Thursday, November 02, 2006

Under the Lens of Ellis W. Carter

Last September 20, this blog paid a centennial tribute to cinematographer Russell Metty, whom I described as one of the men responsible for defining the look of 1950s Universal-International horror and fantasy. Today, when some of you are probably expecting me to point out the centenary of the great Italian director Luchino Visconti, I prefer to confound your expectations by saluting the 100th birthday of the other great Universal-International cameraman, Ellis W. Carter.

Whether you know his name or not, you know his work and you love it. Among Carter's credits: THE MOLE PEOPLE, THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE LAND UNKNOWN, THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, CURSE OF THE UNKNOWN, THE LEECH WOMAN, and the first movie I ever saw projected on a theater screen: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. He also photographed KING OF THE ROCKET MEN, THE INVISIBLE MONSTER, LOST PLANET AIRMEN, SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE, THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD, DIARY OF A MADMAN, TWICE TOLD TALES, Sam Katzman's Elvis movie KISSIN' COUSINS, and the BELL SCIENCE episodes "Gateway to the Mind" and "The Alphabet Conspiracy."

I don't reckon Carter (who died in 1964) among the genre's great cameramen, as a lot of his work had a certain flat, static, setbound quality, and his color work seemed particularly unable to enrich sets with atmosphere; however, he racked up a lot of fun movies over the years (including a guilty pleasure of mine, HOOTENANNY HOOT) and his black-and-white period at Universal-International, contemporaneous with that of Russell Metty, helped to define one of the fantastic cinema's most recognizable "house styles." Movies like THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE LAND UNKNOWN, THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, and especially THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN showed Carter to be particularly capable of working well with special effects units and integrating spfx photography and his straightforward technique to potent, convincing effect.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN recently made its American DVD debut as part of Universal's THE CLASSIC SCI-FI ULTIMATE COLLECTION, a Best Buy exclusive box set, which also includes TARANTULA, MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, and two other films shot by Carter, THE MOLE PEOPLE and THE MONOLITH MONSTERS. There is an excellent review of the set over at DVD Savant; I'd give you one myself, but I'm still without a copy. But after reading Glenn Erickson's review, I feel like getting out to the nearest Best Buy and picking one up today.

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