Saturday, December 4, 2010

Robert Burks's early work on TCM

Robert Burks and Alfred Hitchcock on location for The Trouble with Harry, October 1954.

If there is a single blessing to come out of Hitchcock’s association with Warner Bros., it’s the gifted cinematographer, Robert Burks. Yesterday The New Yorker online mentioned Burks's early work in the opening of a documentary short Jammin' the Blues, which airs on TCM Monday, December 6 at 9AM.

When Hitchcock started in silent pictures, he was deeply influenced by German expressionism with the work of directors like Murnau, Lang, and Pabst. Their films had a lot of dark, elongated shadows, and odd angles, and this left a great impression on Hitchcock.  

Now Robert Burks began his career at Warner Bros. in the 1930s, when Hal Wallis was in charge of production. Wallis stressed that his cinematographers give him what he called “sketchy lighting,”—lots of shadows and high contrast. Wallis felt the films coming from other studios were overlit and lacked realism.  

Burks apprenticed under James Wong Howe, shooting montages and special effects for pictures like King's Row, Marked Woman, and In This Our Life. And this readied him for the long and fruitful association with Hitchcock. Beginning with Strangers on a Train, Burks would go on to shoot all of Hitchcock’s films through Marnie with the exception of Psycho.

It's great to see someone calling attention to Burks's early work.

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