Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gregg Toland, 1904-1948

I mentioned yesterday that The Best Years of Our Lives is this week's TCM Essential, airing at 8:00 PM ET tonight. Interestingly, one of the important members of the crew, Gregg Toland, is also a birthday boy today, having been born on this day in 1904.

Gregg Toland, if you haven't heard the name before, is one of the great cinematographers of the 1930s and 1940s. Probably his most famous work is that on Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, where Toland used shadow to help enhance the depth of field. It's a matter of some debate just how much of the unique look of Citizen Kane is due to Welles' direction and how much to Toland's photography, but Toland clearly had quite a bit to do with it.

As for The Best Years of Our Lives, one of the Toland shots to watch for comes when Fredric March has to tell Dana Andrews to stop seeing March's daughter (Teresa Wright). The two are sitting in the bar owned by the uncle of their fellow friend Harold Russell. March and Andrews are sitting toward the back of the place, and March tells Andrews to call Wright, prompting Wright to get up and go to the pay phone, which is in the front of the bar. While Andrews is on the phone, Harold Russell walks in, sees March, and comes to the back of the bar to talk to March. All the time, you can see Andrews in clear focus, talking on the phone to Wright.

Toland was nominated for an Oscar for Citizen Kane (but, surprisingly, not for The Best Years of Our Lives). However, he didn't win; his only Oscar was for Wuthering Heights.

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