GREAT CINEMATOGRAPHERS


#2: [Right] with dir Frank Capra

 

   


JOSEPH B. WALKER

 

Born: 22 August 1892, Denver, Colorado, USA, as Joseph Bailey Walker.

Died: 1 August 1985, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Career: After moving to Venice, Calif., with his family in 1910, he got a job with Lee De Forest [1873-1961] working on the wireless transmitter. [In 1911 he made the first wireless news report using equipment he designed; in 1912 he built the first wireless transmitters for airplanes and automobiles; in 1913 he made wireless news reports to the 'Los Angeles Times' on the Mexican revolution.] Became attracted to the film industry when the Biograph Company decided to make some pictures in Venice. He met doph 'Billy' Bitzer and became his asst making matte boxes, irises and other accessories. Ph newsreels for Gaumont News, Kinograms & Hearst-Selig News. During WWI he shot a series of films for the American Red Cross. The US Air Force gave him the job of ph the aerial work on the West Coast. When actress/dir/prod Nell Shipman [1892-1970] saw his Red Cross film, she was impressed with the camerawork. She asked him and Bert Van Tuyle, the film's director, to her Glendale home for an interview. Walker wrote about the meeting in his autobiography: 'Nell Shipman was the true prototype of an outdoors woman. "I just made a picture for Vitagraph," she told us, "and the picture is doing well, but I'm not happy working with Vitagraph. I'm leaving them to form my own company. I plan to make outdoor pictures, on real locations. No more studios with their fake sets." She appraised me. "I want you to make a test of me, only this is not to be like a studio test. I want this shot outdoors in bright sunlight with natural settings. The question is, can you make me look good under those conditions?" I had known at first glance she'd photograph well. Strong vitality, such as hers, always comes through on film...' 'After several pictures at Robertson-Cole/Film Booking Office of America [FBO], director George B. Seitz arranged for me to do a picture for him at Columbia. I didn't figure on lasting a week, but I stayed at Columbia until 1952 when I had to leave to take care of my zoom lens business [as chief engineer at Radio Optical Research Company, Hollywood].' [See below *]

He held numerous patents relating to film, television and... secret messages, e.g. Process for Producing Multiply-Exposed Motion Picture Films [filed 1922/issued 1924], Camera [1929/1933; see photos below], Dissolve Device for Cameras [1931/1935], Means for Forming, Transmitting, and Decoding Secret Messages [1937/1939], Photographic Camera Lens System [1947/1950], Compound Image-Forming Reflecting Mirror Optical Systems [1953/1954], Automatic Non-Parallax Dual Lens [1954/1955], Panoramic Television Cameras [1955/1959], and Zoom Lens Focusing Mechanism [1958/1961].

 

Camera [1929/1933] - No. 1,898,471

 

Was a member of the ASC since 1927.

Awards: 'Oscar' AA nom [1938] for 'You Can't Take It With You'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1939; b&w; this is not an official nomination: the title was on a preliminary list of submissions/nominees from the studios from which the two official nominees were selected] for 'Only Angels Have Wings'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1941; b&w] for 'Here Comes Mr. Jordan'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1946; color] for 'The Jolson Story'; Gordon E. Sawyer Award [1981] for Scientific and Technical Achievement.


* The development of the zoom was associated with the name of Joseph Walker who constructed a prototype in the 1920s. However, it wasn't until after WWII and the considerable investment in the technology of aerial photography, reinforced by the emergence of television in the USA, that the zoom lens became integrated into cinematographic technology. One report claims that the first professional demonstration of the zoomar lens was in 1946; NBC TV in New York demonstrated its camera equipped with a zoom lens in 1947. The multinational giant RCA acquired the services of Joseph Walker in the 1950s and the zoom lens developed into a standard resource, although, at this time, prominent in television and in the making of advertising spots. Its labor saving aspects, avoiding the costs of laying tracks, employing grips and electricians to adjust elaborate lighting plans and so on, caused the zoom to become a more prominent feature in the cheaper productions. [Paul Willemen]



Joseph Walker, Frank Capra's favorite cinematographer, began his working life as an electrical engineer who collaborated with Lee De Forest on building the first wireless transmitter. However, it was his interest in moving picture photography which led him to work in film laboratories. During WWI, Walker gained valuable hands-on experience filming aerial scenes, newsreels and other documentary footage. All the while, he continued to accumulate patents. Once qualified as a lighting cameraman, Walker started to work in Hollywood. After involvement in several low budget films as a free-lance cinematographer, he joined Columbia in 1927. He was to have a profound impact in elevating the status of this studio during the next two decades, inextricably linked with Columbia's best and commercially most successful films, until his retirement in 1952.
An expert craftsman in composition, camera movement and perspective, and consummately skilled in the use of wide-angle and zoom lenses [of which he had a vast personal collection], Walker also excelled at lighting his sets. His most memorable scenes include the moonlit hayfield of 'It Happened One Night', the torchlit funeral procession of 'Lost Horizon' and, of course, George Bailey running along the snow-covered main street of Bedford Falls in 'It's a Wonderful Life'. Known in the industry as a 'woman's photographer', he also captured the best attributes of his leading ladies through his close-ups, shot with his own patented 4-inch lenses. Though he worked primarily on b&w features, Walker was equally adept at the medium of color and won an 'Oscar' nominations for Columbia's biopic, 'The Jolson Story'.
After his retirement, Walker's ever-active mind developed and manufactured the Electra-Zoom Lens for RCA [expanding on his earlier design], later used as standard equipment by TV cameramen in the 1960s. In 1981, he became the inaugural recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for outstanding technological contributions to the industry. He detailed his memoirs in 1984 in his autobiography, entitled, 'The Light on Her Face'. [From biography by I.S. Mowis.]

 

James Stewart - Jean Arthur - Frank Capra - JW - "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" [1939] - photo Thys Ockersen Archive

 

Joseph B. Walker's career could have flourished in any of a number of directions. His pioneering work in the development of the wireless transmitter with Dr. Lee De Forest gave him a head start in the new world of radio broadcasting. His lifelong fascination with the workings of motion picture cameras led him to put his name to an impressive list of inventions. But it was as cinematographer that Walker made his mark.

After some years of freelancing as a newsreel photographer Walker shot his first feature, 'Back to God's Country', in 1919 on a formidable location near the Arctic Circle. For the next seven years he worked steadily at a variety of minor studios, photographing low-budget programmers. His huge collection of camera lenses [and his intimate knowledge of their possibilities] made him invaluable to the directors of these quickies. Walker could, by changing lenses, shoot a close, medium, or long shot without moving the camera, thus saving precious time in shooting westerns like 'Fighting Courage' or serials like 'Officer '444''.

In 1927 Walker photographed 'The Isle of Forgotten Women', directed by George B. Seitz, his first film at Columbia. Walker was to remain almost exclusively with this studio until his retirement in 1952. At the time, Columbia was the least of the majors; Walker, through his long association with Frank Capra, would help to change that.

Walker found Capra a most congenial collaborator, a director who could at once keep a tight rein on his artistic vision while allowing Walker remarkable experimental leeway. Though Walker was a master at composition and elaborate camera movement, his most memorable images come from his brilliant mastery of lighting: Barbara Stanwyck and David Manners by the fireside in 'The Miracle Woman'; the delicate mists of the moonlit haystack scene in 'It Happened One Night'; the shimmering, Baroque visions of 'The Bitter Tea of General Yen'; the stunning torchlight funeral in 'Lost Horizon'.

Though Walker's best work was with Capra, the cinematographer also had occasion to work with directors as diverse as Howard Hawks, Victor Schertzinger, Leo McCarey, George Stevens and Alexander Hall. It's difficult, in fact, to come up with many first-rate Columbia films of the era on which Walker did not work.

In his amiable and informative autobiography, 'The Light on Her Face', Walker quotes Columbia head Harry Cohn: "Y'know, there's one thing that's always made me curious about you. Practically every money-making picture we've had at Columbia, you've worked on it. How do you account for that? And don't tell me it's the photography! Photography doesn't sell pictures!" Maybe not. But those silvery images stay in the mind long after the movies' plots have faded from memory. The elegance of Walker's cinematography even survives the indignities of being shrunk down and contrasted out for television, though the delicacy of his lighting suffers on video. Walker, like many another of his gifted peers who worked predominantly in black-and-white, seem sadly relegated to a medium for which their work was not designed and which does not have the sensitivity properly to display the beautiful and precious images it chews up as so much fodder. But should the viewer have the willingness and the opportunity to return to Walker's films as they were originally intended - on 35mm film - he or she will find that there were few more gifted practitioners of the art of cinematography. [From article by Frank Thompson.]


 

 FILMS [1 reel = c. 10m]

1917

American Red Cross [Bert Van Tuyle] b&w; 1 reel

1919

Back to God's Country/Wapi, the Walrus [David M. Hartford] b&w; 6 reels; cph: Dal Clawson; filmed March-May; prod Canadian Photoplays & Shipman-Curwood Productions

1919

Something New [Nell Shipman & Bert Van Tuyle] b&w (tinted); 5 reels (56m); prod Nell Shipman Productions

1921

A Bear, a Boy and a Dog [Bert Van Tuyle] b&w; 2 reels; prod Nell Shipman Productions

1921

The Girl from God's Country [Nell Shipman & Bert Van Tuyle] b&w; 7 reels; prod Nell Shipman Productions

1922

The Grub Stake [- A Tale of the Klondike]/The Golden Yukon/The Romance of Lost Valley [Nell Shipman & Bert Van Tuyle] b&w; 7 reels; filmed March-August; prod Nell Shipman Productions & Sierra Pictures 

1923

Danger [Clifford S. Elfelt] b&w; 6 reels; prod Clifford S. Elfelt Productions

1923

Richard, the Lion-Hearted [Chet Withey] b&w; 8 reels; prod Associated Authors

1924

What Shall I Do? [John G. Adolfi] b&w; 6 reels; prod ?

1924

The Wise Virgin [Lloyd Ingraham] b&w; 6 reels; prod Peninsula Studios

1924

Chalk Marks [John G. Adolfi] b&w; 7 reels; cph: Charles Kaufman; prod Peninsula Studios

1924

Let Women Alone [Paul Powell] b&w; 6 reels; prod Peninsula Studios

1924

The Girl on the Stairs [William Worthington] b&w; 7 reels; cph: Charles Kaufman; prod Peninsula Studios

1925

My Neighbor's Wife [Clarence Geldert] b&w; 6 reels; prod Clifford S. Elfelt Productions

1925

Clash of the Wolves [Noel Mason Smith] b&w; 7 reels; uncred cph; ph: Edwin DuPar & Allen Thompson; prod Warner Bros.

1925

The Pleasure Buyers [Chet Withey] b&w; 7 reels; prod Warner Bros.

1925

North Star [Paul Powell] b&w; 5 reels; prod Howard Estabrook Productions

1925

Fighting Courage [Clifford S. Elfelt] b&w; 5 reels; prod Clifford S. Elfelt Productions

1926

The Fighting Stallion [Ben Wilson] b&w; 5 reels; prod Ben Wilson Productions

 

 

1926

Officer '444' [Francis Ford & Ben Wilson] b&w; 10-part serial; cph: Jack Jackson; prod Goodwill Pictures Inc.

1926

The Dixie Flyer [Charles J. Hunt] b&w; 6 reels; cph: William Tuers; prod Trem Carr Productions

1926

The Baited Trap [Stuart Paton] b&w; 5 reels; prod Ben Wilson Productions

1926

Temporary Sheriff [Dick Hatton] b&w; 5 reels; prod Ben Wilson Productions

1926

In the Tentacles of the North [Louis Chaudet] b&w; 6 reels; prod Ben Wilson Productions

1926

Flaming Fury [James P. Hogan] b&w; 5 reels; prod Robertson-Cole Pictures (RCP)

1926

Tarzan and the Golden Lion [J.P. McGowan] b&w; 6 reels; filmed September-December; prod RCP

1927

The Outlaw Dog [J.P. McGowan] b&w; 5 reels; prod RCP

1927

Fire and Steel [Bertram Bracken] b&w; 6 reels; cph: Robert Cline; prod Ellbee Pictures

1927

The Great Mail Robbery [George B. Seitz] b&w; 7 reels; prod RCP

1927

Death Valley [Paul Powell] b&w; 6 reels; cph: Frank Heisler & Clifton Maupin; prod Furst Wells Productions 

1927

The Flying U Ranch [Robert De Lacey] b&w; 5 reels; prod RCP

1927

Shanghaied [Ralph Ince] b&w; 6 reels; prod Ralph Ince Productions

1927

The Isle of Forgotten Women [George B. Seitz] b&w; 6 reels; prod Columbia Pictures (CP)

1927

The College Hero [Walter Lang] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1927

The Tigress [George B. Seitz] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1927

Stage Kisses [Albert Kelly] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1927

Aflame in the Sky [J.P. McGowan] b&w; 6 reels; prod RCP

1927

That Certain Thing [Frank Capra] b&w; 7 reels; prod CP

1927

Lady Raffles [Roy William Neill] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1928

After the Storm [George B. Seitz] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1928

Modern Mothers [Philip Rosen] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1928

Ransom [George B. Seitz] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1928

Beware of Blondes [George B. Seitz] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1928

Say It with Sables [Frank Capra] b&w; 7 reels; prod CP

1928

Virgin Lips [Elmer Clifton] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1928

Court-Martial [George B. Seitz] b&w; 7 reels; prod CP

1928

Submarine [Frank Capra (replaced Irvin Willat)] b&w; 103m; silent & sound (music + sound efx) version; prod CP

1928

The Street of Illusion [Erle C. Kenton] b&w; 7 reels; prod CP

1928

Driftwood [Christy Cabanne] b&w; 7 reels; prod CP

1928

Nothing to Wear [Erle C. Kenton] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1928

Restless Youth/Wayward Youth [Christy Cabanne] b&w; 7 reels; prod CP

1928

The Sideshow [Erle C. Kenton] b&w; 7 reels; prod CP

1928

Object - Alimony/Object - Matrimony [Scott R. Dunlap] b&w; 7 reels; prod CP

1929

Trial Marriage [Erle C. Kenton] b&w; 7 reels; silent & sound (music + sound efx) version; prod CP

1929

The Eternal Woman [John McCarthy Jr.] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1929

The Quitter [Joseph Henabery] b&w; 6 reels; prod CP

1929

The Bachelor Girl [Richard Thorpe] b&w; 7 reels; silent & sound (music + talking seq) version; prod CP

1929

Flight [Frank Capra] b&w; 12 reels; cph: Joseph Novak; aph: Elmer Dyer; silent & sound version; prod CP 

1929

The Song of Love [Erle C. Kenton] b&w; 9 reels; silent & sound version; prod Edward Small Productions

1929

The Broadway Hoofer/Dancing Feet [George Archainbaud] b&w; 7 reels; silent & sound version; prod CP

1929

Murder on the Roof [George B. Seitz] b&w; 6 reels; silent & sound version; prod CP

1929

Ladies of Leisure/Ladies of the Evening [Frank Capra] b&w; 10 reels; silent & sound version; filmed 1929-30; prod CP

1930

Around the Corner [Bert Glennon] b&w; 68m

1930

Midnight Mystery [George B. Seitz] b&w; 69m; pfx: Lloyd Knechtel

1930

Ladies Must Play [Raymond Cannon] b&w; 64m

1930

Rain or Shine [Frank Capra] b&w

1930

Dirigible [Frank Capra] b&w; uncred cph: Frank Zucker, George Meehan, a.o.; aph: Elmer Dyer; tech efx: Ned Mann & William J. Butler

1930

El código penal [Phil Rosen] b&w; Spanish-language version of 'The Criminal Code' (1930, Howard Hawks; ph: James Wong Howe & Ted Tetzlaff)

1931

Subway Express/Danger Ahead [Fred Newmeyer] b&w; 68m

1931

The Miracle Woman [Frank Capra] b&w

1931

Lover Come Back [Erle C. Kenton] b&w; 68m

1931

Fifty Fathoms Deep [Roy William Neill] b&w; 68m

1931

Mon ami Tim [Jack Forrester] b&w; 66m; cph: André Dantan & Enzo Riccioni; French-language version of 'Fifty Fathoms Deep'

1931

Platinum Blonde [Frank Capra] b&w

1931

The Deceiver [Louis King] b&w; 66m

 

 

1931

Forbidden/Jane Doe [Frank Capra] b&w

1931

The Final Edition/Determination [Howard Higgin] b&w; 66m

1931

Shopworn [Nicholas Grinde] b&w; 66m & 72m

1932

American Madness [Frank Capra (replaced Allan Dwan)] b&w

1932

By Whose Hand? [Benjamin Stoloff] b&w; 65m; cph: Ted Tetzlaff

1932

The Bitter Tea of General Yen [Frank Capra] b&w

1932

Virtue [Edward Buzzell] b&w; 68m

1932

Air Hostess [Albert Rogell] b&w; 67m; aph: Elmer Dyer

1933

Below the Sea/Hell's Cargo [Albert Rogell] b&w + c (doc seq)

 

[Left] with Frank Capra - "Lady for a Day"

 

1933

Lady for a Day [Frank Capra] b&w

1933

It Happened One Night [Frank Capra] b&w; filmed 1933-34

1934

The Lady Is Willing [Gilbert Miller] b&w; 66m & 74m

1934

One Night of Love [Victor Schertzinger & (opera seq) Reginald Le Borg] b&w

1934

Broadway Bill/Strictly Confidential [Frank Capra] b&w

1934

The Best Man Wins [Erle C. Kenton] b&w; uwph; ph: John Stumar

1934

Let's Live Tonight [Victor Schertzinger] b&w; filmed 1934-35

1935

Eight Bells [Roy William Neill] b&w; 69m

1935

Love Me Forever/On Wings of Song [Victor Schertzinger & (opera seq) Reginald Le Borg] b&w

1935

The Girl Friend [Edward Buzzell] b&w; 67m

1935

A Feather in Her Hat [Alfred Santell] b&w

1935

The Music Goes 'Round [Victor Schertzinger] b&w; spec cam efx: E. Roy Davidson

1935

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town [Frank Capra] b&w; spec cam efx: E. Roy Davidson; filmed 1935-36

1936

Lost Horizon/Lost Horizon of Shangri-La [Frank Capra] b&w; uncred addph: Henry Freulich; aph: Elmer Dyer; spec cam efx: E. Roy Davidson & Ganahl Carson 

1936

Theodora Goes Wild [Richard Boleslawski] b&w

1936

When You're in Love/For You Alone [Robert Riskin & (uncred) Harry Lachman] b&w

1937

It Happened in Hollywood [Harry Lachman] b&w; 67m

1937

The Awful Truth [Leo McCarey] b&w

1937

Start Cheering [Albert S. Rogell] b&w; spec cam efx: Ganahl Carson

1937

Joy of Living [Tay Garnett] b&w; sfx: Vernon L. Walker; filmed 1937-38

1938

You Can't Take It with You [Frank Capra] b&w

1938

There's That Woman Again/What a Woman [Alexander Hall] b&w

1938

Only Angels Have Wings [Howard Hawks] b&w; aph: Elmer Dyer; sfx: E. Roy Davidson, Edwin C. Hahn & Harry Redmond Sr.; filmed 1938-39

1939

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [Frank Capra] b&w; sfx: Fred Jackman Jr.; montages: Slavko Vorkapich & John Hoffman

1939

His Girl Friday [Howard Hawks] b&w

1939

Too Many Husbands/My Two Husbands [Wesley Ruggles] b&w; filmed 1939-40

1940

Arizona [Wesley Ruggles] b&w; int ph; ext ph: Harry Hallenberger & Fayte Brown

1940

He Stayed for Breakfast [Alexander Hall] b&w

 

[Hat] with Rosalind Russell

"This Thing Called Love"

 

1940

This Thing Called Love/Married But Single [Alexander Hall] b&w

1940

Penny Serenade [George Stevens] b&w; replaced ph Franz Planer who fell ill; filmed 1940-41

1941

Here Comes Mr. Jordan [Alexander Hall] b&w

1941

You Belong to Me/Good Morning, Doctor [Wesley Ruggles] b&w

 

With Loretta Young - "Bedtime Story"

 

1941

Bedtime Story [Alexander Hall] b&w

1941

Tales of Manhattan [Julien Duvivier & Mal St. Clair (dir W.C. Fields seq; deleted, but included in video release)] b&w; uncred cph (worked 1 day only): Arthur Miller; filmed 1941-42

1942

They All Kissed the Bride [Alexander Hall] b&w; Walker used a special lavender lighting technique on actress Joan Crawford to enhance the brilliance of her eyes

1942

My Sister Eileen [Alexander Hall] b&w

1942

A Night to Remember [Richard Wallace] b&w

194?

Flying for Uncle Sam - The Air Transport Command ATC [?] b&w; doc/9m; the story behind the Air Transport Command, the civilian pilots who delivered planes, mail, freight and munitions for the war effort during WW2

 

[Left] with Dorothy Arzner - "First Comes Courage"

 

1943

First Comes Courage [Dorothy Arzner (fell ill and was replaced - uncred - by Charles Vidor)] b&w

1943

What's Buzzin', Cousin? [Charles Barton] b&w

1943

What a Woman!/The Beautiful Cheat [Irving Cummings] b&w

1944

Mr. Winkle Goes to War/Arms and the Woman [Alfred E. Green (fell ill and was replaced - uncred - by Lee Jason)] b&w; uncred cph: George Meehan (replaced J. Walker who fell ill)

1944

The Impatient Years [Irving Cummings] b&w; uncred cph: Burnett Guffey

1944

Roughly Speaking [Michael Curtiz] b&w; sfx: E. Roy Davidson, Hans Koenekamp & Warren E. Lynch; montages: James Leicester

1944

Together Again [Charles Vidor] b&w

1945

She Wouldn't Say Yes [Alexander Hall] b&w; spec optical efx & miniatures: Lawrence W. Butler

1945

Tars and Spars [Alfred E. Green] b&w

1945

The Jolson Story [Alfred E. Green (replaced H. Bruce Humberstone 2 days before start of filming) & (prod numbers) Joseph H. Lewis] c; montages: Lawrence W. Butler; matte ph: Donald C. Glouner; filmed 1945-46; re-released in wide-screen (1954) & 70mm (1969)

1946

It's a Wonderful Life [Frank Capra] b&w; cph: Joseph Biroc (c.op + finished prod as ph) (Walker replaced Victor Milner); spec pfx: Russell A. Cully

1946

The Guilt of Janet Ames [Henry Levin (replaced Charles Vidor)] b&w

1946

The Lady from Shanghai [Orson Welles] b&w; uncred cph; ph: Charles Lawton Jr.; filmed 1946-47

1947

The Mating of Millie [Henry Levin] b&w

1947

The Velvet Touch [John Gage] b&w; sfx: Russell A. Cully; Walker was borrowed from Columbia by RKO

1948

The Dark Past [Rudolph Maté] b&w

1948

Mr. Soft Touch/House of Settlement [Henry Levin & Gordon Douglas] b&w; cph: Charles Lawton Jr.

1949

Tell It to the Judge [Norman Foster] b&w

1949

A Woman of Distinction [Edward Buzzell] b&w

1949

No Sad Songs for Me [Rudolph Maté] b&w

1949

Never a Dull Moment [George Marshall] b&w; process ph: Clifford Stine; filmed 1949-50

1950

Harriet Craig [Vincent Sherman] b&w

 

 

1950

Born Yesterday [George Cukor] b&w

1951

The Mob/Remember That Face [Robert Parrish] b&w

1951

The Marrying Kind [George Cukor] b&w

1952

Affair in Trinidad [Vincent Sherman] b&w