Barnes, George S.

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BARNES, George S.

Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: 1893. Family: Married seven times: fourth wife, the actress Joan Blondell, 1933 (divorced 1935). Career: 1918—photographer for Thomas Ince Productions: first film, The Biggest Show on Earth; photographed Melody Masters series in the 1930s. Award: Academy Award for Rebecca, 1940. Died: 30 May 1953.

Films as Cinematographer:


The Biggest Show on Earth (Storm); Desert Wooing (Storm); Fuss and Feathers (Niblo); The Marriage Ring (Niblo); Keys of the Righteous (Storm); Naughty! Naughty! (Storm); The Vamp (Storm); When Do We Eat? (Storm)


Stepping Out (Niblo); Dangerous Hours (Niblo); Happy Though Married (Niblo); The Haunted Bedroom (Niblo); Law of Men (Niblo); Partners Three (Niblo); Virtuous Thief (Niblo); What Every Woman Learns (Niblo); The Woman in the Suitcase (Niblo)


Her Husband's Friend (Niblo); Sex (Niblo); Hairpins (Niblo); The False Road (Niblo)


Silk Hosiery (Niblo); The Heart Line (Thompson); The Beautiful Gambler (Worthington); The Bronze Bell (Horne); Opened Shutters (Worthington)


The Real Adventure (K. Vidor); Woman, Wake Up! (Harrison); Peg o' My Heart (K. Vidor); Dusk to Dawn (K. Vidor); Conquering the Women (K. Vidor)


Alice Adams (Lee); Desire (Lee); The Love Piker (Hopper)


Janice Meredith (The Beautiful Rebel) (Hopper) (co); Yolanda (Vignola) (co)


Zander the Great (Hill) (co); The Teaser (Seiter); The Dark Angel (Fitzmaurice); The Eagle (Brown) (co)


Mademoiselle Modiste (Leonard); The Son of the Sheik (Fitzmaurice); The Winning of Barbara Worth (H. King)


The Night of Love (Fitzmaurice) (co); Venus of Venice (Neilan); The Magic Flame (H. King); The Devil Dancer (Niblo) (co)


Sadie Thompson (Walsh) (co); Two Lovers (Niblo); The Awakening (Fleming); Our Dancing Daughters (Beaumont)


This Is Heaven (Santell) (co); The Rescue (Brenon); Bulldog Drummond (Jones) (co); The Trespasser (Goulding) (co); Condemned (Ruggles) (co)


Raffles (Fitzmaurice and D'Arrast) (co); The Devil to Pay (Fitzmaurice) (co); A Lady's Morals (The Soul Kill; Jenny Lind) (Franklin); What a Widow! (Dwan); One Heavenly Night (Fitzmaurice) (co)


Five and Ten (Daughter of Luxury) (Leonard); Unholy Garden (Fitzmaurice) (co); Street Scene (K. Vidor)


The Greeks Had a Word for Them (L. Sherman); Polly of the Circus (Santell); The Wet Parade (Fleming); Society Girl (Lanfield); Blondie of the Follies (Goulding); Sherlock Holmes (Howard)


Broadway Bad (Her Reputation) (Lanfield); Peg o' My Heart (Leonard); Goodbye Again (Curtiz); Footlight Parade (Lloyd); Havana Widows (Enright)


Gambling Lady (Mayo); Massacre (Crosland); Smarty (Hit Me Again) (Florey); He Was Her Man (Bacon); Dames (Enright) (co); The Kansas City Princess (Keighley); Flirtation Walk (Borzage) (co)


Gold Diggers of 1935 (Berkeley); Traveling Saleslady (Enright); In Caliente (Bacon) (co); Broadway Gondolier (Bacon); The Irish in Us (Bacon); I Live for Love (I Live for You) (Berkeley); Stars over Broadway (Keighley)


The Singing Kid (Keighley); Love Begins at Twenty (All One Night) (McDonald); Cain and Mabel (Bacon); Black Legion (Mayo)


Marked Woman (Bacon); Ever Since Eve (Bacon); Variety Show (Keighley) (co); Hollywood Hotel (Berkeley) (co); The Barrier (Selander)


Love, Honor, and Behave (Logan); The Beloved Brat (A Dangerous Age) (Lubin); Gold Diggers in Paris (The Gay Imposters) (Enright) (co)


Jesse James (H. King) (co); Stanley and Livingstone (H. King); Our Neighbors, The Carters (Murphy)


Parole Fixer (Florey); Rebecca (Hitchcock); Free, Blond, and 21 (Cortez); Maryland (H. King) (co); The Return of Frank James (F. Lang) (co); Girl from Avenue A (Brower) (co); Hudson's Bay (Pichel) (co)


Meet John Doe (Capra); That Uncertain Feeling (Lubitsch); Unholy Partners (LeRoy); Ladies in Retirement (C. Vidor); Remember the Day (H. King); Sex Hygiene (Ford—short)


Rings on Her Fingers (Mamoulian); Nightmare (Whelan); Once upon a Honeymoon (McCarey); Broadway (Seiter)


Mr. Lucky (Potter)


Frenchman's Creek (Leisen); None but the Lonely Heart (Odets); Jane Eyre (Stevenson)


The Spanish Main (Borzage); Spellbound (Hitchcock); The Bells of St. Mary's (McCarey)


From This Day Forward (Berry); Sister Kenny (Nichols); Sinbad the Sailor (Wallace)


Mourning Becomes Electra (Nichols); The Emperor Waltz (Wilder)


Good Sam (McCarey); No Minor Vices (Milestone); The Boy with Green Hair (Losey)


Force of Evil (Polonsky); The File on Thelma Jordan (Thelma Jordan) (Siodmak); Samson and Delilah (DeMille)


Let's Dance (McLeod); Mr. Music (Haydn); Riding High (Capra) (co)


Here Comes the Groom (Capra)


The Greatest Show on Earth (DeMille); Somebody Loves Me (Brecher); Something to Live For (Stevens); Just for You (Nugent); Road to Bali (Walker)


War of the Worlds (Haskin); Little Boy Lost (Seaton)


On BARNES: articles—

Rowan, Arthur, "Filming the Circus," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1951.

Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.

* * *

An artist of great versatility, George S. Barnes was one of the masters of Hollywood cinematography, his handsome, stylish work best served in visually lush melodramas like Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Frenchman's Creek. Barnes excelled in many genres—musicals (Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1935), westerns (Jesse James), or science-fiction (The War of the Worlds)—but could also create a darker, more realistic visualization for social drama (Black Legion) and film noir (Force of Evil). Equally proficient in black-and-white (Bulldog Drummond, Marked Woman) or color (Sinbad the Sailor, The Boy with Green Hair), Barnes was in demand from top directors like Hitchcock, Capra, DeMille, and McCarey, and such stars as Valentino, Swanson, Colman, Cooper, Bergman, and Crosby.

In the silent era, Barnes's finest achievements included Janice Meredith, a Revolutionary War drama in the Griffith style; the Valentino vehicle The Son of the Sheik, with its softly lit interiors and exhilarating desert photography of Arab horsemen; and The Winning of Barbara Worth, highlighted by a climactic and still impressive flood sequence. Barnes became Samuel Goldwyn's number one cameraman in 1925 with The Dark Angel, and his exquisite visuals became a Goldwyn hallmark in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He was responsible for the studio's important romantic team Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky, both in their solo vehicles (Colman's Condemned and Raffles, Banky's The Awakening and This Is Heaven) and their tandem efforts (The Night of Love, The Magic Flame, Two Lovers). Barnes's assistant and eventual co-photographer on the Goldwyn films was Gregg Toland, who learned cinematography under Barnes's tutelage. Toland's later work on Dead End, Wuthering Heights, and Citizen Kane shows Barnes's influence in the refinement of deep focus, expressive camera movement, and faultless lighting.

Bulldog Drummond exemplifies their artistry together. The film is an early precursor to the James Bond pictures, and allows for a bravura photographic style. Imaginative tracking shots, such as the opening at the men's club and later in the villains' hideout, are coupled with William Cameron Menzies's eccentric sets to create a visual feast. Tremendously mobile for one of the first talking pictures, Bulldog Drummond is set almost entirely at night, and Barnes and Toland eschew day-for-night for actual nocturnal exteriors.

Toland succeeded Barnes as Goldwyn's ace cameraman, and Barnes moved on to brief stints at MGM and Fox before settling at Warners. He was kept busy at the Warners factory, shooting 25 films between 1934 and 1937. He brought a gritty, realistic look to message movies like Massacre, Black Legion, and Marked Woman, but usually was assigned to musicals. He shot a trio of Busby Berkeley classics—Footlight Parade with the famous "Shanghai Lil" number; Dames; and Gold Diggers of 1935 with its striking, lengthy "Lullaby of Broadway" sequence—and many lesser musicals, such as the ludicrous Broadway Gondolier. Barnes left Warners in 1938 for more rewarding films, and found himself very much in demand.

Henry King's Jesse James (co-photographed with W. Howard Greene) was a tremendous change from the sound-stage musicals, a lavish western adventure filmed on picturesque Missouri locations in dazzling three-strip Technicolor. Barnes imparts a staggering sense of movement to the proceedings, his exteriors bringing life to the vigorous action. Barnes also did the sequel in Technicolor, The Return of Frank James, this time with Fritz Lang directing. The color was just as vibrant, but Lang gave darker meaning to the film, reflected in Barnes's claustrophobic interiors.

Barnes's 1940s work is impeccable. He won an Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, a black-and-white masterpiece. Manderley, the manor house of Daphne du Maurier's novel, was given a brooding, foreboding quality by Barnes's play of light and shadow. He also photographed Spellbound for Hitchcock, famed for the surrealistic Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence, a flashy, disproportionate, bizarre experiment. Robert Stevenson's Jane Eyre has much the same ominous feel of Rebecca, this time with a 19th-century period setting.

Barnes furnished a darker view than was normal for Frank Capra's films. In Meet John Doe, he painted the images in starkly defined high contrast, then softened the focus for the climactic rooftop scene in the snow. His later Capras, the Bing Crosby musicals Riding High and Here Comes the Groom, were by necessity much lighter in tone and text. Barnes's films for Leo McCarey during this period—Once upon a Honeymoon, The Bells of St. Mary's, and Good Sam—were slick studio jobs with a director noted for his straightforward, uncomplicated camera style. Barnes's main challenge in the McCarey films was to give the Hollywood glamour treatment to the stars—Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers in Honeymoon, Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby (as a nun and a priest, respectively) in Bells, and Gary Cooper and Ann Sheridan in Good Sam. Crosby was so happy with Barnes's photography that he insisted on him for many of his subsequent features.

Barnes also distinguished himself with outstanding color work. The Spanish Main and Sinbad the Sailor have rich cartoon colors to suit their lusty adventures, while he etched subtler hues for the romantic Frenchman's Creek, again from a du Maurier novel. In his epics for Cecil B. DeMille, the Biblical Samson and Delilah, and the circus marathon The Greatest Show on Earth, Barnes employed garish colors for the director's showy vision.

A consummate cinematographer, George Barnes had a prolific career exemplified by a high degree of lighting sophistication, an intuitive mastery of deep-focus photography, and a creative sense of composition and camera movement. He helped set the Hollywood standard for studio cinematography, yet could also transcend the limitations of the system and paint artistically lasting works of cinema. Within the industry, Barnes was acclaimed as among the best in his field, and his Academy Award record is impressive. He was nominated for three films during the first Oscar season of 1927–28 with Devil Dancer, The Magic Flame, and Sadie Thompson, and, in addition to his win for Rebecca, he was nominated in both black-and-white (Our Dancing Daughters, Spellbound) and color (The Spanish Main, Samson and Delilah) categories.

—John A. Gallagher