Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 16 September 1903. Career: 1924—laboratory assistant at Famous Players-Lasky; 1928–29—brief period as stand-in and stuntman for Gary Cooper; 1950s—much TV work. Died: 28 February 1974.
North of the Rio Grande (Watt); Rustlers' Valley (Watt); Hopalong Rides Again (Selander); Texas Trail (Selman)
Partners of the Plains (Selander); The Frontiersman (Selander); Heart of Arizona (Selander); Pride of the West (Selander); In Old Mexico (Venturini); The Mysterious Rider (Selander)
Sunset Trail (Selander); Law of the Pampas (Watt); Silver on the Sage (Selander); Heritage of the Desert (Selander); The Renegade Trail (Selander); The Llano Kid (Selander); Range War (Selander)
Santa Fe Marshall (Selander); Knights of the Range (Selander); The Showdown (Bretherton); The Light of Western Stars (Selander); Hidden Gold (Selander); Stagecoach War (Selander); Cherokee Strip ( Fighting Marshall ) (Selander); Three Men from Texas (Selander)
Twilight on the Trail (Bretherton); Riders of the Timberline (Selander); Outlaws of the Desert (Bretherton); Secret of the Wastelands (Abrahams); Stick to Your Guns (Selander); Doomed Caravan (Selander); In Old Colorado (Bretherton); Border Vigilantes (Abrahams); The Round-Up (Selander); Pirates on Horseback (Selander); The Parson of Panamint (McGann); Wide Open Town (Selander)
Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die (McGann); Leather Burners (Henabery); Hoppy Serves a Writ (Archainbaud); Undercover Man (Selander); Border Patrol (Selander); Silver Queen (Bacon); American Empire ( My Son Alone ) (McGann); Lost Canyon (Selander)
Colt Comrades (Selander); Buckskin Frontier ( The Iron Road ) (Selander); The Kansan (Archainbaud); Bar Twenty (Selander); False Colors (Achainbaud); Riders of the Deadline (Selander); Tarzan's Desert Mystery (Thiele) (co); The Woman of the Town (Archainbaud); Texas Masquerade (Archainbaud)
Lumberjack (Selander); Forty Thieves (Selander); Mystery Man (Archainbaud)
A Walk in the Sun (Milestone)
Ramrod (de Toth); Red River (Hawks)
Four Faces West ( They Passed This Way ) (Green); Bad Men of Tombstone (Neumann)
Gun Crazy ( Deadly Is the Female ) (Lewis)
Guilty Bystander (Lerner); Tarzan and the Slave Girl (Sholem); The Kangaroo Kid (Selander); Southside 1–1000 ( Forgery ) (Ingster); The Man Who Cheated Himself (Feist)
The Thing from Another World ( The Thing ) (Nyby)
The Big Sky (Hawks); The Ring (Neumann); Ruby Gentry (Vidor)
Riot in Cell Block 11 (Siegel)
Blackboard Jungle (Brooks); The Last Hunt (Brooks); Land of the Pharaohs (Hawks)
Lust for Life (Minnelli) (co)
Witness for the Prosecution (Wilder); This Could Be the Night (Wise); Something of Value (Brooks); King Creole (Curtiz)
Rio Bravo (Hawks); Run Silent, Run Deep (Wise)
Operation Petticoat (Edwards); Day of the Outlaw (de Toth)
Pollyanna (Swift); Hatari! (Hawks); Sunrise at Campobello (Donehue)
The Spiral Road (Mulligan); To Kill a Mockingbird (Mulligan)
Man's Favorite Sport ? (Hawks); A Gathering of Eagles (Delbert Mann)
Dear Heart (Delbert Mann); Quick, before It Melts (Delbert Mann)
The Great Race (Edwards)
Hawaii (Hill); Tobruk (Hiller)
Darling Lili (Edwards)
Film Comment (New York), vol. 8, no. 2, Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London) no. 13, 1973.
* * *
"This is pretty high on the hog for me," actor Bruce Cabot once commented of his accommodations at the Ritz in London while filming Diamonds Are Forever . "Location shooting usually means sitting in a tent outside Tombstone eating a box lunch with Duke Wayne." Likely to have been in the same tent, eating a similar meal, would be Russell Harlan, whose credentials in action cinema were as impeccable as those of Cabot and Wayne.
An ex-stuntman, Harlan began his cinematographic career with B-westerns, working often with veterans like Lloyd Bacon (on Silver Queen ) and, on The Parson of Panamint and American Empire with William McGann, once Douglas Fairbanks's cameraman. Few men more frequently photographed Vasquez Rocks and the other desert settings beloved of B-westerns. Harlan, perhaps in reaction, developed a flinty black-and-white photographic style, shadowless and stark, that Lewis Milestone found ideal for A Walk in the Sun , his calculatedly unemotional picture of an American platoon trying to survive the last days of the war in Italy.
Two years later, Howard Hawks selected Harlan to shoot the seminal Red River , which created a bleak and unromantic picture of the west that had hardly been seen since the days of Thomas Ince and William S. Hart. Hawks was never a director of vistas and, in this, Harlan precisely echoed his vision. The dense, harsh lighting style for Red River was carried forward intact into Hawks's claustrophobic science fiction/horror film The Thing and then, almost immediately, into The Big Sky , a film that introduced a Hawksian intimacy into the spacious world of the pioneer fur trappers.
The Big Sky marked the high point of Harlan's relationship with Hawks. He later shot Rio Bravo , but that film is not especially distinguished photographically. He also did some additional shooting on the risible Egyptian epic Land of the Pharaohs , and was one of the dozen cameramen and scriptwriters who worked on the African comedy/drama Hatari! during the five years Hawks took to finish it. Harlan's best work at this time was with Richard Brooks. Blackboard Jungle exploited some of the hard-edged denseness of his work on The Thing , and he imported the same edgy urban blackness into the color of The Last Hunt , a western which, like The Big Sky , reduced the drama and tragedy of westward expansion (in this case represented by two rival buffalo hunters) to the dimensions of personal conflict.
For many, Harlan's masterpiece, however, remains Ruby Gentry . King Vidor's feverish vision of the developing postwar South created a world where pillared mansions coexist with decaying swamps, raccoon hunting with Cadillacs, high fashion with dungarees. Even crawling through a mist-shrouded Edgar Allan Poe-like swamp to die in Charlton Heston's arms, Jennifer Jones demanded the high-style close-ups to which she'd become accustomed while working for David Selznick. Yet a film that might have been a dime-store mixture of conflicting styles is coherent and consistent, a copybook exercise in screen lighting.