Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Leon Shamroy, cinematographer (1901-1974)

Watching THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES last night, I noticed that it had been photographed by Leon Shamroy. This caught my attention because Shamroy lensed some of the most gorgeous films for 20th Century-Fox during the 1950s and 60s, and his work for the studio during that time has always struck me as a particularly stunning example of cinematography that ranks among the finest ever put on the screen, so I'm always excited when I see a film that has Shamroy's name in the credits.

I first became aware of Shamroy's work as a kid, watching THE KING AND I (1956) on video with my mother, a film that continues to impress me for its unforgettably rich and elaborate imagery (see the still below for an example). Even watching it on a pan-and-scan VHS copy that did not do full justice to the artistry of Shamroy's eye, I was deeply impressed with what I saw, and his work continues to impress me for its masterful arrangement of the CinemaScope frame and its stunning use of the DeLuxe color palette.

Born in New York in 1901, Shamroy studied engineering at Columbia University but became involved in film production through some family connections, landing a low-level position in the labs of Fox studios in 1920. He began to make a name for himself by shooting some experimental films, and by the end of the decade, he was working as a full-fledged cinematographer on projects for various studios. After a stint shooting documentary footage in Asia in the early 1930s, Shamroy worked for Paramount for much of the decade under producer B.P. Schulberg.

When Schulberg left Paramount, Shamroy followed, and with his solid reputation well established, ended up at 20th Century-Fox in 1943, where he would shoot many of the studio's biggest productions over the next two decades, including THE ROBE, THE KING AND I, SOUTH PACIFIC, CLEOPATRA, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY, and PLANET OF THE APES, working regularly up until just a few years before his death in 1974.

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