Robert Burks - Writer




Cinematographer. Natonality: American. Born: California, 1910. Career: 1937–44—special effects photographer at Warners; 1950s-60s—close collaboration with the director Alfred Hitchcock. Award: Academy Award for To Catch a Thief , 1955. Died: In Newport Beach, California, 1968.


Films as Cinematographer:

1944

Jammin' the Blues (Mili); Make Your Own Bed (Godfrey)

1945

Escape in the Desert (Blatt); Hitler Lives! (Siegel); Star in the Night (Siegel)

1948

To the Victor (Daves); A Kiss in the Dark (Daves)

1949

Task Force (Daves) (co); The Fountainhead (King Vidor); Beyond the Forest (King Vidor)

1950

The Glass Menagerie (Rapper)

1951

Room for One More (Taurog); Close to My Heart (Keighley); The Enforcer ( Murder Inc. ) (Windust); Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock); Tomorrow Is Another Day (Feist); Come Fill the Cup (Douglas)

1952

Mara Maru (Douglas); I Confess (Hitchcock)

1953

The Desert Song (Humberstone); Hondo (Farrow) (co); The Boy from Oklahoma (Farrow); So This Is Love ( The Grace Moore Story ) (Douglas)

1954

Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock); Rear Window (Hitchcock)

1955

To Catch a Thief (Hitchcock); The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock); The Trouble with Harry (Hitchcock)

1956

The Vagabond King (Curtiz); The Wrong Man (Hitchcock)

1957

The Spirit of St. Louis (Wilder) (co)

1958

Vertigo (Hitchcock); The Black Orchid (Ritt)

1959

North By Northwest (Hitchcock); But Not for Me (Walter Lang)

1960

The Rat Race (Mulligan); The Great Impostor (Mulligan)

1961

The Pleasure of His Company (Seaton)

1962

The Music Man (da Costa)

1963

The Birds (Hitchcock)

1964

Marnie (Hitchcock)

1965

Once a Thief (Nelson); A Patch of Blue (Green)

1966

A Covenant with Death (Johnson)

1967

Waterhole #3 (Graham)



Films as Special Effects Photographer:

1937

Marked Woman (Bacon) (co)

1940

Brother Orchid (Bacon) (co); A Dispatch from Reuters ( This Man Reuter ) (Dieterle); They Drive by Night ( The Road to Frisco ) (Walsh); The Story of Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet ( Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet ) (Dieterle)

1941

King's Row (Wood); Highway West (McGann)

1942

In This Our Life (Huston) (co)

1944

Arsenic and Old Lace (Capra) (co)

1945

Pride of the Marines ( Forever in Love ) (Daves); God Is My Co-Pilot (Florey)

1946

Night and Day (Curtiz); The Verdict (Siegel)

1947

The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Godfrey); My Wild Irish Rose (Butler); Possessed (Bernhardt); The Unfaithful (Sherman); Cry Wolf (Godfrey); The Unsuspected (Curtiz)

1948

The Woman in White (Godfrey); Key Largo (Huston) (co); Romance on the High Seas ( It's Magic ) (Curtiz); Smart Girls Don't Talk (Bare)

1949

John Loves Mary (Butler); The Younger Brothers (Marin)

1952

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima ( The Miracle of Fatima ) (Brahm)



Publications

On BURKS: articles—

Film Comment (New York), vol. 8, no. 2, Summer 1972.

Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.


* * *


Robert Burks was perhaps Alfred Hitchcock's most important collaborator on the director's films of the fifties and early sixties. To be sure, of the crucial collaborators from this period, such as the film editor George Tomasini and the composer Bernard Herrmann, Burks worked with Hitchcock most consistently. He photographed Hitchcock's films from Strangers on a Train (1951) to Marnie (1964), with the crucial exception of Psycho (1960), for which Hitchcock attempted to achieve a different visual texture by using his television crew. ( Psycho was photographed by John Russell.) These are the films on which Burks's reputation as a cinematographer largely rests, and what is immediately striking about them is their visual range. Indeed, throughout the fifties, Hitchcock made two distinct types of films. For Paramount, he made big-budget films in color with established stars and crowd-pleasing suspense tactics ( Rear Window , The Man Who Knew Too Much ). For the more adventurous Warner Bros. studio, he made films with lower budgets, usually in black-and-white featuring lesser-known actors, and exploring forms of irony and pessimism that became the dominant tones of Hitchcock's late work. Amazingly, Burks was capable of shooting both the bleakly neorealist The Wrong Man (1956) and the jubilantly colorful To Catch a Thief (1955); both the delicately shaded Strangers on a Train and the deliriously deep-toned Vertigo (1958).

If this set of films illustrates Burks's range, it is perhaps in the later films that Burks's experiments with color are most audacious. It may well be, of course, that Hitchcock was a decisive influence on these experiments. Certainly nothing in the bland colors Burks provided for Morton da Costa's overblown The Music Man (1962) prepares one for the extraordinary palette of Marnie with its feverish color contrasts, its nauseous yellows and bile-greens set against burnished or full-hued auburns and blues. The film was much criticized at the time of its release for its presumed visual clumsiness. Now, however, it seems very much a precursor of sixties art-cinema, especially of such a film as Antonioni's Red Desert (1966). Moreover, the film's visual distinction lies not only in its play with color but in Burks's manipulation of telephoto and wide-angle lenses, particularly in the climactic flashback scene. Thus Marnie , Burks's last film with Hitchcock, emerges as in many ways his most extraordinary achievement.

—James Morrison

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