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:


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


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


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


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


The Glass Menagerie (Rapper)


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)


Mara Maru (Douglas); I Confess (Hitchcock)


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


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


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


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


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


Vertigo (Hitchcock); The Black Orchid (Ritt)


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


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


The Pleasure of His Company (Seaton)


The Music Man (da Costa)


The Birds (Hitchcock)


Marnie (Hitchcock)


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


A Covenant with Death (Johnson)


Waterhole #3 (Graham)

Films as Special Effects Photographer:


Marked Woman (Bacon) (co)


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)


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


In This Our Life (Huston) (co)


Arsenic and Old Lace (Capra) (co)


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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