. Later, his films became progressively less interesting and more flatly performed, and he returned to photography in the 1970s. Cardiff was born in Yarmouth, England in 1914. His parents were vaudeville performers who acted in movies between stage appearances. Sometimes they were extras. Occasionally, his mother played larger roles. The youngster was only four when he made his first appearance in a film called My Son, My Son (1918). Cardiff starred in Billy Rose (1922) and The Card (1922), however, by the time he was 11, the acting assignments were getting further apart. Cardiff was getting too old to continue as a child star. His last performance was in Tiptoes (1927). He began his work in cinematography as camera operator on Wings of the Morning (1937), the first British full-colour film. He gained his first solo credit on an Italian documentary short in the same year, and soon became acknowledged as one of the foremost TechniColour experts in films. His location work on The Four Feathers (1939) was much praised. In 1942, he started work on a two-year documentary film project. The film was made as a tribute to the British Merchant Navy, Cardiff sailed with a convoy from London to New York, and then back again. There were no actors, all the roles were played by merchant seaman. It was authentic in every other way. Four ships were sunk by U-boats in one attack on a convoy; the film was called Western Approaches (1944) in England. He was given sole charge of the photography in some of Britain’s most breathtaking TechniColour undertakings, among them A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), Scott of the Antarctic (1948), The Black Rose (1950) and The African Queen (1951). He won an Academy Award for his work on Black Narcissus. It was fitting that Cardiff filmed The Magic Box (1952), commemorating the 60th anniversary of cinematography, and the special contributions of William Friese-Green. He was now working on Hollywood-financed films shot outside America and, after photographing The Vikings (1958) for Richard Fleischer, Cardiff decided to turn director. His first ventures, oddly, were all in black and white. Intent to Kill (1958) and Beyond This Place (1959) were promising dramas and then came Sons and Lovers (1960) a corrosive, touching, excellent version of D.H. Lawrence’s story. Ironically, the only Oscar won by this, Cardiffs best film was for its black and white photography, in this case lensed by Freddie Francis. The rest of Cardiff’s directorial career was one disappointment after another, apart from Young Cassidy (1965), although this was begun by John Ford, and it is impossible to say how much he influenced the finished product. Eventually Cardiff returned to what he liked doing best: Death on the Nile (1978) for example, is sumptuously photographed in exotic locations in his best travelogue style. During the 1980s he continued his work as a cinematographer with such films as The Awakening (1980), Dogs of War (1981) and Cat’s Eye (1985).

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