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Cooper, Wilkie (1911-2001)


Main image of Cooper, Wilkie (1911-2001)

The son of Stoll cameraman D.P. Cooper, Wilkie Cooper made his own name as a cinematographer during the early 1940s at Ealing Studios, where (alongside Ealing's other regular cameraman Ernest Palmer) he was responsible for photographing many of the morale boosting war subjects which were the studio's speciality at that time. Films like The Big Blockade and The Foreman Went to France, both directed by Charles Frend in 1942, are shot in a characteristically unobtrusive and naturalistic style. More interesting photographically is Cavalcanti's Went the Day Well? (1943), the story of an invasion of a rural village by a squad of German paratroopers disguised as Royal Engineers. For much of the film the style is familiar, but Cooper injects an expressionist feel at times to underscore the plot's darker moments. For example, when the fifth columnist played by Leslie Banks is shot by the rather timid vicar's daughter who loves him, the horror of the moment is underscored by low-key lighting, the cross-cutting between high and low angles and the brief use of slow motion as he falls dead.

Cooper subsequently became associated with the filmmaking team of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, how were part of the elite band of 'Independent Producers' working under the Rank umbrella. He shot several of their films, including The Rake's Progess (d. Gilliat, 1945), I See a Dark Stranger (d. Launder, 1945), Green for Danger (d. Gilliat, 1946), Captain Boycott (d. Launder, 1947) and London Belongs to Me (d. Gilliat, 1948), although compared to the work of the other Independent Producers like Powell and Pressburger and David Lean, the photographic stule of these tends to be rather restrained. Cooper's other assignments during this period include the moody thriller Mine Own Executioner (d. Anthony Kimmins, 1947) and Alfred Hitchcock's somewhat substandard Stage Fright (1950). Cooper continued to be prolific but found himself increasingly restricted to run of the mill subjects, including modest special effects films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (US, 1958), Mysterious Island (d. Cy Endfield, 1962), Jason and the Argonauts (d. Don Chaffey, 1963) and One Million Years B.C. (d. Chaffey, 1966), before his career ran out of steam in the early 1970s.

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 Captain Boycott (1947)Captain Boycott (1947)

Lively drama about 19th-century Irish civil disobedience

Thumbnail image of Champagne Charlie (1944)Champagne Charlie (1944)

Lively recreation of the bawdy atmosphere of Victorian music-halls

Thumbnail image of Foreman Went to France, The (1942)Foreman Went to France, The (1942)

Ealing propaganda film about a factory foreman's rescue of vital machinery

Thumbnail image of Green for Danger (1946)Green for Danger (1946)

Whodunit with Alastair Sim as a less than Poirot-like detective

Thumbnail image of Halfway House, The (1944)Halfway House, The (1944)

Unusual cross between ghost story and WWII propaganda film

Thumbnail image of I See A Dark Stranger (1946)I See A Dark Stranger (1946)

A fiery Irishwoman becomes a spy for the Germans during World War II

Thumbnail image of London Belongs To Me (1948)London Belongs To Me (1948)

Eccentric comedy-thriller about a fake psychic and an accidental murder

Thumbnail image of My Learned Friend (1943)My Learned Friend (1943)

Surprisingly dark Will Hay comedy about the law, blackmail and murder

Thumbnail image of One Million Years B.C. (1966)One Million Years B.C. (1966)

Raquel Welch dons a fur bikini in this cavemen-meet-dinosaurs classic

Thumbnail image of Rake's Progress, The (1945)Rake's Progress, The (1945)

Definitive Rex Harrison, as a carefree 1930s playboy confronted by war

Thumbnail image of Ships with Wings (1941)Ships with Wings (1941)

Stiff-upper-lipped Ealing war film celebrating the Fleet Air Arm

Thumbnail image of Went the Day Well? (1942)Went the Day Well? (1942)

Chilling classic imagining a brutal Nazi invasion of a small English village

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Thumbnail image of Ealing Studios (1938-59)Ealing Studios (1938-59)

Film Studio, Production Company