Sandy Hobbs, 28 June 2016

When discussing the people who made films noirs in America, David Cornwell and I focused on directors. It seems possible that, given the visual style some writers identify with noir, cinematographers might also be worth considering. Accordingly, I looked again at the films we included in our original noir-non-noir comparison, counting how frequently directors of photography had prior experience in film in Europe. The outcome was as follows:


Mate, R. (Gilda)
Freund, K. (Key Largo)
Stradling, H. J. (Angel Face)
Rosson, H. (Asphalt Jungle)*


Mate, R. (Address Unknown)
Rosson. H. (Enchanted Cottage, The Red Badge of Courage)*
Adroit, L. (Intrigue)
Planer, F. (Letter from an Unknown Woman)
Stradling. H. (The Pirate, Johnny Guitar)

(* indicates experience in UK only.)

Thus, 7 non-noir films with ex-European cinematographers compared to 4 noir, suggesting a more detailed look at cinematographers may not be fruitful. The same process for directors found 17 noir films had been directed by people with experience in European cinema.

Question ​: Would labor unions have had a role in limiting immigrant technical staff?

See Isenberg’s book on Ulmer, pp 145-6, for problems faced by Eugen Schufftan, who worked with Ulmer on four films without being named as Director of Photography. Isenberg names the union he was unable to join the “American Society of Cinematographers”. This organization claims on its web site today not to be a labor union, but it seems that in the past it did function as such. It does not feature prominently in Class Struggle in Hollywood 1930-1950 (Horne, 2001). However, there are two significantly mentions of this organization. On page 23, Horne refers to an attempt “to get the American Society of Cinematographers to accept two refugee cameramen”. On page 53, the leader of another union is quoted as describing the ASC as a “company union” which “intimidated” and “coerced” workers to join it.

If Hollywood noir was influenced by the visual style of European films, it would appear that this was not channelled through individual cameramen.

New references:

Isenberg , Noah (2014). Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

Horne, Gerald (@001). Class Struggle in Hollywood 1930-1950: Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds, & Trade Unionists. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.