Robert Surtees


Director Of Photography

About

Birth Place
Covington, Kentucky, USA
Born
August 09, 1906
Died
January 05, 1985

Biography

One of the most versatile cinematographers in film history, Robert L Surtees came up through the studio system, beginning as an assistant cameraman to Gregg Toland and Joseph Ruttenberg at Universal in the late 1920s before moving to MGM and establishing himself as a top-flight director of photography. Constantly keeping abreast of cutting-edge technology, he came to specialize in lush, ...

Family & Companions

Maydell Surtees
Wife

Notes

He won the Look Magazine Award for Film Achievement (1950)

Biography

One of the most versatile cinematographers in film history, Robert L Surtees came up through the studio system, beginning as an assistant cameraman to Gregg Toland and Joseph Ruttenberg at Universal in the late 1920s before moving to MGM and establishing himself as a top-flight director of photography. Constantly keeping abreast of cutting-edge technology, he came to specialize in lush, vibrant, widescreen color lensing, but he also distinguished himself in black and white, winning his second Academy Award for "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) and returning triumphantly to it for Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" (1971), capitalizing on a deep focus not permitted by color to make the dusty plains and small town locations seem all the more desolate. Between 1944 and 1978, he received 16 Oscar nominations, twice competing with himself in the same category, and though his three wins came during his tenure at MGM, he enjoyed equal success as a freelance artist, collecting 10 nominations in the employ of other studios.

Surtees' first Oscar-nominated film, Mervyn LeRoy's black-and-white "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (1944, scripted by Dalton Trumbo), teamed him with producer Sam Zimbalist, later the producer of "King Solomon's Mines" (1950), which brought Surtees his first Academy Award for his superb Technicolor renderings of the steaming jungles, burning deserts and snow-capped mountains of the Dark Continent. The standout sequence was the animal stampede, but the overall beauty of the film convinced the studio to take the precedent-setting step of having no musical score, allowing the sounds and natural rhythms of the jungle to suffice, a decision they repeated for John Ford's "Mogambo" (1953), another Zimbalist-produced picture requiring Surtees to return and photograph Africa's splendor. He also received an Oscar nomination for the Zimbalist-produced "Quo Vadis" (1951), but the high point of their collaboration was undoubtedly William Wyler's "Ben-Hur" (1959). Shooting in the then-new Camera 65 process provided state-of-the-art clarity and color definition in the intimate scenes, not to mention the spectacular sea battle and incomparable chariot race. Its 11 Oscar wins validated Zimbalist who died of a heart attack as the film neared completion.

Though Surtees and director Fred Zinnemann may have been a little tentative in their use of the new Todd-AO widescreen color process when filming the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Oklahoma!" (1955), the panoramic shots against the skyline and the exciting scene where the buggy careened wildly through the countryside behind runaway horses used the medium to maximum effect. Before severing ties with MGM. Surtees also proved a virtuoso at lighting seascapes, particularly at dusk, for the remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962), picking up yet another Academy Award nomination. In 1967, when rules changed to award a single Oscar for Best Cinematography (instead of one each for color and b&w), Surtees received two nominations ("Doctor Dolittle" and "The Graduate"), a feat he would duplicate in 1971 ("Summer of '42" and "The Last Picture Show"), and for the Oscar-winning Best Picture "The Sting" (1973) he recreated the period by filming in brownish tones, lending a slight rotogravure look to the film. As his career wound down, films like "A Star Is Born" (1976) and "The Turning Point" (1977) continued to win him Oscar nods and reinforce his reputation as arguably the most dynamic, subtle and accomplished cinematographer in the game.

Surtees enjoyed multiple associations with more than a dozen distinguished directors, never aligning himself particularly with any one man's vision. He collaborated most frequently with John Sturges and Richard Mulligan, working on four films with each. Although none of the pictures with Sturges garnered him awards, the first two were robust Westerns ("Escape from Fort Bravo" 1953, The Law and Jake Wade" 1958), followed by the Western satire "The Hallelujah Trail" and the overlooked suspense gem "The Satan Bug" (both 1965), adapted from an Alistair MacLean novel by James Clavell and Edward Anhalt. "Summer of '42" marked his first association with Mulligan, and the soft, poetic Deluxe Color photography for their second teaming, the supernaturally suspenseful "The Other" (1972), once again testified to his ability to shoot superbly in any style. He closed out his career with Mulligan on "Blood Brothers" and "Same Time, Next Year" (both 1978), taking home his final Oscar nomination for the latter. Surtees passed the mantle to his son Bruce, whose resume as a director of photography includes more than a dozen pictures with Clint Eastwood and Oscar-nominated work on "Lenny" (1973).

Filmography

 

Cinematography (Feature Film)

Same Time, Next Year (1978)
Director Of Photography
Bloodbrothers (1978)
Director Of Photography
The Turning Point (1977)
Director Of Photography
A Star Is Born (1976)
Director Of Photography
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
Director Of Photography
The Hindenburg (1975)
Director Of Photography
The Sting (1973)
Director Of Photography
Oklahoma Crude (1973)
Director Of Photography
The Cowboys (1972)
Director of Photography
Lost Horizon (1972)
Director Of Photography
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Director of Photography
Summer of '42 (1971)
Director of Photography
The Liberation of L. B. Jones (1970)
Director of Photography
The Arrangement (1969)
Director of Photography
Sweet Charity (1969)
Director of Photography
Doctor Dolittle (1967)
Director of Photography
The Graduate (1967)
Director of Photography
Lost Command (1966)
Director of Photography
The Chase (1966)
Addl Photographer
The Satan Bug (1965)
Director of Photography
The Hallelujah Trail (1965)
Director of Photography
The Third Day (1965)
Director of Photography
The Collector (1965)
Director of Photographer, American staff
Kisses for My President (1964)
Director of Photography
PT 109 (1963)
Director of Photography
Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
Director of Photography
Merry Andrew (1958)
Director of Photography
The Law and Jake Wade (1958)
Director of Photography
Les Girls (1957)
Director of Photography
Raintree County (1957)
Director of Photography
Tribute to a Bad Man (1956)
Director of Photography
The Swan (1956)
Director of Photography
Oklahoma! (1955)
Director of Photography
Trial (1955)
Director of Photography
The Long, Long Trailer (1954)
Director of Photography
Valley of the Kings (1954)
Director of Photography
The Bad and the Beautiful (1953)
Director of Photography
Escape from Fort Bravo (1953)
Director of Photography
Ride, Vaquero! (1953)
Director of Photography
Mogambo (1953)
Director of Photography
The Merry Widow (1952)
Director of Photography
Scaramouche (1952)
Fill-in Director of Photographer
Invitation (1952)
Director of Photography
The Wild North (1952)
Director of Photography
Quo Vadis (1951)
Director of Photography
The Light Touch (1951)
Director of Photography
The Strip (1951)
Director of Photography
Intruder in the Dust (1950)
Director of Photography
King Solomon's Mines (1950)
Director of Photography
The Kissing Bandit (1949)
Director of Photography
Big Jack (1949)
Director of Photography
Act of Violence (1949)
Director of Photography
That Midnight Kiss (1949)
Director of Photography
A Date with Judy (1948)
Director of Photography
Tenth Avenue Angel (1948)
Director of Photography
Big City (1948)
Director of Photography
The Unfinished Dance (1947)
Director of Photography
Cynthia (1947)
Director of Photography
No Leave, No Love (1946)
Director of Photography
Two Sisters from Boston (1946)
Director of Photography
Music for Millions (1945)
Director of Photography
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
Director of Photography
Strange Holiday (1945)
Photography
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
Director of Photography
Lost Angel (1944)
Director of Photography
Meet the People (1944)
Director of Photography
Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
Director of Photography
Exposed (1938)
Camera Operator
Mad About Music (1938)
2nd Camera
Little Tough Guys in Society (1938)
2nd Camera
Top of the Town (1937)
Camera
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
Camera
Captain Blood (1935)
2nd Camera
Under Pressure (1935)
Assistant Camera
Charlie Chan in London (1934)
Assistant Camera
Change of Heart (1934)
Assistant Camera
The Devil's in Love (1933)
Camera crew
The Warrior's Husband (1933)
Assistant Camera
I Loved You Wednesday (1933)
Assistant Camera
State Fair (1933)
Assistant Camera
The Worst Woman in Paris? (1933)
Assistant Camera
The First Year (1932)
Assistant Camera
A Woman Commands (1932)
Assistant Camera
Lady with a Past (1932)
Assistant Camera
Week Ends Only (1932)
Assistant Camera
Devotion (1931)
Assistant Camera

Film Production - Construction/Set (Feature Film)

Ride with the Devil (1999)
Set Production Assistant

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

The Turning Point (1977)
Dp/Cinematographer
The Sting (1973)
Dp/Cinematographer

Cinematography (Short)

Don't You Believe It (1943)
Cinematographer
Heavenly Music (1943)
Cinematographer
Election Daze (1943)
Cinematographer
Nursery Rhyme Mysteries (1943)
Cinematographer

Life Events

1942

First film as director of photography, "Strange Holiday/The Day After Tomorrow" (US release 1946)

1944

Received first of 16 career Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography for his black-and-white work on "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"

1950

Earned first Academy Award for his superb Technicolor lensing of Africa for "King Solomon's Mines"

1952

Picked up second Oscar (black and white) for Vincente Minnelli's "The Bad and the Beautiful"

1953

Returned to Africa for filming of John Ford's "Mogambo"; also teamed for first time with director John Sturges on "Escape from Fort Bravo"

1955

Used the new Todd-AO widescreen color process filming the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Oklahoma!", directed by Fred Zinnemann; earned Oscar nomination

1959

Earned third and final Academy Award for "Ben-Hur" (color), first of three collaborations with director William Wyler

1962

Demonstrated virtuoso lighting of seascapes, particularly at dusk, for Lewis Milestone's "Mutiny on the Bounty" (shot in Technicolor and Panavision 70)

1965

Third and fourth films with Sturges, "The Hallelujah Trail" and "The Satan Bug"; also reteamed with Wyler for "The Collector"

1967

Received Oscar nominations for both "Doctor Dolittle" and "The Graduate"

1970

Last film with Wyler, "The Liberation of L.B. Jones"

1971

Returned triumphantly to black and white filming with Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show", receiving Oscar nomination; also nominated that year for his dazzling, diffused Technicolor lensing of Robert Mulligan's "Summer of '42", which may have been overkill for the simple one-note coming-of-age story (certainly the lush look of the film is what people remember best)

1972

Second film with Mulligan, "The Other"

1973

Captured the period of George Roy Hill's "The Sting" with brownish tones

1975

Reteamed with Hill (and actor Robert Redford) for "The Great Waldo Pepper"

1978

16th and final Oscar nomination for the cinematography of Mulligan's "Same Time, Next Year" (Surtees' last film), also shot Mulligan's "Bloodbrothers", released earlier that year

Videos

Movie Clip

Last Picture Show, The (1971) - That's A Roughneck For You Outside what amounts to a whole-town Christmas party (in novelist and co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry’s fictional 1951 Anarene, Texas) Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) frustrates jock boyfriend Duane (Jeff Bridges), contriving an excuse allowing her to slip away with Lester (Randy Quaid) to a promising country-club party in a bigger town, Peter Bogdanovich directing, in The Last Picture Show, 1971.
Last Picture Show, The (1971) - She Was Just A Girl High schooler Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), pal Billy (Sam Bottoms) in tow, with mentor Sam "The Lion" (Ben Johnson), reconciled after a disagreement, fishing outside town, in 1951 Texas, in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, 1971.
Last Picture Show, The (1971) - Is It Something Bad? Texas high school senior Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) brings his football coach's lonely wife Ruth (Cloris Leachman), whom he's just met, home after a visit to the doctor for an unspecified ailment, in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, 1971.
Last Picture Show, The (1971) - Too Rough For Me Opening scenes, Sonny (Timothy Bottons) in sleepy Anarene, TX, 1951, picks up pal Billy (brother, Sam Bottoms) and visits Sam (Ben Johnson) at the pool hall, who comments on last night's football game, in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, 1971.
Last Picture Show, The (1971) - Trashy Behavior Texas teen Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and pals are ashamed, bringing mute Billy (Sam Bottoms) back to town after buying a prostitute for him, called out by pool hall and theater owner Sam (Academy Award winner Ben Johnson), in The Last Picture Show, 1971, Peter Bogdanovich directing, from Larry McMurtry's novel.
Arrangement, The (1969) - The Countdown Continues A couple of minutes into writer, producer and director Elia Kazan's stylized opening, advertising executive Eddie (Kirk Douglas) becomes irrational on an L-A freeway, his wife Florence (Deborah Kerr) in the aftermath, in The Arrangement, 1969, also starring Faye Dunaway.
Bad And The Beautiful, The (1953) - Doom Of The Cat Men Barry Sullivan narrating as young director Fred, about his rise along with producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) through the Hollywood ranks, echoes of the career of producer Val Lewton included, in Vincente Minnelli's The Bad And The Beautiful, 1953.
Intruder In The Dust (1950) - Ain't Seen One Darkie Joining producer/director Clarence Brown's opening after the credits, shooting in Oxford, Mississippi, the hometown of the original author William Faulkner, introducing Claude Jarman Jr. as "Chick" and Juano Hernandez as "Lucas," in Intruder In The Dust, 1950.
Mogambo (1953) - Let Me Jump To My Own Conclusions! A good deal less bawdy than the equivalent Jean Harlow scene with the same leading man in the original (pre-Code) Red Dust, still alluring "Honey Bear" (Ava Gardner) in the shower meets angered safari guide Marswell (Clark Gable) early in John Ford's re-make, Mogambo, 1953.
Last Picture Show, The (1971) - Beauty Is Truth In English class with teacher (John Hillerman) and Keats, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) then in practice with coach Popper (Bill Thurman) and after with pals Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), in 1951 rural Texas, early in The Last Picture Show, 1971, from Larry McMurtry's novel.
Sweet Charity (1969) - Open, The Adventures Of A Girl From first-time movie director Bob Fosse and composer Cy Coleman, a breezy contemporary Manhattan opening, introducing Shirley MacLaine in the title role, in the box-office flop big-screen version of Fosse's Broadway musical, Sweet Charity, 1969.
Les Girls (1957) - I've Seen You Dance Auditioning in Paris, Joanne (Mitzi Gaynor) and Sybil (Kay Kendall) are snarky and sweet as their boss Barry (Gene Kelly) hires French Angele (Tania Elg) for their act, in the first flashback, in George Cukor's loose adaptation of Vera Caspary's Idiot's Delight, Les Girls, 1957.

Trailer

Cimarron (1960) - (Original Trailer) A pioneer couple plays a major role in the settling of Oklahoma in Cimarron (1960), directed by Anthony Mann and starring Glenn Ford & Maria Schell.
Swan, The - (Original Trailer) On the eve of her marriage to a prince, a noblewoman falls for her brother's tutor in The Swan (1956) starring Grace Kelly.
King Solomon's Mines - (Original Trailer) A spirited widow (Deborah Kerr) hires a daredevil jungle scout (Stewart Granger) to find a lost treasure in diamonds.
Sweet Charity - (Original Trailer) A taxi dancer (Shirley MacLaine) is unlucky in love in Bob Fosse's musical Sweet Charity(1969).
Cynthia -- (Original Trailer) 15-year old Elizabeth Taylor receives her first screen kiss in Cynthia (1947).
Quo Vadis (1951) - (Original Trailer) A Roman commander falls for a Christian slave girl as Nero intensifies persecution of the new religion in Quo Vadis (1951) starring Robert Taylor.
Wild North, The - (Original Trailer) Mountie Wendell Corey tracks accused killer Stewart Granger through the Canadian wilderness in the color adventure The Wild North (1952).
Merry Widow, The (1952) - (Original Trailer) A prince (Fernando Lamas) from a small kingdom courts a wealthy widow (Lana Turner) to keep her money in the country in The Merry Widow (1952).
Doctor Dolittle (1967) - (Original Trailer) Rex Harrison is the doctor who can talk to the animals in the original musical Doctor Dolittle (1967).
Same Time, Next Year - (Original Trailer) Although married to others, a man (Alan Alda) and a woman (Ellen Burstyn) embark on an annual affair in Same Time, Next Year (1978).
Cowboys, The - (Original Trailer) When his crew quits, John Wayne has to train schoolboys for the big cattle drive in The Cowboys (1972).
Arrangement, The - (Original Trailer) An advertising executive (Kirk Douglas) has a mid-life breakdown in Elia Kazan's The Arrangement (1969).

Family

James Surtees
Brother
Died in 1968 at age 64.
Linda Lowers
Daughter
Nancy Corby
Daughter
Thomas Surtees
Son
Cameraman.
Bruce Surtees
Son
Director of photography. Born July 23, 1937; Oscar-nominated for "Lenny" (1974).

Companions

Maydell Surtees
Wife

Bibliography

Notes

He won the Look Magazine Award for Film Achievement (1950)