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Cox, Jack (1890-1960)


Main image of Cox, Jack (1890-1960)

One of the first important British cameramen, John Jaffray Cox started his career in 1913 as an assistant to the director Lewin Fitzhamon. Cox later refined his craft during a highly prolific five years at Stoll between 1921 and 1926, when he photographed numerous films for director Maurice Elvey. His profile was raised considerably when he moved to British International Pictures (BIP) at Elstree and worked regularly with the studio's star director Alfred Hitchcock, beginning with The Ring in 1927. Cox subsequently shot all of Hitchcock's films at BIP.

He proved an adept and versatile collaborator, skilled in both the expressionist lighting techniques and inventive cinematography which the visually oriented director demanded. The Ring, as Donald Spoto points out, is marked by an innovative use of blurred images, overlays, dissolves and double exposures; the arrival of the fishing boats which opens The Manxman (d. Hitchcock, 1929) has a spontaneity and a realism which is rare in dramatic British films of the period, while Blackmail (d. Hitchcock, 1929) contains a great deal of fluid camera movement despite being otherwise constrained by early sound production techniques.

Hitchcock left BIP in 1932 and Cox found himself working on less satisfying productions as the studio concentrated on its rather low-rent but popular mix of comedies and operettas. He subsequently joined Gainsborough, where he was immediately able to work with more creative directors like Robert Stevenson, Roy William Neill, the young Carol Reed, and Hitchcock again on the The Lady Vanishes (1937). By the 1940s Cox had become the studio's senior cameraman, specialising in a mixture of sober realist dramas including Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat's documentary-inpsired vision of life on the home front, Millions Like Us (1943), and the more highly charged melodramas which made the studio's reputation during the period, including Madonna of the Seven Moons (d. Arhtur Crabtree, 1944) and The Wicked Lady (d. Leslie Arliss, 1945).

The photographic style of the melodramas is rooted in an economical lighting design with an underlying expressionism that becomes more obvious at key moments of conflict and tension. Madonna of the Seven Moons, for example, utilises two contrasting visual styles, each corresponding to an aspect of the fractured psyche of Phyllis Calvert's central character. The meek and demure Maddalena inhabits brightly lit bourgeois interiors while her alter ego, the fiery and sensual Rosanna, lives in a shadowy world of excitement, romance and danger at the Seven Moons Café, conveyed via an imaginative interplay of light and shade. Bolder visual touches are also used sparingly for maximum expressive effect - in The Wicked Lady we cut to an extreme close-up of the eyes of Lady Barbara Skelton (Margaret Lockwood) as she commits murder; later, as she lies dying of a gunshot wound, the camera unexpectedly cranes back and up and out of the window, leaving her alone and isolated in her wickedness. Unfortunately, the signs of economy are also rather visible in The Wicked Lady, with poor back projection sequences of the principals out riding and some very obvious day-for-night.

By the late 1940s Gainsborough was under new management, and Cox was gradually eclipsed by younger technicians such as Stephen Dade and Reg Wyer. He ended his career shooting light comedies, including a number of Norman Wisdom vehicles, for director John Paddy Carstairs.

Duncan Petrie

This entry is taken from Duncan Petrie's The British Cinematographer (BFI, 1996). Used by permission.

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Thumbnail image of Blackmail (1929)Blackmail (1929)

Hitchcock thriller that was the first feature-length British sound film

Thumbnail image of Blighty (1927)Blighty (1927)

Melodrama about the impact of WWI on a wealthy English family

Thumbnail image of Champagne (1928)Champagne (1928)

Hitchcock melodrama about a millionaire feigning ruin

Thumbnail image of Cottage To Let (1941)Cottage To Let (1941)

WWII espionage thriller that introduced Alastair Sim to George Cole

Thumbnail image of Juno and the Paycock (1930)Juno and the Paycock (1930)

Hitchcock adaptation of Sean O'Casey's play about Irish nationalism

Thumbnail image of Just My Luck (1957)Just My Luck (1957)

Comedy with Norman Wisdom as a shop assistant who takes up gambling

Thumbnail image of Lady Vanishes, The (1938)Lady Vanishes, The (1938)

Glorious comic thriller about a mysteriously disappearing old woman

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 Magic Bow, The (1946)Magic Bow, The (1946)

Stewart Granger (and Yehudi Menuhin) as the violinist Paganini

Thumbnail image of Man Who Changed His Mind, The (1936)Man Who Changed His Mind, The (1936)

Wonderful early 'mad scientist' film, with Boris Karloff

Thumbnail image of Millions Like Us (1943)Millions Like Us (1943)

Launder & Gilliat film about the lives of women during World War II

Thumbnail image of Murder! (1930)Murder! (1930)

Hitchcock whodunit with a theatrical setting

Thumbnail image of Number Seventeen (1932)Number Seventeen (1932)

Early Hitchcock sound thriller about criminals holed up in a deserted house

Thumbnail image of O-Kay For Sound (1937)O-Kay For Sound (1937)

Knockabout film studio farce that introduced The Crazy Gang

Thumbnail image of Rich and Strange (1931)Rich and Strange (1931)

Hitchcock melodrama about a couple contemplating infidelity on a cruise

Thumbnail image of Ring, The (1927)Ring, The (1927)

One of Hitchcock's best silents: a boxing melodrama with a twist

Thumbnail image of Skin Game, The (1931)Skin Game, The (1931)

Family rivalry and dark secrets in Hitchcock's play adaptation

Thumbnail image of Square Peg, The (1958)Square Peg, The (1958)

Chaos ensues when council employee Norman Wisdom joins the army

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 Two Thousand Women (1944)Two Thousand Women (1944)

Drama set in a women's internment camp during World War II

Thumbnail image of We Dive At Dawn (1943)We Dive At Dawn (1943)

Tense, claustrophobic WWII submarine drama starring John Mills

Thumbnail image of Wicked Lady, The (1945)Wicked Lady, The (1945)

A bored Margaret Lockwood finds fulfilment through highway robbery

Thumbnail image of Windbag the Sailor (1936)Windbag the Sailor (1936)

Will Hay comedy that puts him in charge of a most unseaworthy vessel

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