Cinematographer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: Bert Lawrence Glennon in Anaconda, Montana, 19 November 1893 (or 1895). Education: Attended Stanford University, California, graduated 1912. Military Service: Pursuit pilot instructor during World War I. Career: 1912—stage manager for theater entrepreneur Oliver Morosco; c. 1913—worked for Keystone and Famous Players, then laboratory superintendent for Clune Film Corporation, four years; 1915—first film as cinematographer, The Stingaree (serial); 1928—directed first film, The Perfect Crime. Died: In 1967.
Films as Cinematographer:
The Stingaree (Horne—serial)
Lighting Bryce (Hurst—serial)
The Man from Kangaroo (Lucas and Meredyth) (+ asst d); Shadow of Lightning Ridge (Lucas) (+ asst d); The Jackaroo of Coolabong (The Fighting Breed) (Lucas) (+ asst d); Parted Curtains (Bracken); Kentucky Colonel (Seiter) (co); The Torrent (Paton) (co)
The Dangerous Moment (De Sano); Cheated Love (Baggot); The Kiss (Conway); A Daughter of the Law (Conway); Moonlight Follies (Baggot); Nobody's Fool (Baggot)
Domestic Relations (Withey); The Woman Who Walked Alone (Melford); Ebb Tide (Melford); Burning Sands (The Dweller in the Desert) (Melford)
Java Head (Melford); You Can't Fool Your Wife (Melford); The Ten Commandments (DeMille) (co)
Triumph (DeMille); Changing Husbands (Urson and Iribe); Open All Night (One Parisian "Knight") (Bern); Worldly Goods (Bern)
Tomorrow's Love (Bern); The Dressmaker from Paris (Bern); Are Parents People? (St. Clair); Wild Horse Mesa (Seitz); Flower of Night (Bern); A Woman of the World (St. Clair)
The Crown of Lies (Buchowetzki); Good and Naughty (St. Clair); Hotel Imperial (Stiller)
Barbed Wire (Lee); Underworld (Paying the Penalty) (von Sternberg); We're All Gamblers (Cruze); The Woman on Trial (Stiller); The City Gone Wild (Cruze)
The Last Command (von Sternberg); The Street of Sin (King of Soho) (Stiller); The Patriot (Lubitsch)
Blonde Venus (von Sternberg); The Half Naked Truth (La Cava)
So This Is Harris! (Sandrich—short); Christopher Strong (Arzner); Gabriel over the White House (La Cava); Melody Cruise (Sandrich); Morning Glory (L. Sherman); Alice in Wonderland (McLeod) (co)
She Was a Lady (MacFadden); Grand Canary (Cummings); The Scarlet Empress (von Sternberg); Hell in the Heavens (Blystone)
Lottery Lover (Thiele); Ginger (Seiler); Thunder in the Night (Archainbaud); Bad Boy (Blystone); Show Them No Mercy (Tainted Money) (Marshall)
The Prisoner of Shark Island (Ford); Half Angel (Lanfield); Little Miss Nobody (Blystone); Dimples (Seiter); Can This Be Dixie? (Marshall) (co); Lloyd's of London (H. King)
The Hurricane (Ford); Adventures of Marco Polo (2nd unit)
Stagecoach (Ford); Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford); Second Fiddle (Lanfield) (co); The Rains Came (Brown) (co); Drums along the Mohawk (Ford); Swanee River (Lanfield)
Our Town (Wood); The Howards of Virginia (The Tree of Liberty) (Lloyd)
Virginia (Griffith) (co); The Reluctant Dragon (Werker) (co); One Night in Lisbon (Griffith); Dive Bomber (Curtiz) (co); They Died with Their Boots On (Walsh)
Juke Girl (Bernhardt); Desperate Journey (Walsh)
Mission to Moscow (Curtiz); This Is the Army (Curtiz) (co); The Desert Song (Florey)
Destination Tokyo (Daves); The Very Thought of You (Daves); Hollywood Canteen (Daves)
San Antonio (Butler)
One More Tomorrow (Godfrey); Shadow of a Woman (Santley)
The Red House (Daves); Mr. District Attorney (Sinclair); Copacabana (Green)
Ichabod and Mr. Toad (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) (Kinney, Algar, and Geronimi) (co); Red Light (Del Ruth)
Wagonmaster (Ford); Rio Grande (Ford)
Operation Pacific (Waggner); The Sea Hornet (Kane); About Face (Del Ruth); The Big Trees (Feist)
The Man behind the Gun (Feist); Riding Shotgun (De Toth); Thunder over the Plains (de Toth)
House of Wax (De Toth); The Moonlighter (Rowland)
The Mad Magician (Brahm); Crime Wave (The City Is Dark) (De Toth)
Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (Foster) (co)
Sergeant Rutledge (Ford)
Lad—A Dog (Avakian and Martinson)
The Man from Galveston (Conrad)
Films as Director:
The Perfect Crime; The Gang War (All Square)
The Air Legion
Girl of the Port; Around the Corner; Paradise Island
In Line of Duty
South of Santa Fe
Moran of the Lady Letty (Melford) (cam)
Second Wife (Mack) (co-sc)
On GLENNON: articles—
Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
* * *
Bert Glennon was a visual stylist whose cinematography enhanced the best work of such disparate directors as John Ford and Josef von Sternberg. Glennon exemplifies the professional Hollywood craftsperson overshadowed by volatile, individualistic directors, his name rarely mentioned in film histories despite such credits as DeMille's The Ten Commandments, von Sternberg's Underworld and The Scarlet Empress, and Ford's epochal 1939 trio—Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, and Drums Along the Mohawk.
There were two Glennon styles—the glossy soft-focus of his 1920s Paramounts, and the dramatic, often minimalist, realism he employed at 20th Century-Fox in the late 1930s and at Warners ten years later. Along with Victor Milner, Glennon helped define the corporate Paramount look, with assignments for such directors of sophisticated fare as DeMille (Triumph), Lubitsch (The Patriot), Malcolm St. Clair (Are Parents People?, A Woman of the World, Good and Naughty), Rowland V. Lee (Barbed Wire), and Mauritz Stiller (Hotel Imperial, The Street of Sin—co-photographed by Milner and Harry Fischbeck).
Glennon's two great silent triumphs were The Ten Commandments and Underworld. The DeMille epic was the most spectacular production up to that time, with Glennon in charge of a crew steeped with photographic talent, including Edward S. Curtis, Archie Stout, J. Peverell Marley, and Donald Keyes. The contemporary story is well handled, but the film is most satisfying in the Biblical sequences, many shot in reverential tableaux, with sweeping camera movements on the action scenes. The most powerful moments include the Golden Calf sequence, Moses (Theodore Roberts) receiving the Commandments, and the famous parting of the Red Sea, all handled by Glennon in a documentary-like fashion. A prologue of the Israelites fleeing Egypt was cophotographed in two-strip Technicolor with Ray Rennahan.
Underworld foreshadowed many later crime films, uniting elements of that genre which would become commonplace, including Glennon's chiaroscuro photography. There are many fine photographic touches—the underworld ball, the police car chase—rendered in a crisp, economic manner. Underworld was a much more starkly lit work than was common at Paramount, but in his next film for von Sternberg, The Last Command, Glennon reverted to the softer studio style. His mobile camera makes both Underworld and The Last Command among the most visually pleasing films of the late silent era.
Glennon directed eight programmers between 1928 and 1930, making the transition to sound on such inaccessible titles as Gang War and Syncopation. If the films do exist, they would be interesting rediscoveries, since Glennon had by then shot nearly 40 features. He returned to cinematography in 1932 with von Sternberg's Blonde Venus, shooting interiors (Paul Ivano handled the exteriors). Among the scenes Glennon worked on is the "Hot Voodoo" number, with icon Marlene Dietrich emerging from a gorilla suit. Glennon shot two striking films for Gregory La Cava (The Half Naked Truth and Gabriel over the White House), and two important films for the young Katharine Hepburn, Dorothy Arzner's Christopher Strong and Lowell Sherman's Morning Glory. These were all contemporary films, slickly shot by Glennon, and helped reestablish him as a quality cinematographer.
Glennon reunited with von Sternberg on The Scarlet Empress, which cast Dietrich as Russia's Catherine the Great. Glennon achieved an extraordinary Baroque look, with dazzling camera movement complemented by von Sternberg's eccentric mise en scène and lavish art direction by Hans Dreier, Peter Ballbusch, and Richard Kollorsz. Truly one of the most photographically stunning works in American cinema, The Scarlet Empress was a Glennon masterwork, culminating his contributions to the von Sternberg canon. Typically, the director made no mention of Bert Glennon in his autobiography.
Glennon moved to Fox in 1934, and inexplicably toiled on B-movies, routine products except for George Marshall's gritty antikidnapping film Show Them No Mercy. His fortunes improved when Darryl Zanuck merged his 20th Century Pictures with the failing Fox and assigned him to shoot The Prisoner of Shark Island, the first of eight John Ford films shot by Glennon. The story of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the man who treated John Wilkes Booth's wound after the Lincoln assassination and found himself incarcerated as an unwitting accomplice, the film reveals Ford's passion for the era, nicely realized by Glennon. The Shark Island prison sequences are dark and gloomy, contrasted with the juleps-and-magnolia South symbolized by Mudd's family. Like much of Ford's best work, there is a silent film-feel to the cinematography. When Goldwyn borrowed Ford to make The Hurricane, a high-budget romantic adventure highlighted by the titular spectacle, the director brought along Glennon, who this time counterpointed South Seas exotica with prison sequences reminiscent of Prisoner of Shark Island.
Glennon's position as a master cinematographer was confirmed with the 1939 Ford films. Stagecoach deserves its reputation as one of the great westerns. Picturesque Monument Valley vistas and expert action sequences were expertly captured by Glennon, making Stage-coach one of the best looking black-and-white movies ever made. In a direct stylistic contrast to the von Sternberg films, there is little camera movement, and rare use of close-ups, the notable exception being the Indians on the bluff in a preattack sequence.
Smaller in scope, Young Mr. Lincoln impeccably recreated Indiana and Illinois of the 1830s and 1840s, a simple, Griffithian style which appealed to both Glennon and Ford. While an uncredited Arthur Miller shot the riverside locations, Glennon was responsible for the bulk of the film's classical look, with the fight in the clearing particularly well rendered. Drums along the Mohawk was a much more difficult film. Forced by Zanuck's release schedule to rush from Lincoln to Drums, the filmmakers were plagued by minimal preparation, an unpolished script, and a rugged location in Utah's Wasatch Mountains. Summer storms played havoc with matching shots, and to compound problems, the film was shot in three-strip Technicolor, Ford's first in color. Despite these rigors, Drums Along the Mohawk is exquisitely photographed, as perfect an exercise in color as Stage-coach was for black-and-white. There are many notable exteriors in this Revolutionary War drama, such as Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert travelling west by oxcart; John Carradine's raid with the Mohawks upon the settlers; the siege of Fort Stanwix; and Henry Fonda's run through the forest, chased by Mohawk warriors.
It was ten years before Glennon worked with Ford again, but the occasion and the project was a special one—Wagonmaster. Ford told Peter Bogdanovich that Wagonmaster was one of the films that "came closest to being what I had wanted to achieve." A western masterwork written largely by Ford, the film is graced by Glennon's newsreel quality cinematography. Glennon also shot Ford's Rio Grande in stark black-and-white, the third and last of the John Wayne cavalry trilogy, and in Sergeant Rutledge he balanced dramatic exteriors of the black "Buffalo Soldiers" of the western Indian Wars with the sparse sound stage dramatics of the trial sequence.
Glennon did superlative work for another strong director, Raoul Walsh, on They Died with Their Boots On, in which he photographed a spectacular recreation of Custer's Last Stand; and Desperate Journey, a slam-bang Second World War adventure highlighted by an exhilarating car chase. Glennon had a chance to create a stylized, romantic look for Our Town, and a well-done film noir, Edgar Ulmer's Ruthless, then closed his career at Warners with some of the best 3-D photography (House of Wax, The Moonlighter, The Mad Magician).
—John A. Gallagher