Cinematographer. Nationality: Hungarian. Born: Budapest, 1896 (or 1906). Career: 1926—emigrated to the United States; cameraman and occasional cinematographer during late 1920s and 1930s, mainly for Paramount; cinematographer from mid-1940s; 1972–74—President, American Society of Cinematographers. Award: Academy Award for Ship of Fools , 1965. Died: In Woodland Hills, California, 6 January 1984.
Films as Cinematographer:
The Pace That Kills (Parker); Linda ( Mrs. Wallace Reid ) (co)
The White Outlaw (Horner); Street Corners (Birdwell)
The Primrose Path (O'Connor) (co)
The Hitler Gang (Farrow)
Two Years Before the Mast (Farrow)
Dear Ruth (Russell); Road to Rio (McLeod); A Miracle Can Happen ( On Our Merry Way ) (K. Vidor and Fenton) (co)
Lulu Belle (Fenton); The Girl from Manhattan (Green); Let's Live a Little (Wallace); Impact (Lubin)
The Lucky Stiff (Foster); Cover-Up (Green); Manhandled (Foster); The Big Wheel (Ludwig); D.O.A. (Maté)
Riding High (Capra) (co); The Jackie Robinson Story (Green); When I Grow Up (Kanin)
M (Losey); The Well (Popkin and Rouse); Mutiny (Dmytryk)
The First Time (Tashlin); The Trio: Rubenstein, Heifetz, and Piatigorsky ( Million Dollar Trio ) (Dassin); Three for Bedroom "C" (Bren); The Lady in the Iron Mask (Murphy); The Star (Walker); Stalag 17 (Wilder); The Steel Trap (Stone)
Scared Stiff (Marshall); The Moon Is Blue (Preminger); Houdini (Marshall); The Naked Jungle (Haskin)
Apache (Aldrich); About Mrs. Leslie (Daniel Mann); Vera Cruz (Aldrich)
Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich); The Kentuckian (Lancaster); The Big Knife (Aldrich)
While the City Sleeps (F. Lang); Bandido (Fleischer)
Omar Khayyam ( The Loves of Omar Khayyam ) (Dieterle); Valerie (Oswald); Gunsight Ridge (Lyon)
Attack of the Puppet People ( Six Inches Tall ) (Gordon); The Space Children (Gordon); The Restless Years ( The Wonderful Years ) (Kautner); Ten Seconds to Hell (Aldrich)
Inherit the Wind (Kramer); Tormented (Gordon)
The Last Sunset (Aldrich); Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer)
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer); Four for Texas (Aldrich); One Man's Way (Sanders)
Baby the Rain Must Fall (Mulligan)
Ship of Fools (Kramer)
Fantastic Voyage (Fleischer)
Star (Wise); The First Time ( You Don't Need Pajamas at Rosie's ) (Neilson)
Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (Robson); Airport (Seaton)
That's Entertainment! (Haley) (co)
Logan's Run (Anderson); The Domino Principle ( The Domino Killings ) (Kramer) (co)
Films as Cameraman:
Tongues of Scandal (Clements)
Rich Man's Folly (Cromwell)
The Miracle Man (McLeod); The Phantom President (Taurog)
The Case of the Curious Bride (Curtiz)
Hold Back the Dawn (Leisen)
The Major and the Minor (Wilder)
By LASZLO: articles—
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), June 1976.
"Speaking of Film," in Business and Home TV Screen (New York), March 1978.
On LASZLO: articles—
Rowan, Arthur, on The Steel Trap in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1952.
On It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1963.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1965.
On Fantastic Voyage in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1966.
Land, Kevin, on Star in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1969.
Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 18 January 1984.
Obituary in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1984.
Film Dope (Nottingham), November 1985.
* * *
A superior craftsman and technician, Ernest Laszlo belonged to a generation of cameramen trained by the master cinematographers of the silent era. He became a director of photography towards the end of the traditional Hollywood studio system, and tended to work with strong directors who brought a new realism to the commercial American cinema. Robert Aldrich, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, and Stanley Kramer generally functioned as their own bosses, on the set if not in the final edit, and they dealt with reality in their films rather than Hollywood fantasy. Laszlo painted their naturalistic visions on celluloid with dramatic lighting and a detached eye. He possessed an almost Germanic style, influenced in part by the German cinema of the 1920s, and throughout his career was rarely required to shoot romantically pretty pictures.
Like William Clothier and Russel Harlan, Laszlo was an assistant cameraman on William Wellman's aviation classic Wings , part of an army of cinematographers under the supervision of Harry Perry. Laszlo participated on the aerial photography, and also worked on the celebrated Folies Bergère tracking shot. He was an assistant on another aerial epic, Howard Hughes's Hell's Angels , along with such talented cameramen as Edward Snyder, Paul Ivano, and Henry Cronjager, with camera crew again headed by Harry Perry. Laszlo photographed a few low-budget B-movies, and some comedy shorts for Al Christie, then joined Paramount as a camera operator. He operated for cinematographers Karl Struss, David Abel, Charles Lang, and Leo Tover through the 1930s, and was finally promoted to director of photography by the director John Farrow on The Hitler Gang and Two Years Before the Mast . They are dark, brooding, atmospheric films, and earned Laszlo recognition for his mastery of low-key lighting. He introduced a new style of cinematography at Paramount. By eliminating most of the fill light, he achieved a more realistic look instead of the usual soft, glossy Paramount visuals.
Laszlo carried his style over to some of the most memorable films noirs. D.O.A. , directed by the former cameraman Rudolph Maté, is a fine example, the seedy underworld perfectly captured by Laszlo's chiaroscuro lighting and fluid camera. Joseph Losey's M , a remake of the Fritz Lang classic, was also effectively photographed, following the outline of the original but updated to reflect the paranoia of the early 1950s through dark tones. Manhandled , directed by Lewis Foster, contains a fascinating expressionistic dream sequence that overshadows the mediocre film.
Billy Wilder's Stalag 17 was treated in a realistic manner, its story of a German prison camp during the Second World War evoked with stark Laszlo cinematography. Again, the low-key lighting and the documentary style were uncommon in major studio Hollywood at the time, and the film's success proved that movies did not have to be candy-coated to work with audiences. For Fritz Lang, Laszlo shot the thriller While the City Sleeps , and gave the lurid tale a more subtle lighting to downplay the seamy material.
Laszlo had a productive relationship with Robert Aldrich, photographing the westerns Apache , Vera Cruz , The Last Sunset , and Four for Texas , all in color, and the black-and-white dramas Kiss Me Deadly , The Big Knife , and Ten Seconds to Hell . Apache and Vera Cruz used beautiful locations and reveal a strong sense of landscape; The Last Sunset is equally effective although a modern-day western, but Four for Texas is disappointing Rat Pack hijinks. Kiss Me Deadly and The Big Knife are brilliantly photographed, cynical, latter-day noir . Laszlo cited Kiss Me Deadly as his best black-and-white work, with its reliance on actual locations.
Laszlo also contributed outstanding black-and-white photography to Stanley Kramer's Inherit the Wind , Judgment at Nuremberg , and Ship of Fools . Each has a claustrophobic setting (courtrooms and an ocean liner), and Laszlo was called upon to make great use of closeups to accentuate the drama. The Kramer films are presented in a documentary-like fashion, with Laszlo utilizing deep grays and blacks in keeping with the somber dramatics.
Ernest Laszlo helped bring realism to the American cinema through his naturalistic cinematography, breaking down the barriers imposed by the glamour-conscious studios of the 1940s. He was fortunate to work with directors willing to suspend the usual high-key lighting effects in order to create genuine settings, and fused a new and practical form of photography for motion pictures.
—John A. Gallagher