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Cardiff, Jack (1914-2009)

Director, Cinematographer, Writer

Main image of Cardiff, Jack (1914-2009)

Born on 18 September 1914 in Great Yarmouth, Jack Cardiff worked both in front of and behind the camera from the age of four. In the 30s he quickly acquired a reputation as a proficient camera operator and worked with Ray Rennahan on the first British Technicolor film, Wings of the Morning (d. Harold Schuster, 1937). As director of photography he worked almost exclusively in colour, using the cumbersome Technicolor camera with extraordinary dexterity in Pat Jackson's dramatised documentary, Western Approaches (1944), and winning an Oscar for his beautifully atmospheric cinematography on Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus ( 1947).

He made an abortive directorial debut with William Tell (1953), an independently financed vehicle for Errol Flynn which ran out of money before completion. 20th Century-Fox then gave him a five-year contract to direct, beginning with Intent to Kill (1958). It was followed by two independent productions: Beyond This Place (1959), an incoherent, overwrought mystery melodrama adapted from an A.J. Cronin novel; and Scent of Mystery (US, 1960), which, despite being shot in 70mm and presented in Smell-O-Vision, performed disastrously in the US and was not released in Britain until 1966, abridged, deodorised and retitled Holiday in Spain.

Cardiff's most respectable projects were Sons and Lovers (1960), which won an Oscar for Freddie Francis' monochrome CinemaScope photography and nominations for Best Director and Best Picture; and Young Cassidy (1965), based on Sean O'Casey's autobiography, which Cardiff took over from John Ford when Ford fell ill after three weeks' shooting. The former, though regarded by Cardiff as his best film, suffers from an overly schematic adaptation of Lawrence's novel which the plain, literal direction abets. Young Cassidy, while uneven, feels less like a condensed book and is full of good scenes and performances, which surely owe at least as much to Cardiff as to Ford.

Notable among his more exotic assignments are The Long Ships (UK/Yugoslavia, 1964), an engagingly tongue-in-cheek Norse epic, and The Mercenaries (1968), a Wilbur Smith African adventure whose gloating brutality impressed Martin Scorsese. The Girl on a Motorcycle (UK/France, 1968), which Cardiff also photographed, has acquired a cult reputation but is nonetheless a grotesquely silly pop artefact, its attempts at visual style merely vulgar.

After directing two low-budget genre pot-boilers - Penny Gold (1973), an old-fashioned policier, and The Mutations (1974), a perfunctory mating of Freaks (US, d. Tod Browning, 1932) and H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau - Cardiff resumed his former role of director of photography, albeit on a string of considerably less distinguished films than he had been responsible for in the 40s and 50s. He was made an OBE, and given an honorary Oscar for his contributions to cinematography, in 2000.

Archer, Steve, 'Out on a Limb with Errol Flynn', Movie Collector 1: 8, November/December 1994, pp. 31-33
Cardiff, Jack, Magic Hour (London: Faber and Faber, 1996)
Earnshaw, Tony (ed.), Painter With Light: A Tribute to Jack Cardiff (Bradford: National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, 2000)
Bowyer, Justin Conversations with Jack Cardiff: Art, Light and Direction in Cinema (B.T. Batsford, 2003)
Petrie, Duncan, The British Cinematographer (London: British Film Institute, 1996)
Scorsese, Martin, 'Martin Scorsese's Guilty Pleasures', Film Comment, Sep-Oct 1978, pp. 63-66

Sheldon Hall, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Black Narcissus (1947)Black Narcissus (1947)

Remarkably passionate melodrama set in a Himalayan convent

Thumbnail image of Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The (1943)Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The (1943)

Ambitious wartime saga which infuriated Churchill

Thumbnail image of Magic Box, The (1951)Magic Box, The (1951)

Star-studded biopic of British film pioneer William Friese-Greene

Thumbnail image of Matter of Life and Death, A (1946)Matter of Life and Death, A (1946)

Romance fantasy bridging the gap between two worlds

Thumbnail image of Red Shoes, The (1948)Red Shoes, The (1948)

Powell and Pressburger's beautiful and delirious ballet film

Thumbnail image of Road in India, A (1938)Road in India, A (1938)

Beautiful Technicolor travelogue of pre-independence India

Thumbnail image of Scott of the Antarctic (1948)Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

Lavish recreation of Captain Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole

Thumbnail image of Western Approaches (1944)Western Approaches (1944)

Wartime propaganda at its best, and a rare Technicolor treat for its day

Thumbnail image of Far Pavilions, The (1984)Far Pavilions, The (1984)

Lavish drama series set in India during the British Raj

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