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Morris, Oswald (1915-)


Main image of Morris, Oswald (1915-)

Oswald (aka 'Ossie') Morris was one of the great British cinematographers, innovative, risk-taking and articulate about his work. Always obsessed with movies, he began as a clapper-boy (at Wembley Studios) in 1932, working on 'quota quickies', rising to camera operator on I Met a Murderer (d. Roy Kellino, 1939) before being called up. Postwar, after service as a bomber pilot, he operated for, amongst others, Guy Green, on such notable films as Oliver Twist (d. David Lean, 1948, 20 years later he would shoot Oliver! for Carol Reed, receiving a BAFTA nomination), before getting his first cinematographer credit on The Golden Salamander (1950), directed by his old mentor, Ronald Neame.

He rated Green and Neame as major influences, but in the '50s he quickly established his own parity with them, especially on the films he did with director John Huston, starting with Moulin Rouge (1953). On this, he experimented with smoke and to get the impression Huston wanted of a film that might have been made by Toulouse-Lautrec, driving Technicolor executives mad in the process. Three years later, Huston set him another challenge: that of making Moby Dick (1956) visually recall old etchings and whaling prints.

In another vein, his grainy realist work on René Clement's Knave of Hearts (1954) led Tony Richardson to seek him out for the New Wave films, Look Back in Anger (1959) and The Entertainer (1960), to which he brought a harsh black-and-white realism, at least on the location-shot sequences.

Almost everything he did was notable, even when the films themselves were not; for instance, he thought Equus (d. Sidney Lumet, 1977) was a 'terrible disappointment' but the way he lights the 'worshipping' sequences of boy with horse have a touch of real magic. He won an Oscar (and a BAFTA nomination) for Fiddler on the Roof (US, d. Norman Jewison, 1971), and BAFTAs for The Pumpkin Eater (d. Jack Clayton, 1964), The Hill (d. Sidney Lumet, 1965) and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (d. Martin Ritt, 1965) respectively. It is a remarkable career from an unpretentious artist who never grew complacent about his art.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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