Russell Metty - Writer

Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, in 1906. Career: 1925—worked in camera department of Paramount Studios; 1929—joined RKO, where became Director of Photography. Television work during the 1970s includes episodes of The Waltons , Columbo , and Rich Man, Poor Man . Award: Academy Award for Spartacus , 1960. Died: In 1978.

Films as Cinematographer:


West of the Pecos (Rosen)


Night Waitress (Landers)


They Wanted to Marry (Landers); Behind the Headlines (Rosen); Edgar and Goliath (Goodwins); Forty Naughty Girls (Cline); You Can't Beat Love (Cabanne); Annapolis Salute ( Salute to Romance ) (Cabanne)


The Dummy Owner (Yarborough); Ears of Experience (Goodwins); Bringing Up Baby (Hawks); Mr. Doodle Kicks Off (Goodwins); Annabel Takes a Tour (Landers); Stage Fright (Roberts); The Affairs of Annabel (Stoloff); Next Time I Marry (Kanin); The Sunset Trail (Selander)


The Great Man Votes (Kanin); The Girl and the Gambler (Landers); The Spellbinder (Hively); Three Sons (Hively); That's Right, You're Wrong (Butler); Everything's on Ice (Kenton)


Scrappily Married (Ripley); Irene (Wilcox); Curtain Call (Woodruff); Dance, Girl, Dance (Arzner); No, No, Nanette (Wilcox); Sunk By the Census (D'Arcy)


A Girl, a Guy and a Gob (Wallace); Sunny (Wilcox); Weekend for Three (Reis); Four Jacks and a Jill (Hively)


Joan of Paris (Stevenson); Dear! Deer! (Holmes); Army Surgeon (Sutherland); The Falcon's Brother (Logan); The Big Street (Reis); Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (Goodwins); Framing Father (Roberts)


Hitler's Children (Dmytryk); Double Up (Holmes); Forever and a Day (Clair, Goulding, Hardwicke, Lloyd, Saville, Stephenson, and Wilcox); Behind the Rising Sun (Dmytryk); Tender Comrade (Dmytryk); Around the World (Dwan); Not on My Account (Roberts); The Sky's the Limit (E. Griffith)


Seven Days Ashore (Auer); Music in Manhattan (Auer); Triple Trouble (D'Arcy); The Master Race (Bibberman); It's in the Bag (Wallace)


Betrayal from the East (Berke); The Story of GI Joe (Wellman); Pardon My Past (Fenton); Breakfast in Hollywood ( The Madhatter ) (Schuster)


The Stranger (Welles); The Perfect Marriage (Allen); The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (Lewin); Whistle Stop (Moguy)


Ivy (Wood); Ride the Pink Horse (Montgomery); A Woman's Vengeance (Zoltan Korda); Arch of Triumph (Milestone)


All My Sons (Reis); Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (Pichel); Kiss the Blood Off My Hands ( Blood on My Hands ) (Foster); You Gotta Stay Happy (Potter)


The Lady Gambles (Gordon); Bagdad (Lamont); Curtain Call at Cactus Creek (Lamont); We Were Strangers (Huston)


Buccaneer's Girl (de Cordova); Sierra (Green); Peggy (de Cordova); The Desert Hawk (de Cordova); Wyoming Mail (Le Borg); Katie Did It (de Cordova)


Upfront (Hall); Little Eygpt ( Chicago Masquerade ) (de Cordova); The Treasure of Lost Canyon (Tetzlaff); The Golden Horde (Sherman); The Raging Tide (Sherman); Flame of Araby (Lamont)


Scarlet Angel (Salkow); The World in His Arms (Walsh); Against All Flags (Sherman); Because of You (Pevney); Yankee Buccaneer (de Cordova)


The Bond between Us (Cowan); Seminole (Boetticher); It Happens Every Thursday (Pevney); The Man from the Alamo (Boetticher); Take Me to Town (Sirk); Tumble-weed (Juran)


Magnificent Obsession (Sirk); Naked Alibi (Hopper); Four Guns to the Border (Carlson); Sign of the Pagan (Sirk)


Crashout (Foster); Man without a Star (King Vidor); Cult of the Cobra (Lyon); There's Always Tomorrow (Sirk); All That Heaven Allows (Sirk); The Man from Bitteridge (Arnold); Miracle in the Rain (Mate)


Congo Crossing ; Written on the Wind (Sirk)


Battle Hymn (Sirk); Mr. Cory (Edwards); Man Afraid (Keller); The Midnight Story ( Appointment with a Shadow ) (Pevney); The Female Animal (Keller)


Touch of Evil (Welles); The Thing That Couldn't Die (Cohen); A Time to Love and a Time to Die (Sirk); Step Down to Terror ( The Silent Stranger ) (Keller); Monster on the Campus (Arnold)


Imitation of Life (Sirk); This Earth Is Mine (King) (co); Platinum High School ( Rich, Young and Deadly ) (Haas)


Portrait in Black (Gordon); Spartacus (Kubrick); Midnight Lace (Miller)


The Misfits (Huston); Flower Drum Song (Koster); By Love Possessed (Sturges)


If a Man Answers (Levin); The Interns (Swift); That Touch of Mink (Mann)


The Thrill of It All (Jewison); Tammy and the Doctor (Keller); Captain Newman (Miller)


I'd Rather Be Rich (Smight)


The Warlord (Schaffner); The Art of Love (Jewinson); Bus Riley's Back in Town (Hart); Madam X (Rich)


Texas across the River (Gordon)


Thoroughly Modern Millie (Hill); The Secret War of Harry Frigg (Smight); Counterpoint (Nelson); Rough Night in Jericho (Laven)


The Pink Jungle (Delbert Mann); Madigan (Siegel)


Eye of the Cat (Rich) (co); Change of Habit (Graham)


How Do I Love Thee? (Gordon); Tribes ( The Soldier Who Declared Peace ) (Sargent—for TV)


The Omega Man (Sagal)


Ben (Karlson); Cancel My Reservation (Bogart)


That's Entertainment! (Haley) (co)


On METTY: articles—

Film Comment (New York), vol. 8, no.2, Summer 1972.

Focus on Film (London), Special Cinematography Issue, no. 13, 1973.

Film Dope (London), no. 42, October 1989 + filmo.

Michigan Quarterly Review , no. 4, 1995.

New Republic , 28 September 1998.

* * *

Despite Russell Metty's outstanding black-and-white photography for films like The Stranger , Ivy , Touch of Evil , and The Misfits , it is with the glistening color of his work for Douglas Sirk at Universal-International that his name remains principally identified. When he and Sirk teamed up for the first time to make Take Me to Town , it was the fruit of a determined effort on Sirk's part to get him: "He was very expensive, and very much in demand, but I finally succeeded. We always agreed about everything: we had just the same way of seeing things, and we had a great time working together." Equally impressed was Charlton Heston, who later described Metty as "unquestionably one of the great cameramen. He is nearly the only one of them who is also fast. Most of the time you hear things like 'Do you want it fast, or do you want it good?' With Russ you got both." To a relatively humble outfit like Universal, Metty was an especially valuable asset, since the box-office potential of their carefully budgeted little pictures usually owed more to their visual qualities than to their plots, and perhaps even their stars. Sirk himself said that he felt color "very essential to this type of picture to give it the necessary warmth and glow and commercially, to add box-office power to their rather second-rate star value."

Ironically, prior to his arrival at Universal during the mid-forties, Metty's sole contact with Technicolor seems to have consisted of the "Alice Blue Gown" sequence in Irene ; but he was soon to be set to work on a sizable proportion of the stream of inexpensive action and adventure films in Technicolor with which the studio was attempting, by the early fifties, to free itself of its financial dependence upon its Abbott & Costello, Ma and Pa Kettle, and Francis the Mule comedies. By the end of the decade, when permitted the sort of resources lavished upon the $12,000,000 Spartacus (Universal's most expensive picture to date), Metty's Technirama photography had little difficulty in collecting the 1960 Academy Award for color photography.

But his work in color was only half the story. Metty would take whatever Universal pushed his way, moving swiftly from genre to genre, from high to low budgets, from color to black and white, from widescreen to standard, and back again. For example, 1958 saw Metty's name on five Universal releases. In addition to the latest collaboration with Sirk ( A Time to Love and a Time to Die ), in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor, there were four black-and-white programmers intended for double bills: Step Down to Terror , which was a quickie remake of Shadow of a Doubt ; The Thing That Couldn't Die , and Monster on the Campus , titles that speak for themselves; and Touch of Evil . During his European exile, Orson Welles had sorely missed the superior facilities and technicians which only Hollywood could provide, and reunited with Metty he marked the occasion by opening Touch of Evil with one of the most spectacular crane shots ever filmed (copied in Absolute Beginners and various pop videos). The film abounds in classic film noir set pieces, but equally impressive are less showy moments, such as the glacial deep-focus of the brief scene in the hall of records, or the dusty, sun-bleached exteriors for which Venice, California, masqueraded as the dismal little Mexican border town of Los Robles. During a later location shoot, in Nevada for The Misfits (for which Metty had been loaned to United Artists), John Huston must have been grateful indeed for Metty's level-headed professionalism as Huston grappled with that film's painful gestation.

During the 1960s Metty's assignments continued to veer between cheerful trivia like Tammy and the Doctor and genuine challenges like The Warlord , but his behavior during the making of Madigan suggests that he no longer felt the same involvement in his work; Don Siegel was to recall that he "did not seem particularly interested in the movie" and had needed prodding to perform reluctantly as basic a task as shining additional light through a window on which the blind had just been raised. Logically enough he was now to become increasingly busy with Universal TV series such as Columbo (where his directors included a fledgling Steven Spielberg), still a valuable asset to his employers, no doubt, but probably more for his speed than for his imagination.

—Richard Chatten

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