EDESON, Arthur

Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 24 October 1891. Education: Attended College of the City of New York. Military Service: United States Army, 1918. Career: Negative retoucher and platinum printer for New York portrait photographers; 1911—extra at Eclair Studios, Fort Lee, New Jersey; also studio still photographer; 1914—first film as cinematographer, A Gentleman from Mississippi ; 1919—co-founder, American Society of Cinematographers (president, 1949–50); 1950—retired. Died: In 1970.

Films as Cinematographer:


A Gentleman from Mississippi (Sergeant); The Dollar Mark (Lund)


The Deep Purple (Young); Wildfire (Middleton); Hearts in Exile ( Hearts Afire ) (Young)


The Devil's Toy (Knoles); Miss Petticoats (Knoles); The Gilded Cage (Knoles); Bought and Paid For (Knoles)


A Woman Alone (Davenport); A Square Deal (Knoles); The Master Hand (Knoles) (+ asst d); The Social Leper (Knoles); The Page Mystery (Knoles); In Again—Out Again (Emerson); The Stolen Paradise (Knoles); The Price of Pride (Knoles); Wild and Woolly (Emerson); Souls Adrift (Knoles); Baby Mine (Robertson and Ballin); Reaching for the Moon (Emerson); Nearly Married (Withey)


Jack Spurlock, Prodigal (Harbaugh); Mr. Fixit (Dwan); The Savage Woman (Mortimer); The Road through the Dark (Mortimer)


Cheating Cheaters (Dwan); The Better Wife (Earle); Hushed Hour (Mortimer); Eyes of Youth (Parker)


The Forbidden Woman (Garson); For the Soul of Rafael (Garson); Mid Channel (Garson); Hush (Garson)


Good Women (Gasnier); The Three Musketeers (Niblo)


The Worldly Madonna (Garson); Robin Hood (Dwan)


The End of the World (Keays); The Thief of Bagdad (Walsh); Inez from Hollywood ( The Good Bad Girl ) (Green)


The Lost World (Hoyt) (co); Waking Up the Town (Cruze) (co); One Way Street (Dillon); The Talker (Green); Her Sister from Paris (Franklin); Stella Dallas (H. King)


Partners Again (H. King); The Bat (West); Sweet Daddies (Santell); Subway Sadie (Santell); Just Another Blonde (Santell)


McFadden's Flats (Wallace); The Patent Leather Kid (Santell) (co); The Drop Kick ( Glitter ) (Webb) (co); The Gorilla (Santell)


A Thief in the Dark (Ray); Me, Gangster (Walsh)


In Old Arizona (Walsh and Cummings); Girls Gone Wild (Seiler) (co); The Cock-Eyed World (Walsh); Romance of the Rio Grande (Santell)


All Quiet on the Western Front (Milestone); The Big Trail (Walsh) (co); The Man Who Came Back (Walsh)


Doctors' Wives (Borzage); Always Goodbye (McKenna and Menzies); Waterloo Bridge (Whale); Frankenstein (Whale)


The Impatient Maiden (Whale); Strangers of the Evening (Humberstone); Fast Companions ( Information Kid ) (Neuman); The Last Mile (Bischoff); Those We Love (Florey); The Old Dark House (Whale); Flesh (Ford)


The Constant Woman (Schertzinger); A Study in Scarlet (Marin); The Life of Jimmy Dolan ( The Kid's Last Fight ) (Mayo); The Big Brain ( Enemies of Society ) (Archainbaud); The Invisible Man (Whale); His Double Life (Hopkins and W. De Mille)


Palooka ( The Great Schnozzle ) (Stoloff); The Merry Frinks ( The Happy Family ) (Green); Here Comes the Navy (Bacon); Maybe It's Love (McGann)


Devil Dogs of the Air (Bacon); While the Patient Slept (Enright); Dinky (Lederman and Bretherton); Going Highbrow (Florey) (co-ph); Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd); Ceiling Zero (Hawks)


The Golden Arrow (Green); Satan Met a Lady (Dieterle); Hot Money (McGann); China Clipper (Enright); Gold Diggers of 1937 (Bacon)


The Go Getter (Berkeley); Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (Green); The Footloose Heiress (Clements); They Won't Forget (LeRoy); Submarine D-1 (Bacon); Swing Your Lady (Enright); The Kid Comes Back ( Don't Pull Your Punches ) (Eason)


Boy Meets Girl (Bacon); Cowboy from Brooklyn ( Romance and Rhythm ) (Bacon); Racket Busters (Bacon); Mr. Chump (Clements)


Wings of the Navy (Bacon); Nancy Drew—Reporter (Clements); Sweepstakes Winner (McGann); No Place to Go (Morse); Each Dawn I Die (Keighley); Kid Nightingale (Amy)


Castle on the Hudson ( Years without Days ) (Litvak); They Drive by Night ( The Road to Frisco ) (Walsh); Tugboat Annie Sails Again (Seiler); Lady with Red Hair (Bernhardt)


Kisses for Breakfast (Seiler); Sergeant York (Hawks) (co); The Maltese Falcon (Huston)


The Male Animal (Nugent); Across the Pacific (Huston); Casablanca (Curtiz)


Thank Your Lucky Stars (Butler)


Shine On, Harvest Moon (Butler); The Mask of Dimitrios (Negulesco); The Conspirators (Negulesco)


Three Strangers (Negulesco); Two Guys from Milwaukee ( Royal Flush ) (Butler); Never Say Goodbye (Kern); Nobody Lives Forever (Negulesco); The Time, the Place and the Girl (Butler) (co-ph)


Stallion Road (Kern); My Wild Irish Rose (Butler) (co)


Two Guys from Texas ( Two Texas Knights ) (Butler) (co); The Fighting O'Flynn (Pierson)


On EDESON: articles—

Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

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

Films in Review (New York), January 1975, March 1975.

Mitchell, G.J., "Making All Quiet on the Western Front ," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1985.

Kauffmann, Stanley, " Casablanca ," in New Republic , 4 May 1992.

Krebs, Josef, " The Old Dark House ," in Stereo Review's Sound & Vision , October 1991.

* * *

Arthur Edeson's style is a perfect example of the approach and merger of two schools and aesthetics of world cinema. Like Hal Mohr, Arthur Miller, or Charles Rosher, Edeson was one of the master craftsmen of the old American school, whose principal work was on the side of realism, considered by most historians to represent the zenith of Hollywood photography. Edeson built on the influence of German Expressionism, brought to America by German cinematographers during the 1920s.

Notable among Edeson's 1920s work are his films for Douglas Fairbanks, especially three which gained Gold Medal Awards (the immediate predecessor of the Oscar): Fred Niblo's The Three Musketeers , Allan Dwan's Robin Hood , and Raoul Walsh's The Thief of Bagdad . One of Edeson's great strengths was his ability to capture the spirit of large-scale scenarios: for Robin Hood , for instance, with a scenario by Wilfred Buckland, through the use of double exposures and glass shots, and, notably for the scenes in the castle's interior, through the use of natural light. In The Thief of Bagdad his photography creates an atmosphere almost unreal, matching the William Cameron Menzies scenario, and bringing a fascination to Walsh's film.

In fact, in the late 1920s and early 1930s Walsh was the director to whose work Edeson was most linked. The realism of the photography of Me, Gangster and In Old Arizona (the first sound film to be shot outside a studio) prepares for that of The Big Trail , the culminating collaboration of the two men. Filmed in the first wide-screen process (70 mm), known as Grandeur, this epic reveals Edeson's mastery of composition, using frame enlargement dramatically. The Big Trail is both pictorial and documentary, with a spectacular use of space, sensitive to the archetypical sequences of the western, including a buffalo charge, an Indian attack, and a fantastic river crossing.

The visual drama of The Big Trail , based in part on epic realism, is counterpointed admirably in his work as cinematographer for James Whale. (His work for Whale is anticipated by his collaboration with Karl Freund, one of the great German photographers, on All Quiet on the Western Front , filmed with a mute camera and with sound added later, and one of the most widely praised American war films.) In Frankenstein , his first film with Whale, Edeson was seen to have assimilated and controlled the "expressionist heritage," synthesizing it into an appropriate style—attaining a fantastic and mysterious realism without losing the mobility of the camera. Frankenstein is a classic "horror movie," above all owing to its visual conception which suggests the silent German film, especially The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari , due to its paradigmatic opening scene in which Frankenstein and his assistant watch a funeral, and to Edeson's camera angles and camera movement. The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man are also classics of their genres. In the first of these, the potentialities of illumination to create zones of shadows give the film an irony approaching black comedy; in the second, there is a masterful combination of Edeson's photography and John Fulton's special effects.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s Edeson worked for Warner Brothers within the parameters of the studio style, but utilizing his own below-eye-level shots and strong angular compositions Edeson was able to produce the sinister and threatening Maltese Falcon and the devastatingly romantic Casablanca . This alone is enough for Edeson to merit a place of honor in American film. Without obsessively darkening the set, without a geometrical lighting leading to remote shadows, obscuring rather than suggesting, The Maltese Falcon can be said to have invented a genre—the film noir —and to have highlighted a visage that Louise Brooks called "the face of St. Bogart."

—M. S. Fonseca

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