Cinematographer and Director. Nationality: German. Born: Königinhof, Bohemia, 16 January 1890; grew up in Berlin. Military Service: 1914—served briefly in Austrian Army. Career: Apprenticed to rubber stamp manufacturer; then projectionist; 1907—first film as photographer, Der Hauptmann von Köpenick; 1908—worked as newsreel cameraman for Pathé; 1910—worked for Sascha-Film, Vienna, and then for Union Templehof Studio, 1912–14, and for Oskar Messtner in Berlin, 1914–19; 1919–26—operated film processing laboratory; 1926–28—production head of Fox-Europa; 1928—formed Movie Colour Ltd. in London; 1929—emigrated to the United States, and worked as cinematographer for Universal, 1930–35, MGM, 1935–47, and Warner Bros., 1947–50; 1932—first film as director, The Mummy; then worked as supervising photographer for Desilu Productions on their TV series I Love Lucy, Our Miss Brooks, December Bride, and other series, 1951–59; also head of Photo Research Corporation, Burbank, California (developed Norwich light meter and TV cameras). Awards: Academy Award for The Good Earth, 1937, Technical Academy Award, 1954. Died: In 1969.
Films as Cinematographer:
Der Hauptmann von Köpenick; Das Lied von der Glocke
Der Liebling der Frauen; Nachtfalter (Gad); Heisses Blut (Gad) (co); Der fremde Vogel (Gad) (co)
Die Firma heiratet (Wilhelm)
Die Filmprimadonna (Gad); Engelein (Gad)
Zapatas Bande (Gad) (co); Das Kind ruft (Gad) (co); Das Feuer (Gad) (co); Der Hund von Baskerville, part 1 (Meinert); Die ewige Nacht (Gad) (co); Engeleins Hochzeit (Gad) (co); Eine venezianische Nacht (Reinhardt)
Vordertreppe und Hintertreppe (Gad) (co); Frau Eva (Arme Eva) (Wiene)
Abseits vom Blück (Biebrach); Gelöste Ketten (Beibrach); Der Mann im Spiegel (Wiene)
Die Ehe der Luise Rohrbach (Biebrach); Die Prinzessin von Neutralien (Biebrach); Gefangene Seele (Biebrach); Bummelstudenten (Biebrach); Christa Hartungen (Biebrach)
Das Geschlecht derer von Ringwall (Biebrach)
Rausch (Lubitsch); Die Arche (Oswald); Die letzten Menschen (Oswald)
Satanas (Murnau); Katharina die Grosse (Schünzel); Der Januskopf (Janus-Faced) (Murnau) (co); Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (Wegener) (co); Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin (Murnau); Der verlorene Schatten (Gliese); Die Spinnen (Lang)
Louise de Lavallière (Burghardt); Der Schwur des Peter Hertatz (Halm); Verlogene Moral (Brandherd; Totenklaus;Torgus) (Kobe); Die Ratten (Kobe); Der Roman der Christine von Herre (Berger)
Marizza, genannt die Schmuggler-Madonna (Murnau); Kinder der Finsternis (Dupont—2 parts); Herzog Ferrantes Ende (Wegener); Die brennende Acker (Burning Soil) (Murnau); Lucrezia Borgia (Oswald) (co)
Die Austreibung (Driven from Home) (Murnau)
Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs (The Grand Duke's Finances) (Murnau) (co); Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) (Murnau); Michael (Dreyer) (co, + ro)
VariŽtŽ (Variety) (Dupont)
Tartüff (Tartuffe) (Murnau)
Metropolis (Lang) (co); Doña Juana (Czinner) (co)
A Knight in London (Pick) (co)
Fräulein Else (Czinner) (co)
All Quiet on the Western Front (Milestone); The Boudoir Diplomat (St. Clair)
Dracula (Browning); The Bad Sister (Henley); Personal Maid (Bell); Up for Murder (Fires of Youth) (Bell); Strictly Dishonorable (Stahl) (co)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (Florey); Scandal for Sale (Mack); Back Street (Stahl); Airmail (Ford); Afraid to Talk (Cahn)
The Kiss Before the Mirror (Whale)
The Great Ziegfeld (Leonard) (co); Camille (Cukor) (co)
The Good Earth (Franklin); Parnell (Stahl); Man-Proof (Thorpe); Conquest (M arie Walewska) (Brown)
Tail Spin (Del Ruth); Rose of Washington Square (Ratoff); Golden Boy (Mamoulian) (co); Barricade (Ratoff); Balalaika (Schünzel); Green Hell (Whale)
Florian (Marin); Pride and Prejudice (Leonard); We Who Are Young (Bucquet); Keeping Company (Simon)
Blossoms in the Dust (LeRoy) (co); The Chocolate Soldier (Del Ruth)
Tortilla Flat (Fleming); A Yank at Eton (Taurog) (co); The War Against Mrs. Hadley (Bucquet)
DuBarry Was a Lady (Del Ruth); The Cross of Lorraine (Garnett) (co); Cry Havoc (Thorpe); A Guy Named Joe (Fleming) (co)
The Seventh Cross (Zinnemann); The Thin Man Goes Home (Thorpe)
Without Love (Bucquet); Dangerous Partners (Cahn)
A Letter for Evie (Dassin); Two Smart People (Dassin); Undercurrent (Minnelli)
This Time for Keeps (Thorpe); That Hagen Girl (Godfrey)
Wallflower (de Cordova); Key Largo (Huston); The Decision of Christopher Blake (Godfrey)
South of St. Louis (Enright); Montana (Enright)
Bright Leaf (Curtiz)
Open Windows (Leisen)
Madam wünscht keine Kinder (Madame Wants No Children) (Z. Korda) (pr spvr)
BerlinÑDie Symphonie einer Grossstadt (Berlin—Symphony of a Great City) (Ruttmann) (co-pr, co-sc); Die Abenteuer eines Zehnmarkscheinen (Viertel) (pr spvr); Der Sohn der Hagar (Wendhausen) (pr spvr)
The Mummy (d)
Moonlight and Pretzels (Moonlight and Melody) (d)
Madame Spy (d); The Countess of Monte Cristo (d); Uncertain Lady (d); I Give My Love (d); Gift of Gab (d)
Mad Love (The Hands of Orlac) (d)
By FREUND: articles—
Close-Up (London), January 1929.
Film (Hanover), no. 9, 1965.
Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 1, 1974.
Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 2, 1974.
On FREUND: articles—
Close-Up (London), March 1930.
Luft, Herbert G., in Films in Review (New York), February 1963.
Deschner, Donald, in Cinema (Beverly Hills, California), Fall 1969.
Luft, Herbert G., in Film Journal, Spring 1971.
Mundy, Robert, in Cinema (London), Summer 1971.
Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
Brosnan, John, in Movie Magic, New York, 1974.
Gerely, A., in Film und Ton (Munich), July 1977.
Filme (Berlin), May-June 1981.
Avant-Scène (Paris), March 1985.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1987.
Pitman, Randy, "The Mummy," in Library Journal, 1 September 1991.
Holt, W.G., "The Mummy," in Filmfax, no. 36, December/January 1992/93.
Senn, B., "The Golden Age of Horror," in Midnight Marquee, no. 45, Summer 1993.
Mank, G.W., "Gift of Gab: The Mystery of the Lost Karloff and Lugosi Movie," in Scarlet Street, no. 10, Spring 1993.
* * *
During a career that lasted nearly 50 years, cinematographer Karl Freund contributed his artfully innovative camerawork to more than 100 German and American films, including the classic Metropolis and the solid Key Largo. Unfortunately, superlative examples of filmmaking are not the sole entries in Freund's filmography. Numerous forgettable or already forgotten comedies, romances, and musicals are also present, a perhaps inevitable consequence of Freund's long career. Symptomatic of his commitment to perfection was his refusal to discriminate a "programmer" from a masterpiece, which provided many of the films he lit and shot with their only noteworthy feature: excellent cinematography.
In 1905, when he was 15 years old, Freund quit his apprenticeship with a manufacturer of rubber stamps to work as an assistant projectionist for a Berlin film company. Displaying a prodigious technical inventiveness toward and understanding of lighting and the motion picture camera, Freund graduated within two years from projectionist to cameraman. As one of Germany's motion picture pioneers, Freund spent his earliest years in film shooting an assortment of material, from shorts and newsreel footage to several of the actress Asta Nielsen's films (Nachtfalter, Engelein) and the early efforts of, among others, directors F.W. Murnau (Satanas) and Fritz Lang (Die Spinnen).
In the 1920s Freund worked at Ufa, Germany's great government-supported film studio, where he collaborated with Murnau, Lang, and others on a number of the films that collectively created the golden age of the German cinema, films such as Murnau's Der letzte Mann and E.A. Dupont's Variety. For the revolutionary Der letzte Mann, the camera became both narrator and character, relating and interpreting the story of the demoted doorman so lucidly that title cards were superfluous. Freund and scriptwriter Carl Mayer enriched the simple plot of Murnau's film with artistically purposeful camera movement and lighting that set the expressionistic sobriety of the film proper against the high-key clarity of its controversial epilogue.
Between 1926 and 1928 Freund served as production head of Fox-Europa and participated in creating the sole experimental film of his career, Walter Ruttmann's Berlin—Symphony of a Great City, for which Freund developed a high-speed film stock that made shooting outside at night without artificial lighting as feasible as shooting during the daytime. In 1929, Freund's experiments with a color process for 35mm film took him first to New York and then to Hollywood where, following the failure of the process, he joined Universal as a cinematographer.
One of Freund's earliest assignments at Universal was to shoot Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front (whether Freund devised and executed the butterfly scene that ends the film remains an unsettled issue). Freund also shot two horror films for Universal, Tod Browning's Dracula and Robert Florey's Murders in the Rue Morgue, the perfect showcase for Freund's abilities with chiaroscuro lighting. In 1933, Universal assigned Freund to direct his first motion picture, The Mummy. He would direct six more films at Universal before his contract ended in 1935.
Shortly after moving to MGM that same year, Freund directed his final picture, the macabre Mad Love, a remake of Robert Wiene's Orlacs Hände. In 1937, Freund received an Academy Award for the exceptional camerawork and special effects of The Good Earth. Other projects that occupied him during his dozen years with MGM were Rouben Mamoulian's Golden Boy, on which Freund collaborated with cinematographer Nicholas Musaraca; his first color film, Blossoms in the Dust; and a string of Spencer Tracy's films (Tortilla Flat, A Guy Named Joe, The Seventh Cross). While under contract to MGM, Freund also established the Photo Research Corporation in Burbank, where he developed a highly successful incident exposure meter.
Filming John Huston's Key Largo was the highlight of Freund's three years with Warner Bros. (1947–50). Although Freund is never named in James Agee's essay on Huston, "Undirectable Director," Agee does comment on the rightness of the camerawork in Key Largo: "The lighting is stickily fungoid. The camera is sneakily 'personal'; working close and in almost continuous motion, it enlarges the ambiguous suspensefulness of almost every human move."
In the summer of 1951, Freund was directing his Photo Research Corporation when Lucille Ball, with whom he had worked at MGM, contacted him about the new television series that she and Desi Arnaz wanted to film live with three simultaneously operating 35mm motion picture cameras, a then relatively unprecedented and difficult approach. Freund joined the staff of the I Love Lucy show as director of photography, inventing an overhead lighting system that was responsible for the exceptional quality of the program's images. Freund supervised the photography of more than 400 episodes of I Love Lucy
before resigning from the series in 1956; he retired from television altogether three years later. In the final decade of his life, Freund presided over Photo Research, continuing his efforts to improve the machinery of his art.
—Nancy Jane Johnston