Oswald Morris - Writer

Cinematographer. Nationality: British. Born: Ruislip, Middlesex, England, 22 November 1915. Education: Attended Bishopshalt School, Hillingdon. Military Service: Served as bomber pilot during World War II; awarded D.F.C. and A.F.C. Career: Projectionist during school vacations, then unpaid assistant and clapper boy at Wembley Studios; 1935—assistant cameraman, and cameraman from 1938 at BIP and Pinewood; 1950—first film as cinematographer, Golden Salamander ; developed innovative print color saturation with 4-strip Technicolor in 1950s. Awards: British Academy Award for The Pumpkin Eater , 1964; The Hill , 1965; The Spy Who Came In from the Cold , 1966; Academy Award for Fiddler on the Roof , 1971. British Society of Cinematographers Golden Camera for Moulin Rouge , 1953; The Spy Who Came In from the Cold , 1966; The Taming of the Shrew , 1967; Fiddler on the Roof , 1971.

Oswald Morris
Oswald Morris

Films as Cameraman:


Green for Danger (Gilliat)


Captain Boycott (Launder)


Oliver Twist (Lean); Blanche Fury (Allegret)


Passionate Friends (Lean)

Films as Cinematographer:


Golden Salamander (Neame); Cairo Road (MacDonald)


Circle of Danger (Tourneur); The Adventurers ( Fortune in Diamonds ) (MacDonald)


The Card ( The Promoter ) (Neame); Saturday Island ( Island of Desire ) (Heisler); So Little Time (Bennett)


Moulin Rouge (Huston); South of Algiers ( The Golden Mask ) (Lee); Stazione Termini ( Indiscretion of an American Wife ) (De Sica) (co)


Beat the Devil (Huston); Beau Brummell (Bernhardt); Monsieur Ripois ( Knave of Hearts ; Lovers, Happy Lovers ) (Clément)


The Man Who Never Was (Neame); Moby Dick (Huston)


Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (Neame); A Farewell to Arms (C. Vidor) (co)


The Key (Reed); The Roots of Heaven (Huston)


Look Back in Anger (Richardson); Our Man in Havana (Reed)


The Entertainer (Richardson)


The Guns of Navarone (Lee Thompson)


Satan Never Sleeps ( The Devil Never Sleeps ) (McCarey); Lolita (Kubrick); Term of Trial (Glenville)


Come Fly with Me (Levin); The Ceremony (Harvey)


Of Human Bondage (Hughes); The Pumpkin Eater (Clayton); The Battle of the Villa Fiorita ( Affair at the Villa Fiorita ) (Daves)


Mister Moses (Neame); The Hill (Lumet)


The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (Ritt); Life at the Top (Kotcheff); Stop the World—I Want to Get Off (Saville); The Winter's Tale (Dunlop)


The Taming of the Shrew (Zeffirelli); Great Catherine (Flemyng)


Reflections in a Golden Eye (Huston); Oliver! (Reed)


Goodbye Mr. Chips (Ross)


Scrooge (Neame); Fragment of Fear (Sarafian)


Fiddler on the Roof (Jewison)


Lady Caroline Lamb (Bolt); Sleuth (Mankiewicz)


The Mackintosh Man (Huston); Dracula (Curtis) (TV, UK cinema)


The Odessa File (Neame); The Man with the Golden Gun (Hamilton) (studio only)


The Man Who Would Be King (Huston)


The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Ross)


Equus (Lumet)


The Wiz (Lumet)


Just Tell Me What You Want (Lumet)


The Great Muppet Caper (Henson)


The Dark Crystal (Henson and Oz)


By MORRIS: articles—

On Fiddler on the Roof in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1970.

Focus on Film (London), December 1971.

Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), no. 3, 1977.

Films and Filming (London), April 1977.

On The Wiz , in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1978.

Millimeter (New York), November 1978.

Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1978.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1979.

On The Dark Crystal in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1982.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1985.

On MORRIS: articles—

Hill, Derek, on Moby Dick in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1966.

Screen International (London), 22 November 1975.

Films & Filming (London), April 1977.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1978; May 1979; December 1982; April 1985.

Film Dope , September 1990.

Perfect Vision (Hollywood), Spring 1994.

* * *

Following in that fine British tradition of being in the right place at the right time, Oswald "Ossie" Morris entered the film industry as an unpaid projectionist whilst still at school, and through good fortune and perseverance managed to secure his first paid post as clapper boy and factotum at the small Wembley Studios during the early 1930s.

His early film education included spells working with such luminaries as Michael Powell on the production line "quota quickies" which were made for a pound per foot of film. Morris's progress from camera assistant to camera operator was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, in which he served as a bomber pilot. He returned to the business in 1946, working for Ronald Neame at Pinewood Studios as camera operator on a series of low-key, but solidly made, British films. Green For Danger was the first, to be followed by Captain Boycott , Oliver Twist and Passionate Friends —the latter two for David Lean—during which time he began to apply the lessons he had learned.

Morris's career blossomed during a golden era in British cinematography. The likes of Jack Cardiff, Freddie Young, Geoffrey Unsworth, Freddie Francis and Morris's acknowledged mentor Guy Green were variously photographing, assisting and focus pulling during this time and he finally made his debut as cinematographer on Ronald Neame's Golden Salamander. Unable to keep working in the top job under contract, Morris took the bold decision to go freelance and never looked back. He continued to ply his trade on small-scale British films, only two of which were shot in Technicolor, before John Huston invited him to photograph Moulin Rouge , the big-budget story of artist Toulouse Lautrec. Always a keen innovator, Morris was given a free rein by Huston and devised many stylish lighting effects for the film. Using fog on the set together with bold colour choices and a combination of diffused and filtered light, Morris created stunning effects.

Certainly Technicolor executives were stunned. They practically disowned the film when they saw it, but supported by his director, Morris weathered the storm and was amused to receive a congratulatory letter from the same executives when the film opened to positive reviews with particular praise for its photography. Up until that time the saturated, overripe Technicolor look was all, but Morris and Huston broke up the line, muted the colour and challenged the accepted wisdom of day.

His triumph on the film was all the more remarkable for his inexperience with Technicolor, used for only a couple of his early films and a day or two shooting second unit on John Boulting's The Magic Box. Following this early triumph Morris worked with John Huston on seven other pictures. But the next of them, Beat the Devil , was notable mainly for the in-jokes and happy reunion of several favourite Huston actors. It was not until their next association that the Huston-Morris partnership was to challenge the accepted use of Technicolor once more.

For Moby Dick Huston demanded a new look, and Morris together with the now cooperative Technicolor boffins worked to produce a bleak, washed out effect for the screen. The starkness of the pictures they shot perfectly complimented the steely, ethereal quality of so many of the characters; the effect was achieved by printing a negative overlaid onto another negative of the same shot. When lit by a revolving light, the effect produced a sublime outline to the characters which echoed the biblical sense of doom that pervaded Ahab's obsession with the great white whale.

Morris maintained his status as a cinematographer-for-hire when a lesser man might have settled for a staff job. His overwhelming talent seems to have been his ability to work with some of the more demanding directors of the period. Matched with his professional competence and adaptability, his solid and unostentatious work lent character and depth to a wide variety of films. He provided vivid and evocative images in an altogether different location for another Huston film, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison , as well as working on three occasions with Carol Reed, a director renowned for his irascible attitude towards technicians.

But no matter what the provocation, or how fearsome the reputation of those with whom he worked, Morris discharged his duties with quiet authority, proving himself to be unflashy but thoroughly dependable. As a result, he worked steadily, and when some of his peers found quality work harder to come by in the late '50s, Morris was adopted by the British new wave, led by Tony Richarsdson with his Look Back in Anger. He worked with Richardson again two years later, photographing Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer. He approached both fllms as a straightforward exercise in putting the cinematographer at the service of the story. There are few gimmicks or distractions—such elements being superfluous with actors such as Richard Burton and Olivier in any event—and Morris was certainly not weighed down by an ego that needed to boast of his talents to the world.

While he worked steadily, his films were rarely the subject of award nominations. He had to wait until The Pumpkin Eater for his first British Academy Award, to be followed by the searing heat and docu-drama style of The Hill , and the contrast offered by his next film, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold , which had a damp and shadowy quality that seemed thoroughly appropriate for the downbeat Cold War story that unfolded.

For a few years in the 1960s Morris was in greater demand than ever, and worked on a selection of films that seemed to sum up his whole career. The contrast of scale, theme, demands of stars, variable story quality and the continuous switch between black-and-white and colour stocks seemed not to bother him at all. In that time he rattled up credits such as The Taming of the Shrew, Reflections in a Golden Eye and Oliver! (the latter film making him the only person other than Charles Dickens to have a connection with both Carol Reed's film and David Lean's).

Fiddler on the Roof won Morris his only Oscar. His work on this film spanned all four seasons and a variety of locations, and although it was an example of the kind of unfussy approach that was his forte, there were no obvious signs that this was a Morris film. Indeed, Morris insists that he had no conscious trademark during his active career, and this clearly was one factor in his remarkable adaptability and longevity. By his own standards, the 1970s signalled a period of winding down, highlighted by a brush with Bond—completing studio shooting on The Man with the Golden Gun —his last professional encounter with Huston on The Man Who Would Be King , and the gloriously left-field The Wiz , which gave Morris his one and only experience of working on location in the United States. He made the most of it, lighting the New York Trade Center with thousands of multicoloured bulbs for one sequence.

Having collaborated with some of the greats on a selection of good, bad and forgettable movies made in the last forty years, his easygoing approach has served him well, the product of a unique education in the prewar British film industry, as well as the white heat of war itself. The result is a very British, very unassuming, very satisfying success story.

—Anwar Brett

Other articles you might like:

User Contributions:

marc hyams
Report this comment as inappropriate
Aug 15, 2012 @ 6:06 am
why no mention of houstons moby dick filmed by ossie morris in 1955

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: