KRASNER, Milton






Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1901; sometimes credited as Milton R. Krasner. Career: Joined Vitagraph in New York as laboratory worker, then assistant editor; camera assistant and second cameraman for various studios in Hollywood in the 1920s; 1933—first film as cinematographer, Strictly Personal ; TV work includes the series Macmillan and Wife and Macmillan , 1971–76. Award: Academy Award for Three Coins in the Fountain , 1954. Died: Of heart failure, in Los Angeles, California, 16 July 1988.

Films as Cinematographer:

1933

Strictly Personal (Murphy); I Love That Man (H. Brown); Golden Harvest (Murphy); Sitting Pretty (H. Brown)

1934

She Made Her Bed (Murphy); Private Scandal (Murphy); The Great Flirtation (Murphy); Paris Interlude (Marin); Death on the Diamond (Sedgwick)

1935

Women Must Dress (Barker); Great God Gold (Lubin); Honeymoon Limited (Lubin); Hold 'em Yale ( Uniform Lovers )(Lanfield); Murder in the Fleet (Sedgwick); Cheers of the Crowd (Moore) (co); The Virginia Judge (Sedgwick); Forbidden Heaven (Barker); The Great Impersonation (Crosland)

1936

Arbor Day (Newmeyer—short); Laughing Irish Eyes (Santley)(co); Crash Donovan (Nigh); Yellowstone (Lubin); The Girl on the Front Page (Beaumont); Mister Cinderella (Sedgwick); Love Letters of a Star (Foster and Carruth); Mysterious Crossing (Lubin)

1937

She's Dangerous (Foster and Carruth); We Have Our Moments (Werker); Oh, Doctor (McCarey); Love in a Bungalow (McCarey); The Lady Fights Back (Carruth); There Goes the Groom (Santley); A Girl with Ideas (Simon); Prescription for Romance (Simon)

1938

The Jury's Secret (Sloman); Midnight Intruder (Lubin); The Crime of Dr. Hallett (Simon); The Nurse from Brooklyn (Simon); The Devil's Party (McCarey); The Missing Guest (Rawlins); The Storm (Young); Newsboys Home (Young)

1939

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (Marshall); The Family Next Door (Santley); The House of Fear (May); I Stole a Million (Tuttle); Missing Evidence (Rosen); Little Accident (Lamont); The Man from Montreal (Cabanne)

1940

The Invisible Man Returns (May); Oh, Johnny, How You Can Love! (Lamont); Zanzibar (Schuster); The House of the Seven Gables (May); Ski Patrol (Landers); Sandy Is a Lady (Lamont); Private Affairs (Rogell); Hired Wife (Seiter); Diamond Frontier (Schuster); The Bank Dick ( The Bank Detective ) (Cline); Trail of the Vigilantes (Dwan) (co); Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar! (Ceballos—short)

1941

Buck Privates ( Rookies ) (Lubin); The Lady from Cheyenne (Lloyd); Too Many Blondes (Freeland); Bachelor Daddy (Young); This Woman Is Mine (Lloyd); Paris Calling (Marin)

1942

Swing Frolic (Ceballos—short); The Ghost of Frankenstein (Kenton) (co); A Gentleman after Dark (Marin); The Spoilers (Enright); Pardon My Sarong (Kenton); Men of Texas ( Men of Destiny ) (Enright); Arabian Nights (Rawlins) (co)

1943

Two Tickets to London (Marin); We've Never Been Licked ( Texas to Tokyo ) (Rawlins); The Mad Ghoul (Hogan); So's Your Uncle (Yarborough) (co); Gung Ho! (Enright)

1944

Hat Check Honey (Cline); The Invisible Man's Revenge (Beebe); The Woman in the Window (F. Lang)

1945

Delightfully Dangerous (Lubin); Along Came Jones (Heisler); Scarlet Street (F. Lang)

1946

Without Reservations (LeRoy); The Dark Mirror (Siodmak)

1947

The Farmer's Daughter (Potter); The Egg and I (Erskine); Something in the Wind (Pichel); A Double Life (Cukor)

1948

Up in Central Park (Seiter); The Saxon Charm (Binyon); The Accused (Dieterle)

1949

The Set-Up (Wise); House of Strangers (Mankiewicz); Holiday Affair (Hartman)

1950

Three Came Home (Negulesco); No Way Out (Mankiewicz); All about Eve (Mankiewicz); Rawhide (Hathaway)

1951

I Can Get It for You Wholesale ( This Is My Affair ) (Gordon); Half Angel (Sale); People Will Talk (Mankiewicz); The Model and the Marriage Broker (Cukor)

1952

Dreamboat (Binyon); Phone Call from a Stranger (Negulesco); Deadline U.S.A. ( Deadline ) (Brooks); "The Ransom of Red Chief" ep. of O. Henry's Full House ( Full House ) (Hawks); Monkey Business (Hawks)

1953

Taxi (Ratoff); Dream Wife (Sheldon); Vicki (Horner)

1954

Roger Wagner Chorale (O. Lang—short); Garden of Evil (Hathaway); Three Coins in the Fountain (Negulesco); Demetrius and the Gladiators (Daves); Desirée (Koster)

1955

The Seven Year Itch (Wilder); How to Be Very, Very Popular (Johnson); The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (Fleischer); The Rains of Ranchipur (Negulesco)

1956

23 Paces to Baker Street (Hathaway); Bus Stop (Logan)

1957

Boy on a Dolphin (Negulesco); An Affair to Remember (McCarey); Kiss Them for Me (Donen)

1958

The Gift of Love (Negulesco); A Certain Smile (Negulesco)

1959

The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (Levin); Count Your Blessings (Negulesco) (co); The Man Who Understood Women (Johnson)

1960

Bells Are Ringing (Minnelli); Go Naked in the World (MacDougall); Home from the Hill (Minnelli)

1961

King of Kings (Ray) (co); Sweet Bird of Youth (Brooks)

1962

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Minnelli); Two Weeks in Another Town (Minnelli); How the West Was Won (Hathaway, Marshall, and Ford) (co)

1963

The Courtship of Eddie's Father (Minnelli); A Ticklish Affair (Sidney); Love with the Proper Stranger (Mulligan); Advance to the Rear ( Company of Cowards ) (Marshall)

1964

Looking for Love (Weis); Fate Is the Hunter (Nelson); Good-bye Charlie (Minnelli)

1965

The Sandpiper (Minnelli); Red Line 7000 (Hawks); Made in Paris (Sagal); The Singing Nun (Koster)

1966

The Venetian Affair (J. Thorpe); Hurry Sundown (Preminger) (co)

1967

The Ballad of Josie (McLaglen); Don't Just Stand There (Winston); The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Corman)

1968

The Sterile Cuckoo ( Pookie ) (Pakula); Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Post)



Films as Cameraman:

1932

A Woman Commands ; Is My Face Red (Seiter); Ride Him Cowboy ( The Hawk ) (Allen); 70,000 Witnesses (Murphy)

Publications

By KRASNER: articles—

On The Sandpiper in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1965.

Seminar with Robert Wise in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1980.

In Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of the Golden Age , edited by Pat McGilligan, Berkeley, California, 1986.


On KRASNER: articles—

Allen, Leigh, on All about Eve in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1951.

Balter, Allan, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1955.

Rowan, Arthur, on Boy on a Dolphin in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1957.

Lightman, Herb A., on The St. Valentine's Day Massacre in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1967.

Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

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

Kimble, G., on How the West Was Won in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1983.

Turner, George, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1986.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 20 July 1988.

Obituary in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1988.

Obituary in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 5, no. 10, October 1988.


* * *


Milton Krasner's film career, spanning the years 1919 to 1975, illustrates two fundamental aspects of the life of a craftsman in Hollywood's Golden Age. First, the long and arduous (some, wistfully, would say luxurious) apprenticeship of the young technician. Second, the extreme diversity possible even within a segregated crafts system. Krasner, as an example, worked in black-and-white and color, standard format and widescreen, in a variety of genres, for a multitude of directors, at all the major studios. Indeed, Krasner's career is of such breadth that his development as a cinematographer in many ways parallels the maturation of the art itself, as well as the manner in which the studio system of production appropriated that art.

Krasner began his career in the lab (and for a brief stint, in the cutting room) at the Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn. From that position, he graduated to assistant cameraman, loading and unloading magazines, working the slate, and carrying gear. Moving to California in the early 1920s, Krasner worked on Broncho Billy Anderson westerns, Johnny Hines comedies for First National, and, most significantly, with Sol Polito on Harry Carey westerns at Pathé. At Universal, beginning in 1927, he worked with the crack team of Polito and Ted McCord on Ken Maynard westerns for several years.

By the time of Krasner's first credit as director of photography, he had worked at nearly every studio in Hollywood, major and minor, and had assisted such cinematographers as McCord, Polito, Billy Bitzer, Lee Garmes, Lucien Andriot, Hal Mohr, and Joseph Walker. If there is a difficulty in detecting a "Krasner style" in his later work, perhaps this is due to the multiplicity of influences bearing on him during his long apprenticeship.

By late 1935, Krasner was located at Universal Studios, and between 1937 and 1944, made 54 films. The budgets were low, but his competence and craftsmanship gained a name in the industry.

The 1940s were the breakthrough period for Krasner. His long apprenticeship ended, he could finally work at a slower pace on the black-and-white horror and crime features he was increasingly specializing in, as well as begin work in other genres. His most important assignment in this respect was the Technicolor Arabian Nights , an Ali Baba-esque epic for which he and his two co-cinematographers received an Academy Award nomination. But Krasner's best work in this period, and the work which gained him the greatest notoriety, were the two films done under director Fritz Lang, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street . The films remain two of Krasner's most dramatic creations, and feature some of the most characteristic imagery in the film noir canon. The Woman in the Window 's lush, modern apartment set, in which much of the film's action takes place, is imbued with a rich range of gray tones by Krasner, giving the set an air of complexity and suspense. Krasner's camera moves effortlessly from one set-up to another. Though not then noted for dramatic treatment of interior space, Krasner here shows an excellent story sense. The exterior of the apartment building, on the other hand, is a triumph, and the image of a rain-soaked street (shot in the Goldwyn lot), its deserted brownstone fronts receding in geometric regularity into deep space, has become an icon of the genre. Scarlet Street played to the cinematographer's strength. The backlot street scene of this film (which in structure and plot is virtually identical to Woman in the Window ), is expanded into an entire sequence. Krasner's work, this time on the Universal backlot, has a rare (for him) expressionist flavor. Edward G. Robinson, a timid bank clerk, witnesses a mock fight between Joan Bennett and her scheming boyfriend, Dan Duryea. Charaters in both films, moreover, move from interior to exterior space within the same sequences, and exterior space is constantly alluded to through open windows and doorways. Soundstage-shot, false exteriors and backlot streets give these films a Baroque style all their own. Lotte Eisner, writing about The Woman in the Window , noted the remarkable effect of noir stylistics combined with Krasner's subtle exploration of cinematic space in the film's most dramatic scene, the murder of an intruder: "As a new taxi drives up outside the apartment building, rain is pouring down. It is the kind of rain that produces an unnerving insecurity and hints at potential catastrophe. Horror and brutality are about to invade the cool, civilized interior of the luxury apartment."

Increasingly lightweight, even hand-held cameras, faster film stocks, and improvements in set design (such as the use of "wild" walls, removable during a tracking motion) abetted Krasner's natural abilities in the late 1940s. He was drawn more and more, as was the case with colleagues such as Franz Planer, to storyboarding sequences early in the production process. This sophistication was responsible for the look of one of Krasner's great accomplishments, The Set-Up . This brilliant, low-budget fight film is played in real time, on sets whose spatial relationship to one another is an integral part of the story. Krasner used three cameras for the fight sequences, including a hand-held camera used in the ring. The director, Robert Wise, an experienced editor (he had cut both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons ), cut this sequence himself, and the combined efforts of Krasner and Wise make the extended sequence (it takes up roughly one sixth of the film) one of the best of its kind, in a genre (the fight film) noted for its remarkable camerawork. The rest of the film is a cameraman's soliloquy. There are low-angle expressionist shots of distorted, screaming faces of bloodthirsty fans in extreme close-up, long, arching tracks-in across streets, multiple setups in tiny interior spaces. The film even throws in a bit of location footage, as well: in an emotive moment, the hero's wife tears up a ticket to the fight and scatters it over trolley tracks. With this fillip, Krasner demonstrates facility with every major cinematographic device in one 72-minute, low-budget film.

Krasner's other work at RKO in this period, notably Holiday Affair , also demonstrated an increased technical skill, particularly with miniatures. RKO's special effects department was known as the best in the industry at this time, and Krasner's exposure to RKO's matte painters, lab technicians, and miniature builders might be said to constitute the last part of his lengthy, productive apprenticeship in the motion picture industry.

In 1949, Krasner began a fruitful relationship with the writer-director-producer Joseph Mankiewicz, and an even longer relationship with 20th Century-Fox. After working on two thrillers with Mankiewicz, House of Strangers and No Way Out , Krasner was chosen to photograph All about Eve , an extremely theatrical and carefully blocked story of shifting allegiances and loyalties in the world of the theater. Krasner literalized this motif through his use of exclusionary framing, staging within the frame, and subtle manipulation of the film's basic shot scale, the medium shot. Krasner's camera gently narrates All about Eve , operating in parallel but muted fashion to Mankiewicz's shrill, talky screenplay.

The 1950s and 1960s saw Krasner, now among the upper ranks of Hollywood cinematographers, attain the role of full collaborator on major projects. As the industry changed, Krasner also changed with apparent ease. He adapted well to huge budgets, European locales, different color processes, and widescreen formats. Krasner shot the second film in CinemaScope, Demetrius and the Gladiators , and won an Academy Award for his color and location work on Three Coins in the Fountain . Krasner demonstrated a certain ability to work in the more expensive, cumbersome, widescreen processes, and he was a natural choice to serve with Charles Lang, William Daniels, and Joseph La Shelle on one of only two features fully produced in Cinerama, How the West Was Won . Krasner shot the entire last section of the film, "The Outlaws" (for which Henry Hathaway has claimed most of the directing credit) and many scenes in the rest of the film. The cinematographers found the Cinerama system daunting: because of the separate optical targets of the three-in-one camera format, three vanishing points could potentially appear on screen, and, though synchronized, the edges of each camera's field had to be carefully "blended" through skillful placement of trees and other vertical set elements, while cameramen had to be equally careful not to let a horizontal element stray across the "blend line." Moreover, cameras couldn't be tilted or panned during a scene. In fact, to compensate for the distortion, actors at the edges of the Cinerama image had to stand behind actors near the center of the image in order to be seen on the same depth plane. Krasner's section is the one least demanding the Cinerama treatment, and is as visually rich as any of his work in this period—quite an accomplishment, given the limitations of the format.

With The St. Valentine's Day Massacre , Krasner came full circle. Shooting mostly on a backlot dressed to look like 1920s Chicago, Krasner found himself advising the young Roger Corman how to get the feel of classical black-and-white photography on color stock. Corman found Krasner's ability to combine interior and exterior shooting in the same sequence especially important to the dramatic needs of the story. Parts of the film were shot in "documentary style," and the entire film was done in a modified widescreen process (Panavision). The film was carefully storyboarded, but a sequence depicting an argument between two characters was improvised with hand-held work. Thus Krasner reviewed techniques and specific skills learned in 45 years of work.

Milton Krasner's career in the movies is a testament to an ethic of patience, an industry's willingness to nurture talent, and the extraordinary variety of ways that talent was allowed to express itself when finally it did come to fruition.

—Kevin Jack Hagopian



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