Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: San Francisco, California, 2 August 1894. Military Service: 1917–18—in photography section of US Army. Family: Married the actress Evelyn Venable, 1934. Career: Part-time film inspector and winder while still at school; 1909—freelance cameraman and photographer's assistant; 1913—filmed newsreels for the California Motion Picture Corporation; 1915—film cutter at Universal Studios; 1920s—documentary filmmaker in Hollywood. Television work from the mid-1950s includes episodes of Life with Father , The Barbara Stanwyck Show , and That's My Boy . Awards: Academy Award for A Midsummer Night's Dream , 1935; The Phantom of the Opera , 1943. Died: In 1974.
Salomy Jane (Henderson); Money (Keane) (+ co-ed)
Restitution ( God's Tomorrow ; By Super Strategy ; The Conquering Christ ) (Gaye) (co); The Big Idea (+ d—short)
The Golden Trail (Hersholt and Moomaw) (co); The Deceiver (Hersholt and Moomaw)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Ingram); The Unfoldment (Kern and MacQuarrie) (co)
Watch Him Step (Nelson)
Bag and Baggage (Fox)
A Woman Who Sinned (Fox) (co); Vanity's Price ( This House of Vanity ) (Neill)
Little Annie Rooney (Beaudine) (co); Playing with Souls (Ince); The Monster (West); He Who Laughs Last (Nelson)
Sparrows ( Human Sparrows ) (Beaudine) (co); The Marriage Clause (Weber); The High Hand (Maloney); The Third Degree (Curtiz)
The Girl from Chicago (Enright); The Jazz Singer (Crosland); Slightly Used (Mayo); Bitter Apples (Hoyt); Old San Francisco (Crosland); A Million Bid (Curtiz); The Heart of Maryland (Bacon)
Tenderloin (Curtiz); Glorious Betsy (Crosland); The Wedding March (von Stroheim) (co); Noah's Ark (Curtiz) (co); The Last Warning (Leni)
Broadway (Fejos); Shanghai Lady ( The Girl from China ) (Robertson); Last Performance ( The Last Call ) (Fejos)
Captain of the Guard (Robertson) (co); The Cohens and Kellys in Africa (Moore); Outward Bound (Milton); The Cat Creeps (Julian) (co); Big Boy (Crosland); King of Jazz (Anderson) (co); The Czar of Broadway (Craft)
The Common Law (Stein); A Woman of Experience (Harry Joe Brown); Devotion (Milton); The Big Gamble (Niblo)
A Woman Commands (Stein); Lady with a Past ( Reputation ) (Edward H. Griffith); Weekends Only (Crosland); The First Year (Howard); Tess of the Storm Country (Santell)
State Fair (King); The Warrior's Husband (Walter Lang); I Loved You Wednesday (King); The Worst Woman in Paris (Bell); As Husbands Go (MacFadden); The Devil's in Love (Dieterle)
Carolina ( The House of Connelly ) (King); David Harum (Cruze); Change of Heart (Blystone); Charlie Chan's Courage (Hadden); Servants' Entrance (Lloyd)
The County Chairman (Blystone); Under Pressure (Walsh); A Midsummer Night's Dream (Dieterle and Reinhardt); Captain Blood (Curtiz)
The Walking Dead (Curtiz); Bullets or Ballots (Keighley); The Green Pastures (Keighley and Connelly); Ladies in Love (Edward H. Griffith)
I Met My Love Again (Logan and Ripley)
Back Door to Heaven (Howard) (co); The Under-Pup (Wallace); Rio (Brahm); Destry Rides Again (Marshall)
Where the Daltons Rode (Marshall); Pot o' Gold ( The Golden Hour ) (Marshall); International Lady (Whelan)
Cheers for Mrs. Bishop (Garnett)
Lady in a Jam (La Cava); Twin Beds (Whelan)
Watch on the Rhine (Shumlin) (co); Top Man (Lamont); The Phantom of the Opera (Lubin) (co); This Is the Life (Feist)
Ladies Courageous (Rawlins); San Diego, I Love You (Le Borg); The Climax (Wagner); My Gal Loves Music (Lilley); Enter Arsene Lupin (Beebe); Prices Unlimited (Kenton)
Because of Him (Wallace); Shady Lady (Waggner); Salome, Where She Danced (Lamont) (co); Her Lucky Night (Lilley)
Night in Paradise (Lubin); I'll Be Yours (Seiter)
Song of Scheherazade (Reisch); Pirates of Monterey (Werker); The Lost Moment (Gabel)
Another Part of the Forest (Gordon); An Act of Murder ( Live Today for Tomorrow ; The Case Against Calvin Cooke ) (Gordon)
Johnny Holiday (Goldbeck)
Of Men and Music (Reis); The Second Woman ( Ellen ) (Kern); Woman on the Run (Foster)
The Big Night (Losey)
Rancho Notorious (Lang); The Four Poster (Reis)
The Member of the Wedding (Zinnemann); The Wild One (Benedek)
The Boss (Haskin)
Baby Face Nelson (Siegel)
The Line-Up (Siegel); The Gun Runners (Siegel); Imagination in Motion (Lyford)
The Last Voyage (Stone); Underworld U.S.A. (Fuller)
Creation of the Humanoids (Barry)
The Man from the Diners' Club (Tashlin)
Jack and the Beanstalk (Kelly—for TV)
The Bamboo Saucer ( Collision Course ) (Telford)
"Moving Pictures: Hal Mohr's Cinematography," an interview with Richard Koszarski, in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1974.
Film Comment (New York), vol. 8, no. 2, Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London), Special Cinematography Issue, no. 13, 1973.
Obituary in New York Times , 12 May 1974.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 15 May 1974.
"A.S.C. Mourns Hal Mohr," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), June 1974.
Maltin, Leonard, in The Art of the Cinematographer , New York, 1978.
Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1990.
* * *
Cinematographer Hal Mohr was an expert at serving the director by creating whatever look or visual effect that director required for his film. He was one of Hollywood's outstanding innovators with regard to photographic technique, and he is the only person ever to earn an Academy Award on a write-in vote (for 1935's A Midsummer Night's Dream ; he also won an Oscar in 1943 for The Phantom of the Opera ).
In an era when most film people remained employed by one studio, Mohr jumped from backlot to backlot; from the 1950s on, he worked mainly in television. A majority of the scores of films he shot during his 50-odd years as a director of photography were made during the sound era, beginning symbolically with The Jazz Singer in 1927. Even though the movies had learned to talk, Mohr showed how they need not stop moving. Particularly in Broadway , there is startling use of the moving camera: Mohr pioneered the extensive usage of boom and dolly shots, resulting in complicated, dazzling visuals that are among the most stunning examples of early Hollywood expressionism. It also was around this time that he designed a camera crane that remained in use for years. According to the New York Evening Journal , 10 April 1937, "Last week it was rising up, rearing back, pirouetting and generally behaving like a cross between a drunken ballerina and a ferris wheel, garnering in wild shots of rioting in German streets after the Armistice for (Universal's) super-production of The Road Back ."
By the 1940s and 1950s, Mohr had become a master of creating just the right visuals to mirror a film's mood, whether that mood be eerie (in The Phantom of the Opera ), solemn ( Watch on the Rhine ), or stark and cool ( The Wild One ). The 1930s, however, was the cinematographer's most innovative decade. In Captain Blood , miniatures (including 18-foot-long ships) are flawlessly combined with process shots, and there is effective integration between shots made on the backlot and on location. Even more significantly, Mohr experimented with deep-focus photography in Bullets or Ballots and The Green Pastures , predating Gregg Toland's work on Citizen Kane .
Whatever artistic success A Midsummer Night's Dream achieved—the film, to this day, has its admirers and detractors—is due as much to Mohr's creativity as the direction of Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle and the decidedly offbeat casting of James Cagney (playing Bottom), Mickey Rooney (as Puck), Joe E. Brown (as Flute), and other Warners' contract players as Shakespeare's characters. In the scenario, sprites and fairies mix in the same shots with human beings; sequences filmed in real settings are intertwined with those filmed on obviously painted sets. Mohr's cinematography perfectly mirrors this combination of reality and fantasy via his utilization of soft photography and lighting to create an effect that is shimmering—at once magical and romantic. In his pan of Reinhardt's "lavish and fanciful rather than imaginative" approach to the material, Graham Greene, writing in the 18 October1935 edition of The Spectator , nonetheless noted that, "in (Reinhardt's) treatment of the Athenian woodland, the silver birches, thick moss, deep mists and pools, there are sequences of great beauty. . . ." Writing in the November 1935 National Board of Review Magazine , John Alfred Thomas opined that, "as Shakespeare, the production is almost photographically accurate. . . ." (Typically, Mohr's name cannot be found in either reviews, or in most analyses of the films to which he contributed.) In accepting his Oscar, the cinematographer observed that while working on A Midsummer Night's Dream , he had the opportunity to "explore a few of the possibilities of our marvelous art-science," adding that "we must constantly seek new ways of picturing old stories, or we cease to progress."
In addition to Mohr's willingness to let his imagination roam free as he experimented with then-unheard-of techniques, his career is a testimony to the fact that filmmaking is a collaborative art form. While working on Sparrows , he and art director Harry Oliver united to create an impressive-looking boat-chase sequence in a swamp, utilizing miniatures that were pulled through a tray of flaxseed and dry aluminum powder. Mohr lit the setting with high lights and crosslights. This, and other effects in the film, were accomplished by what Mohr described in an interview late in his life as "the combined efforts of a group of exquisite craftsmen."
"I get hundreds of letters from boys wanting to know how to become studio cameramen," he explained, in an interview published in the 17 May 1936 New York Herald-Tribune . ". . . Begin at home as an amateur camera man. Practice with your friends with your home camera. Learn all you can about trick photography, lighting effects, enlarging and finishing."
Years before in San Francisco, this is precisely how Mohr pursued his youthful interest in cinematography. It was, of course, a time when film schools did not exist; while still in high school, Mohr exhibited the resourcefulness that was to typify his career by converting a toy movie projector into a motion-picture camera. The projector's take-up arm ran the take-up magazine, with the projector's lens becoming the picture-taking lens. Soon, Mohr began photographing local events; he developed his own negative, and struck his own prints. "I sold some of these to our motion picture theater," Mohr told the New York Herald-Tribune , "and they were instantly popular. This beginning finally led to Hollywood. . . . "