Oswald Morris, one of the greatest cinematographers of the color era, has died, at 98. Morris started in the movie business as a 17-year-old clapper boy at the British company Wembley Studios. He had worked his way up to assistant cameraman before his career was interrupted by the Second World War. After enlisting in the RAF and serving as a bomber pilot, he went back to work and served as a camera operator on a number of British films, including the classic whodunnit Green For Danger (1946) and David Lean’s 1948 version of Oliver Twist. He graduated to cinematographer on the 1950 adventure film Golden Salamander.
Morris made his early reputation two years later, when he shot John Huston’s Moulin Rouge, starring Jose Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec. The director wanted the film to be shot in a style that approximated the look of its hero’s paintings. Years later, Morris recalled that he and his crew “used very strong, light-scattering filters on the camera, which had never been used before, and we filmed every set full of smoke so that the actors always stood out from the background.” According to Morris, “the Technicolor people” were so unhappy about his experimental approach that they “did everything they could to get me off the picture,” though they changed their tune after the movie was released to rave reviews.
Morris went on to work with Huston seven more times, on Beat The Devil (1953); Moby Dick (1956); Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957); The Roots Of Heaven (1958); Reflections In a Golden Eye (1967), where he worked without an official credit; The Mackintosh Man (1973); and The Man Who Would Be King (1975). When Morris published his memoir in 2006, he titled if Huston, We Have A Problem.
Morris also worked with such directors as Carol Reed, on The Key (1958), Our Man In Havana (1959), and Oliver! (1968); Sidney Lumet, on The Hill (1965), Equus (1977), The Wiz (1978), and Just Tell Me What You Want (1980); Stanley Kubrick, on Lolita (1962); Martin Ritt, on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965); Tony Richardson, on Look Back In Anger (1959) and The Entertainer (1960); Jack Clayton, on The Pumpkin Eater (1964); Joseph L. Mankiewicz, on Sleuth (1972); and Jim Henson, on his last two films, The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and The Dark Crystal (1982).
He won an Academy for his work on Norman Jewison’s Fiddler On The Roof (1971). and was nominated for Oliver! and The Wiz. The British Society of Cinematographers gave Morris its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.