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Crabtree, Arthur (1900-75)

Cinematographer, Director

Main image of Crabtree, Arthur (1900-75)

Cinematographer turned director Arthur Crabtree (1900-1975) started out at British International Pictures, where he shot five minor features including a now-lost Michael Powell-directed 'quota quickie', The Love Test (1935). He moved to Gainsborough in 1936, and stayed on the studio payroll until just before its demise in 1950.

Although his more experienced colleague Jack Cox (1890-1960) would usually handle the higher-profile Gainsborough titles (he photographed most British Hitchcock films, for instance), Crabtree quickly gained a reputation for fast, efficient shooting, especially in comedy, where his output included vehicles for Will Hay (Good Morning, Boys! (1937), Oh, Mr Porter! (1937), Old Bones of the River (1938)) and Arthur Askey (Band Waggon (1939), Charley's Big-Hearted Aunt (1940) and I Thank You (1941)), most of which were directed by Marcel Varnel.

His big break as a cinematographer, though, came with the first Gainsborough costume melodrama, The Man in Grey (d. Leslie Arliss, 1943), which allowed Crabtree to make a major contribution to the overall "look" of the cycle, blending high-contrast Expressionism with a studio policy that dictated maximum visibility for the stars (and their costumes!). Crabtree also photographed Fanny By Gaslight (1944) for Anthony Asquith, a rather more visually inventive production.

The same year he made his directorial debut with Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944), and would go on to direct They Were Sisters (1945), Caravan (1946) and Dear Murderer (1947) for Gainsborough. As a director, he was considered competent but - unsurprisingly - much stronger on the visual than the dramatic side of things. His frequent leading lady Phyllis Calvert admitted many years later that the lead actors largely directed themselves in Crabtree's films, though his photographic background ensured that they always looked good.

After Gainsborough's demise, Crabtree's directorial career continued for another decade, his best-known 1950s films probably being the much-loved flying killer brain film Fiend Without A Face (1958) and Horrors of the Black Museum (1959).

Michael Brooke

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bank Holiday (1938)Bank Holiday (1938)

Lively comedy-melodrama about an eventful August bank holiday

Thumbnail image of Caravan (1946)Caravan (1946)

Flaming passions, treacherous gypsies and Stewart Granger

Thumbnail image of Fanny By Gaslight (1944)Fanny By Gaslight (1944)

Costume melodrama about a Cabinet minister's illegitimate daughter

Thumbnail image of Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

Violent murder mystery revolving around Scotland Yard's famous museum

Thumbnail image of Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944)Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944)

Florentine melodrama about a jewel thief and his amnesiac mistress

Thumbnail image of Man in Grey, The (1943)Man in Grey, The (1943)

Melodrama about two girls whose fortunes run on very different paths

Thumbnail image of Oh, Mr Porter! (1937)Oh, Mr Porter! (1937)

Will Hay as a bumbling stationmaster in his most famous comedy

Thumbnail image of Old Bones of the River (1938)Old Bones of the River (1938)

Will Hay comedy about an African colonial administrator

Thumbnail image of They Were Sisters (1945)They Were Sisters (1945)

James Mason drives his wife to drink as her horrified sisters look on

Thumbnail image of Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The (1956-57)Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The (1956-57)

Arthurian swashbuckler starring later Dr Who companion William Russell

Thumbnail image of Ivanhoe (1958)Ivanhoe (1958)

Sir Walter Scott's hero made flesh by the young Roger Moore

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Thumbnail image of Gainsborough MelodramaGainsborough Melodrama

1940s costume dramas for a newly independent female audience

Related people and organisations