Notable cinematographer Douglas Slocombe [1913-2016] started his illustrious film career at Ealing Film Studios in the 1940s and went on to shoot a number of their memorable 1950s comedies. He started out as a journalist. He went on to become a successful photojournalist, culminating in 1939, photographing reportage of the nazi infiltration of Danzig.In 1940 he went to Ealing Studios. His favourite Ealing comedy was Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). Ealing also produced serious fare, including The Cruel Sea and It Always Rains on Sunday. Slocombe photographed several serious Ealing films, including It Always Rains on Sunday and Saraband for Dead Lovers.
Head of Ealing Studios was Michael Balcon and the Studios were purchased by the BBC in 1956. The company still produced films under the Ealing name for a further couple of years at the MGM Studios in Elstree. After that Slocome went freelance working in a number of studios. His films after Ealing included Rollerball, The Italian Job, The Lion in Winter and Julia.
He was approached by Steven Spielberg to photograph Raiders of the Lost Arc, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Slocombe remarked that it was his last crusade. Slocombe was nominated three times for an Oscar. He won BAFTAs for The Servant, The Great Gatsby and Julia, He received the OBE in 2008. Douglas Slocombe passed away on February 22 2016 in London.
Why did you become a journalist?
I was educated in England and France and can speak fluent French. After my education I came to England in search of a career. I was expected to follow in my father’s footsteps as a journalist, who was a Paris correspondent. I went to work for the British United Press, which was based in London’s Fleet Street. After a year or so I got restless because of being all day in doors. At that time I carried a Leica camera and on my way home I would take pictures and found there was a market for them.
Tell me about Ealing Studios
At Ealing we had two large stages that were divided into four. There was also a fifth stage, which was smaller. We had modern American equipment, such as Mole Richardson lamps and Mitchell cameras. We always managed to have two films on the go at the same time, usually overlapping. I think during my time there I worked on more films than all the other cameramen combined.
What was your favourite Ealing film you worked on?
My favourite is Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). Alec Guinness had several roles. There was a sequence where all the characters Guinness played were seen together. At that time optical work wasn’t that good, so I decided to do the effects in the camera. What I did was shoot a sequence and then rewind the negative, masking off what I had already done. For this the camera had to remain rock steady. Because the sequences were shot over a couple of days, I slept in the studio to make sure the camera wasn’t knocked.
What was your first film for 20th Century Fox?
It was the third secret (1964), directed by Charles Crichton, who had directed at Ealing. Though the film wasn’t a success,
the Fox people must have been pleased with what I had done because they gave me a three-year contract. Next came The Guns at Batasi (1964). The film was set in the heat of Africa but was shot in January and February in the biting cold at Pinewood Studios. I then went on to shoot High Wind in Jamaica (1965) directed by former Ealing director Sandy Mackendrick. I photographed The Blue Max (1966). This was a great film to work on. There was a scene where a plane swooped down and I could see it was going to hit us. I threw myself flat on my tummy, having been on my knees. The next thing I knew there was a crash, and the motor and magazine was torn off the Mitchell camera. The operator, Chic Waterson was hit on the head by part of the camera and I felt a terrible blow in the middle of my back as the plane literally landed on me. The wheel ran on my back and I lay in a pool of blood. I was in hospital for ten days, which was the last ten days of shooting. Cinematographer Ted Moore took over.
Tell me about The Italian Job (1969)
That was a fun film, which was shot at Shepperton, and Turin in Italy. We had a second unit shooting some of the chase sequences. I think Noel Coward felt slightly at a loss in that film, but I think he did it as a favour to the young director, Peter Collinson (1936-1980), who he had befriended at an orphanage. The film took around fifteen weeks to shoot. There were two cameras on the famous sequence where they were only supposed to blow the doors off a van. This was done in one take. For financial reasons we were very short of cars, and also for the non-cooperation of the car manufacturer BMC. We wanted around ten minis and they wouldn’t give us any help. In the end we went to Italy to get the cars. We got a lot of help from Fiat. Fiat asked the producer if we would consider using Fiat cars. Michael Deely, the producer wanted to stick with minis. Fiat, having failed to talk him into it became wonderful hosts and gave us every facility, even allowing us to shoot on top of their factory roof. We shot a sequence at the Fiat test track. They also allowed us to film the minis jumping from one roof to another in their factory grounds. I loved working with Michael Caine. He was a wonderful raconteur and a very friendly warm character.
What was Katherine Hepburn like?
She was an unfailing delight. I first got to know her when we worked on The Lion in Winter (1968). She became a great friend after that. Unfortunately I only did one more film with her called Love Among the Ruins (1975). I was asked to do another one with her, but unfortunately I couldn’t, I was on a film that hadn’t finished when that one started. She was angry with me for not doing that.
Have you any favourite black and white films after Ealing?
One of my favourites is The Servant, directed by Joe Losey for which I won a BAFTA. Another one I loved very much was The L Shaped Room (1962), directed by Bryan Forbes. I was able to get a very powerful black and white effect, which had a lot of contrast. I’d been experimenting on black and white techniques on a film I’d shot with John Huston called Freud, also called Freud or the Secret Passion (1962). It starred Montgomery Clift, who couldn’t remember his lines. The part demanded long speeches, so it took a long time. I was able to experiment and get a very strong lighting effect on it. Those are three black and white films I like to think back on.
Finally would you tell me about working with Steven Spielberg?
Spielberg came in rather late in my life. He asked me to shoot a short sequence for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He was obviously pleased with the results and said he would like to offer me a feature in the future. As always, because he is wonderful that way, he kept his word and later I was asked to shoot Raiders of the Lost Ark. At that time I didn’t realise it was going to be a trilogy. The interesting thing about working on three Indiana Jones movies was, first of all, working with Steven, who is a great director, enormously imaginative, tremendously competent and very fast. I also admired his fresh approach to everything. He seemed to know what to do automatically.Some directors are rather worried how to behave; however much preparation they do. Steven was very well clued up before he started to work on the floor. He was very quick at being able to adapt and find another way of doing things, if it wasn’t going to plan. He deserves to go down as one of the greats. Secondly all those films involved very large complicated sets, which were always a challenge. Part of the challenge was getting the mood into them. It was difficult to get the lights where you wanted, but then we had a very tight schedule. Despite all the complications, they wanted them to be shot as quickly as possible, so I was constrained by the amount of time. I was told not to spend too long on the various set ups, so I had to work like mad. Very often, incidentally, I would still be putting in lamps when I’d hear Spielberg calling action.
David A Ellis
Many people have mentioned how much they enjoy David’s interviews with famous cinematographers. There are two books available packed with his interviews. A must for cinema buffs Christmas stockings. Available from AMAZON or other book sellers.
It is four years this month (December 16th 2012), since many friends of Nick Egginton were stunned by the news that he had died at the young age of 64. Many will remember him at Chester Odeon in the early 1970s, when he was assistant to the general manager, Chris Draycott. I certainly remember him as he interviewed, and employed me as a projectionist in February of 1971. His father Bert, was the chief projectionist/stage manager at the Gaumont theatre in the City of Chester, where Nick grew up.
It was while working in cinemas that Nick met his wife to be, Sue. Film lover Nick started working for the Odeon chain as a trainee manager aged 16, in Southall, London. Sue and Nick worked together at the Odeon in Manchester during 1969 and began dating as the film Oliver! premiered. Two years later they married.
After Manchester, and Chester, at the age of only 23 he became general manager of the Odeon Ashton-under-Lyme in his native north west, before he moved on to six other cinemas. He assisted general manager Allan Rosser’s team on the opening day of Chester Odeon’s triple screen Film Centre on Saturday 10th April 1976.
Nick arrived in Cheltenham with Sue and daughter Niki in 1984 to take on the Winchcombe Street Odeon. In his 22 years at the helm he oversaw expansions, extra screens installed, renovations and finally its closure in November 2006. For Nick the cinema really was part of the family.His wife of 41 years, Sue, said: “He was a very popular, caring and loving man, who tended to look after everyone around him and really enjoyed life. We all just loved him to bits”.
Peter Davies chestercinemas.co.uk
A traditional treat for the majority of Chester people was a family visit to the cinema. Managers and staff went out of their way to make certain that the visit was memorable for all the right reasons. Ticket prices were reasonable making the films to watch accessible to all. Charity toy appeals on the front page of The Cheshire Observer signalled that the season of good will was upon us. The Odeon always secured front page prominence with the Mayor of Chester’s toy appeal. A large tree in the upper foyer was placed in a grotto display and opened officially by the Mayor. Special shows of well run programmes such as The Wizard Of Oz, It’s A Wonderful Life, Santa Claus The Movie, would play to capacity audiences.
Behind the scenes, staff Christmas parties would take place after the final performance, when the entire staff would attend. Sometimes local venues such as Clemences, and Quaintways would be the venue. The Gaumont staff had the luxury of the use of the restaurant for their parties. It was traditional too that when staff were paid by the management that they were offered a small sherry and a mince pie, this of course was regarded as their Christmas bonus! Christmas was always busy at the pictures. Everyone one worked through the holiday, with the exception of Christmas day.