Lee Garmes - Writer

Cinematographer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: Peoria, Illinois, 27 May 1898. Education: Attended North Denver High School, Colorado. Career: 1916—painter's assistant for Thomas Ince, then property boy and camera assistant; 1923—cinematographer on first films, Fighting Blood series; late 1920s—helped develop crab dolly; producer and director in the 1930s; later worked in TV. Award: Academy Award for Shanghai Express , 1932. Died: 31 August 1978.

Films as Cameraman:


The Hope Chest (Clifton)


Chicken Ă  la King (short); I'll Get Him Yet (Clifton); Nugget Nell (Clifton); Nobody Home (Clifton)


Sweet Cookie (Schlank—short)

Films as Cinematographer:


Fighting Blood series (St. Clair and Lehrman—shorts)


The Telephone Girl series (St. Clair—shorts); Find Your Man (St. Clair); The Lighthouse by the Sea (St. Clair) (co)


The Pacemaker series (Ruggles—shorts); Crack o' Dawn (Rogell); Goat Getter (Rogell); Keep Smilin' (Pratt and Austin) (co)


The Grand Duchess and the Waiter (St. Clair); The Carnival Girl (Tate); A Social Celebrity (St. Clair); The Palm Beach Girl (Kenton); The Show Off (St. Clair); The Popular Sin (St. Clair)


The Garden of Allah (Ingram) (co); Rose of the Golden West (Fitzmaurice); The Private Life of Helen of Troy (Z. Korda) (co); The Love Mart (Fitzmaurice)


The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (Santell); The Yellow Lily (Z. Korda); The Barker (Fitzmaurice); Waterfront (Seiter)


His Captive Woman (Fitzmaurice); Love and the Devil (Z. Korda); Prisoners (Seiter); Say It with Songs (Bacon); The Great Divide (Barker) (co); Disraeli (Green)


Lillies of the Field (Z. Korda); The Other Tomorrow (Bacon); Spring Is Here (Dillon); Song of the Flame (Crosland); Whoopee! (Freeland) (co); Bright Lights (Curtiz); Morocco (von Sternberg)


Fighting Caravans (Brower and Burton); Dishonored (von Sternberg); Kiss Me Again ( The Toast of the Legion ) (Seiter) (co); City Streets (Mamoulian); An American Tragedy (von Sternberg); Confessions of a Co-ed ( Her Dilemma ) (Burton and Murphy)


Shanghai Express (von Sternberg); Scarface (Hawks) (co); Smilin' Through (Franklin); Strange Interlude ( Strange Interval ) (Leonard); Call Her Savage (Dillon)


The Face in the Sky (Lachman); Zoo in Budapest (Lee); My Lips Betray (Blystone); Shanghai Madness (Blystone); I Am Suzanne (Lee)


George White's Scandals (White, Freeland, and Lachman); Crime without Passion (Hecht and MacArthur) (+ assoc d)


Once in a Blue Moon (Hecht and MacArthur) (+ assoc d); The Scoundrel (Hecht and MacArthur) (+ assoc d)


Gone with the Wind (Fleming) (co—uncredited)


The Conquest of the Air (Z. Korda and others) (co); Angels over Broadway (+ co-d)


Lydia (Duvivier) (+ assoc pr)


Jungle Book (Z. Korda) (co, + assoc pr); Footlight Serenade (Ratoff); China Girl (Hathaway)


Forever and a Day (Clair and others) (co); Flight for Freedom (Mendes); Stormy Weather (Stone) (co); Jack London (Santell) (co)


None Shall Escape (De Toth); Since You Went Away (Cromwell) (co); Guest in the House (Brahm)


Paris Underground ( Madame Pimpernel ) (Ratoff); Love Letters (Dieterle)


Spectre of the Rose (+ co-pr + co-d); Duel in the Sun (K. Vidor) (co); Young Widow (Marin); The Searching Wind (Dieterle)


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (McLeod); Nightmare Alley (Goulding); The Paradine Case (Hitchcock)


Caught (OphĂĽls)


Roseanna McCoy (Reis); The Fighting Kentuckian (Waggner); My Foolish Heart (Robson); Our Very Own (Miller)


My Friend Irma Goes West (Walker)


Actors and Sin (+ co-d); That's My Boy (Walker); Detective Story (Wyler); Saturday's Hero ( Idols in the Dust ) (Miller); Thunder in the East (C. Vidor)


The Captive City (Wise); The Lusty Men (Ray)


Outlaw Territory ( Hannah Lee ) (+ co-pr + co-d)


Abdulla the Great ( Abdullah's Harem ) (Ratoff)


Land of the Pharoahs (Hawks) (co); The Desperate Hours (Wyler); Man with the Gun ( The Trouble Shooter ) (Wilson)


The Bottom of the Bottle ( Beyond the River ) (Hathaway); D-Day, the Sixth of June (Koster); The Sharkfighters (Hopper); The Big Boodle ( Night in Havana ) (Wilson)


Never Love a Stranger (Stevens)


The Big Fisherman (Borzage); Happy Anniversary (Miller)


Misty (Clark)


Ernest Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man (Ritt); Ten Girls Ago (Daniels)


Lady in a Cage (Grauman)


A Big Hand for the Little Lady ( Big Deal at Dodge City ) (Cook)


How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life (Cook)


Why? (Stoloff)

Other Films:


The Nephew of Paris (d—short)


The Sky's the Limit (co-d); Dreaming Lips (co-d); The Lilac Domino (Zelnik) (assoc pr)


Beyond Tomorrow (Sutherland) (pr)


By GARMES: articles—

"Photography," in Behind the Screen: How Films Are Made , edited by Stephen Watts, London, 1938.

"Lighting Translucent Backings," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1949.

Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1967.

In Sources of Light , by Charles Higham, London, 1970.

On Why? in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1972.

Journal of the University Film Association (Carbondale, Illinois), vol. 26, no. 4, 1974.

Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 1, no. 3, 1976.

Journal of the University Film Association (Carbondale, Illinois), Fall 1976.

Boxoffice (Kansas City), 24 April 1978.

On GARMES: articles—

Wayne, Palma, in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 July 1933.

Cue (New York), 9 February 1935.

Foster, Frederick, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1949.

Foster, Frederick, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1959.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), September 1967.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1971.

Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

Lightman, Herb A., in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1972.

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

Collura, J., in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), September 1983.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1985.

Anez, N., "Westerns," in Films in Review (New York), November-December 1994.

* * *

Lee Garmes admitted to having been strongly influenced by Rembrandt. Like the Dutch painter, the director used north light by lighting the set from an opening facing north. He desired to achieve a low-key light, with lots of deep shadows and a lack of strong headlights. Critics have referred to his light as "painterly." Most details are omitted; only significant elements of the scene and actors are highlighted. In The Garden of Allah Garmes draws upon the north-light effect, which had first been developed by John F. Seitz. In the courtroom scene in An American Tragedy most of the light comes from a window facing north.

These stylistic traits date from influences gained in Garmes's silent-film work. From working with John Leezer, he learned to filter out unwanted detail by means of gauze over the lens. Near the end of the First World War, Garmes got a hack job filming slapstick comedies for Gale Henry. The films' budgets were so low that the cameramen had no lights and used an open stage with reflectors that caught and directed the sunlight. In The Grand Duchess and the Waiter Garmes and the director Mal St. Clair sought to achieve a subtly varying grisaille effect by lighting and by creating sets painted in different shades of grey. In The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come Garmes completely replaced the arc with Mazda lights and lead-sheet reflectors. Morocco , Garmes's first masterpiece, evoked North Africa with a torrid mix of sun and shadows, created by covering the "streets" with lattice-work and filming at high noon. Garmes filmed Marlene Dietrich with the north-light effect—his trademark, and hers from then on. He further added to the Dietrich image by lighting her in a low key and filming her in the misty atmosphere of Shanghai Express . In Zoo in Budapest Garmes created a verdant, parklike effect by placing lacy plants in front of the camera—they appear as a hazy blur.

Even when working with color, he always strove for a soft effect and a certain vagueness. He worked on the opening portions of Gone with the Wind , and sought a soft-toned color; however, David O. Selznick took Garmes off the film because the producer preferred harsh, picture-postcard colors. Garmes claims credit for planning the Atlanta railway-yard shot; but so do Val Lewton and others.

Of his later works, Garmes felt that his best work was The Big Fisherman , but perhaps a more interesting piece, cinematographically speaking, is his work on How to Save a Marriage , where he achieves a subtle form of expressionistic lighting varied to convey the moods of the protagonist.

—Rodney Farnsworth

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