After making his name in the Twenties as a shooter on soft-focus Paramount romances, cinematographer Bert Glennon spent a few years working on B movies (The Half Naked Truth, Blonde Venus, Art in the Raw) before being hired by John Ford for 1935’s The Prisoner of Shark Island. That film, which documented the life of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who treated John Wilkes Booth and was imprisoned on the Dry Tortugas for his trouble, was a critical and financial success. The increasingly famous director and now respected cinematographer decided to work together again, this time on Stagecoach, which was to be shot in Monument Valley.
The film that revitalized the Western and introduced America to John Wayne was Glennon’s masterpiece. Rather than using his camera to augment the action, Glennon took long, slow, and deliberate shots. The result was a film in which the drama was dwarfed by the setting. This approach would not only inspire latter-day cinematographers – Sergio Leone shot in similar style – but fundamentally alter the American notion of the West. Rather than being a series of obstacles to be overcome, the West became the sparsely decorated stage on which idea-centric dramas were played out.
Later in Glennon’s career, when he shot San Antonio, starring Errol Flynn, he would take a similar approach, but be thwarted somewhat by color, which complicated the simple images he excelled at capturing. Still, frames from that blockbuster could pass for art house photographs. Long sweeping views of prairies give the impression that the Southwest is empty but for the drama taking place in it.
Film Still From StagecoachBack to top